Cultivating Confidence in Using the Gifts We’ve Been Given (Ken Pennings) 5.12.2019

The risen life of Jesus is this community fully alive with the sharing of gifts of love and kindness!

Audio version of Cultivating Confidence in Using the Gifts We’ve Been Given

Cultivating Confidence in Using the Gifts We’ve Been Given – Acts 9:36-43

There is probably a lot we love about this church. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here today. But this church isn’t perfect, is it? Because it’s made up of imperfect people. Remember the old bumper sticker, “I’m not perfect, just forgiven.”

In fact, there has never been a perfect church. From the beginning, Christian churches have been marked by disagreements, divisions, conflict and controversy, as imperfect people struggle to live in community with one another.

One of the earliest conflicts of the Christian church was who was following whom. People were in rivalry with one another, claiming their leader was best. ‘I follow Paul’; ‘Well I follow Apollos’; ‘Well I follow Peter.”

It is pretty clear to Biblical scholars that one of the main reasons the book of Acts was written was to address the vicious rivalry and competition in the church and create a unifying story, where both Peter and Paul were lifted up as capable and qualified leaders in the church. One was not better than the other. Those who followed one were not better than those who followed the other.

With a careful reading of the book of Acts, one might identify over 30 parallels between Peter and Paul.

For example, both men raise the dead: Peter raises Tabitha in chapter 9; Paul raises Eutychus in chapter 20.

My point here is that Acts is not primarily a chronology of events to be understood as historically and literally true, but as a plea to the church to rise above their rivalries and competition about whom one follows, and live in unity with one another.

So why is the story of the raising of Tabitha included in Acts? There are a variety of reasons, but one main reason is to demonstrate that Peter is as qualified and capable as Paul to serve as a leader in the church.

There is another reason I believe this story is included in Acts. To illustrate how the sharing of gifts and freeing others to do the same, is at the heart of who Jesus was.

As the story goes, Peter gets a text message from Joppa: Come help us. He gets up, goes to Joppa, assesses the situation, and shares the gift he has been given in order to free Tabitha to use the gift she has been given.

Hold up these two characters of the story side by side. Here’s Peter, the apostle, offering his gifts to the church — preaching the good news of God’s love, healing the sick, casting out the demons, and raising the dead. Here’s Tabitha, the seamstress, full of good works and charity, making many beautiful garments for lots of people, including the poor.

Who was more important in the life of the early church, Peter or Tabitha? Both were important! In this story, the work of an apostle is paralleled with the work of a seamstress!
There aren’t any nobodies in Christ’s church. Everyone has an important gift to share. And every person’s contribution makes the church stronger and better, and establishes God’s kin-dom on earth as it is in heaven.

I can sew on a button, but I don’t really sew. I have a deep admiration and appreciation for someone like Tabitha, who served in the church in a way I never could!

So when I read Acts 9, I wonder what Tabitha would have done with fabric like this, or this, or this, or this, or this (preacher unfurls 5 pieces of fabric and drapes them on the Communion Table)!
I’m pretty picky about clothes, and I really love clothes that are well made! Before I buy a garment, I examine the design, stitching and the craftmanship. I’d like to think when the women showed Peter the garments Tabitha had made, they were all marveling at the excellent design, stitching and craftsmanship. Look at the love in these garments!

In our church, we share prayer shawls with one another. And each time we do, we remember those who shared their gifts of knitting and crocheting, and we exclaim “Look at the love in these prayer shawls!”

In a world where empire sucks the life out of us, where selfishness, greed, arrogance, and dominating power are the norms, where gifts are hoarded, bartered for a profit, or used to bolster one’s own position or ego, we in the church caution ourselves: If we don’t share our gifts, they can easily become supports for our own ego. Through the sharing of our gifts, we breathe life into each other. We raise one another from the dead.

