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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Midweek Lent 2015 + Clay Jars Filled with Grace (Paul's second letter to Corinth)

Week 2: "Gifted to Serve"

When we live in God’s love, we bear the fruit of sharing our gifts with the world. We don’t need to depend on our own competence or abilities, but trust in God working through us. Open yourself to the work of God through you in the world.

Vicar Meagan McLaughlin
   Wednesday, 4 March 2015; texts: 2 Corinthians 3:4-18, John 15:1-11

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

What are your greatest strengths? If it’s been a while since your last job interview, you may not have thought about that question lately. And if you are job seeking, just hearing me say that may give you sweaty palms! Usually, when someone asks this, we know they are looking for a reason to offer us a job—or not.

Especially in today’s competitive world, this question is an invitation to prove to a potential employer—and perhaps to ourselves—that we are the best candidate, that our gifts and talents outweigh those of all the other candidates hoping to come out on the top of the resume pile. Do we have enough years of experience? Good enough skills? The right degree?

Whether we are currently working for pay or not, the world judges us by the same standards. Either we are good enough, or we are not. And those of us who are not chosen, those not able to work because of illness or disability, those who have retired, even those choosing to be a full-time care-giver for our children or loved ones, can often be left feeling as if we don’t have anything valuable to give, and if we do, those around us aren’t seeing it.

There is a lot of competition out there—limited jobs, first place trophies, awards, and a lot of people scrambling for success. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and we are all aware that only so many dogs can win.

Paul points out to us today that God sees things differently. We tend to think of our strengths as skills we acquire through our own efforts, and how competent we are—how valuable we are in this world—is judged by how we measure up against those around us. But from God’s perspective, it’s not that. Or at least, it’s not only that.

In God’s view, the greatest strength we have is the ability to be “ministers of the new covenant of the Spirit,” the ability to serve God and others. And that is a gift that comes to each one of us from God, not from our own efforts. Each of us has a particular part to play, and God has given us everything we need to play it well. There are not a limited number of open positions on God’s team, and we don’t have to apply or compete to be included.

On God’s team, the abilities God has given us are not revealed through competition or display of our own effort and strength. We have gifts and value to offer the world simply because we are created and gifted by God. Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John that he is the vine, and we as branches are all tapped into the source of love and grace. Our gifts come directly from our connection to God, and because God works through us, we all bear fruit that reveals God’s glory.

This is really good news! We don’t have to prove ourselves to anyone, even God. We don’t ever need to be afraid that we have nothing to offer to the world. It is not about us being perfect, and therefore useful to God. In fact, it is just the opposite. In our uniqueness, even our imperfections, we are vessels of God just as we are.

We are most useful to God when we make ourselves vulnerable to God and others, and allow God to work in and through us. This is a really radical idea for us when we are surrounded by a culture that prizes individual achievement and self-sufficiency. How can our imperfection, our vulnerability, serve God and our community?

To be completely honest, there are moments when this scares me, because there is a part of me that feels like I am not capable of this. That no matter how hard I try, I will never be able to be that vulnerable. And then I realize that I have turned even surrender into a task to be judged, a competition that I can win or lose.

The truth is, on our own, we can’t do it, but we can have confidence in God’s presence with us. As Paul writes, “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.” Our competence comes from God, and when we are open to the work of God in us, we are made more and more like Christ. Because we are connected to God, the love of God can reveal itself in everything we do.

Lest we be left thinking that we can sit back and rest and let God do all the work, Paul goes on to call us to be bold in the hope we have in Jesus. God gives us gifts not for ourselves, but for the good of the world, and we are called to use them, without fear.

Each of us is unique, and no one of us can replace another. God has work for each of us to do here, and God has equipped us to do the work. This means we are called to grow in our awareness of the gifts God has given us. We are called to ask God for guidance in where and how to use these gifts. And most importantly, we are called to remember that God is the source of all good things, and that we cannot claim anything as coming from ourselves. We are called to be stewards of gifts that do not belong to us.

Today’s scriptures are a celebration of God’s abundance that calls us to care for the gifts we have been given, and share them freely with the world. So, set aside for the moment any fear or doubt you may have. Know that God has entrusted you with work to do, and listen with new ears to this question: “What are your greatest strengths?”


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