What Do You Do With The Gifts You Have Been Given?


I am preaching at Lake Mahopac United Methodist Church (map) this Sunday, the 9th Sunday after Pentecost  (2 August 2009).  The Scriptures for this Sunday are 2 Samuel 11: 26 – 12: 13, Ephesians 4: 1 – 16, and John 6: 24 – 35.

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The events of the past few months have lead me to conclude that our collective vision of the future may not be what we think it will be. We speak of new technology and how the new technology will change the world. We marvel how dissidents in Iran used Facebook and Twitter to communicate their dissatisfaction with the election results. Of course, this requires that we understand what Facebook is and how Twitter works. But, in the end, the dissension in Iran was quickly shut down because the Iranian government was able to block those means of communication.

The dissension in Iran may yet turn into revolution if the dissidents can harness their collective power and use the creativity behind Facebook and Twitter to bring about true and radical change. Until that time, the changes in that society, like any society which is repressed, will be small in size and slow to change.

Technology can only work if people understand what it can and cannot do; the advent of text messaging (of which I take Twitter to be a form) is proving to be a more serious driving hazard than driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

In 1942, this country began what became known as the Manhattan Project. In combination with physicists and chemists from Great Britain, Canada, and many of the occupied countries of Europe, we began working on the atomic bomb. This was done in part because there was a fear that Nazi Germany was undertaking a similar project. It was well understood that this weapon would be one of immense destructive capability and that the first country to create this weapon would dominate the world for years to come.

In the end, it was discovered that the Nazi atomic weapon program was nowhere as advanced as the Allies had believed. And while that may have been sufficient rationale for the suspension or stoppage of the project, the rising number of casualties in the Pacific and the rather conservative estimate of some 1 million casualties in an invasion of the Japanese islands prompted many to think of using the atomic weapon as a means to ending the war. It is also known that President Truman was confident that the United States would be the preeminent power in the post-World War era since it was thought this country alone held the secrets to such weapons. It was not known in 1945 but became quickly known in the years following the war that the Soviet Union, through the efforts of its spies, also had knowledge of the weapons and would build weapons that would match the destructive power of the United States atomic arsenal.

And while those whose creativity could see that the immense power held within the nucleus of an atom could also be used for more beneficial reasons, it was the destructive capacity of the weapons that would dominate our thinking for almost sixty years. There were those who understood what unleashing the genie of atomic energy in the form of weapons meant but their voices were silenced by those who saw power only in terms of brute force and political manipulation.

In my opinion, we as humans and as a society have been given two great gifts. The first is that very gift of creativity, the ability to see beyond the limits of the real world and well into the future, to see things that never were and say why not (borrowing from Robert Kennedy and George Bernard Shaw).

But too often we use the creativity for our own purposes, to gather things for ourselves rather than for all. David was given the gift of creativity and it was evident in his leadership and his ability to compose poems and songs. Yet, he used his creativity to abuse the power of his position and, in the end he paid the price for his greed and arrogance. The prophet Nathan tells David that his child with Bathsheba will die and that his later years will be marked with tragedy and tumult. The glory that David sought and which should have been his will go to Solomon (whose own creativity and insight will be both renowned and reviled).

We live in a world where people are starving and dying, where even living at some minimal level of existence is more often than not hoped for rather than a reality. In an effort to bring food to starving people, we destroy acres and acres of rain forest and turn the lands into grain fields and pasture land. But in doing so, we alter the ecosystem of the planet. The Sahara Desert increases each year, moving further and further southward because people chop down what trees are standing for firewood to cook what food they might have. But in removing the trees, barriers that would prevent the expansion of the desert are removed and what is gained in the short run is lost in the long term.

Even in this country, amidst the rhetoric and debate over health care, we forget that each year the number of individuals without health care coverage of some sort rises. It may be proper to debate the cost of health care coverage but what happens when there are many who have no health care and cannot pay for it?

How can anyone who proclaims themselves to be people of God argue that healthcare reform costs too much when there are so many who cannot afford what is out there right now? How can anyone say that we should not rush this decision because it is too important when each year the number negatively affected rises?

In the Gospel message for today, Jesus rebukes the people for seeking Him out because He fed them for free. They were more interested in what they could get from Jesus for themselves than they were in what they could give in return. Their interests in the bread from heaven were self-centered and selfish while Jesus offered them something more important. But many of the people then and throughout the Gospels would not commit to a path of walking with Jesus if it meant giving up what they had. To each one of those individuals who was given the gift that Christ offered but who turned it down, the present was more important than the future. Their own well-being was more important than the well-being of others; yet when one helps others, we are helping ourselves. We cannot live in a world where some may have and others may not; any plan that provides for one without providing for all is not a good plan and has no vision of the future.

We have been given two gifts, the gift of creativity and God’s grace. With them, we can do wonders. Paul tells us that the gift of creativity takes many forms. We only need to see what God has given us.

And we find that in God’s grace. For it is through God’s grace that our future is secure. But when we reduce what we have been given to our own selfish interests, then we basically say that we have no desire to be a part of the body of Christ. What the gift of creativity does is give us a means to find a way to make a difference in the world, to help people find their own self-respect and dignity, to make sure that people have a safe place to sleep, to have a warm meal today and grow food for tomorrow.

Our faith comes becomes we believe but our faith is nothing unless we use the gifts that God has given us. What are you going to do with the gifts that you have been given?

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