(A section of a sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11)
When I was a little girl growing up in Virginia, we would all get up on Sunday
mornings and get ready for church. When it was time to go, we would put on our
hats and gloves and walk together to the corner of North Street and turn left onto Court
Street and walk a few blocks to the Baptist Church, my little feet in
patent leather shoes happily slapping the pavement. That’s where my mother and
little brother and I would stop, while Daddy continued on to the Methodist
church, one block to the right. I always felt welcome when I went with my Daddy
and his mother over to the Methodist church, but there was no question that
Court Street Baptist was my church.
I adored the minister’s wife, and wanted to grow up to be her!
When I was a college student going to the College of Knowledge in Virginia, I
dated a young man I felt sure would someday be a minister. I’m not sure if I
wanted to marry him to find my life in the church, or if since I wanted to
marry him he needed to find his life there! We went to lunch on a summer day
with my father’s cousin, a clergyman, and he suggested that perhaps I ought to
be thinking of seminary, too.
This came as a surprise to me. First, I did not know any
women in ministry. It had never occurred to me this was a possibility. And what
in the world made him think I had the gifts or the talents for that kind of
work? I surely loved church, but was that enough?
When I was a young mother newly arrived in City By the Sea,
I joined the local Congregational Church. I admired the Associate Pastor, a
beautiful young woman who happened to share my Southern Baptist background.
Before I said it out loud to anyone else, I told her I might like to go to
seminary. I couldn’t quite bring myself to say I wanted to be a pastor.
A few years later, I went in to meet with the Senior pastor.
He was a tall, grey-haired man, intellectual in his approach to scripture,
liberal in his theology, kind in private moments. We discussed the
possibilities for a theological education if I continued to have to live in CBtS. He assumed that
the young woman sitting before him would be called to a ministry of Christian
Education, since I served on that committee, and he assured me there was a
great need for people like me to do that work. He asked me to talk about my
sense of calling, and I confided, “It feels funny to tell you. If I wanted to
go to law school or to study for an MBA, I would need to show I was smart enough,
that I had the grades and the test scores. But this is different. It feels like
I’m saying I’m better than other people, somehow, and it makes me
“Songbird,” he answered with a gentle smile, “if you didn’t
feel that way, I would be worried about you.”
I think we all feel that way to some extent when we are
called on to describe our spiritual gifts.
the utterance of wisdom
the utterance of knowledge
gifts of healing
the working of miracles
the discernment of spirits
various kinds of tongues
the interpretation of tongues
How many of us feel comfortable claiming them? I grew up in a family where
bragging was a sin second only to being rude to your elders. In those days
before we understood the importance of self-esteem, I learned to hold myself
low. No wonder I felt strange announcing my call to something I felt was so special!
But think for a moment. If you have the gift of comforting a downhearted
friend, is that not a gift of healing? If you understand someone who feels misunderstood,
is that not a gift of interpretation? If you know in your heart that this
church will find its path to continue serving God with vibrancy in this place,
is that not the gift of faith?
And somewhere among us are people who have a vision for what that vibrant
future might look like. We would do well to listen to their gifts of prophecy.
Here are more of Paul’s words:
Now there are varieties of
gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of
services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of
activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6, NRSV)
Now I am a grown woman, an ordained minister in the United
Church of Christ, getting to know the people and places of a new town. I’m just beginning to learn my way
around the church building and just beginning to meet all of you,
but it will be my variety of service to observe your spiritual gifts and hold
up a mirror, to be sure you see and appreciate what each person brings to this
community and to look among yourselves for what you may think you lack. We may
find we have different ways of measuring worth and value, but ultimately we
will seek to discover and celebrate what God has given you in each other and to
call forward the gifts that are needed in the process of search and call of a
new settled pastor. May we together be open to God’s activating spirit!