Good afternoon, dear friends! Today's passages are Exodus 3:1-12 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-31. We're talking about using your gifts for the good of the body.
There is this great story in 2 Kings chapter 2 in which the prophet Elisha is traveling somewhere and some unruly kids come over and start teasing him for being bald. “You old bald-head!” they call him. They yell “get out of our town, baldy!” As if this isn’t weird and funny enough, the best part is how Elisha handles them. He nonchalantly turns around and curses them for being punks. Not like swears at them curses them, but calls down God’s judgment on them. But this is no regular lightening strike or earth opening up judgment. A couple of bears come out of nowhere and eat the boys. And the story just ends.
In Acts 20, we hear a story in which Paul – the author of 1 Corinthians which we’ve been reading – is preaching. He was preaching for so long, that a young man who had been sitting in the window while listening, fell asleep and fell out the window and died. Paul stops mid-sermon, rushes downstairs, and brings the young man back to life miraculously. And then. . . he goes back upstairs and carries on preaching as if nothing happened.
Last but not least, we have this great story of Moses at the burning bush The call of Moses. When we see Moses in the movies or paintings, he’s this wind-swept, powerful man who is clearly going to change the world. And that is NOT how Exodus 3 portrays him. Moses is a man of faith, that much is clear in how he immediately responds to realizing God is speaking. He’s obedient in taking off his shoes and approaching the bush with reverence. But then God says he’s called him to that bush to tell him that someone is needed to lead the chosen people to freedom and that Moses is that guy. And Moses freaks out.
Moses doesn’t even freak out a little bit. He flat out tells God, “You’ve got the wrong guy. I can’t do this.” God tells him he won’t be alone, but that doesn’t seem to help much. As you read further into the chapter than we went this morning, Moses goes on at great length in a “what if” battle with God. “What if they ask me your name?” “What if they don’t believe me?” Every time, God gives a perfectly calm and reasonable answer and Moses starts to freak out more and more as he realizes that he just can’t weasel out of this highly uncomfortable assignment.
One of the greatest figures in the whole Bible is portrayed in Exodus 3 as being a completely insecure basketcase. I love this story because it makes me feel a little bit better about myself. Moses is so very human and lovable in this passage. And the best part is that in spite of his trying to wheedle his way out of it, God doesn’t let him off the hook. God answers each of Moses’ objections patiently and lovingly. And finally, Moses goes. It’s fascinating to watch Moses grow throughout Exodus from being this insecure mess of nerves to being one of the greatest leaders not just in the Bible, but in all of human memory. You can approach anyone on the street and ask what they know about Moses and they will probably be able to tell you at least something.
It’s easy to look back at someone like Moses and forget how terrified he was and how many excuses he had when God first hollered at him from a flaming bush. It’s easy to look at lists of gifts that God gives us – special talents that we receive through the power of the Holy Spirit for use in the church – and to think, “Yeah, but I’m not that special.” Or, “That’s for the really good Christians or the really religious types.” It’s common for us to think we hear God telling us to speak to someone or get involved with a particular ministry or do something a little unusual and say, “Who, me?” We second guess ourselves. We convince ourselves it couldn’t possibly mean us. Just like Moses, we offer excuses to God for why we can’t. But just like Moses, we’re only going to make ourselves miserable and look a bit silly when we play this “Who Me” game with God. Or as I like to call it, when we “pull a Moses.”
Friends. . . don’t be a Moses.
Now, we’re all going to be a Moses every once in a while. So don’t despair if you’ve spent some time in your life ducking for cover when you think God is trying to push out of your comfort zone a little bit. Even Moses did it. But these two passages are a nice pairing here because we seem to so often treat gifts of the Spirit like they are some sort of option for the superchristians and that’s just not remotely the truth.
The most common translation for the word that goes along with gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 is “variety” but the word in Greek can also mean “assignment.” As if these Spirit-given talents are something we are given that is meant to be used. So why do we so often do a “Moses” when confronted with the idea of using our spiritual gifts? “Who, me?” we like to say. I’m not good enough. I’m too busy. I don’t have any talents worth sharing. I get nervous.
But 1 Corinthians tells us that EACH ONE is given the Spirit for the good of the body. Everybody has gifts and talents and they are assigned. They aren’t chosen. They aren’t given like a buffet. . . you know. . . just in case you want to use one or two or them when you get a chance. They are given because we are meant to use them. Not just for ourselves, although there is a great deal of growth in us as individuals when we use our gifts – don’t forget who antsy, insecure Moses became. But our gifts benefit the whole community of believers.
