This is the message that I gave on the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, 3 August 2003, at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church, Putnam Valley, NY. The Scriptures for that Sunday were 2 Samuel 11: 25 – 12: 13, Ephesians 4: 1 – 16, and John 6: 24 – 35.
I may not have mentioned this before but, in the history of my family dating back to Germany in the early 1600’s and Martin Luther, I am the thirteenth or fourteenth person to preach the Gospel. I am unique in that I am probably the only one of the group who is not originally a Lutheran. But the ties that bind me are still there as I come to this place today through the German brand (as it were) of Methodism.
But it should be noted first and foremost that I began this path of my life long before I ever knew where I was in the history of the Schüessler family or even that there was a Schüessler family outside of my grandmother and the family of my great-uncle. And it wasn’t until I went to my first reunion back in 1995 that I met my three cousins, Paul, Karl, and Deane, who were ministers.
Being a minister cannot be something genetic nor is it hereditary, though each of my cousins will tell you that growing up in the house of a Lutheran minister was as much a factor as any other in their own decision to enter the ministry. Still, the ability to be a good preacher and the call to be a preacher come from God, not from family pressures or genetics.
As Paul noted, we are given many gifts. And it is through those gifts that some of us are called to be apostles, prophets, or evangelists. Others are called to be pastors or teachers. Both to the Ephesians and to the Corinthians (in 1 Corinthians 12), Paul pointed out that each of us has some unique gift to bring to the community. And though each of us has unique gifts, we should not be envious of other’s positions or gifts nor should we boast in what we have and what others do not have. Rather, we should work together to maintain the church and build up everyone in order that good works can be done.
It is when we use the gifts given to us for our own purposes or when we try to hold what we have given as being more special than what has been given to others that we run into trouble. In today’s Old Testament reading David is reminded of what he had been given by God.
“Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your keeping, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more! 2 Samuel 12: 7 – 8
Not only did God say to David what he had been given, He told him that he would have given him even much more.
But because David “despised the commandment of the Lord” (2 Samuel 12: 9) all of that would now be taken away from him. Because of his actions, his adultery, his covetousness, his murder of Uriah (and the innocent soldiers that died in that action undertaken to kill Uriah), there would now be bloodshed through all of David’s life. Because of his action, David’s own family would bring him troubles and adversity. And because of his actions, David would see that which had been given to him taken by his own son. And though what David had done was done in private, his suffering and shame would come in public. David would not be able to hide the punishment that he was to receive.
The gifts we have been given are to be developed, not hidden. The gifts that we have been given are to be used so that others may grow and come to know Christ, not simply used for our own benefits. When the people followed Jesus to Capernaum, they were still interested in the food that Jesus had given them. But they saw only the food as life for the present; they were not at all interested in what the future would hold.
We live in a society where now is the key. Let us not worry about tomorrow because that time will take care of it. We have a society that says we need to worry more about ourselves than others. We have leaders that get elected by dividing us rather than uniting us.
Those who hold to a conservative viewpoint deny the reality of structural injustice and social oppression. They blame the victim while ignoring the effects of poverty, racism and sexism. But those with liberal viewpoints are no better. They espouse a viewpoint that is unable to articulate or demonstrate the kind of moral values needed for serious change or transformation. There is no link between personal responsibility and societal change. Everything around us tells us that God has forsaken us. We do not know where to turn.
We easily allow those who claim to know the answer the right to tell us what the question is. We hunger for justice and righteousness but settle for quick settlements that never fill us, that never solve the problems. Those that were following Jesus wanted the quick fix, the bread that fixed the immediate hunger and were not interested in any long-term thoughts.
Jesus warned those who were there that day that His words were not quick fixes as long as what they sought were such, His words would not be the answers they sought.
Jesus reminds us that His words bring us a long-term answer. His work reminds us that we are not working for any kingdom on earth but rather for God’s Kingdom in Heaven.
What we do on earth is not for us but for others. We are not to work for our own benefit, we are not to work for the present. Rather, we are to work for the future, for that which carries us beyond the present. Jesus was trained as a carpenter. A carpenter then was an artisan rather than the tradesman we know today and it was a pretty good life. But He knew that His life was more than that. As he told his parents when He was twelve, “Don’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2: 49)
God encourages us to take what we are have been given and move to a higher level, to be more than we can be. God encourages us to take what we have been given and help others move with us.
Now, you may say that you don’t even know what your gifts really are. It then falls to the rest of us to help you find what those gifts are, not limit what you or anyone else can do. By taking the gifts that we have been given and using them to the fullest, we are able to help those who do not know what their gifts are to find them. By sharing our gifts with others, we are able to help others see Christ.
The basis of our faith is not a feeling that we have within us; it is a revelation that Christ is real, that he died for us. This was the gift that He gave to us, a gift that enables us to live long beyond the time we spend here on earth. Through us, others will come to see Christ, but only if we use the gifts that we have been given.