1 Corinthians 12:4-13
“What is Your Gift?”
A few years ago I was running out the doors of the church I was working for when I heard someone calling my name. “Alex!” I was just about to visit a member who got out of the hospital when a co-worker, Pat, told me, that I needed to take something with me. There was a prayer shawl made by a group of members of the church. And they made one especially for John, who I was going to visit. It was beautiful, blue and white and hand knit. Pat put it in the bag and then she hand wrote a note with a prayer inside of it.
The place I was going to was called a rehabilitation center, so I was hoping he wouldn’t be too busy with physical therapy or training. I met John a week earlier while he was in the hospital, and last we talked he said he was doing much better. And I really enjoyed my conversation with him, so I was hoping we would get some time to talk again.
But when I got to the facility, I quickly realized that rehabilitation was only part of the building. The other was a full hospital. And when I asked where John was, I was told to go to the Intensive Care Unit. As I entered in, John was hooked up to machine after machine. I placed a hand upon his shoulder, hoping his eyes would open and I could say hello at least, but I got nothing in response. A nurse walked up slowly behind me. Then she tapped me on my shoulder.
“Can I have a second with you?”
“Are you from his church?” I nodded yes. “I’m not supposed to tell you this, but I think you should know. John is dying. And he doesn’t have much more time.”
Silence on my part. I thought I was coming to visit a man who was getting better, someone who was going to be talking and joking just like last time. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what I could offer. What words would matter to this man right now?
And then I looked at the bag in my hand. And inside was that shawl made by hand by people who knew John, who loved him, who prayed for him as they folded it together. People who wanted to offer him their love and comfort back. And so, taking John by the hand, I gently laid that shawl upon him and said a prayer. I left the unit, hoping that maybe I could see him again in a few days.
An hour later, Pat gave me a call. John died. It was sudden. I t was sad. It was a huge loss. His friends and his mother showed up 30 minutes later. But as they grieved and held him, the first thing they noticed was that prayer shawl. And they knew in those last moments, he wasn’t alone. Upon him was a gift of love, of prayer, and of comfort. Those hands that made it offered a greater gift than they ever could have imagined.
Today is the birthday of the church, Pentecost. It is the day we remember that God’s Holy Spirit breathes and moves and dwells within us. And we celebrate the part that we as the church play in the Spirit being alive here on earth. Paul calls it gifts of the Spirit. And often when talk about gifts of the Spirit, we expect them to look like superpowers: talking in other languages, predicting the future, healing people by slapping them on the forehead. The Spirit definitely has the power to act in those ways. But I think more often than not, the Holy Spirit chooses to move in ways we take for granted, in ways we don’t celebrate as much as we should.
I think the Holy Spirit was very much at work that day at John’s bedside. It was at work in the hands that knit the shawl. It was in Pat’s handwritten note and voice calling me to come back. It was in the nurse, for some reason sharing with me the information about his health. Without it, I would have left it by the bedside. The Holy Spirit is alive in the movements and steps and words that we do each day that bring hope and love and more light into this world.
As Paul talks about our gifts of the Spirit, I can’t help but also be reminded of Jesus’ message to us: “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before others.” If you ever wonder, what is a spiritual gift, this is my definition for you: It is that which brings light out of darkness. It is whatever makes this world more beautiful and wondrous and full of love. Your spiritual gift is when your light shines for the whole world to see.
Now some of you may believe that Pentecost is for other people. It is only the pastor or the elders who have gifts of the Spirit. But that’s not the message of the New Testament. That’s not the message of the Paul and the early church. Each member of the body of Christ has a part to play. Each person is someone who has the Spirit within them. Each person has a light that needs to be uncovered and let out to shine.
And that is definitely true in this congregation. I see light shining forth through you all. Your light shines when you make crafts with children and teach them the stories of the Bible. Your light shines when you offer us the gift of music, whether you are a member of our praise band or someone who just loves belting out the songs and clapping their hands in praise of God. Your light shines when you welcome people every Sunday morning into this building and offer your fellowship, as well as some much, much needed coffee – at least for me. Your light shines in cooking the one hot meal a family will have this week in Motel 6. Your light shines in the beauty that is found in the art and flowers and care and upkeep that is offered each week for this building and space where we get to encounter God. Your spiritual gifts are in the cards you write and the scripture you read and the prayers you offer in small groups. It is in the sweat you offer as you mow the lawn for our preschool students and in the time you take to make sure this church has a bright future.
Don’t box in what counts as a spiritual gift. Don’t say your gift isn’t needed because it doesn’t fit what other people expect. Because this world doesn’t need one type of gift. It needs all of them, working together. It needs yours, whether that is preaching or dancing, whether that is in front of people or behind the scenes, whether that is with children or with those at the end of life or with all of us somewhere in between. As Paul says,
“If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.”
If you are wondering today, “Where is my gift? What do I have to offer?” I invite you to hear these words of the great Christian writer Frederick Buechner. ‘The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
So a great place to start is in asking yourself these two questions. First, “What brings me joy? What brings me a sense of satisfaction? What brings me life when I partake in it?” that doesn’t mean it is always easy. That doesn’t mean you always want to do it. But there is something within you that when you do it, you know this makes you better.
And then the second question, “Where is there a need? Where is there hunger? Where is there something that I can bring some light into?” Again, you may not always see immediate results with it. It can still have frustrating days. But you know that when you do this, it makes the world better. It makes the world a brighter place to be.
Being a follower of Christ means those gifts are already inside of you. The wind is already rushing through you. That light is already burning. Just as the early church found that they could love and teach and heal and accomplish so much than they ever could have imagined, so too can we. But first we have to take those bushes off of our lights and let them shine for all to see. May the Spirit shine in you today. Amen.