Friday, October 27, 2017

Treasuring the Treasure

I’m on the road again this weekend.  Heading back to Fort Wayne to participate in a wedding.  One of those grand celebrations of life and love and covenant and commitment.  Though I trust these friends and this family to do a good job of keeping things in perspective, weddings are often over the top in terms of expense and glitz and indulgence and all out craziness.  Luckily most of it is reserved for the reception and the weddings themselves are quieter and simpler affairs.  But the stops are all pulled out for the reception, and for getting to the reception.  Which seems backward to me.

I’m just helping to preside on this one, but the bride and her family are friends of ours and I was honored to be asked.  But the groom’s father is a pastor and he has the central role.  If I was preaching at this wedding, however, I would probably want to talk about the treasure.  It’s my favorite wedding sermon.  It’s from Matthew 13, a parable that Jesus tells, hoping to help us grasp this kingdom of heaven thing, which is frankly beyond us.  But He keeps trying, keeps giving us glimpses and hints and pointers.  And we think we get it, but then realize we don’t.  We catch a glimpse of it, out of the corner of our eyes, but when we try to focus on it, when we try to figure it out, it escapes us again.  So a treasure, He says, a treasure we stumble upon.  And then give up everything to have it.  Everything else.  Everything that keeps us from that treasure.  Which is why I like it for a wedding sermon.  Where better can we talk about treasuring, and about giving up everything for the treasure? 

We are not getting married, however.  We are continuing our journey along our discipleship path.  We began with Connect, we reflected on Serve, we listened to Grow and now we’re dwelling on Give.  Again.  As if it were important.  More important than the others?  No, certainly not.  All are equally important.  But maybe this is the one we struggle with the most.  Maybe this is the one we resist the most.  So, we need to spend a little more time with Give.  And with treasures.  But here’s our question: what treasures do we seek?  Is the hidden treasure something we can hold in our hands?  Is it stuff, even good stuff, helpful stuff, stuff we can use, but still stuff?  Or ... what?

Matthew 6:19-21 19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

For all that Jesus seems bothered by stuff, he is in favor of treasures.  Did you notice?  It’s not, stay away from treasure, it’s bad for your health.  No, treasuring is ok.  It’s what we choose to treasure, that’s the issue.  There are some treasures that aren’t worth storing up.  Or piling up.  Or tucking into the attic so that when you dig it out you say with a sigh, what were we thinking keeping this?  The stuff around here just wears out, gets stained and unwearable, it rusts.  Rusts? What did they have that rusted in Jesus’ day?  Well, the word is “brosis” in Greek.  It often refers to food that gets eaten.  Consumed.  Used up.  Worn away until you don’t even recognize it any more.

No, apparently there is treasure and there is treasure.  Some treasure is worth treasuring, some just fit for the junk heap.  How do you know?  How can you tell the difference?  How do we know we are saving the right things?  Treasuring the right things?

Well, some say it is all about the tally sheet.  You’ve got to pile up a good score in heaven.  Every act of service is another star in your crown.  And our goal is to get lots of stars, lots of jewels.  Not, to be sure, to earn our place in heaven.  That comes by the grace of God.  No, this is about the furnishings.  A better mansion, plush carpets, bigger windows, more floors.  They’re building us a dwelling place out of the materials we send up from here.  Some say.
I’m not convinced, frankly.  Stuff is stuff.  It seems like if Jesus was against too much stuff here he would be against too much stuff there.  Don’t you think?  So, it doesn’t sound like the treasures Jesus wants us to treasure is more stuff, divine or otherwise.

What if our math is wrong.  What if it isn’t do this to get that?  What if the treasure isn’t the end product, the reward or the payment for our acts?  What if it is the act itself?  Not the result of our action but the action.  What if the treasure is not something we can hold in our hands but something we do with our hands?
In other passages when Jesus shares this secret, he tells someone, the rich young man, “sell everything and give the money to the poor and you’ll have treasure in heaven.”  We think, we get something, when we get to heaven there will be something there because we’ve done this great thing.  Maybe not.  He says “do this and you will have.”  Go and sell and you will have your treasure.  In the selling and giving.  That’s the treasure.  That’s the gift.  That’s the blessing.  The doing.  The giving.  

Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.  Live your life in such a way that you know the blessing every day.  Live your life so that you are treasuring what lasts into eternity.  That’s what Jesus is trying to point out to us.  Some treasure is eaten away, and some treasure lasts and nothing in this world can take it away.  An act of kindness lives forever.  Love lived out lasts forever.  Goodness outlasts bitterness.  Joy endures while despair fades.  An act of generosity is treasured into eternity.

