So, it seems like I’ve always known how to cook and sew. I started using my mom’s Bernina when my friends were playing with their Easy Bake Ovens. I would rather find a beautiful piece of fabric and craft a garment myself than to purchase one already made but uninteresting. And I definitely knew it was much better to bake a full-sized cake that I could share with my family or friends, then to snack on the flat disc of a thing the oven-toy called “cake!”
As I grew into adulthood many remarked, “you should open your own bakery or café!” or “you should hire out your sewing skills and actually make some money!” So when a friend of a friend offered me a job to assemble two frilly, layered and tiered dresses for her granddaughters, I took her up on it.
And the amount I was paid in relationship to how much work those Alice-in-wonderland-esque dresses took was unequivocally not worth my time!
I was good at cooking and sewing. But I took no pleasure in doing either of those things for hire.
I do, however, love explaining things. But not just for information’s sake. When I am moved deeply by something – like injustice, for instance – I will research the particular problem, look for the systemic engine fueling it, and start writing and telling anyone who will listen why it is paramount that we address this injustice!
But I also like to evaluate situations and see how they are not operating in the fullest sense that they might, and have a way of seeing the heart of the matter, the crux of a problematic area. And I will research and craft words and pray and try to discern what might need to be developed in order to make things right.
This isn’t just a church-pastor thing for me – I do this when traveling, or going to a restaurant in Chicago, or even with my family! Mine is not a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do parenting style. No, I will back up to discover where an offending comment or behavior began and have a conversation about what motivated it and explain why it is important to cease, and wow, it seems like, as families in our culture we aren’t addressing these things, and how can we help our community or schools to make these changes to create conditions for making this right in our society . . . ?
Perhaps this is why I am always late to things?!
“But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. (Eph4:7) The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers (v 11).”
We are all good at some things, have talents and skills, worked hard to be accomplished at something. In addition to that great big sack of talent and expertise (!) as spiritual beings, bearing the image of God, we possess that germ, that spiritual encoding that makes us still more – still more of who we are most truly, still more empowered to live out our best selves with particular graces!
I love how Paul puts it: each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. It’s not just some superpower or genius that makes me better than another person – and it is not an ability that has a great deal of worth on its own.
In fact, just before Paul mentions these graces he begs, pleads with the church
“to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”Eph4:1-6
“All that previously divided and separated us—race, identity, gender, slavery, etc.—has been resolved and unified in Christ. The tragic truth is that we have seldom been able to live into this calling as is so evidenced in the all too real racial and gender barriers in the church. But when we don’t strive for unity in the bond of peace, we eventually break apart; we rend the Body, and opt for more convenient reductions of the total truth.”
Alan Hirsch 5Q, Briefing, p6.
“The strong appeal of verses 1–16 is that we are not to separate what God has put together. [Paul views marriage as a metaphor for being unified in Christ – marriage isn’t the point – being unified is] We are to strive for the unity of the Spirit knowing there is one God, one faith, one baptism, etc. And insofar that 1–6 is organically connected with what follows in 7 – 11, we are not to break [Apostle/Prophet/Evangelist/Shepard/Teacher] up either. In his ascension, Jesus has “given” [the graces of] APEST to the church as its lasting possession. In other words, the fivefold is a part of the church’s inheritance in Jesus. We are to treasure [these gifts] precisely because we treasure Jesus and what he is doing through us.”
The Greek word for “given” is aorist indicative tense – which gives the word the sense of resoluteness, that it already happened – but for all time, much like the signing of the Declaration of Independence. They are defining words. They declare who you are. APEST has been given to the church and continues to carry the same impact – cannot be revoked.
As long as we gather together in the name of Jesus, we are given the actuality of and empowered to be APEST – all of us together possess these – which is to say, all of us here, all of you, some are empowered by the God of the universe to be Apostle, etc.
The question is: how long will we carry on without living out, operating in these gifts?
It is equally true – and in the fullness of the power of it – We are God’s beloved. This means there is nothing that we do or not do that will change that truth, either. So to feel compelled to do a job in the church is not the same thing. And, to say that one position is better or more holy than another is also to misuse and abuse the gifts.
