May 28th, 2017
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these ancient words written in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, Romans, the 12th chapter, verses one thru eight.”
1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect. 3 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. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
“Allow the Spirit of God to touch your heart this morning, as we seek out the meaning of this scripture passage in the context of our lives today.”
When I was seventeen years old, I left home to start my “Basic Training’ in the United States Air Force! I was so young! I had no idea what I was getting into! The Vietnam War was raging! I was so naive! I knew nothing about the military; I knew nothing about war. My talents, my attributes caused me to be trained in the art of maintaining communications equipment. Because of this, I was always kept safe, in the most secure structures on the bases I served from. In 1968, I went to Thailand to serve at an Air Force base, which supported the War in Vietnam. It was there that I learned all about the horrors of war, through the information that flowed across the Teletype machines I maintained.
On this Memorial Day weekend, I find myself feeling very grateful, that I came through that experience virtually unscathed, at least physically. So many, gave so much back then. I am proud that I served as I did; and I honor those who served, using their skills and talents in such heroic ways; literally, giving their all! Unfortunately, that was not the last military action this country has been involved in. The veterans of former wars, and the following wars, as-well-as the current wars, in which we are involved in, they gave and they are still giving their service, their lives, in belief that they fight for the good of others. May God bless them, protecting them, as they serve their country, with honor!
Today, we shall look, seeing more clearly, how, like the men and women in our military are called to serve, we the followers of Christ, have also been called to serve. It was true at the time of the writings from the Apostle Paul, and it is true in our time as well! In scripture, we learn how we each have talents which have been given to us, and these abilities are granted and received in numerous ways. When we embrace these aptitudes, as God has ordained them, it is then that our spirits shall be fully awakened! With our various and different gifts of the Spirit we are called to be the body of Christ. Now, it is important to understand, this embracing of our gifts, is a process which may take a lifetime to fully bring to completion. It cannot be done all at once, any more than a communications specialist in the Air Force can master their skills without proper training. This truth can be applied to any of the specialties of our military, as-well-as professionals in non-combat civilian lives here in our community today!
Take for instance a good chef; they cannot serve a complete dinner simply by taking the steaks out of the freezer! No, there is a great deal of preparation work needed, as-well-as a process for putting all the proper ingredients, seasonings etc. together. Likewise, we shall and most of us have started the process of utilizing our God given gifts. We simply need to move forward in this progression with a willingness to keep improving on areas that require continued attention.
There are as many methods and ways to nurture, grow and use our abilities as there are different and varying gifts. Do you know what yours are? This is a key question, as nothing will be accomplished until you become aware of your own personal attributes! What’s an attribute you ask? Well, take for instance the creativity of an artist or that of a sculpture. Those that have natural abilities to create things, they have this God given ability to create and come up with inspirational things. Now, if this talent is not put to good use, sort of like exercising the muscles in your legs, then nothing will happen. This skill, can be wasted through lack of use! Clearly, this is not what God intends. Let me recap: first, ascertain what your attributes, your gifts are; secondly, become willing to exercise them and get them ready for the challenges and opportunities ahead of you!
Our Director of Music, has many talents, and she is constantly working to sharpen her gifts, taking every opportunity for extra training to be sure she is fulling developing, as her journey continues. Surely, she knows how important it is for each one of us to fully utilize our talents. I believe that Mariana would be the first to tell us: holding back on the use of our talents, can be very disappointing. Listen to this experience of another artist.
[“Sir Michael Costa was a great orchestral Conductor of the 19th Century. It is said that one day he was conducting a rehearsal in which the orchestra was joined by a great choir. Midway through the session the piccolo player stopped playing. It seemed innocent enough – after all who would miss the tiny piccolo amidst the great mass of instruments blazing away? ‘Suddenly’ Sir Michael stopped the entire orchestra and choir. “Stop! Stop! Where’s the piccolo? What’s happened to the piccolo?” We may sometimes feel like that piccolo player – that we don’t have much to offer, that if we stopped our ministry no one would notice anyway. Yet the Great Conductor notices, and needs us to complete his orchestral masterpiece!] /stories for preaching/
I can only wonder what it is like in our choir rehearsals… when one of the members of the base section, or one of our tenors, decide to stay home!
Some of us may be thinking “my gifts will not make a difference in this community. There is nothing special that I can do. How can I possibly make a difference?” It is very crucial that each one of us begin to realize that we must wake up and come to recognize and fully understand that we can truly make a difference, if we will but try! There is an old, old story, which I have shared many times. Its message is so profound, I cannot resist sharing it one more time.
