Are you a gifted person? If asked a question like that we have been taught to mumble some modest denial. It would be rude to go around describing ourselves as gifted because in conversation we use gifted as the same thing as talented. Since we generally understand talented to mean being better at something than most other people, we are wise to be cautious about identifying ourselves in such a way.
But being gifted, in the Biblical sense, is not the same thing as being talented. Not all of us are talented but by God's design all of us are gifted. In the Letter to the Ephesians, which is the second lesson for this day, St. Paul writes that "each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift. The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers...." These examples do not exhaust God's gift list. There are many, many ways to be gifted by God.
One way to understand these gifts is that they are the raw material and the tools that God gives us for a certain purpose. And Paul is quite clear about what that purpose is. It is "for building the Body of Christ." In other words they are not for our benefit but for the benefit of others.
So whoever you are, whatever your circumstances, whether you be multi-talented or un-talented, you are a gifted person. And the gifts God has given you are for the benefit of others. That is the point of this sermon. Please hold onto it while we think together about our gifts and how we might use them.
Remember that gifts are not talents. They are raw material and tools God gives us for the business of life. They can be obvious things like abilities, aptitudes, interests and enthusiasms. But they can also be less obvious. The insights that are gained from your heritage ~ are gifts where you come from and how you were raised. Our background gives us these gifts ~ The insights that come from affluence or poverty, education or addiction, responsibility or abuse. The gifts of our race, culture, economics, religion all; all of these are part of what we have to work with in life. And they are among our gifts.
In addition there are the special personal gifts that you have been given. God went to a lot of trouble to make you and everyone of us as unique as snowflakes. There is a special chemistry to you that makes you different from everyone else. Those who were raised in your household. Those who share your background. Your gift may be that you are high strung or laid back; happy, serious, depressed, concerned, anxious, eager, funny, emotional, supportive, or confrontative. Notice that all of the gifts are not necessarily ones we would want but they are what we have been given for the business of life. They are the gifts that God has set before us.
Let me suggest that one way to get a handle on your special gifts is to think of how Jesus would describe you. Does that sound strange? Step around the strangeness. It is a good way to know your gifts. How would Jesus ~ who knows you better than anyone else in life ~ describe where you came from? How would Jesus describe who you are now? How would Jesus describe what you most desire to be? Think of the words that Jesus would use in describing you. And in those words you will find your gifts.
In addition to those that are part of your personal texture and makeup, there are gifts that are around you. Gifts of time, place and relationship.
It might stretch your concept of a gift. Frankly that is what sermons are for is to stretch our concepts. So consider this. Gifts are what God gives us for building up the Body of Christ ~ for building up the community around us. Part of the way we do that is with what we have to offer. But those gifts we have also need a certain time, place and relationship in which to be offered. They need the opportunity to be shared. And those opportunities are gifts. You may have insights into how the president should run the country. You may even have some valuable gifts to share with him in that regard. But if you do not have the relationship with him, the opportunity to share those insights in an effective manner, then your gifts do him and the country are no good. You might as well not have them.
Another, perhaps, more realistic illustration is one that I often see with families who are having difficulty with children. In their concern for their child the parents often time want to become the child's therapist or counselor. They sacrifice the unique gift of their family relationship. They give away the opportunity to love deeply and to strengthen immeasurably and trade it for a role that can be easily filled by a professional. They deny the gift of opportunity in relationship. They fail to realize that motherhood and fatherhood are irreplaceable gifts of opportunity for benefiting their child.
Who you are is a gift. But so is where you are and what is going on around you and the relationships that you have with others. There are certainly people around who could do a better job of delivering this sermon than me but they are not here. The gift of being in this place at this time is one that has been given to me and not some other who might be better qualified. It is a gift of opportunity. There may be people with more talent than you in being a friend or son or daughter. There may be those who can sing God's praise in a richer way. But if you are the one with the gift of time, place and relationship, then it is up to you to use those gifts in the same way it is up to you to use the personal and spiritual gifts that have been given to you. You ought to use them. That's the final point. Our gifts, the ones of spirit and personal texture and the ones of opportunity, are all to be used to make other people?s lives better. To be used as Christ taught on many occasions and demonstrated so dramatically in washing the feet of his followers. The gifts are to be used for others.
You and I might lament our meager gifts. We might even wish for some that were more positive and attractive, but such wishing is a waste of time. There is a wonderful story that comes from Jewish tradition about a man named Simon. And Simon wanted always to be more like Moses ~ That was his constant worry. And he kept going to the Rabbi and saying, "Rabbi I must lead my life so that I live more like Moses did." The Rabbi told him once "Simon God will not ask you why you were not more like Moses? God will ask you why you were not more like Simon?"
We have to live our own lives. I do not know why you have the gifts you have and I have the ones I have. I only know that we have them for the same reason, to build up the Body of Christ, to benefit others, to serve the communities of which we are a part. That is the central issue in the business of living.
So are you a gifted person? Yes, absolutely. Where you come from is a gift. Who you are is a gift, what you long to be are all gifts given you by God. The opportunities you have that come from where you are now, and what is going on now and the relationships you have now are also gifts from God. Use them to the Glory of God ~ to the building up of the Body of Christ. Use them to make the world God loves a better place. Do that and you will be doing the business of life. Amen.