Maybe that’s what Malachi meant.  Remember him?  Old Testament guy.  The last word in fact.  The final book.  Matthew is the first book of the New Testament, Malachi is the last book of the Old.  He talked about giving.  Went on a bit of a rant, really.  Says when you don’t give, you’re robbing God.  It’s all God’s anyway, when you keep it to yourself, you hoarder, you’re robbing God.  He wags that bony, prophetic finger with some passion.  He scowls, he spits, he nearly swears, he’s so worked up.  Read it for yourself, halfway through chapter three.  He starts by saying a reckoning is coming, a messenger of God bringing fire, bringing soap.  This messenger is going to burn you clean, going to wash you raw.  Because, he says, you’re robbing God.  But then he comes out with this little tidbit, right in the middle of his rant:

Malachi 3:10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.

Overflowing blessing.  We get stuff?  We God robbers?  That’s how so many have interpreted it.  God will fill your pockets, your storehouses, your room of requirement.  Right?  Maybe.  But then maybe not.  Maybe it isn’t stuff.  Maybe it is the blessing of giving.  Maybe it is the joy of service, of surrender.  Maybe the blessings that overflow are like treasures in heaven, the relationships, the covenants, the love shared that fills us up so that we can’t hold any more.  Maybe the more we let go of stuff, the more we know blessings.  God’s blessings, overflowing over us, into us.  

Yeah, it’s scary to cast off the stuff that defined a life, or seemed to anyway.  That is a loss to be sure.  But what cannot be lost are all the moments we’ve treasured together, the lives that we’ve lived, the experiences we’ve shared.  Even when we forget them, and I suspect we will, they will be ours in eternity.  When we meet we will remember and be remembered.  And what greater treasure can there be than that?

So join me in wishing Kali and Jonathan well this weekend.  They found a treasure that they will give everything to possess.  May we all be so blessed. 


Friday, October 20, 2017

Rendering the Ministry

One of the things I’ve discovered recently is how much we depend on the ministry team around here.  Our staff is somewhat depleted because of vacations and maternity leave.  The hard truth is we’re getting everything done that needs to be done, but there isn’t any flair to it.  Flair?  No, more like style.  Or more like making sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.  We’re getting the bare bones done, but there is plenty left undone. And there are certainly things falling through the cracks that others on the team would have caught easily.  We missed a surgery call and a visitation opportunity.  And just this morning I went to staff prayers at the usual time and it was just me.  

The staff gathers every morning at 8:30am, just before things get really started - though stuff starts around here a lot earlier than that, I must say.  What with the preschool opening and part of the staff being morning people, we’re interrupting the day to stop at 8:30am.  Me, I’m just getting here by then.  Call me at midnight or even after and I’ll be ready to go.  But morning? ... Anyway, I love that I came into a staff that already functions well, and one sign is that we gather in the morning for prayer together.  And we’re never rushed with it, as least most of us.  We chat about all kinds of things.  It’s really a check in meeting, seeing what’s on the schedule and what’s going on that we’re aware of and a “how you doin’” meeting too.  But one of those we check in with is God.  We pray for the work of the day, for the state of the world, for the congregation in all it’s various needs and manifestations for the day.  I love it, frankly.  Love the feeling that we’re a team and God’s an active part of the team, not the silent partner we rarely hear from.  

Still it was a bit lonely this morning.  I went and sat in the worship center, like we do each day, and I listened.  And I thought.  And I prayed.  And part of what I prayed is how grateful I am that I’m not in this alone.  That there are other hearts at work here, that there are other minds making plans and arranging ministry, that there are other souls listening to God and holding up the congregation and the wider community too.  It is amazing to me how much better all kinds of things go when we share the load, or share the work and the joys both.  We live in an individualized culture, where the focus is way too much on me and my needs and my gifts and my choices.  And yet we all know that in community is a much more effective, productive, enjoyable way to live and work.  It is certainly the only way to do ministry.

2 Corinthians 9:6-12  The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. 9 As it is written, "He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." 10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12 for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.

