1 Corinthians 12:12-26
Listen to what American humorist Erma Bombeck once said. "When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say [to God], "I used everything you gave me."
What a beautiful sentiment Bombeck gives us, what a beautiful goal, to use up every single bit of talent God has given us as before we stand in front of God at the end of our lives. "Yes, Holy Father," we can say one day. "Yes, I've used up every bit of talent you have given me."
Open the door to this. Make that happen. As a whole, you're a hardworking congregation. As a whole, you're a caring congregation. As a whole, you're a loving congregation. On this the first day of the new membership class, let's consider what congregationalism intrinsically is: the successful deployment of a group of Christians who engage their talents to get the whole job done. For example, we don't ask Christian Education to develop and promote the Fall Stewardship drive, and, unlike a Trustee, a Deacon may not know their way around the mechanical closet. (And yes, we have a mechanical closet!) We use our varied talents as a church, oh yes, but today I want to talk specifically about your talents. I want to talk about developing them all, not just your obvious ones.
Let's begin. I easily imagine that you are using your obvious, noticeable, apparent talents each and every working day. Even if you are now retired, you are using your baking, cooking, teaching, nursing, gardening, coaching, clerical, electrical, mechanical, industrial, and/or woodworking talents at many points and places in your busy lives. You are using your talents of being a Sunday school student, a manager, an accountant, an artist, or a musician to the betterment of your immediate world and our nearby community. True.
Now I trust you have heard the sermon about how you use what can seem to be 'secular' talents to the glory of God. You're heard, for example, the following: as a carpet installer, a sales associate, or a basketball player that what you do each day and every day can certainly bring glory to God because God has given you—as God has given all of us—different gifts, different talents. We can use what we have to honor God and to reflect His love in us and His love for us.
Again, I hope that's the sermon you've heard somewhere along the way because it's a good sermon, a necessary sermon.
Today, we change it up. Today, we look at the God-given talents you have that you may not think you have, or the talents you know you have but keep too quiet for too long. Today, I invite you to use the talents you don't often pull up, the talents you have that you often don't name as your own, or the talents you modestly—and maybe even accurately—aren't so sure you have.
What are these 'other' talents? What are these talents you have that you may feel are underdeveloped, or underutilized? Well, to start, let's be honest, truly honest. These talents are not underdeveloped. These talents are not underutilized. These talents certainly aren't dormant. In the presence of Christ, you know these talents have the place and the space to be active. You just need to fully open the door to them. What are these talents? You know them. They are the fruits of the spirit. Paul lists them for us in Galatians 5:22-23. The Apostle who wrote today's scripture lesson says the Holy Spirit produces these kinds of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
I know what some of you are honestly thinking. When you look into all the corners and all the pockets of your life, when you see the imperfect places you have about and within you, you're thinking your skill base—your talent pool—is pretty shallow, particularly when it comes to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These aren't your talents, these are ideological words you sometimes put on your wish list! Your talents are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Yes, they are.
Someone confided in me something that popped by spirit. They said something that actually made my chest hurt. They said they have left church services here with a cloud of negativity around them. This is the first soul who has uttered these words to me directly. There have been indirect comments I've heard over the years. People have told me that there can be a negative buzz around here, a joy kill, after worship. The whole service may be fine, but as soon as that postlude plays and people start exiting the sanctuary, man, the "negative nellies" come right out. The pick-a-part business meetings start. Here is what I see in the deep egresses of this so not perfect church family: the enemy slips right in and starts hardening hearts and sharpening tongues. Suddenly what was light gets dark. If the pick-a-part meeting doesn't take place right in the church, it takes place in the parking lot.
Now whether it's here or someone else, we've all been negative nellies; we've all been naysayers. Immediately after some event, some luncheon, some concert, or some family gathering, oh boy, this is what we do: we put down rather than lift up. We find that one small way to slam rather than lift that small trace within us that can support.
Don't look at the other guy. Don't think about or weighed down by what "they're" doing. Here's the truth. You're a hot mess sometimes. Some of thoughts you've had (and foolishly never should have shared out loud) are at the bottom of the bowl. But get this. Hear this. Live this. Practice this. Apply this. Here is your calling. Here is your destination. Open the door to it. You are a child of light. You are created in God's image, and this scuttlebutt, this murky, coy, enemy of lies speaking to you or through you is not who you are.
And get this! Here's the truth. It can be stopped. This negative whirl can be stopped. How? Develop your talents.
I love what Alexander Whyte once said. Whyte has something for all of us to open the door to, and it's this. "The greatest and best talent that God gives to any man or woman in this world is the talent of prayer."
At the door, on your way to your car, or before the committee meeting if you catch yourself saying or hearing something so far from love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control, stop. Stop. Develop your talents, yes, all of them, including the godly ones, or especially the godly ones. How? Here's your first sermon note. See the potential, not the problem.
Consider this. What if God saw only the problems in you? What if God only saw who you truly are 24/7? God doesn't focus on the problems in you, why should you focus or fixate on the problems around you?
Thomas Edison shares something significant. He said, "If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves." Think about that for a moment. We can be filled with such goodness. The potential for us to be so Christ-like that we are actually identified as 'Christian' is within our means; it's within our grasps.
We can do it! It seems to me that I've seen a blue tee shirt with bold white letters that say just that. We can do it. We can develop all of talents—even the quieter ones—and live for the Kingdom and God and live in the Kingdom of God.
Let's hear scripture to back this. Listen to what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11. A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. Please hear that. Please live that. We have been given a gift from God, and the gift is to lift each other up.
Scripture isn't saying you always have to say sunshine things, but the Word of God is making this clear: what you say, out of love, should lift someone up.
Here's Paul again in 1 Thessalonians 5:11. So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.
Here's a saying that was gifted me through Facebook by one of you here. This is a faithful contributor to this church, and she lifted me, and, as you hear what she found, I will speak for her when I say that I hope it lifts you, too.
The saying starts with this sentence: "Don't cross oceans for people who wouldn't cross a puddle for you."
What I didn't share is that that part, that sentence, is crossed out. Under the big 'X" is this:
No, do it. Do cross oceans for people. Love people, all people. No conditions attached. No wondering whether or not they're worthy. Cross oceans. Climb mountains. Life and love isn't about what you gain, it's about what you give.
There's one more scripture before we close. Peter says in 1 Peter 4:10 what we all need to hear and apply now and always. God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to lovingly serve one another.
Why should we open the door and use ALL of our talents? We should open the door and use all of our talents because they are gifts from God, and these gifts—these many talents—are sent with love from God. Consider this. Out of God's great love for you, He has gifted you with so many talents.
You've heard this before. American humorist Erma Bombeck once said, "When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say [to God], "I used everything you gave me."
Add to this. Do the following. "And God, I used everything you gave me because You love me, and I love you."
Civil War Veteran Robert Green Ingersoll once said, "We rise by lifting others." I agree, and add that we lift up our love for God when we love others.