Sylvania United Church of Christ
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The sermon for week September 27, 2015

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Gift-Based Ministry

Mark 9:38-50 and James 5:13-20

My namesake was going through a rough patch. Not only was he born an orphan, the aunt and uncle he grew up with died in a fire on the very farm he grew up on. He found a mentor who promptly died. He then crashed and totaled his vehicle. And now he’s being harassed by a little guy who sounds strangely like Miss Piggie.

This is the story of Luke Skywalker from the Star Wars movies. My mom swears I wasn't named after him, but c'mon, I was born in the early ‘80s. In “The Empire Strikes Back” Luke Skywalker is in the swamp, being trained in the arts of the Jedi by Master Yoda. Yoda is the little green guy with big ears who says cryptic and mysterious things such as “You take only what you bring in with you.” And “Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you?” We often think of the discovery of our gifts as something dark and mysterious. Something we can only discover in an exotic and mysterious location with a teacher who speaks in a funny way. That can happen. Yet it often happens in simple, everyday places with ordinary everyday people.

So how do we discover our gifts? And how do we as a church create a gift-based ministry where our tasks in the church are distributed to those who show up?

I recently heard a story of a CEO who was part of a church. He was always asked to be on the trustees or stewardship or anything having to do with money, human resources, and business-related tasks. This CEO decided to go on a mission trip with the teens. The youth minister got sick and they asked the CEO to lead the teen reflection. The teens and the CEO were up all night talking. It was a joy! An amazing time was had by all! The teens felt like this guy listened to them. And the CEO found that he cared! He discovered a new gift. This CEO is still working with teens to this day at the church at the age of 78.

A 78 year old retired CEO hanging out with teens doesn’t sound as cool or as mysterious as Luke and Yoda in a swamp but there are some comparisons.

Discovering your gifts is unsettling. I love my routine. I love the hard packed, solid earth of my routine and turf. There are no alarms and no surprises. The ground is solid, the landscape is open and free, and largely it’s just pleasant. Yet outside the routine, the ground isn’t so solid. The landscape is overgrown, we can’t see very far, and it's the wild. It’s a swamp. It’s not the gators that keep us out of the swamp, the mosquitoes are enough.
One day we will come to the edge of our plans, and there the swamp begins. And that's where true learning can happen. We can leave our hard-packed life of being a CEO and enter the swamp of learning how to listen and speak with teens.

Using these two stories, I think we find our gifts in four ways:
Engage the other.
Engage our heart & mind
Risk being weird
Show up

When we engage the other, we grow and change. When we first meet Luke Skywalker, he dreams of being a pilot. Then he meets two droids and embarks on an adventure. When he meets Yoda, he has no idea who Yoda is. Luke thinks him a nuisance. And great mentors are. They challenge, they don’t let us off the hook, they change our dreams and plans. Luke doesn’t understand Yoda at first. He’s impatient and frustrated at Yoda’s teachings. Luke also hedges his bets, “I’ll try.” He says. Yoda responds, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Yet over time, his dreams and plans were changed. He entered the swamp of uncertainty and found himself not only coming out a pilot, but also a Jedi.

The letter of James is trying to be that encouraging and challenging mentor. Pray, sing songs of praise, anoint with oil. Pray, pray, pray for prayer is powerful and effective. Yet beware of the darkside, if any one wanders from the truth, seek to bring them back.

James is asking his readers time and time again to engage their intellect & heart. The intellect has a passion for inquiry and the unknown. And the heart has a passion for others. James states that faith without works is dead. You can think all the great things, but if you don’t do them, it is all for nothing. And if you have a passion for others but do not use your head you can enable people doing some really unhealthy things. We must blend the two because intellect without the heart is cold, and heart without the intellect can burn out.

Risk being weird. Risk being your unique self. Don’t try to be someone else, that’s already taken. Be you! You are a gift from God to the universe. Only you have your story. Only you have your unique set of gifts. We love stories like Luke Skywalker and his epic path to becoming a hero. The story of becoming a hero, or the origin story, is always way more exciting than just being a hero. This is because we seek that same self-discovery; the finding of our gifts that only we have. This takes a lot of encouragement, prayer, and coaching of others to discover your gifts and hone them and use them to bless the world. And people will be in your business and learning the deepest parts of your soul.

You may get into a deep dark section of the swamp and be confronted with your worst fear only to find out that the fear was just you all along. And I think that may be the number one stumbling block to discovery of gifts: ourselves. We can’t do it. We don’t have time. We already have enough to do. We’re happy with our self-image and we don’t feel the need to learn anything more. Jesus says don’t put stumbling blocks because he knows that we’re enough. We’re our own worst enemies.

Jesus is saying don’t be so bland! Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another. Be weird! And don’t stop others in being weird. John comes to Jesus to say, “Jesus! Someone is teaching and blessing people and we tried to stop him because he’s not part of our group! That’s weird, right?”

Yet Jesus knows that the earth’s great treasure lies in human personality. I hear Jesus saying, “Don’t stop him. I have people. It might be weird, but it’s okay. Whoever is not against us is for us. Don’t be tempted to go into the hell of particulars, back-biting, tribalism, and partiality.”

Discovering your gifts is swampy, challenging, it takes time and a lot of faith. It’s inconvenient. Yet it’s the way to salvation. And it starts by showing up.

Engage the other. Engage your heart and mind. Risk being weird. And show up.

Last week, Jo Hardy and Tiffany Fish showed up at the second service. We held hands for the prayer and sang the Lord’s Prayer together. After Jo said to Tiffany, “You have a wonderful singing voice!” How’s that for encouragement! I have no idea how many hours Tiffany and Nate and all our music ministries spend honing their gift. But they do, and they share it with us! They show up here Sunday afternoon (bell choir), Monday and Wednesday nights and work their gifts.

In our chapel class, we have gifted teachers asking the question “How do we bring hope to those who don’t have any?” We’re watching videos and asking questions and entering in the swamp of poverty, class, and more. Yet we might discovery a ministry that we haven’t thought of. Or double down on an existing one we have and seek to better ourselves at it! That’s exciting. Show up at a 9:20. Or Wednesday night bible study. Or a drop in dinner. Or an outreach event. Just show up.

Our new members class had many brave souls show up and say, “this is who I am, this is what I do, this is how I got here and what I see in this place.” Time and time again we heard that Sylvania UCC is a place of openness and inclusion, and that we believe in grace. That’s our final word and where we’re placing our faith, and they want in on this. They want to learn more about you and how you got to be this way. They want to know how they can help. They are seeking to learn and to teach. To enter into the swamp of a new community and find a Yoda, a wise mentor. And maybe a Princess Leia, Han Solo and Chewbacca, some peers to share this journey with.

We discover our gifts when we find gifts in others. Others will discover their gifts and will help us discover our own gifts. Community is how we discover our gifts. We find our gifts when we engage the other. We find our gifts when we engage our intellect's passion for inquiry with the heart’s passion for community. We find our gifts when we risk being weird. There’s only one you: be yourself because everyone else is taken. And show up.

So friends, may we endeavor to engage one another. Engage our hearts and minds. Risk being weird. And show up.This will save our souls from death and cover a multitude of sins.

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