[A man was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up. Left on the sand by the receding tide the starfish were certain to die as the sun dried them out. The man saw a boy picking up starfish and flinging them back into the sea. He said to the boy: “Do you really think that what you are doing is going to make a difference?” The boy looked up at the man, and then he looked down at a starfish by his feet. He picked up the starfish, and as he gently tossed it back into the ocean, he said, “It makes a difference to that one.”] /Source unknown/
Paul is also ‘lifting-up’ for us the importance of our getting to understand the ‘will of God’ for ourselves, as we grow to maturity in the use of our spiritual gifts. Simply becoming a competent chef or a gifted artist or composer is only the first steps into the realm of the spirit. To fully be awakened we must become comfortable, cheerful even, while using our gifts to do the will of God! As we continue to grow stronger in our relationship with the Divine, this will become more and more a part of our nature. If we are uncertain as to our ability to do a certain task, simply because we have never tried it before, we need to rethink what faith is all about. If we have any desire to feel and experience the fulness of God’s grace and mercy, we must have a bit of faith. Take for instance this story about a man who was compelled to do something he knew he could not do. In that moment, we hear how he allowed the Spirit of God, to spur him into action!
“One wet and miserable morning in Ohio, Ray, was making breakfast when he looked out the window onto the open storm-water drain that ran alongside his house. What he saw terrified him – a small girl being swept down the drain. He also knew that further downstream, the ditch disappeared with a roar underneath the road. Ray ran out the door and raced along the ditch, trying to get ahead of the little girl. Then he hurled himself into the deep, churning water. He surfaced and was able to grab the child’s arm. They tumbled end over end. Within about one meter of the drain going under the road, Ray’s free hand felt something protruding from one bank. He grabbed a hold and held on for dear life. “If I can just hang on until help comes,” he thought. But he did better than that. By the time fire-department rescuers arrived, Ray had pulled the girl to safety. On April 12, 1989, Ray Blankenship was awarded the US Coast Guard’s Silver Lifesaving Medal. The award is fitting, Ray Blankenship was at even greater risk to himself than most people knew. You see, Ray can’t swim.” /Reported in the Los Angeles Times Syndicate/
As we ponder the power and strength of God’s Spirit moving in our midst, we need to keep in mind Paul’s message regarding ‘keeping’ right sized and to stay humble as we begin using our God given gifts to accomplish specific tasks. In so doing we are urged to remember we are part of a larger community. You and I, we are not the only ones called upon to utilize our gifts in service to God. Ultimately, we need to remember we are part of a larger body. As such we each have a purpose and responsibility to the larger group. We can all make a difference. Together, we shall accomplish a lot in the name of this our church, as we devote ourselves to be of service to the people of God. If you know you have a unique skill or talent it is up to you to speak directly with God, asking for the willingness to share it, in assistance of and to benefit others. We are called upon to do this with compassion and love. Are you struggling with this? Ask God’s Spirit to converge upon you, thereby filling you with the love of God. Awaken to the gifts of God within you… they are meant to be used and shared. When and as you to do this, your Spiritual life will expand… filling your life and those around you! Stay open to this moment, it will change the very course of your existence!
Interestingly, we hear the Apostle Paul speaking about worship as he discusses Spiritual gifts. In doing so, he takes us outside this sanctuary. Paul places in front of us a definition of worship that sets aside any notion we may have about worshipping God; setting aside the notion it only happens in the context of a formal ceremony, inside a temple or sanctuary! It also tears down the idea that worship only happens on Sunday mornings and for just an hour or so. No, we are being told something that could very well, completely, change how we live out our lives as Christ-centered Christians! This suggests that our Sunday worship service is only meant to help ‘refuel’ our depleted and weakened spirits, thereby giving us fresh energy and new purpose as we worship God, as we serve outside of this sanctuary!
When we speak of a Spiritual awakening we are not simply speaking of one specific encounter with the Spirit of God! No, it is way more than that! Even as we acknowledge this we ought not short change the significance of meaningful encounters with God! A spiritual experience, with the essence of God, can have a dramatic effect on oneself. It may only change our current position or direction in life a small degree or two; Yet, this is profound! Imagine for a moment, you are driving your car down one of the major highways and you suddenly move your steering wheel one or two degrees to the left or to the right. If you were to hold that slight shift in direction… something all-encompassing would happen! In like fashion, when God changes your direction just slightly, it totally changes the very course of your life!
Our personal spiritual awakenings will differ one from another. Do not compare yours to that of your neighbors. Yours was designed to fit you and speak to you, thus moving you in the direction you need to turn. As the will of God is opened to you, be ready and be willing to compassionately and cheerfully share your gifts, as the Spirit moves you ever forward!