This is a sermon from Sunday, January 20.
The world in which we live is a messed up, violent, broken place. In 2012, 43 of the worlds nations were in some state of war or conflict – not including nations that may have been participating in covert operations. Daily violence threatens the livelihood of families and the future of generations who are being left uneducated, poor, jobless and angry. Around the world, women live under the threat of domestic violence and other forms of abuse – in some countries, women are actually losing rights they once had to go to school, to drive, to leave the house unaccompanied. 6.9 million under the age of 5 died in 2011, and half of those died due to malnutrition.
In our nation, the political divide seems to grow deeper every day. We appear to have largely lost the ability to engage in civil discourse over topics upon which we disagree. The divide between rich and poor is growing at an alarming rate – and it is getting harder for poor children to bridge that gap through obtaining a college education. There are shootings in schools, in workplaces, in malls and movie theatres. Almost 50 years after Martin Luther King, Jr. shared his dream with America, we may have a black president, but racism is still alive and well. Women have made great strides, but sexism is by no means dead.
The world we live in is a messed up, violent, broken place.
Gee, thanks Vicar Elizabeth! I feel great now!
I come to bring the cheer.
But, seriously, this is but a sampling what we see around us every day. And what are we to do? We have no prophets anymore. Who is leading the way? Anyone? Bueller? When we look back at history, we see all of these great people leading the people out of misery. In our tradition have the stories of Abraham and Moses, the great prophets of the Hebrew Bible. In today’s reading from Isaiah he is bold! He is standing up and shouting out – that’s his thing! We have Jesus throwing the money changers out of the temple, talking back to the established powers of the day. We have the disciples and Paul spreading the word of God.
In more modern history we have Susan B. Anthony, Betty Friedan, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. It was only 50 years ago that Dr. King and his colleagues inspired – and demanded – change from the world. And they got a lot of it. But who do we have now? We can’t find that person, that leader. Everything is awful and no one is helping us get out of it! Like musician John Mayer says, “We’re just waiting on the world to change.”
Waiting, waiting on the world to change. Because we can’t possibly do it ourselves, can we. I mean, none of us is Dr. King, Susan B. Anthony, or Gandhi. None of us is gifted enough to change the world, right?
I hate that John Mayer song. What happened to “A change is gonna come” or “we shall over come?” We can’t wait for the world to change, because then it never will. Change doesn’t come in a world of passive observers.
There is a theory that we have no great leaders of change these days because no one can envision themselves there. That when we try to stand next towering figured like Dr. King, we see ourselves as small in comparison, figure that we can’t do anything, and we just give up.
But we can do so much. We can make concrete changes in the lives of those around us and in the lives of our brothers and sisters around the world. We have been given the gifts, we just have to use them.
In this reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he spells it out for us. Each of us has a gift and, not just any gift, a gift bestowed upon us by the Holy Spirit herself. Some of us have the gift of knowledge, some the gift of wisdom, some the gift of teaching, some gifts of healing, the ability to prophecy, the ability to interpret tongues. Each of us has a gift. And we were given that gift not for ourselves but, as Paul writes “for the common good.” They weren’t given to us so that we could be awesome on our own, or so that we could use our gifts to receive praise, status, money and power for ourselves. Our gifts were given to us so that we might use them for the common good.
What are your gifts? How are you using them?
Are you using your gifts to glorify God or are you using them to glorify yourself. Because one of those stances concerns the common good, and one cares not a whit for common good. One of those stances is the path to peace, and the other is the path to war. One seeks to erase the divisions in our society based on class, ethnicity, color, sexual orientation, gender identity and more.
For as long as we are continually looking out for ourselves, as long as considerations about the common good fall behind concerns for self-preservation, our divisions will stand. The gulf between rich and poor will continue to grow. Violence will be the rule of the day.
We are called to use our gifts for the common good, to boost up all humankind. To do otherwise is an affront to the gifts we were given and, most of all, the one who gave those gifts, the root of all that is. God.
Now, this is sticky. Because I don’t want to come off like I’m saying you have to do these things to get God’s love or to get into heaven or like God will curse you because you don’t listen. God’s people have been ignoring God and putting themselves first for the better part of human history. God’s love endures. God keeps redeeming us. That’s God’s thing.
