The gifted church

Good morning, Friends!

We’ve been talking for several weeks about a vision for Springfield, a vision of what we can do to grow spiritually. The first four years that I’ve been here we done a lot together, and it’s all been good, but we had to do a lot of work just to fix things that were broken and start getting back on our feet again.

I really appreciate all the hard work and all the generous giving and all the time and energy everyone has put into the meeting this past four years. But you know and I know that there’s a lot more that we can be.

We all want more people here. We want more fun, more joy, more laughter and good times. We want friends. We want a positive spirit. We want to make a difference here in the community in some way.

We want the best of the old things to prosper here at Springfield – the activities and programs and groups we enjoy, the special events that mark the seasons.

But we also want to do some new things as well. The first Sunday that I started to talk about vision, back in September, I asked you what you wanted to do next. And a lot of people stood up and shared their dreams, their ideas and longings.

It was great, and I said that I want to throw open the gates, and encourage you to try experiment with your hopes and try your dreams. That’s what we should be doing!

And in just a few short weeks, we’ve started to work on a lot of the things that were suggested. These are things that you said that you wanted to do, and that you wanted to see happen.

I love it! And you know, most of these things don’t involve a lot of money. Money isn’t our biggest problem. Our biggest problem is hope. Our biggest problem is not dreaming, and not trying. Most of all, our biggest problem is not believing we can do things. Not believing we can grow and change. Not believing that God can help us, and speak to us, today.

I want to turn that around. And today, I want to take us a tiny step forward, by listening to part of a letter that was written by the Apostle Paul.

I beg you—I, Paul, a prisoner here in jail for serving the Lord—I beg you to live and act in a way worthy of those who have been chosen for such wonderful blessings as you have received.

Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Try always to be led along together by the Holy Spirit and so be at peace with one another.

We are all parts of one body. We have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future. For us there is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and we all have the same God and Father who is over us all and in us all, and living through every part of us.

However, Christ has given each of us special abilities—whatever he wants us to have out of his rich storehouse of gifts.

Some of us have been given special ability as apostles. To others he has given the gift of being able to preach well. Some have special ability in winning people to Christ, helping them to trust him as their Savior.

Still others have a gift for caring for God’s people as a shepherd cares for his sheep, leading and teaching them in the ways of God.

Why is it that he gives us these special abilities to do certain things best? It is so that God’s people will be equipped to do better work for him, building up the Church, the body of Christ, to a position of strength and maturity; until finally we all believe alike about our salvation and about our Savior, God’s Son, and we all become full-grown in the Lord—yes, until we are all filled full to the brim with Christ.

Then we will no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because someone has told us something different or has cleverly lied to us and made the lie sound like the truth. Instead, we will lovingly follow the Truth at all times—speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly—and so become more and more in every way like Christ who is the Head of his body, the Church. Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly, and each part in its own special way helps the other parts, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

Ephesians 4 (Living Bible translation)

Paul is talking here about something really important. He says, “We are all parts of one body. We have the same Spirit, the same glorious future. We have one Lord, one faith, the same experience of being washed clean, the same God and Father. But Christ has given each of us special gifts.”

That’s the point I want to zoom in on today. We have wonderful things in common, but we’re all different. We have different gifts.

Take a look at the front of your bulletin this morning. What does it say? “Springfield Friends Meeting – every member is a minister”. That’s exactly what Paul is saying in today’s Scripture.

When Paul was writing this letter, Paul himself was a prisoner awaiting trial. Instead of being able to go freely from place to place, Paul says he’s an ambassador in chains, a Christian who is determined to spread the good news of God’s love no matter where he finds himself.

And he’s saying that everyone is a minister. Everyone has gifts. It’s that simple.

Some people, of course, are gifted in special ways. They’re people who have lived into their gifts more deeply. They have discovered more of the length, and depth, and breadth of God’s love. And they have discovered new places to share that love with other people, sometimes in pretty interesting or difficult parts of the world.

We call those specially gifted people by special names. Paul writes about apostles, and preachers, and teachers, and missionaries, and shepherds.

But the basic idea in his letter is that each one of us is gifted, and Paul talks about how those gifts appear in our lives, and about how we discover them and deepen them.

We can’t all be full-time missionaries. That’s because it usually takes the support of many people, to release just one person for full-time service.

But that doesn’t let us off the hook. We can’t sit back and say, “Just because the Lord hasn’t called me to go off and be a missionary in Africa or South America or the inner city, that means that I can sit back and do nothing. . .”

I don’t read anywhere in the Bible where it says that! On the contrary – I think it’s clear that each of us is called to spread the good news, in whatever way we can, at whatever time we can, in whatever place we can.

Each one of us is called to spread the good news. But it all seems too big for us. We’re scared by that invitation. And so Paul talks, very plainly and simply, about ways in which ordinary people can live out their faith.

It begins, according to Paul, with personal character, and with the day-to-day actions of each ordinary Christian.

“Be humble and gentle,” Paul writes. “Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Try always to be led along together by the Holy Spirit, and so be at peace with one another. . .”

