Sermon Archives

Lay Preacher Series ~ Claiming Our Gifts ~ Psalms

Good morning.  Preparing for this sermon made me realize and appreciate the depth of your love and support over the past 25 years. The loving guidance and openness of this congregation has allowed me space to question, doubt and grow.

I also have the good fortune to work for University Hospitals. For years I have been able to visit many of you as patients in our hospital during lunch. My coworkers were surprised by me taking a lunch break – we work long hours and frequently use the noon hour to catch up on email. So when I would slip out they would notice. Upon return a coworker commented what a nice thing it was that I would take time to visit. I was surprised and said, “Oh, you don’t understand. When I go to visit especially Mr. Bill Tapie he greets me by calling out ‘Mrs. America’ and I get a big hug and kiss.” What a way to get a mid-day boost! What a way to grow up. Thank you.

Our Psalm today talks about restoring our souls time and time again – how does God prepare us for this restoration? The words from Ted Loder have directed me today, “O Daring One, it is an awesome power you’ve shared; and I rejoice in the artists who dare to use their gift, to create the beauty which casts this world into a more whole and holy dimension, who dare to breath visions and vibrations into dullness, as you breathed life into dust.” We are gifted. These gifts and our discernment of them allow us to live into our best expressions which lead to restoration and ultimately our salvation. Let me repeat that: We are gifted. These gifts and our discernment of them allow us to live into our best expressions which lead to restoration and ultimately our salvation. Do we dare? Let’s take a look.

Have you ever begun an important journey without a map – or even a destination? At work we have an online job application process. You can apply from the comfort of your own home. One applicant applied for 100 different positions not realizing that recruiters throughout the system could see all that he had applied for. Often when people apply for that many positions they are unsure of what they really want to do, and are applying without realizing what their talents, passions and strengths are. How often do our lives feel that way – unfocused and uncertain? Whether it is the decision of going to a strange country on a mission trip or taking a bold step in a new job – how we are equipped for the journey is critical. How we prepare for it can often spell the difference between success or lack thereof.

Recently we’ve had two women looking for employment. They hadn’t worked in 20 years after having dedicated their lives full time to their families. They spoke of this job searching as a scary time, a ‘mapless’ journey, one filled with uncertainty and doubt. They are ‘feeling’ their way into the workforce based on need and desire – looking for affirmation that they are gifted and able to make a contribution. It is difficult to hear their fear and hope that they might have a place with us.

After talking with the women just a few minutes it was easy to see that they were truly gifted – strong organizational skills, glimmers of administration, definitely hospitality and fiscal management. So why were they so unsure? Why didn’t they know what gifts they had? As a younger person it was easy; giftedness meant more about being better than anyone else. You remember – winning the track meet, dance contest, throwing the shot put or winning the debate. Being gifted means paying attention to those things you can do, see, hear or create that come easily for you – which you are naturally gifted at. They can be gifts of music, administration, evangelism, intellect, wisdom and more. Unlike youthful experience they aren’t about being better or stronger than someone else. …Like the women looking for work we are seeking an affirmation that what we have is sufficient for the journey – sufficient to bring into the world. Employment can be that restoration, that affirmation that we have contributions and can make a difference in this world.

Gift discernment is a process by which you name and claim your giftedness and mirror to others what you see in them. On the surface it really feels good – people tell you nice things about you. They also tell you things that you yearn for, things that seemed beyond your grasp. The notion that you have gifts may not be a surprise to you. Yet to realize that others gifts are leaking out of you, are visible for others to see is very personal – especially those gifts that you may be a bit unsteady about or perhaps were told that weren’t good enough by people or experiences in the past. For example if you are aware that you can sing in a pleasant way is one thing – for someone to tell you that your singing or playing brings them closer to God is yet another. One fabulously talented man knew he could write – but when told that he pays attention to the world and can capture it in words in a way that is more rich and full than anything you could do alone is very powerful.

What continues to amaze me is how surprising it is for people to be told what we see in them. It seems many people grew up paying attention to what they couldn’t do well – not good in math, not very pretty, should work harder, shouldn’t be so lazy – that this has become an internal dialogue that can continue unchecked for years. What this experience has made me realize is that this is the work of the dark side – the devil. I absolutely don’t understand the devil – my tactic has been avoidance when questions about Satan or darkness have come up. This powerful dark force restricts our ability to risk trying new things or being good but not great at something. This dark force is a barrier preventing us from being in greater community with the Holy Spirit. To counteract this internal oppression we need to hear from others what they see in us. This naming, claiming and witnessing of our gifts – our belovedness – is a powerful experience – a restoring experience.

So, assuming we are gifted and have spent some time discerning what makes us special – how God has gifted us – what now? Why is this important?

