To listen to Pastor Marcus’ message click on the audio player below:
Over a decade ago while in Chicago for one of my doctoral courses at McCormick Theological Seminary, I remember picking up a copy of the Chicago Weekly, the student newspaper of the University of Chicago. On the front page they had a very interesting article that caught my eye based upon my previous vocation in the garbage industry. The article was entitled, “Dumpster Diving.” Apparently the school library had been discarding computers, monitors, keyboards, scanners and printers. Students were retrieving these electronics out of the dumpsters and repairing these computers for their personal use or selling them to other students. Library officials commented that all the items that had been disposed of were out of date and worthless in their opinion, but it appeared they under estimated the gifts and talents of their student body!
As we speak of the subject of gifts and talents, it’s a wonderful process to discover our spiritual gifts. Throughout the New Testament there are Scripture passages that talk about spiritual gifts. Often people will refer to the 12th chapters of Romans or 1st Corinthians while others will look to the 4th chapter of Ephesians for those listings of spiritual gifts. I have always liked this passage from 1st Peter because it speaks about being called to ministry and part of this calling involves giving of our time and talents to serve God and to serve others.
If there is any Scripture passage that describes stewardship of time and talent, these verses from 1st Peter serve as an excellent place to begin study. Our epistle lesson this morning showed Peter as he often did in many of his writings, expressing concern about ministry. Peter writes about subjects like being serious and watchful in our prayers, practicing hospitality and above all things, showing love for each other.
The fourth chapter begins when Peter speaks about the suffering of Jesus Christ and offers words of encouragement for people to love each other while overcoming our own sufferings. Peter then shifts his focus to the subject of spiritual gifts when he writes:
10Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. 11Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.
What an awesome responsibility for us to use our spiritual gifts for we are, according to Peter, stewards of God’s grace. Verse 10 shares that we are to use whatever gift we have received to serve others. The word translated as gift in Greek comes from the root charis, which means grace.
Peter is writing about a “grace gift” or a gift that comes from God. Since spiritual gifts are grace gifts of the Holy Spirit, one might ask why God gives us spiritual gifts and what is the purpose of these gifts? These gifts are not given to us so that we will feel spiritually superior to others or that we will draw attention to ourselves. Peter provides an answer to that question when he writes: “serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” Peter instructs us that we are to give ourselves in service to the Church.
How are we sharing our gifts with the congregation? That answer often depends upon where we place church in our life. An article that once appeared in a magazine called Net Results was entitled, “First Place or Third Place?” This article shared how adults in North America and Europe organized their lives around three places.
The first place is the home. A good home provides a healthy, supportive environment to raise children. The identity of the adults in the home can be described by such words as wife, husband, mother, father, parent, or spouse. The second place in the lives of many adults is their place of work. Here one’s identity is described by job titles, expertise, compensation or responsibilities. The third place was described as, “The core setting of informal public life which hosts the regular, voluntary, informal and happily anticipated gatherings of people beyond home and work.” As I think of that definition, I think of the local coffee shop where people gather to catch up, perhaps a park to go walking, or a weekend athletic event of a child or even a favorite vacation destination with family and friends. Still for others a local restaurant for a gathering at breakfast might serve as that third place. A person’s third place today is where they are identified by who we are, not by what we do for a living, or who is related to each other. A good third place is where people look forward to being with that same group of people. I expect that our congregation is the third place for many of us. We eagerly anticipate Sunday mornings as a reunion with dear friends we have not seen for several days. For others that third place is their adult Sunday school class they helped to organize, a women’s circle group and even youth fellowship. Church for many people is a great third place in their lives. It is a combination of spiritual nurture and fellowship.
However, for others church is strictly a religious place. Following the postlude people are out the door and don’t give Church another thought until the following Sunday morning. Is Church a third place in our life or is it further down our list? Sometimes we need to ask ourselves how dedicated we really are to serving our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Our gospel lesson this morning from Luke shares that Jesus used a section of Isaiah’s prophecy to communicate his mission in ministry. This reading presents a standard by which we can evaluate the effectiveness of our life and work in God’s kingdom. For Jesus, this time in his ministry was most important. He was “going home” to his hometown synagogue of Nazareth. Scripture says that a prophet is without honor in one place, home. Jesus was aware that the hardest people to minister or teach are those who know us best. Jesus begins this journey home facing the real possibility of being rejected by those who knew him best. As later verses in this chapter indicate it was not the greatest of days for Jesus as he made his ministerial debut in Nazareth. He read from the prophet Isaiah and at one point said the following, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The people were offended by his words. They were offended not because he implied he was the Messiah for the Jews, but that he was the Messiah for everyone. Jesus despite facing resistance in his hometown persevered. No matter where he taught he was always consistent in his mission and was dedicated to his cause.
Speaking of dedication, Bertoldo de Giovanni is a name even the most enthusiastic lover of art is unlikely to recognize. He was a pupil of Donatello, the greatest sculptor of his time, and he was the teacher of Michelangelo, the greatest sculptor of all time. Michelangelo was only 14 years old when he came to Giovanni but it was already obvious that he was enormously gifted. Giovanni was wise enough to realize that gifted people are often tempted to coast rather than to grow, and therefore he kept trying to pressure his young prodigy to work seriously at his art. One day he came into the studio to find Michelangelo toying with a piece of sculpture far beneath his abilities. Giovanni grabbed a hammer, stomped across the room, and smashed the work into tiny pieces, shouting this unforgettable message, “Michelangelo, talent is cheap; dedication is costly!”
In a similar way, the giving of one’s time and talent is indeed costly in the church. We find ourselves as we get involved in church perhaps spending less time with family on weeknights and often our actions go on behind the scenes where there is little recognition. We must continue to discover ways to get involved in church through participation in worship, educational programs, and fellowship. We need to realize that that our call to ministry is also a call to practice good stewardship.
In biblical times a steward was a servant whose purpose in life was to please the master to whom they belonged, to do what was asked. It was in this context that Peter wrote we are to be stewards of God’s grace. As Christians we too have a master. This master is God and we are called to serve God faithfully. Our highest calling as Christians is to live under the lordship of Jesus Christ who gave us the gift of eternal life through his sacrifice. We are called to be servants of Christ who have the privilege of dispensing God’s grace in a variety of ways. We can minister to each other and build up the Church by using the gifts and talents entrusted to us from God.
Perhaps we might be familiar with one of Aesop’s great fables about an old crow that was out in the wilderness and was very thirsty. He came upon a jug that had a little water in the bottom of it. As the crow tried to reach his beak into the jug to get some of the water he realized his beak couldn’t quite reach the bottom. Very determined, the crow started to pick up pebbles one at a time and kept dropping them into the jug. As more and more pebbles accumulated in the bottom of the jug, the water began to rise until the crow was able to drink all the water he desired.
That is a parable of the way God has chosen to work in our lives. Each of us can drop our own pebble into the ministry of our church. We can participate in Sunday school, volunteer to serve on a committee or volunteer to visit a member of our church who may be recovering from an illness or simply lonely. We may think to ourselves that using our gifts in such small ways is not important; but it is the small steps that are the most difficult ones to make. Remember as those pebbles built up in the bottom of the jug and as the water rose in Aesop’s fable, with our greater involvement, our ministry here at church will also climb to greater heights. The late Billy Graham the great evangelist said it best, “God has given us two hands one to receive with and the other to give with. We are not cisterns made for hoarding; we are channels made for sharing.”
Together let us share our gifts and talents to glorify God.
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
February 3, 2019