January 16, 2021 ~ Human Relations Day ~ Rev. Beckie Sweet
When Sandra was at her lowest point, she felt desperate, alone, abandoned, and unworthy of love. A relative stranger from the Better Community Development Program connected Sandra with an addiction recovery program which was the catalyst to embarking on a journey to wholeness. She slowly became acquainted with a faithful community of individuals who each contributed different gifts to support her on that journey.
One person became her “guardian/sponsor” through the recovery process, checking on her daily, listening intently, challenging and encouraging Sandra to stay clean. Another sparked Sandra’s dream of owning a home, something she had never experienced or thought possible. And yet another helped Sandra navigate getting a job, setting up a savings program for a down payment, and improving her credit rating.
Donations received through the Human Relations Day offering support the ministry of the Better Community Development Program that journeyed with Sandra, and continues to improve the quality of life for hundreds of others struggling with the demands and temptations of life. They partnered with Sandra and gave her courage and determination to live into her God-created potential.
So much is possible when we claim and use the gifts God has bestowed upon us, and when we partner with those with different gifts to build up God’s people. Like the church at Corinth, to whom Paul wrote in the letter read to us this morning, we too often allow ourselves to fall into bickering, division, the self-righteous rhetoric. It is important to address systems and principalities that breed injustice as we work together for the cause of Christ. It is equally important for the community to build on the strengths of individuals and create a network of transformational love.
Paul wrote in his letter to the divided church in Corinth (The Message) God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits.
The whole of society benefits when every person’s sacred worth is recognized through access to quality housing, education, health care, the right to vote, economic stability, and the other basic necessities of life.
That was, in large part, the focus of the ministry and public witness of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As he utilized his God-given gifts of preaching, witnessing, and organizing, Dr. King worked tirelessly for equal treatment of all persons, particularly black persons, giving dignity to all through the opportunity to access the basic necessities of a quality life. He reminded all persons that we are loved by God, gifted by God, and called by God to use gifts for the good of all.
Dr. King stated, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”
As individuals, on our own, none of us has the capacity to “save the world.” Only God can do that. But working together and with our God-given gifts infused by the Holy Spirit, we may strive for the common good. We can see what happens when folks unleash the Spirit’s power through the use of gifts to benefit the community. Sandra was a woman whose life was transformed through the faithfulness of a network of differently gifted people. They shared their uniqueness to journey alongside her toward healing and wholeness. We have seen the impact of learning from one who models giving of their gifts with excellence, generosity, and as a result of recognizing a calling from God.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism wrote, “I continue to dream about a revival that creates authentic community in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit.” Is that not what we strive for here at St. Paul’s church? The Apostle Paul’s list of gifts of the Spirit in I Corinthians, Romans, and Ephesians is not meant to be an exhaustive list. There are too many gifts to list!! Charley Reeb wrote:
My friend Erwin had no idea God had called him to be a pastor. At the time, he wasn’t even part of a worshipping community. He wasn’t sure what he thought about God! But then one day, he was approached by an older woman whom he had never met. She came up to him and said, “Young man, God is calling you to be a preacher.” He thought she was crazy at the time. Now, as a preacher, he looks back on that experience and realizes she had the gift of prophecy – she proclaimed a vision for his life that had yet to be realized.
Then Charley continues by telling a story about his life: I had just started serving at my current church when two weeks in my mom was diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, a month later she passed. Shortly after I came back from her funeral, I was checking the mail at my community mailbox when I ran into my mail carrier whom I had yet to meet. She asked, “Are you Pastor Charley?” I nodded. She then asked, “Is everything OK? You’ve been getting a lot of cards recently. I was hoping they were birthday cards, but I had a feeling they weren’t.” I explained to her that they were condolence cards sent to me after my mom died. “That’s what I feared,” she said. “I want you to know how much I’ve been praying for you. As a mail carrier, I get an inside window into people’s lives. I notice condolence cards, medical bills, overdue credit card statements, and so on. For this reason, I intentionally pray for the people on my route. You’ve been in my prayers every day.” Charley concludes, When I walked away from that encounter, I felt a sense of peace. It was an incredible act of kindness demonstrated to me by a perfect stranger, who advanced the ministry of Jesus. What Spirit-infused gift has God given to you? And how have you utilized that gift to benefit the cause of Christ in the world? Perhaps there is a gift that the Spirit is ready to unleash through you!! How will you strive to build God’s beloved community with that gift?