January 26, 2020

2020 Jan26

Redeploy Your Gifts

Epiphany 3 – Year C
A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

The Gospel reading has an odd opening: the arrest of John the Baptist. It’s odd because it is the only mention of the arrest in Matthew’s Gospel.  Chapter 4 begins with the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, which we will hear on the First Sunday in Lent. Chapter 3 is the Baptism of Jesus by John. So, this sentence is a bit awkward.


Matthew then quickly establishes how Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah, which, of course, the drafters of the Lectionary were keen to put together. In this season of Epiphany, the prophecy and its fulfillment are what help us focus our hearts and minds on the manifestation of Jesus as the Christ.

 

Then this last bit dives into Jesus’ ministry…a ministry of drawing people to Himself and using the talents of others to draw even more into the Body of Christ. It is out of this Call of the First Disciples that we can evaluate ourselves for what we have to offer toward the life of the Church. This is our basis for what you will have received either last Sunday or in the mail: our Stewardship of Time & Talent.

 

Unless you are a visitor, you should have received your Time & Talent Pledge Card and accompanying letter. Our Stewardship of Time & Talents is an important element of our life as the St. Stephen’s Family – and as the Body of Christ in this community – and it deserves its own stewardship campaign.


Many thousands of hours are donated collectively by all of you. The Annual Report that was recently distributed details what most of those hours are put toward. Those volunteer hours represent the time toward which the talents with which you have been endowed by your Creator have been applied in the Welcoming, Worshiping and Working of our mission.


When Jesus called His Disciples
and when they followed, He
radically upended their lives.

 

But, if you read Matthew 4:18-22 closely, you will see that Jesus deployed the skills that Simon and Andrew already had. They were fishermen, and Jesus not only called them to follow Him, but He repurposed their talent of fishing to draw in people for the building up of the Body of Christ, the Church.


When we talk about the Stewardship of Time & Talent, we first must start with acknowledging that we have been given skills and interests by the Holy Spirit. Some come naturally; some have been learned. Once we recognize these Gifts of the Spirit, we need to understand how they can be used to glorify God, for the purposes of the Gospel, and for our mission as a parish. Some parishes undertake very formal skills inventories.  They maintain a database, and when a new ministry or task comes up, they refer to the skills inventory to identify the right person for the job. Other parishes rely on what they know about one another. If it’s broken, ask Chris Arndt. If it happened in the past, ask Lynn Hollister. If it requires a harp, ask Jennifer Sayre.


For our Stewardship of Time & Talent, we want to be somewhere in between those two models. We want to know what talents are among us and the time commitments that people can make. But we also want to remain personal and make sure that when called upon, you know that you are serving the wider Body of Christ, not just tending to a task that needs to get done. OK, so folding bulletins is a task that just needs to get done! Sometimes there is that…but as those of us who have done folding, labeling and stuffing know, those who gather share with one another in a very different way than we do on Sundays.


At the birds-eye level, we are equipped for ministry by our Baptism. Though there is no account of the Baptism of Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, other accounts in the Gospels indicate that Baptism was the first action when one accepted the call to follow Jesus. Which ministries we undertake really depend on each person’s Gifts of the Spirit. Quite often, a person may not realize that their Gifts of the Spirit are of any use in the church. I’m sure that Simon Peter and Andrew were initially puzzled at how they were going to be transformed from fishers of fish to fishers of people.  And it’s anybody’s guess as to how Mark’s talent as a tax collector was used for the purposes of the ministry of the Apostles.


For our Time & Talent Pledge Drive, you have been asked to give some thought to the skills that God has given you and that you have improved over your lifetime. The Pledge Card is presented in a way that might be helpful in guiding you in the process. Then you can consider how they might be used at St. Stephen’s. Each of you possesses many skills! Some of those are, or could be, redeployed for the glory of God at St. Stephen’s.


As we heard in the Gospel,

 

Jesus did not suggest that the
skills they had as fishermen
would be cast aside and be of no
use. Jesus reassured them from
the beginning that their skills
would be used in a different way!

 

That’s what we are assessing for ourselves in the Time & Talent Pledge Drive.


In 1 Corinthians, Paul even states that he is called to use his Gifts of the Spirit for the glory of God and for the Christian community:


For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.


Paul stated both his limitations and his purpose: to serve the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul also indicated that there are ministries that he did not do, namely Baptism. Some in our own community have been just as honest about the limitations of their gifts. For example, one person of note stated boldly at the Annual Meeting: You DO NOT want me as a member of the Choir!


What would nicely round out these readings would be the Call of Moses. Why? Because Moses was insistent that he was not suited to lead Israel out of Egypt:


But Moses said to the Lord, ‘O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.’
Exodus 4:10-12


This illustrates 2 things: 1) you can gain new talents, rising to the occasion when necessary, and 2) when you devote yourself to God’s purposes, God will equip you with what you need. We must always remember that God is in charge.


Many of you are already sharing talents, and we are deeply grateful. Your talent and the time you spend at St. Stephen’s or could spend volunteering are largely directed toward Welcoming, Worshiping, and Working for, with and among ourselves and the good people of San Luis Obispo. We can deploy our Gifts of the Spirit in a different way, for the purposes of the Gospel. It takes courage; sometimes we fail; sometimes it comes with great pain and sacrifice, as we sang in the Sequence Hymn.


If we didn’t offer our Gifts of the Spirit and give of our time, our life together would be very different.

 

  • What if the Choir Members didn’t offer their gifts?
  • The altar Guild?
  • The Sexton and those good at building work?
  • The Lectors and Sunday Servers?
  • Children and youth workers?
  • Artists?

Sometimes we find out what happens when someone gives up offering their gifts for one reason or another, and we are usually saddened by that. So,

 

imagine what our life together
would be like if we shared all of
the untapped Gifts of the Spirit
for the glory of God and the
mission of the Gospel in
this place!

 

It would also be very different. We must always keep in mind: The time, talent and treasure shared at St. Stephen’s is what enables us to spend this special time together in the presence and power of God – all through your Gifts.


Today in Scripture we learned that Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophesy of Isaiah. The Psalm demonstrates how to put our trust in God. Paul warns of factions and distractions from our focus on Jesus. In this Season of Epiphany, the glory of Jesus Christ is presented to us in these readings. But the nugget of today’s readings is in the Collect:

 

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of His salvation.


Open yourselves, like Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, to answer Jesus’ call and to have your Gifts of the Spirit used for His purposes. Thank you for all that you do for and give to St. Stephen’s. Together we are the hands and feet of Jesus in this community.

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