God Blesses Us
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 67 and Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
August 20, 2023
While today’s scripture is a short one, there is a lot to unpack.
Paul is talking to the Gentiles, yet including a message to the people of Israel as well, the people who rejected Christ as the Messiah. He struggles to understand how God’s chosen people would reject God’s Messiah, the one that God sent.
What Paul wants the Gentiles to understand, as well as the Israelites, is that God extends his mercy to all people, even those who are disobedient. Paul has come to understand that while people may reject God, God does not reject people. God’s integrity remains constant in steadfast love.
While Paul spoke to the Gentiles years ago in ancient times, his message is still relevant to us today, because like the Gentiles and the Jews, while we have been disobedient, God still loves us. While we may have still not fully embraced God’s new way of life in Christ, we too continue to receive God’s mercy.
If we look back in the Old Testament to the story of Joseph and his brothers, he delivers a similar message to his brothers as Paul delivers in the New Testament. Joseph tells his brothers, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today?”
Both Joseph and Paul have come to understand that God’s freedom redeems any human sinfulness, and that God is always working toward the fulfillment of God’s will and way.
Unlike what we have been taught, which is that if we do good, we will be rewarded, God’s relationship with us is not transactional, and we are not rewarded for our goodness. We are indeed called into a relationship to do good and to share in the bounty of God’s love and grace, yet we receive God’s good gifts in spite of ourselves, even at times in our disobedience.
During our Centering Prayer time on Wednesday evening, the reading spoke to our tireless efforts to feel loved because we make love transactional. We may think we have to prove our worth in order to belong, however real relationships are held together not by performative, transactional behaviors, but by mutual proclamation of sacredness and divinity in one another.
Paul is reassuring the Gentiles and Jews that God does not let go of his chosen, and in identifying himself as an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, and of the tribe of Benjamin, he is saying to the people of Israel, “if God can show me mercy in all my disobedience, surely God shows mercy to all.”
Paul continues with proclaiming that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” There is nothing we can do to convince God to let go of us. While we all share our own gifts with one another, we receive no special treatment by God if we perceive one gift may be greater than another’s gift. It is not God’s intention to give us special treatment because of a gift he has provided, rather we are to use that gift or gifts for God’s will and mission, and we use them for the glory of God, not for our own benefit.
Not one of us is more special than the other, we are all God’s children, and together, we all play a part in furthering God’s will, even at times when we are moving along in blind faith not sure of what the future holds for us as individuals and as a loving family of believers.
When we have a shared goal, a shared vision, then we grow together as God directs and blesses us to continue his work in our congregation and in our community and beyond.
In that shared vision, some people are called to come into our presence to assist with additional gifts God has provided them, and others may be called in a different direction. God leaves it to us in our free will to claim the freedom to act as we will, to choose to love as freely and gracefully as God does.
However, we have to be careful that we do not reduce that freedom to act to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace, “the grace we bestow upon ourselves.” The grace provided by God comes with a gracious call to follow Jesus. It comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart.
As one of my commentaries so beautifully stated, “We cannot bless ourselves with God’s grace, nor can we withhold blessings from others. God’s gifts are freely given out of God’s act of sovereign love, making our gifts not our own, but God’s.
There is no one beyond the reach of grace. God’s call is also inescapable. Those who have received the gift of grace are also to accept the call of the Giver, the call of discipleship.
The constants of gift and call are signs of God’s unbounded faithfulness, which is unaffected by anything we do and, at the same time, never ceases to call us back to our own faithfulness. The gift, the grace, is irrevocable, and so is the call.” (Martha C. Highsmith)
So my question for each of you is, what gifts do you have to offer? To what call is God nudging you to respond to help move us forward in the life of this church and the plans that God has for us?
In your survey prepared by the PNC, I hope that you took time to think about what gifts you can offer when considering the resources we have, and how we can use them better.
While the survey asked for leadership qualities and skills you would like to see in a new pastor, I would like for you to consider what leadership qualities and gifts you can offer right now while we wait for the pastor God is sending. What gifts can you offer that God is calling you to act upon in this church family at this very time?