It’s the “rendering of this ministry” that we’re focusing on this weekend here at Southport.  We’re venturing into the murky corners of the discipleship path.  Murky?  Yeah, you know, that Give word.  Ah.  We’re good with Connect - it sounds fun and social and uplifting.  Serve sounds useful and productive.  Grow sounds beneficial and enhancing of mind and spirit.  Even Go sounds energizing and enthusiastic.  But Give?  Give sounds ... necessary, of course.  And ... administrative, and ... painful.  Give til it hurts.  We’ve heard that.  We avoid that, but we’ve heard it.  Giving is something we avoid.  Here’s a little social experiment for you – pay attention to the commercials you see over the course of a week.  How many times do you see someone handing over money to pay for the items that they are receiving?  Advertisers avoid that part of the transaction.  And if they do have talk about cost, they’ll emphasize how little it is, or how much you’ll save, or how it’s less than it used to be.  We don’t like to talk about paying, about giving.  We’re a receiving oriented culture.  Not a giving one.  

Oh, I know there is all kinds of evidence to the contrary, that we are willing to give, for a crisis.  For a one off.  Floods that come, hurricanes that blow, fires that burn, families that grieve, we’ll jump up and be willing to give for that.  And we should.  And let’s celebrate our generosity in the moment.  That hearts can be stirred and hands can reach out and pockets emptied in the moment.  Praise God we are still aware enough to do that.

But Give on our discipleship path is not a one off, not a heartfelt response to a obvious need.  Instead it is a way of life.  A generosity of Spirit that allows us to hold our possessions as though they were in trust from another.  To hold even our own lives as though they were the property of a Presence beyond us.  Giving includes, of course, more than simply money.  There is the giving of time and talent, the giving of labor and companionship.  There is the giving of attention.  In our attention deficit world, giving attention to someone is a precious gift.  Give includes more than just money.  Though it also includes money.

Paul was taking a collection.  Doing a little fund-raising as he ran around setting up faith communities.  The collection was for the “mother church” back in Jerusalem, which had fallen on tough times and was needing support from the younger and stronger communities in the wider world.  Paul believed in this cause, and we could psychoanalyze his reasons for it - the Jerusalem council had given him heck for his crazy ideas about spreading the faith and including those formerly thought unworthy of this gift.  So maybe he was trying to show the validity of his calling by sending back support to the home church.  Maybe he was showing they were wrong and his methods are more productive than theirs.  Who knows?  But he used all the fund-raising tricks to get the new churches to pay up.  Don’t let someone else’s generosity show up yours, he told them.  He played on their emotions about the source of their new found faith being birthed in the mother church.  In this letter he is telling them that their first efforts at raising the funds in I Corinthians wasn’t enough, thus II Corinthians!  Like the pastors that lock the sanctuary doors and take up a second offering.  No one is leaving until we get enough!

He tells them that they are already behind in the giving department.  No, not the other churches that are doing more, giving more.  But the God who calls them to give, has already out-given them.  Out-given all of us, we’re behind before we’ve even started.  We’re in debt before we get our wallets out.  But, and this is the blessing in this, we don’t give out of a sense of duty and obligation.  We give willingly, we give cheerfully.  Cheerfully?  Is such a thing possible?

Well, yes of course, say some.  Because in giving we get.  You will be enriched in every way, writes Paul, for your great generosity.  Enriched in every way.  Of all the things that Paul says that potentially and can be often are taken the wrong way, this is one of the worst.  If I was Paul’s editor I would have sent this bit back for a rewrite.  “You know, Paul” I would say in my best editorial voice, “you say this and folks are going to come up with the most outlandish interpretations of the phrase.”  “Outlandish?” Paul would ask scratching his bald head, “what you mean outlandish?”  “Well, they’re going to say that you meant if folks send in their hard earned cash, then God would make money miraculously appear!  They will say that God wants you to be rich, and that if you’re poor it’s because your life isn’t right with God.  They will send junk through the mail to get people to give and they’ll put that junk in their wallets or on their mantles or hold it in their hot little hands and say the Jesus prayer and zip zap money will appear like magic.  That’s what they’ll say.”  And Paul would stand with his mouth hanging open and say, “no way would any one stoop to that kind of level.”  Oh yes they would, I’d reply.  And he’d say “give me an eraser.” 

We give cheerfully because we are participating in something bigger than ourselves.  We are joining in a fellowship that ripples out and changes the world in which we live.  We are rendering the ministry that cares for the saints and gives glory to God.  We are becoming a part of the team.  A world wide team, that understands we need each other in order to do the ministry before us.  Giving reminds us that all that we have is a gift from God and life itself is a gift to be given away as a way to lift up others and glorify God.  

