Genesis 32:22-31, Romans 12:3-13, Luke 18:1-8
Looking at each other through God's eyes. The world likes to tell us that we are not good enough to be good stewards. God looks at us differently and shows how much he has blessed us and encourages us to use those gifts no matter how small the world says they are.
Click on Spiritual Gift's Inventory o view the resource mentioned in the sermon.
By: Paul D. Erickson
Pentecost 21, 2007 (Proper 24)
The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.  He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.  Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.  When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.  Then he said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me."  So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob."  Then the man said, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed."  Then Jacob asked him, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And there he blessed him.  So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved."  The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.  For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function,  so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.  We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith;  ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching;  the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;  love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.  Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.  Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, 'Grant me justice against my opponent.' For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, 'Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'" And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"
By now, I'm sure most of you have received the annual stewardship packet, Spiritual Gift's Inventory which includes this time and talent inventory. Perhaps you have already filled it out and turned it in, or maybe it's still sitting on your kitchen counter and you have yet to take a look at it. This is similar to the form we send out each year, asking people to consider how they can use their time and their talents, along with their financial resources, as a part of their stewardship commitment to God's mission. This year's form has changed in some significant ways from previous forms, as it is organized as a spiritual gifts inventory, asking people to consider their gifts of hospitality, leadership, teaching, artistry, and the like, and then to look at the specific ways they can use those gifts here at Augustana and in our community. This approach is rooted in the scripture passage we read this morning from Paul's letter to the Romans: "For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness."
Now, I realize that there are probably a variety of ways that people responded when first looking at this form. "Whew! That's a long form; I'll get to that later." Or, "There's a lot to do at Augustana; I don't know if I have time or energy to do any of it." Maybe some of you thought, "Why do they keep sending me these forms? They know what I do; I'll just keep doing the same things as last year." And there might be a few who thought, "Who, me? I don't have any gifts to share. I'll just try to get to worship as often as I can."
Whatever your response, I would invite you to consider the first verse from Paul's letter that we read a few minutes ago: "For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly [or, I would add, more lowly] than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned." We are called not to overestimate or underestimate the value of what God has given us, but to openly and freely share it for use in God's kingdom. For even though we are all different, and each of us will fill out this inventory differently, all of us can do something, all of us need to do something, because all of us have been gifted by God. We may not be able to sing in the choir or preach from the pulpit, but we are all gifted by God, and we are all called to give those gifts away.
This is part of what we hope is transformed by God as our hearts and minds are renewed by God's love. As we heard in last week's reading from Paul, we are urged to not be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. As I see it, there are three messages the world sends with regards to our gifts that we must avoid being conformed to, so that we might be open to the transforming power of God's love.
First, the world teaches us that whatever we have, we have because we have earned it, or because we deserve it. We have taken the initiative to develop our gifts, we have put in the hard work to sharpen our skills, so we should be the ones who decide whether and how we will use them. Scripture teaches us that all that we are, all that we have is a gift from God, and, since God has given them to us, God should be the one who decides how our gifts are used.
Second, the world teaches us that any gifts given to us are for our enjoyment. Think about it. Whenever we receive a gift for Christmas or our birthday, the giver hopes that we will use it and enjoy it, that it will bring us some degree of pleasure. But with God's gifts, they are given not only to be enjoyed, but to be shared, that it will bring God pleasure. If we have been given the gift of singing, but only sing when we are alone, it pleases no one but ourselves.
And, third, the world teaches us that the only people who can be called gifted are those with exceptional gifts, those who are highly and uniquely talented. If you can't sing or dance at an extremely high level, then don't bother. Just find the one thing that you're really good at, and do that. But God invites all of us to sing, God invites all of us to dance, God invites all of us to see ourselves as gifted, and capable of sharing those gifts.
Just imagine how our world would be transformed if we all tried to see ourselves and each other with God's eyes. Just imagine how different it would be if we saw the time and talent inventory not as something to be completed out of duty and obligation, but as an invitation to discover and share our gifts. Just imagine if, when we looked at others, whether it was in this congregation or in the community, we did not see each other as competition, or as a threat, or as someone who is needy, but we saw each person as a gift.
Take a look around you; it looks like Christmas morning to me. All kinds of gifts, just waiting to be opened, all kinds of potential just waiting to be released for use in the world, in the building up of God's kingdom. Who, me? Yes, you. Each one of you is uniquely gifted, and the kingdom just won't be the same without your gifts.
As we become more courageous in the naming and in the sharing of our gifts, as we become more open to receiving the gifts of others, we will indeed be transformed. What's more, our world will be transformed, and our congregation will be transformed, as we will discover that there is no challenge that we can face that our God has not gifted us to confront, for the greatest gift of all is the gift of his son, whose spirit takes whatever we have to offer, large or small, flashy or plain, and makes it enough.
As we learn to trust in God's plan, and in the power of God's love, we will be free to discover all the gifts that God has in store for us, and we will be changed. Undeniably, delightfully, forever changed. Thanks be to God; Amen.
Paul D Erickson
Paul Erickson is a Pastor at Augustana Lutheran Church in West St. Paul, MN.