But to respond to the gifts God has given us by using them for the common good is to make faith more than words and to make the phrase “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” more than a passive platitude. It makes it real. God gave us our gifts out of God’s unending, abiding love and calls us to use those gifts for the good of all of God’s children – an extension of God’s love
There is a school of thought that we should not try to fix anything because our world is broken and we are to wait until the second coming of Jesus and everything will be fixed or God will fix the things God wants fixed. The God of the Bible is not a God who asks people to be passive. Jesus repeatedly instructs people on kingdom living and asks them to implement it in their lives this very day. God doesn’t ever tell us, “Hold up, do nothing, I’ll be by in a while and I’ll fix it.” Through Moses, Abraham, the Prophets, and the life and death of Jesus Christ, God repeatedly instructs us to not just change our ways to save ourselves, but to change the direction of the world. Or, as Dr. King wrote, “…we must never feel that God will, through some breathtaking miracle or a wave of the hand, cast evil out of the world. As long as we believe this we will pray unanswerable prayers and ask God to do things that he will never do. The belief that God will do everything for man is as untenable as the belief that man can do everything for himself. It, too, is based on a lack of faith. We must learn that to expect God to do everything while we do nothing is not faith, but superstition.”
We have been given these gifts by God to be participants with God in preparation for the coming of the kingdom. We have the gifts.
In reading the story of the wedding at Cana, we read of the first time Jesus was asked to demonstrate his particularly unique gifts in front of what we can assume is people he knew. He was, after all, at a wedding with his mother. There is so much I find fascinating about this story. First, I love the way his mother asks him for things without asking. She simply makes statements. But he knows what she is up to.
Second, I want some backstory. I want to know how Mary knows that this is something Jesus can fix. Has he been practicing changing liquid from one thing into another for a long time? Was this old hat to him by now, or was he new to this particular facet of his Godliness? Finally, why does he say that it is not yet his time? Is it because God has revealed to him that his time will come later, or does he just not feel as though he is ready? I don’t have much for the backstory but what my own imagination will provide. But I do have thoughts on Jesus’ response to Mary’s observation. I think this was a deeply human moment for Jesus. I think that he just didn’t feel ready. He had been teaching for a little while now, he was getting used to having a following and being listened to for his wisdom. There had always been whispers that there was something special about him, but this, he knew, would change everything. Even if no one knew what he did, this would be the first moment he does something big and God-like outside of his house. And that was a lot for him to handle. Besides, he was just at the wedding for fun.
He did the math in his head and decided that it was not the time for him to do it. But Mary knew something different. She knew that her boy was ready. And all she had to do was nudge. In the way that only a parent or spouse can. So she nudged. Someone had to get this thing started, after all.
Every day we are presented with opportunities to use our gifts for the greater good and, once in a while those opportunities are obviously intimidating or life-changing. All too often, we look at the opportunity and decide that we aren’t ready yet. We aren’t ready to help anyone but ourselves. We don’t have enough savings. We haven’t built our portfolio. We aren’t ready to teach, we aren’t ready to share our wisdom or knowledge, we aren’t ready to lead, to heal, to make a difference in anybody’s life, not even our own. We want to stick to status quo.
But we are ready. God gave us these gifts for the express purpose of contributing to the greater good and there is no better time than right now to use them.
Our world may be messed up, violent, broken place, but we are its stewards. God has given us gifts to use for the common good. We are ready. We have to be.
Somewhere in Jesus’ heart, he knew it actually was his time. He knew he was ready. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have this story. We might not have many of his stories. But he just needed a little nudge from his mom to perform the first of his signs and begin his path towards Calvary.
God has given us gifts. We are ready. God has given you gifts. You are ready.
But God is like Mary – the parent who will nudge us to do what we know must be done. God will present us with opportunities to use our gifts for the greater good. Sometimes these opportunities won’t even be that obvious – like a statement rather than a question. We may have the opportunity to tell someone that that joke was racist, to confront our own racism, or to reach out from a position of power and privilege to pull someone up. We might be faced with a dilemma at our work that forces us to re-evaulate whose glory we are really working towards. We might have a nagging in our heart to mentor a kid, to serve at a shelter, or to offer our gifts to an organization that needs our help. We may be able to use our minds to cure disease or to bring an end to war – or we may be asked to care for someone who is sick or stop a fight. Each of these is ways to use our gifts for the common good.
But we must not let ourselves be stopped by fears that we aren’t ready, that we aren’t good enough, that we aren’t really called to do that. We must also not let ourselves give in to society’s theme that we look out for ourselves first or fall victim to the lie that we are each independent people totally reliant on ourselves for our successes. God has given us amazing gifts and the opportunity to use them for the common good, to heal the worlds brokenness and work towards becoming one people, under God. We are called to use them. We are ready to use them. Let us join together in song, prayer and sacrament. Then let us go out into the world as a people equipped by God for the journey ahead, equipped by God to counter the cultural narrative that it is all about the individual, equipped to make a change.