It’s easy to diminish ourselves and think, “I don’t have much to offer,” when if fact, the little bit we offer is of huge value and significance! We may lose confidence in ourselves, and feel like our gifts are no longer useful or important, and it may be time to rekindle our gifts, start using them again, whenever and wherever we get the chance!

When I came out of the closet, I was no longer welcome as a pastor in the world of Baptist fundamentalism. I had loved serving as a pastor in five different Baptist churches, but it seemed obvious that I’d have to find something else to do with my life. As I worked a variety of temp jobs and sought to make new connections within the LGBTQ community, something marvelous began to happen in me. I stopped lamenting about not being a pastor any longer, and began to cultivate confidence in using the gifts I’d been given everywhere I went.

Johnny and I hung out quite frequently at gay bars, not to drink, but to socialize. Routinely, we’d leave a bar, and Johnny would say to me, “Did you see what happened there tonight? You started a conversation with one guy, introduced him to others, and before long we were a whole circle of guys talking, laughing, learning one another’s names, hearing one another’s stories, and hugging one another “goodbye.” You were using your networking gift to build community.” “You’re right,” I would respond. “My church is the gay bar!”

Fast forward 20 years, here I am serving as a pastor among you, still using my networking gift to bring people together, because that’s one of the gifts I’ve been given to share with the world, and because one of the gifts you’ve been given to share with the world is the full inclusion of LGBTQ people!”
Because the universe has abundantly blessed us, every one of us has one or more gifts to share with the world! What’s your gift?

I’m going to list quite a few gifts being shared by the members of this church. As I mention each gift, does a particular person come to mind, and the person may be yourself? Call to mind silently who in this church shares the gift of:

  • Knitting and crocheting
  • Quilting and banner-making
  • Cuddling and caring for babies
  • Teaching children and teens
  • Playing games and making crafts with children
  • Facilitating discussions for adults
  • Welcoming visitors and newcomers
  • Helping the worship run smoothly by passing out bulletins, taking the offering, serving Communion, setting up and taking down chairs
  • Making and serving coffee and treats
  • Serving as an audio-visual technician
  • Preparing and delivering meals to those in need
  • Catering church functions
  • Baking bread
  • Creating and displaying art
  • Writing and reciting poetry or prose
  • Organizing events
  • Doing “the ask”, or recruiting people to serve
  • Working for peace and justice
  • Letter-writing and advocating for political and societal change
  • Supporting our neighbors in their search for housing, employment, transportation, health care, child care, and education
  • Tutoring children and teens
  • Offering support to those who are ill, homebound, elderly or differently-abled
  • Donating blood
  • Cleaning and repairing our building
  • Gardening
  • Landscaping
  • Going on mission trips
  • Participating in governance, decision-making, policy-making
  • Taking notes, documenting our history, keeping records
  • Keeping our finances in order, including counting $, book-keeping, budgeting, investing, and fundraising
  • Deepening our prayer life
  • Making music instrumentally and vocally
  • Directing choirs or bands
  • Entertaining us and making us laugh

All these gifts, and so many more, are acts of kindness and love! We, like Tabitha, are a people full of good works and charity!

I suspect that many names and faces came to mind as I read through the list of gifts, but if you thought of even one person, please stand and remain standing.
This is the church! Imperfect people, staying in the struggle, resisting empire, and building an alternative community of truth, justice and compassion. For us, Easter faith and resurrection life is NOT the resuscitation of a corpse, but breathing life into one another by using our gifts faithfully, boldly, and confidently. The risen life of Jesus is the community alive with the sharing of gifts of kindness and love!

Now as Vicki uses her wonderful musical gift on the piano, I urge all who are willing to move about the sanctuary and thank the people who came to your mind for the gifts they share in this church. You who are visiting with us don’t know us by name, by face or by giftedness. But if you’re comfortable, move about the room, and thank others for their gifts. And we’re grateful to you for sharing the gift of your presence and participation in worship!

Vicki, thank you for your marvelous gift on the piano and organ! Let’s mingle and share!

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