Sometimes we get so comfortable depending on others to “get the job done” that we ignore the gifts God has provided to us to share. We think, what is the church doing for me, rather than what am I doing to help the church grow in the life of a disciple of Christ.
Do we have expectations of a future pastor that will arrive with a magic wand and fulfill all of our fantasies of what we want the church to look like in our community, or are we willing to step out of our comfort zone to recognize where we might offer our gifts to welcome a new pastor with a healthy church full of dedicated disciples of Christ. Disciples that are sharing their gifts with one another, which then spills over into community, and then becomes infectious to the point that everyone wants to belong to that spirit of love that exists here with one another.
Let me just review some of our committees that you might be willing to be a part of, but you really haven’t considered what your gifts may be to participate on a committee.
First we have Administration, Finance and Property. If you have a gift of management of people, there may be ways you can help. Perhaps you have a gift of managing finances whether personal or for a corporation, and you have a genuine concern of wanting to help the church succeed in managing its finances. Maybe your gift is in finding ways to cut expenses. Maybe your gift is in accounting or bookkeeping. Perhaps you love to garden, or you love to fix things, maybe you have a skill for getting little things done, like getting doors unstuck. If any of this appeals to you, you could have gifts for helping out the Administration, Finance and Property committee.
Perhaps you have a gift in studying God’s word and for teaching or working with youth. Maybe you are a social person, and you enjoy being involved in fellowship and sharing your gifts in showing ways to love others. If you recognize that you have gifts in caring for others, you might be able to help out the Faith and Nurture committee.
If you enjoy helping out with missions that we already have in place like Break Bread Together, the Bun Run, and Rise Against Hunger, and think you have gifts to help support and grow these missions while seeing other ways your gifts can assist in our community, the Mission, Evangelism and Media committee can definitely use your help!
If you like all aspects of the worship service, the music, the decorations, the order of worship, preparation of communion elements, and see that you have gifts that would contribute to the Worship committee, these gifts are definitely welcomed and waiting for you to claim.
What gifts do you have that God is calling you to share with this church family? To be sure, you can have more than one gift, and God may be calling you to use all your gifts to advance our spiritual journey together in Christ.
Maybe you are involved on one of these committees already, and you have discovered that you are not where you need to be to use the gifts God is calling you to use. It’s okay, to say, maybe I could be more useful on another committee. It’s okay to make a change if you feel like you have given all you feel God has led you to provide in a certain area, and you are now being called to go in a different direction where you see more help is needed and you have gifts to offer.
Whatever we choose in our free will, let’s be sure it is to what God is calling us to do. Sometimes that path may not always be crystal clear. Maybe you step out in faith to offer the gifts you know can bring life and love to share with others, and then realize that it was not actually where God intended you to go. It’s okay to change direction. God gives us the permission to do just that to fulfill the mission he has, to fulfill his plan for the greater good of all.
When you see someone else that might share the same gifts as you, it’s okay if you have shared your gifts in a certain area for years, and want to step back and say, let me share this space. Let me step back and take a break, and let another person blessed with the same gifts fill this need. Allow them the space to grow, and help them when they need direction in learning when they ask for help. And most importantly, allow them the freedom to do it differently, because God’s Spirit moves in all directions, forms and ways to accomplish God’s plan. Maybe the way we have done something for the last 10 or 20 years is not the direction we are now to take, and God is bringing new gifts to the table with new vision.
I am a firm believer that God has a purpose for each one of us until he calls us home and that means we are never too young or too old to share our gifts. God has provided the gifts that are irrevocable, and Jesus provided the example of how those gifts are called into action.
As we approach a season of stewardship, I would like all of you to be thinking about the gifts and skills God is nudging you toward providing. What ideas and dreams has God equipped you with to enliven and embolden this church family beyond its current boundaries? What do you have to offer that can help this church family be a bright light like a beacon on a hill that will be shining bright when a new pastor, the person God has chosen, steps through these doors to continue this walk with us in relationship with God?
*Cover Art by Stushie Art; used by subscription