Give is an essential part of the path of becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ.  And part of what I intend to give more of is gratitude for those who work alongside me in ministry.  Should they ever come back.  Please let them come back! 


Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Stones Are Alive

Sounds like a tag line to a really bad horror movie, doesn’t it?  The stones are alive!!  Oh no!!  Run!!!  Aaaaaa ... ahem.  Sorry about that.  It’s been a odd day.  And one too many Halloween commercials, perhaps.  But odd because I’ve been at UIndy all day in the Course of Study.  The Course of Study is the process by which local preachers complete their requirements for service as clergy in our denomination.  Our newly appointed Associate Pastor Doug Shinkle is taking a course in the Course of Study.  So, it is a good thing, a useful thing, and I am honored to be a part of the process.  But it throws off my Saturday.  Just saying.  But even more odd for me is that this is a Saturday before a Sunday that I am not preaching.  Talk about really throwing off a Saturday!  I’ve been in this pattern for over 35 years, and the Saturdays I’m not gearing up to preach far out number the ones where I’m not.  So I hardly know what to do with myself.

Just a warning, some weeks when I am not preaching I also don’t do this bible study, but I usually try to warn folks so that they aren’t expecting it, or wondering if I got hit by a bus or something.  Since I didn’t warn you, I felt like I should do something in this space.  Speaking of warnings, next week La Donna and I are heading to Chesterton on a Saturday to teach a UMW session on the Bible and Human Sexuality.  Not sure whether I’ll be back to do this or not.  The following week we are heading back to Fort Wayne to participate in a wedding for some dear friends that I promised to do before I left town this summer.  Again, not sure whether you’ll find this gem in your inbox or not.  Consider yourself warned! 

You’d think I would be able to change my pattern.  To not have to wait until Saturday to write this bible study.  You’d think since my preaching weekend now starts on Thursday that I would be wanting to do this earlier and not wait for the old system.  I’ve already preached the message once before I write, it only makes sense to do it sooner.  I know all that.  I’ve had the debate in my head about it.  But it just doesn’t work.  I’m stuck in my rut of long time thinking.  And it’s hard to break out.  It’s hard to change something you’ve done for at least 14 years.  Even if it doesn’t quite fit the new reality.  The new wineskin, you might say.

No, that’s not it.  We’re not in Matthew or Luke.  We’re tucked away in the back of the New Testament.  Peter.  You remember him, don’t you.  The one who got it right, at least one time.  The one who’s failures were predictable.  The one who had to learn how to live his life all over again, before he gave it away.  That Peter.  Remember?

1 Peter 2:2-10 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation– 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God's sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in scripture: "See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." 7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner," 8 and "A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

We’re still on our Discipleship Path – Connect, Grow, Service, Give, Go.  We’re picking up Grow this week.  Which implies change.  Which calls for development.  Which isn’t satisfied with status quo but wants more.  From milk to ... um ... stone.  Um, OK, maybe Peter isn’t that good with metaphors.  He should have talked about milk as he started and then building to meat.  That would have been better.  But given all the struggle that the early church had with meat, I mean the clean and unclean controversy - sure Peter had a vision and bacon is now good (thank you Jesus) - but it still makes him uneasy; and then there’s the meat sacrificed to idols thing that Paul struggles with so much.  It’s no wonder that he saw the slippery slope he was on and started with food, but then jumped to stone masonry.  

Long for spiritual milk then come to the living stone.  And why living stones?  Wouldn’t stones that stay put be better?  Wouldn’t stones that are inert be better for building?  You don’t want your stone house to be all wobbly.  Or worse yet, for the stones to come to life and wander about.  Hardly a secure construction pattern, don’t you think.

Well, that’s why riding metaphors too long gets you into trouble.  He’s not giving advice to stone masons, he is helping to build the church.  He’s bought into this faith thing.  God doesn’t want dead weight holding down the pew, God wants living stones who will live and move and grow in their faith.  He doesn’t just want a stone who will come and hold up their corner and that’s it.  He wants a stone that will look for other places to shore up the walls, will learn other methods for framing doorways and paving paths, will discover more opportunities to be a trail marker or respite giver.  The uses of a stone, a living stone are beyond counting.  That’s who Christ is calling for, that’s who Christ was.

