24October 2010 Sermon
Emmanuel Episcopal Church
In the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
Caring for the gifts
We have been given this body – even (as Yoda says) this crude matter –this stuff. How are we taking care of our bodies? Take a moment and do a mental scan of your body – from your toenails to the hairs on your head. Where is there pain? Where is there tightness? Where is there comfort? Where are you relaxed? Shift around on your seats a bit. Where are their scars that still remind you of old injuries? Where are there bruises from bumps and scrapes? How are we taking care of our bodies?
My advisor in seminary, who was deeply spiritual and a wonderful scholar, reminded me often of the body – of the fact that really, in a pretty tangible and nearly complete way, “we are our bodies.” Now we can quibble about this issue, that we are more than our bodies – but, for the most part we are our bodies. When one is hitting a crisis spiritually, or even just a kind of a dry spell, it is often recommended that a spiritual advisor ask the advisee such questions as, “are you getting enough sleep?” “are you drinking too much alcohol?” “are you eating well?” “are you getting some exercise?” even before more “spiritual” questions are asked such as prayer or study of the Scriptures or worship or even our relations with others. Are we taking care of the gift of our body.
What is the scan offering up? It is gift to us. We did not create it, we did not make it tall, or short, we did not give ourselves intelligence, we did not give ourselves our muscles, bones and skin. It is gift. It is all gift. Ah, you say, but we can build up our bodies, or we can change our bodies…we have some agency, of course. However, even THIS is gift. Even our urge to lose a few pounds, or run a faster race, even this, even this is gift! Our bodies are gift to us. How are we caring for the gift?
I lift up mine eyes to the hills and consider, from where does my help come? From where does my life emerge. From what was I born? Job cried out and said, “naked I came into the world,” and naked I stand now. From where does my help come? All that I am and all that I have, was this my doing? When I drive down the road and see the mountains in their glory rising up ahead of me, was this my creation? When I awaken to a new day – 24 brand new hours – was this my doing? Do I “deserve” to receive these gifts? Have I been so worthy, and so good, and so pious and holy that I should receive the orange mountains and the time that has been given? Awakening each morning, we open the gifts of our lives. We open the gift of time. 24 brand new hours. 24 brand new hours with which we might accomplish much, or in which we might take time to reflect with God on all of God’s creation, or hours in which we might provide for our families, when we might visit a friend in need, or accomplish the tasks that have been set before us, hours that we might work to eradicate hunger, hours that we might build a just society.
24 brand new hours – they are a gift, no? Well, maybe not a full 24 you might say – for you need to ferry your kids around to soccer and ballet for 2 of the hours, and then there is the time on hold as you try to get the health insurance to approve your new medication, or there is the time sitting in that meeting just waiting for your supervisor to finally finish their “point of personal privilege” as they tell you all about their trip to Bermuda while you were running the office in their absence.
So, you might say, not really 24 brand new hours – and perhaps you have a valid argument. But no, I say NO! We have been given 24 brand new hours – of course we need time to rest, to eat, to ferry our family from place to place, time to work, time to play, time to watch the World Series – but it is all gift. It is all gift. It is ALL gift. The time is gift to you, it is not payment for a job well done. It is gift to us, it is not something that we have earned. Whether or not we have “prayed correctly” or not, it is gift to us. And the appropriate response is gratitude. Gratitude…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
We have been given a body – we didn’t earn it. We have been given time – we didn’t earn it. And, we have been given talents as well. How are we taking care of our talents?
Talents are a bit different than our bodies and our time, because our talents can lead us to treasure. Our talents have been given to us – and we make choices about how to use them well or not well. However, they are still gifts. Do you have a deep and resonant voice like James Earl Jones? Well, if you do, did you do anything to have this talent, this quality? Nope. It is gift. Do you have superior powers of analysis, reasoning, music, or compassion? Wonderful. These are gifts as well. They are talents, they are talents which have been given to us by the Creator. As creatures, we can still recognize the wonderful talent and beauty of Pavarotti or Lady Gaga, but they were given their talents.
How are we caring for the talents that we have received? How are we caring for the gifts that God has given us? Are we using them to their utmost? Are we using our talents to give our families, friends and neighbors a better life? And remember who Jesus included in our neighbors…not just Mrs. Smith who lives next door…he said love your enemies…hmmm. Does this mean I need to use my talents to build a better world, even for those who annoy me? Even for those who disagree with me? Even for those I consider my enemies? Here’s where the gospel gets difficult.
“All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee” are the words that are often said in the Rite 1 service of Holy Eucharist just before the Offertory. All things come of thee. All things. All. Things. And so, just as our bodies are gift to us, and the time that we’ve been given is gift to us, and even our talents are gift to us, so also our treasure is gift to us. Our money is gift to us. Now, you may have been following along politely for the discussion of our bodies, our time, and our talent – and you may even have bought the argument that these are all gifts to us. But now the hairs stand up a bit on your back, your heart races a bit, and you ears become twitchy…But, no, you say, money is not gift – it is earned. And I say to you YES, it is earned AND it is also GIFT.
Weren’t we paying attention when we realized that our bodies were not of our creation? Weren’t we paying attention when we realized that time was not of our making? Weren’t we paying attention when we came to the realization that even our talents were not given to us by ourselves – that we are not the creator, but the created. Of course, we develop our talents, and utilize our time, and care for our bodies. Of course. But it is these gifts – our bodies, our time, and our talents that help us to have treasure.
“All things come of thee, O lord, and of thine own have we given thee.” When we give, we give a portion of that which God has already given to us freely. God’s grace pours out upon us as a gift, and the only appropriate response is gratefulness – deep and abiding gratefulness. Gratefulness that moves us to give generously – giving our time, and our talent, and our treasure. God rejoices when we give, and we are gifted again when we give. It is better to give than to receive. God knows this, God gave us everything – and our gratitude leads us to generosity . When we give generously, we are giving as God does, freely, abundantly, lovingly.
We offer up a bit of what we have, in order to recognize all that we have been given, in order to worship the One who has given us everything. And here, here in this holy place, we offer up our selves to the mission of God on earth. Here, especially in this place, this holy place, we practice the holy act of giving. We give our wisdom, we give our joy, we give our humor, we give our compassion, we give our inspiration, we give our time, we give our talent, and we give our treasure. We give because our gifts are needed – yes, Emmanuel needs our wisdom, our time, our talent, our treasure. Emmanuel Church needs us. However, we also need to give. We enact God’s mission in the world when we give. We practice Godliness when we give. We are Christlike when we give. For our transformation, we need to give. For our transformation as a church, we need to give. When we send a mission trip to Haiti we are embodying Christ. When we feed people at Disciples Kitchen, we embody Christ. When we serve at Mountainside Tea Party or the Bread Fund, we embody Christ. When we pledge for the first time, we embody Christ. When we teach Sunday School, we embody Christ. When we reach out to a newcomer, we embody Christ. When we offer our talents on the vestry, we embody Christ. When we offer our musical talent, we embody Christ. When we forgive, we embody Christ. When we worship heartily, we embody Christ. When we offer our selves, our time, our talent, and our treasure, we embody Christ, and we build up the Body of Christ.