Those aren’t just nice ideas. Those aren’t just sweet things Paul is saying, to fill up his letter with a lot of fluff. Paul is talking about how we can let our lives speak.

Not everybody has the gift of a golden tongue. Not everybody has the courage to stand up in front of a crowd and speak, or the gift of making difficult ideas easier to understand. Most people don’t have the faith and the endurance to be missionaries in strange new parts of the world.

But everyone has a gift. Every one of us is gifted.

And our gifts first come out, they are first developed, in the ordinary activities and attitudes of daily living.

People today seem to think, and act, as if there were different Gods. There is the God of the spiritual super-heroes, the people in the Bible and the people who do great and amazing things. And there’s a different God for us ordinary people, a God who doesn’t ask too much of us, who doesn’t expect us to change or to become different.

And in return, we don’t expect our “ordinary-level God” to do too much, either. God will mind God’s business, and we’ll mind ours, and everybody will get along OK.

But Paul isn’t talking about superhuman spiritual athletes here. This isn’t the Olympics. These are things which ordinary people can learn and understand and live by. “Speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly” is an ordinary standard for ordinary people who want to be friends of Christ.

One of the biggest reasons we don’t reach out, that we don’t live our calling to be ministers, is that we water down our expectations. If we can’t be great, if we can’t be spiritual athletes and spiritual giants, we figure we can do less than what we’re really called to do.

But when ordinary people start listening to Jesus, and begin living in the way that Jesus points out to us, then ordinary lives start overflowing. When ordinary people like you and me start trying to live what Jesus taught, then our lives start shining in the darkness which is all around us.

Even before I came here to Springfield, I started a list of things I knew needed to happen. I wrote it down.

I knew we had to fix a lot things. I knew we had to clear out a lot of old stuff. We had to get over a lot of old hurts. We needed to get to know each other, and we had to learn to listen to each other and trust each other.

But at the heart of my must do list, my wish list that I wrote down four years ago, was that we need people here at Springfield to believe that everyone here has gifts.

We may not be that older generation, the saints that many of you remember. That’s OK. They didn’t start out as saints. They grew into it. I guarantee that all the wonderful Quakers so many of you remember, started out as very ordinary people, just like us.

I know some of the people we need for Springfield to grow, and I know that those gifts are ones that can happen here.

You heard me say a few weeks ago, we need people who pray. We need more people who pray out loud during open worship. You don’t need to be trained to pray. You can do this already.

In order to pray, all you need is to be able to listen, and feel, and speak. It may not be pretty. It may not be perfect. But everyone can pray.

We need people to pray for healing. We need people to pray for vision. We need people to pray for families. We need people to pray for growth.

Do you think we’re ever going to grow by feeling bad, by feeling sorry for ourselves, by feeling God doesn’t want us to grow? It doesn’t work that way. We will start to grow when we pray more, more deeply and more often, on every occasion we get together.

We need people who invite their friends to come here. It’s not that hard. Sure, at first it’s embarrassing. Sure, a lot of people are going to turn you down. Sure, you have to ask a bunch of times.

But we’re not going to grow if we just wait for people to walk in here by accident. People need to be asked. And there’s actually a ministry of asking, just as there’s a ministry of welcoming and accepting and helping people to find a place to fit in.

We need more storytellers. I don’t just mean people who can do a children’s message. I mean people who can tell the story of Jesus, and the story of Springfield, and stories of hope and stories of falling down and trying again. We need people who can bring the past alive, and we need people who can make the future seem bright and hopeful.

We need people who can do crazy stuff. We need people who can come up with a crazy idea, and say, “Let’s do it. Let’s try. This week. Friday night!” I don’t care if it’s a social event, or service project, or a study group, or planting something, or fixing something. We need people who have crazy ideas, and say, “Let’s give it a try. Why not?”

We need a new generation of people who can put food on the table. Food and fellowship are one of our meeting’s greatest strengths. People here remember legendary meals, legendary food happenings.

Do you think the people who started those things were perfect? I can guarantee they weren’t! We’ve got the fish fry and the barbecue down to a fine art by now, but you ask people what it was like the first year we did those things, and the mistakes they made, and you’ll realize they’re people just like us.

We need people who love to make things beautiful. We need people with the gift for putting on great parties. We need more people who love to sing, even if they’ve never been trained for it.

Do you see what I’m saying?

When we listen to our hearts, we’re going to hear God calling to us. When we pay attention to our dreams, and ask God to help, God will open doors for us.

We are the people God has to work with. We are new generations of saints and ministers, and so are our kids, and so are the new people who are waiting to come through our doors.

God gives gifts to every one of us. Everyone here is a minister, in some very special way. What we need to do, is listen to our hearts, and when we hear those whispers, don’t say, “That’s crazy!” Say, “Maybe that’s God calling. Maybe that’s my ministry for today. Maybe I should try that, or ask someone if they think it’s a crazy idea.”
How do you think that amazing things get started? That’s how.

When ordinary people say to God, “Lead, and I follow…”, changes take place. The world changes, when we first decide and then try to be faithful. When we realize that we have gifts, and when we take just a few steps to use them, then God gives us cool things to do.

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