A stumbling block.  Now that’s something all good construction grade granite needs to aspire to, am I right?  Sure, I want to be the one that stubs toes and bruises knees.  Especially when they deserve it.  At least that’s what Peter seems to imply.  They stumble because they disobey.  And they deserved it.  Right?  They were just bad, says Peter.  We’re better.  We’re royal.  We’re part of God’s light show.  We’re the ones who have received mercy.  Even though we hadn’t before.  Even though we were just bad.  Even though we deserved it.  Even though .... Hmmm.

What if Jesus didn’t come to be a stumbling block?  But instead came to be a stone bridge that leads us from where we are to where we could be, where we’re called to be.  Because people are clumsy, and sometimes don’t want to move, but get satisfied with ruts, the effect is that we stumble.  A better way is before us, and we stumble because it might be better, but it definitely is different.  And maybe destined means that as long as we follow our own inclinations we’re sunk, or limping with bruised and bloody toes.  But when we receive the mercy of living differently, once we pledge allegiance to the king and not to the monuments of our own making - however good they may be or seem - then we learn to walk differently.  

And Peter says, with, I believe, a certain amount of surprise and relief, that Christ chooses to let us be a part of the plan, a part of the structure to build a better kingdom.  Come and be built.  Come and be alive and yet participate in something bigger than just yourself.  Come and grow into something more.  More than we are.  More than we imagined.  To be a priest is to be a go between.  We can help usher someone else into a new way of living.  We are privileged to partner with the king - that’s why we’re royal priests, not because we are special, but because He is special.  We’re just like the ones stubbing their toes and knocking their knees.  We aren’t better than them, we’re just being used for a greater cause than we even knew was out there.  It is His mercy that makes us worthy of being a living stone.

And the more we can learn about what that means, the more effective and the more complete we will be.  The more alive we will be.  The more we are willing to set aside our own preferences and patterns for the service of the King, the more we will grow as living stones.

So ... maybe look for this earlier next week?  Maybe.  I’m still growing.  What about you?


Saturday, October 7, 2017

By Every Wind

Another hurricane?  Nate it’s called.  Having blown through the Yucatan peninsula causing some damage and death, now menacing off the gulf coast moving toward New Orleans.  I know there are those who doubt, who speak of cycles and patterns, but the idea that our lifestyle hasn’t had an impact on the world around us seems harder to deny day by day.  By catastrophic event. By the winds that blow with unrelenting power and regularity.

I got an email from my brother today, reporting on a visit to dad to the rest of us.  But also letting us know that he won’t be in touch for a while.  He’s heading to Redbird Mission in Kentucky with a church group to work for a while, and then from there he is going to Texas to help with the clean up for a week or longer if he can stay, he says.  I don’t know his opinion on climate change, I’ve never asked.  He might have one.  But then he might not.  He does, however, see a need and he rolls up his sleeves to help.  He doesn’t ask who made the mess, who caused the problem, he just helps clean up.

We’re leap-frogging around our discipleship path (Connect – Grow – Serve – Give – Go) and landing on Serve this week.  We did it for reasons.  Trust us.  But serve.  Yeah, kind of a no-brainer really.  No one questions whether we ought to serve.  Everyone knows that.  It goes with the territory.  My first inclination was to make this the shortest bible study / sermon ever: Just do it!  The Nike approach.  Just do it.  We’d all nod and say, yeah, we know that.  Gotta serve somebody.  Even Bob Dylan knows that.  “Well it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, / But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”  Thanks Bob, we got it.

At least the concept and on occasion the reality of service.  We’ll do it.  Sometimes with enthusiasm, sometimes with a sigh and a roll of the eyes.  Like our mom told us to clean our room or take out the trash when we’re on level 34 of Destiny 2.  “All right, all right, get off my back, will ya?”  But we’ll do it.  And most of the time we’re better than that, right?  Most of the time we see a purpose and even feel good that we are able to help.  Which is an extra little bonus, we don’t do it for that.  We don’t serve for the high we get from serving.  But it is there. Sometimes profoundly so.  It’s a bonus, gravy, the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae of service.  

So then, why?  I mean, really, why do we do it, this service thing.  Because we’re told to?  Well, yeah, in part.  It comes with the territory.  It’s part of the package.  Just do it.  Quit analyzing everything, will ya?  Except that’s what we do.  Well, I do anyway.  I keep asking.  I was an early member of generation why.  Why serve?  

Ephesians 4:11-16 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.