Paul’s list of gifts isn’t exhaustive. We aren’t limited to just the gifts that we see in this passage. His point is not to make us a full list of the talents we are given by God. His point isn’t even to lift certain gifts up above others. His point is in the second part of the passage when he calls us a body. If we only had right legs, we’d be walking around in circles. If we were all noses and no eyes, we’d be able to smell dinner cooking, but we’d ever be able to see where it was. Not to mention if we were all noses, we’d have no mouth with which to eat that dinner. This is an analogy that can get a little strange if you keep thinking about it. If we were all hairs, we’d just clog the drain and there’d be no one to clean the shower. But I think Paul means to be just a little bit strange here to get there attention. That is no stranger than saying “We are going to be a living, active, committed, and fruitful community of believers who are all Sunday school teachers.” If we were all Sunday school teachers, who would play the organ? If we were all organists, who would pass out the bulletins? If we were all ushers, there would be no one to visit the sick. If we all spent all week visiting the sick, who would set up for the potlucks? And don’t get me wrong - you all know I love a good potluck supper - but If we were all always and only setting up for potlucks, who would speak a kind word to the hurting or reach out to the poor or suffering? It’s just as silly as picturing a pile of ears trying to do just about anything other than hearing.
I have this little cat. I have a few little cats, but Clark is a particularly interesting little cat. You see, we didn’t know it until a few months after we adopted Clark, but he’s a very sick little guy. It took the vets a long time to figure out what’s wrong with him. It just seemed like random parts of his body would stop working right. He would sometimes act like a pretty normal cat, and sometimes he would stare at the wall for an hour or fall off the couch for no reason. After a month or two of testing to figure out what was making his various organs and body parts get out of whack from time to time, they determined that it was a birth defect that affects his liver. Because Clark’s liver doesn’t work right, his brain doesn’t work right, his balance is off, sometimes he’s really weak in the legs, he is deaf in one ear, and he doesn’t always see well. He is a sweet little thing, but he’s a complete mess. Just his liver. It’s just one tiny vessel in his liver that doesn’t quite run in the direction it should and his whole body suffers for it.
That’s what happens to the church body when one body part doesn’t function the way it’s designed to function. When it gets forced into a function that it’s not meant to do or it refuses to do its part for some reason. . . everything in the body is affected. Even when it’s a part like the liver that you can’t even see on a regular basis.
Friends, be the body part you were designed to be. Some are meant to be scripture readers, some to be bakers, others to be educators. Some are prayer-warriors, some are speakers, some are quietly working in the background in ways that may rarely be noticed. But all are vital to a healthy body. And we don’t always know what everyone’s talents and gifts are. I want to know if you’re hiding something, my dear friends. I encourage you all to take one of these papers I have in the kitchen and in the narthex. Take it with you, think about it, pray about it, and bring it back next week or stop by and see me this week to talk about it. Recently in our new members class, I encouraged our lovely new members to think outside of the box. If you have a talent that’s not being used, let us know! Maybe we have a place for you to use it that we just hadn’t thought of. Maybe it’s God’s way of showing us a new place of ministry.
Don’t be a Moses. Own the gifts that God has given you. We want to help you live up to whatever sort of body part you are!
I had a strange, but fun and surprisingly deep conversation with a dear friend yesterday. I was telling her how after a year, I’m still adjusting to the whole pastor thing. I’m still a little bit of a Moses. I said, “It’s still kind of weird that I say a few things, pray a few prayers, then tell two people, ‘you’re married.’ AND THEY ARE.” Without missing a beat, BJ texted me back and said, “That is a pretty weird superpower!” She said she’d have to tell her 6 year old son about this superpower and see if he is impressed by it. The conversation took a weird turn when I send her a picture of my robe and stole and told her that I even had a superhero costume. But then it got serious for a minute. I was a Moses. I said, “Yeah, but I can’t save the world. I’m really just a person in a costume.” She said, “That's ok. God will save the world----He just looks like u wearing ur costume.” Whoa.
You don’t have to save the world, dear friends. You don’t have to be the best at everything. You don’t have to be the perfect picture of what you see a lay reader or an elder or a Sunday School teacher or a whatever being. You just have to be you. Just figure out how your gifts and talents are meant to help the body. God will save the world. God will do the work the church is meant to do. God just looks like you doing what you do when you use your gifts.