There are many reasons why people either can’t or don’t do work that they feel particularly gifted or called to do. Our focus as church is to help equip the saints for ministry in this world. Being ‘called’ to ministry or ‘called’ into the world is when your abilities and worlds greatest needs come together. {pause} Several years ago here at church a committee was asked to discern what our expectations were for the next associate pastor. It was an intense time, often meeting bi-weekly until we could look inside our walls and outside the walls – real discernment work – and recommend what the next pastor role should ‘look like.’ One of the more compelling discoveries we made was church work, or any work for that matter, can be powerful, kingdom work if it comes from your strengths or gifts. This may sound basic, and indeed in many ways it is, however the practice of working from your gifts can be challenging. How many of you ever found yourself in a job that was at times unfulfilling? How many of you yearned to be or do something different – new meaning making with your life but for many good reasons chose not to? Or have you ever found yourself on a church committee that drained you instead of empowered or energized you?

We have a nurse who is so passionate about her work. She appears to be on a mission to restore the world one person at a time. Several years into her tenure the position of nurse manager came open and, due to her exceptional work was recommended for the role and ultimately awarded it. It didn’t take long to notice the changes. She wasn’t smiling as much, patients weren’t sending the thank you cards and letters, and we were experiencing a higher degree of turnover in the people that worked for her. What is obvious now, that wasn’t then, is that she was a great nurse but not living into her gifts while in the role of an administrator. Sure enough she applied for another position with direct patient care responsibilities/no administration and quickly returned back to her energetic and creative self – this was her best expression.

Another component is how you prepare to bring your best expression forth. A recent study in academics reminded me of the power of naming, claiming and developing your gifts. A group of students were divided into two groups. One group had great reading scores the other group did not. As part of the study both groups received the additional training. I bet you can guess what happened. Did the group who were struggling improve? Yes. Did the group who were doing well already improve? Exponentially so. Being good at reading is something innate, certainly improved by education, but something elemental to who we are. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Listen to where your gifts and the world’s needs are pulling you. This is how you can bring salvation – make the wide spaces using what is uniquely you.

Our gifts are named and claimed – we strive to live into our best expressions – that restoration is happening – what about salvation? Kathleen Norris, in her book Amazing Grace writes, “The Hebrew word for salvation means literally to make wide or to make sufficient.” Let me give you an example of these “wide spaces”. For many of us it happens with music – listening or making music you have an experience of ‘other worldliness’ – beyond the here and now. For me ‘wide spaces’ happen when I’m singing. There’s something magical that happens when you are singing – not every time but especially here, in church, it’s an experience of awe and wonder. It feels like a power surge – like a column of energy is flowing through you. Music is more than just words on a page accurately sung. Singing is prayer and truly transcends time. Songs written centuries ago still have the power to speak to us – make us laugh or cry; even fill us with majesty. Have you ever wondered where creative energy comes from? Where great ideas come from? How a musician can ‘hear’ a song before it’s written? Or a chef ‘taste or see’ a meal in their minds. I’ve heard the experience described by an artist as feeling more like a conduit – having an experience not really ‘of us’. More of a channeling of something that needs to be in this world. This I believe is the Holy Spirit actively present in you – a connection with the Holy. Ted Loder adds, “O Mysterious One, I shrink from your power, yet I claim it; and it is mine by your genius or madness..”

Our two applicants, the ones who had been out of the workforce for 20 years, I’m sure weren’t feeling the Holy Spirit yet it was there. Through hard work and effort they were able to claim their gifts, see potential and take that first brave step into bringing their best expressions to the work environment. So how do we get to salvation? There is no prescription for our salvation.. how the ‘wide spaces’ are made in our lives to strive for salvation. So how does this all come together – our journeys, gifts, gift discernment, restoration and salvation – can this restore the world? Restore us again the Psalmist affirms that. “… steadfastness and love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will embrace one another, wisdom will spring up from the ground and truth will look down from the sky…” For today we can bear witness to Jesus Christ in our actions, words and deeds by living into the very tools or gifts that God has given us for the journey. We have been gifted with communities that are dedicated to building of the kingdom of God. Is this church? I hope it is for you – it is for me. Is it our homes? Our softball teams? Our youth groups and mission trips? How do we turn the daily into the holy – bring Gods grace to the world? To focus our hearts – we pray – and work with our gifts. To center our lives – we pray – and put ourselves in loving community. To discern the will of God – we pray – and listen. Is there a trend? Pray on the golf course, pray in your car or on the plane. Bringing your best expression into the world can restore and allow us to experience a little part of salvation through the Holy Spirit. Pray for others – pray for healing and restoration for the newness of soul we were created in.

I’ll close with an excerpt from Nelson Mandela’s inaugural speech “Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, our greatest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous talented and fabulous? Actually who are you not to be you are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking, so that others don’t feel insecure around you. We are born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some: it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same as we are liberated from our fear our presence automatically liberates others.”

May you be free.