Commentators tell us this is one of the most theologically dense passages of Paul’s writing.  As if we needed to be told that.  We can read after all.  But this is a transition chapter, which makes it even more complex.  The first part of the letter to the Ephesians is a theological explanation of what it means to be claimed by Christ. It is a foundational piece designed to give us handles on our faith.  The latter part of the letter is about living it out, designed to be practical information about how to live as a follower, or as Paul says at the beginning of chapter four, how to live a life worthy of the call.

So, these verses were designed to help us answer the why question.  Why do we do what we do?  Why do we serve in Jesus name?  And there are basically two answers in these verses.  First of all, we’re made that way.  There is some debate as to whether this is made from birth or made at our baptism.  The Spirit gives gifts, Paul tells us in more than one place.  Do we always have them and sometimes use them and sometimes not and only really understand when we are gathered into the Christian faith and told about spiritual gifts? Or do we receive something when we say yes to Jesus, when we claim the faith are we gifted with inclination and abilities that are then shaped by living in community and following our Lord?  Is it something latent in us, or a new gifting?  And the answer is ... yes!  Or, I dunno, maybe both, maybe one.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s just a given that you are gifted by the Spirit for something.  And Paul wants to help you find out what it is.

One way to look at the list in this passage is to identify various offices of the church.  This is the traditional understanding of what Paul was trying to do, set up a structure, even a hierarchy to those who would have leadership in the church.  And this theory says that the power and authority starts at the beginning with Apostles and works it way down to the pastors and teachers who were the lowest on the totem pole.  And maybe that is how it did work out in practice.  But it isn’t the only way to read these words.  

It could be instead that Paul was talking about inclinations, about attributes that church needed in order to fulfill the mission of going into all the world to make disciples.  Offices and organization, yes, certainly.  But maybe more importantly these were the types of servants that the church needed.  An apostle is one who is sent, someone willing to go where the need is greatest, to meet folks where they are instead of always asking them to come to us.  An apostle carries the message of hope with them, the credential of the church to establish a new outpost, a new beachhead on the campaign to spread the good news.  An apostle will go.  

A prophet can see the big picture.  Can discern truth in difficult situations.  And can tell us the consequences of our actions.  It isn’t about telling the future, except like your mom used to.  She would say “you keep doing that, here’s what going to happen!”  That’s a prophet.  A prophet loves you enough to tell you the truth.  That’s what the Spirit has gifted some to do, says Paul, there are those who will tell the truth, even when it is hard, even when it doesn’t make friends, even when it isn’t what anyone wants to hear.  Truth-tellers are hard to come by these days.  When this news doesn’t fit our news we cry fake news, when it just might be the truth.  A prophet will tell you the truth.

Some are called to be evangelists.  I’m sorry.  Sorry for them.  Sorry that we’ve so polluted that word that it isn’t even useful any more.  That climate has changed for sure, and it is definitely a result of our actions.  An evangelist is one who wants you to know the good news.  What’s you to know the hope that is within you.  The forgiveness that is offered you.  Wants you to know that the brokenness you’ve gotten used to because you’re being told that just is the way it is, isn’t all there is to life.  To your life or the life of the world.  An evangelist is an angel.  Really.  It’s a Greek word eu-aggelionEu is a positive prefix.  It means good.  Ooooh!  That’s good!  Aggelion - pronounced angelion, means message or messenger.  An angel is a messenger of God, they don’t speak for themselves but for the One who sends them.  They don’t come to condemn, but to redeem.  To give hope.  To lift up.  We all need more angels in our life.  An evangelist brings good news.

A pastor is one who cares for us, as broken as we are, is more concerned about our wounds than our theology, more concerned about our scars than our doctrine.  A pastor meets us where we are and loves us.  And a teacher then helps us become more than we are.  That’s why these two work together.  Pastors and teachers are listed together because it is a tag team.  We need more than just soothed, we need healed and made stronger.  We need more than just the surgeon, we need the therapist who will help us walk again.  We need pastors and teachers who care and lead.

That’s one, one reason for service, because we are made to do these things.  But the other is to build up the body.  Not the individual body, but the body of the church, build up the family, create community.  Our service may seem small and specific, but in fact all service in the name of Jesus is bigger than we can see.  It ripples, it transforms, it welcomes and invited.  When you help another, I am made stronger, when I serve in Jesus name you are built up, even if you aren’t there.  We are build up, made more mature by service, what we do and what we receive.  We are equipped with withstand the winds that blow, to endure the disappointments and deceptions.  We are made stronger, more whole.  And being stronger we can serve more.  Just do it.  You need it.  We need it.  Thanks bro.