Friday, January 22, 2016
We Can Be Heroes
The new year has dawned, and one of the things that strikes me as interesting is how much loss I have seen expressed at the beginning of the year. Not only have there been a few deaths in our congregation and with some of our close members and friends, but there have been a few famous actors and entertainers that have died.
I have never been one for the worship of stars, and so I found it interesting how moved I was when I heard of David Bowie’s passing. Sure, he may have encouraged us to get to the church on time, but I think it was his creative spirit and his encouragement to embrace change that inspired me as a kid. In the midst of that change there was also the claim that we could be heroes – just for one day. Even knowing that our heroics may only matter in the moment we act and with the person we’re with doesn’t stop us from being heroes.
And who doesn’t want to be a hero – or at least, who wouldn’t love to be thought of as a hero? We have a broad notion of what it means to be a hero in our culture. For some, being a hero means taking a courageous stand and becoming an example for others to follow. For others, it means literally laying down your life for someone else. Sometimes we even use the term pretty loosely to encourage someone or to thank someone for helping us when we need it most.
Beyond the basic idea of heroes, you could argue that something about the human experience has always longed for someone outside of our situation to come and save us. I recently read a blog post asking for help in understanding the origins of the superhero myth, and one of my favorite responses was the faithful person who said, “Surely Jesus is a shoo in?”
Of course Jesus is the one we look to as we long for a savior, and through him we have a unique understanding of what God is doing in the world. It is through understanding Jesus as Savior that we reclaim the passionate belief of God’s activity expressed in the Psalms of David, because it is through Jesus that we have an understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit of God.
Now, that may be some fairly familiar language, but I wonder how seriously we take it? I think we can sometimes be guilty of relegating the Holy Spirit to the historical actions of Pentecost (or “red dress Sunday” as my sister used to call it). And I think that is why Paul sets us straight at the beginning of this passage. “Let’s be clear about Spiritual things,” is how he begins. And then he says that no one can call Jesus ‘accursed’. Well, how weird is that? Who would do that?
First off, the word we translate as “accursed” is “anathema” which means separated from God. Likewise, in Deuteronomy it says, “Cursed is anyone who hangs on from a pole.” And so some may have thought of Jesus as being apart from God, and Paul wanted the church in Corinth to know that there is a deeper love – a greater power – than those that crucified Jesus. In fact, it is this idea of a crucified God that is so hard for some to swallow, but it is only through the crucifixion of Jesus that we can fully see the power of God’s love. And God’s love is unending and unyielding.
And it is because of that love that any of us have the ability to believe in Jesus and call him Lord. In fact, the actions of this love – which we may also call the Holy Spirit of God – results in different types of gifts that we may use to develop different ways to do God’s work together. For we have been given gifts to use them to demonstrate God’s unending and unyielding love.
These “charismata” – or gifts of grace – are not like any other. They aren’t limited to our natural abilities or even our desires. They are of God. Surely we can learn more about them and use them more or less effectively, but the point of the passage is that these are essentially “of God.”
Imagine there is a package before you. What is in there waiting to be released, and how do we even understand these gifts at all? Well, the first thing is to remember that this gift isn’t just given to you for you. It is given to you for the good of all, for the common good. And so, the first question is not “What did I get?” or “Where do I put in the batteries?” The first question is “How do I use this with others?”
Most likely your gift won’t work without anyone to share it with anyway. So, do you have wisdom? According to Paul, wisdom is found in the cross, and that means interpreting the day’s events according to that one event. Do you have knowledge? Do you know what is of God and what is not? Knowing doctrine is a good thing, but this is about something more. The gift of knowledge includes the ability to see consistently what is in keeping with the character of God in order to help us reflect the character of God. With accusations of cultural faith being made by Christians about other Christians, we need those who can help us navigate based on our ability to reflect the heart of God.
What about faith? Can you provide assurance in the midst of doubt? So often we see doubt as the enemy of faith, yet God is larger than our questions and often meets us in the space between doubt and fear. We need people who can assure us, even in the midst of doubt and fear. The list goes on with those that heal, and with miracle workers who look at the word impossible and see it – in the words of Audrey Hepburn – as “I’m possible.”
It includes prophets that speak the truth in love, and those who are able to help us discern whether we are more motivated by our own concerns or by the things that matter most to God. It includes those that speak in thoughts and ideas that must be interpreted by others, and we are promised those interpreters as well.
I must confess that in all of this list it is hard not to think, “What did I get?” and then to try to pick out the color and size that best suits me. But God doesn’t work that way. These gifts are given by God for common use, so it’s most likely that you’ll find your gift through our fellowship together. It’s most likely that your gift won’t be seen by you as much as it will be by someone else. More than all of this, your gift won’t be activated – it will have no power source – apart from the Holy Spirit of God.
But don’t worry. These are gifts of grace. There’s nothing that you can add to it. There’s nothing that can take away from it. And what God has given you is enough. It’s enough to make you seek the fellowship of other believers. It’s enough to empower you to contribute to the work of the church to glorify God and to work to restore God’s creation. It’s enough to leave you unsettled over the work to be done, and it’s enough to assure you that you can be a hero – even just for one day – because of life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, who surely is a shoo in for our understanding of salvation.
If you don’t believe that you can be a hero – or that we have too much against us as a congregation – I want to assure you that your church council, the Session, thinks differently of you. Every year I ask them where they have seen God’s activity over the last year, and every year I have to cut them off so that we can move on to finding new ways to be open to God’s activity. They celebrated our long standing relationship with C.U.P.S., and our hope for future opportunities of mutual support. They celebrated our collections of Peanut Butter for the U.C.O. They celebrated our Advent study, new collections of shoes through Soles for Soles, our new and developing youth ministry, and our partnerships with others to provide meals and compassion to the elderly of our community. They celebrated our relationships through the Presbytery and recent opportunities to contribute to ministry that impact our region and even further into the world. And not only these things, but we talked about the need to remain better connected with homebound members, challenges that we are facing with our building, and our responsibility to use our gifts to reach out into the community and answer the call of Christ to demonstrate love and justice and righteousness!
Yes, this year is off to a good start. At times we will feel overwhelmed, but the important thing to remember is that God’s grace – and through it the gifts we have been given – is enough. And the best way to open that package and use that gift is to gather in fellowship with other believers and ask ourselves what we can do for the common good – not just you and me – for God is in the business of saving all of creation. That includes you and me, and us and them, and all for the glory of God! Amen.