During experiments aboard the shuttle “Columbia” almost 30 years ago, scientists discovered that there are twenty-six lakes underneath the Sahara Desert. It breaks my heart to think of the people who are starving and dying of thirst in that region of the planet because these hidden resources have not yet been tapped.
In a similar way, there are several spiritual resources that lie untapped in our lives because we’ve simply not gone deep enough. We are missing on so many spiritual riches, that some of us may be settling for something less than what God meant for us to be.
Unlike the early Christians in Rome, our problem today is not that many of us think spiritually of ourselves more than we should. Rather, we tend to think of ourselves less than we should because we have not yet tapped our own spiritual gifts.
“Oops! I did not know I have my own spiritual gifts,” some of you may have said at some point in your faith journey. Yes! We all have spiritual gifts inside us. God has given gifts to each of us, Paul reminds us. And he describes those gifts as “graces,” for they come all from God and are to be used at God’s pleasure and upon God’s demand.
I like the term graces, for it indicates something about those gifts – in fact, gifts are graceful, and something graceful is a delight to watch in action, especially when it is shared with someone else. But the greatest emphasis here in this letter to the Romans is that God has also gifted us for ministry.
Now, how do we normally think of ministry? Who are ministers? If you were talking about the church to a neighbor, and that neighbor asked you point blank who the minister is, what would you say?
Most likely you would tell your neighbor that your minister now is someone named Ariel Ferrari – “F-e-r-r-a-r-i, like the Italian car.” If you answered in that way, you would be partly right, just partly – for even though I am a minister of Jesus Christ, so are you!
I went to seminary and met the requirements set forth by the Methodist Church for ordination, but that is not what made me a minister. I am a minister because I was welcomed and grafted into this extended family of Christ and assigned a work or ministry to perform on behalf of this very family. That is what makes me a minister – and what makes you a minister too!
In his letter to the Ephesians, a church in what today is southern Turkey, Paul has already described our role as ministers in the church, ministers to “equip the saints – a common name for Christians in those days — for building up the body of Christ.”
Which reminds me of Tom Landry, the now legendary Dallas Cowboys coach in the seventies and the eighties. Landry was teaching a Sunday School class for young professionals at Highland Park Methodist Church when I first came to the States to study at Southern Methodist University, better known as S.M.U.
Speaking about this topic, one Sunday Landry said: “Very much like Paul, my job is to challenge and nurture the minds of my players so that I can get them to do what sometimes they don’t want to do for them to achieve what they want to achieve. That’s what we all equally ministers by the grace of God are called to do so that we can win the big game.”
See? – all of us are the ministers, and we do the work of the ministry as a team – or we should.
Now –and I hope you will agree with me on this — our ministry would be a mess if everybody were given exactly the same gifts and the same tasks – won’t you agree? Imagine if all our children went to college to become all musicians, or all engineers, or all teachers, or all masons, or all judges, or all plumbers? Imagine an orchestra where all 50 or 60 musicians wanted to play the same instrument? All violas, or all cymbals, or all flutes, or all trombones or cellos?
That is why God has given each of us a unique gift, or ability, or talent, or grace to do certain things, and to do them well! Some have been called to teach, others to administrate, others to plan, others to raise questions, others to take risks, others to support, others to reach out, others to pray, others to sing, and quite often to do two, or three, or even four of the above at the same time, as you all know well!
But, at the end of the day, no gift is better than others. Neither “more excellent” than others. All our individual graces are equally meaningful to Christ, who brings them all together – like a beautiful symphony — with a masterful touch. Let me tell you a story to illustrate this point.
One upon a time the carpenter’s tools held a conference, Brother Hammer presiding. Some of those tools suggested Brother Hammer leave the meeting because he was too noisy.
Replied Brother Hammer, “If I must leave, Brother Screwdriver must go also. You must turn him around again and again to get him to accomplish anything.”
Brother Screwdriver then spoke up. “If you wish, I will leave. But Sister Plane must leave too. All her work is on the surface. Her efforts have no depth.”
To this, Sister Plane responded, “Brother Rule will also have to withdraw, for he is always measuring folks as though he were the only one who is right.”
Brother Rule then complained against Sister Sandpaper, “You ought to leave too because you’re too rough and always rubbing people the wrong way.”
In the middle of all this discussion, in he walked, the Carpenter of Nazareth. He had arrived to start his day’s work. Putting on his apron, he went to the bench to make a little platform – someone who knew well said it was a pulpit from which to proclaim the gospel. And the Carpenter of Nazareth employed the hammer, the screw, the plane, the rule, the sandpaper, and all the other tools, for the sake of the Gospel.
Friends, I cannot stress enough how important it is that you tap into your unique graces so that you can be all God has meant for you to be, but also to help make our own church more effective in our ministry, more welcoming, more meaningful, more relevant, more prophetic, more sensitive.
One of my lay leaders once said that “no congregation could ever be all it was called to be until it understood and employed all its spiritual gifts.”
God has graced you.
God has grafted you.
God has gifted you.
Regardless of your gift, use it, and use it well, and be serious about that gift entrusted to you. And when someone invites you, or encourages you to tap your own graces so that you may grow and help us keep our witness vital and exciting, please put all your reservations, all your excuses, all your biases, all your fears on hold until you finally understand that all you are and all you possess is a but a gift from God.
And more important than that, a gift to be used each and every day for the sake of the Gospel of Christ!