All five are given, each necessary to function, none without the others, and they are not to be separated. “All are needed in every time and in every place.” (8) And when all of these are operating together, it marks a true church.
The problem is, the church sets itself up like a corporation or business with committees and Robert’s Rules of Order. One person is good at baking and “oh, the Hospitality team is for me.” Or another is good at fixing things and the Trustees Committee seems like a good option. Of course, the tasks under these areas need to be addressed. We certainly need to be organized or very little will be accomplished.
Still. As the Body of Christ, the living witness of God’s creative action on the universe and beyond, our calling is to something far deeper, and backed by immeasurable power. And it consumes without being consumed; it is alight, aflame, yet is never extinguished. Unless it is. “We urge you, beloved . . . do not quench the Spirit . . .” [1Thess 5:19] You see, the very one who calls you . . . is faithful – faithful to complete the work – in you, in us, in the church, in the world.
“‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’”(Lk 3:16-17)
Everything that is not our true selves – that we feel compelled to paste on, appear as others would have us – all of that is burned away. Perhaps that is why it keeps burning: because I keep trying to erect my façades!
What is remarkable about this baptism narrative is, The Trinity intersects this scene – all three members. All so God can communicate these three things:
Christ is God’s son
Christ is beloved
God is well pleased
You are beloved
What does it feel like when someone is pleased with you? Is there anyone in your life with whom you sense they are pleased with you? Sometimes I feel like I am just trying to please everyone without much success. But to sense utterly, without question that I don’t have to work at it, that person is absolutely pleased, delighted by me – well, that sounds like true love to me!
God is love. (1Jn4:8)
All three members of the Holy Trinity intersect time-space – together – to communicate to us in no uncertain terms: God is here. And God loves you. As God loves the son – with everything, the very being of God IS Love – so God loves you and backs that up by giving up the son into the reality of humankind, bound by space-time, and empowers the son with the very Spirit of God. AND promises to empower each of us with the same.
John baptizes with water. Jesus baptizes with the very Spirit of God.
This is what we are baptized into: a consuming fire – that is not consumed. Those of you who were here for Christmas Eve might remember the facts I shared about fire. 1, Fire is not a thing – it’s an event. Heating wood or other fuel releases volatile vapors that can rapidly combust with oxygen in the air; the resulting incandescent bloom of gas further heats the fuel, releasing more vapors and perpetuating the cycle.
2, Most of the fuels we use derive their energy from trapped solar rays. In photosynthesis, sunlight and heat make chemical energy (in the form of wood or fossil fuel); fire uses chemical energy to produce light and heat.
3, So a bonfire is basically a tree running in reverse.
Fire, consuming. And the Earth’s core? Well, it is nearly as hot as the surface of the sun, and the pressure down there is 3 million times what it is on the surface.  Earth’s solid and liquid cores together generate the magnetic field that keeps the solar wind—a nonstop, 250-mile-per second stream of charged particles emitted by the sun—from stripping away our atmosphere.”
And we have at our core a light burns still brighter with each advance toward that place in the very center of ones being, the power of which can generate a magnetic field about us that can withstand the nonstop, 150-mile-per second stream of charged particles that circumstances often seem to whip at us. We possess this terrifying, immense power.
And still I am afraid. Still I question whether I’m good enough for this, or qualified for that.
Beloved, let us love – God is love.
Beloved, let us be love – Together
This is precisely why we need each other – why we do this together:
We cannot always see what we are actually equipped to do. As for me, My fear of not being good enough, or doubting my calling often makes me question what God is already doing in and through me. We absolutely need one another to affirm God’s being in each other, that aspect of God’s character that you carry uniquely.
But how do we see if we are not looking? Hear without listening? Know without pondering? Discern without praying?
This is where mindfulness spiritual practice comes in. When we are engaging in spiritual practices individually and then also together, we have a much greater chance of actually noticing on a different level, plane, on a new dimension.
This is why I would like for us to spend time together doing this sort of practice, listening, praying, encouraging, empowering.
On the church’s website I post the transcript of my sermons. On today’s you will find a simple survey. Everyone’s schedules are full, diverse and scattered, but I would like to get a sense of who is actually interested in engaging at least a bit in this kind of exploring the graces given us and discovering each other in this light.