“Everything We Need”

Epiphany 2

January 15, 2017


Text:  Isaiah 49:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

    I find this is a time in the church when many people identify with the complaint of God’s servant in our text from Isaiah 49, “I have wearied myself in vain.  I have used up my strength for nothing.”  A lot of us have busted our tails for the church, and feel like we have little to show for it.  I know I sometimes feel that way, too.  There’s a lot of discouragement out there, a lot of anxiety about the future, and a lot of blame going around concerning why things are the way they are.

    Now today’s Scripture from Isaiah makes it far from clear whether the “servant” is Israel as a whole or a specific person.  I think in this case the ambiguity is useful, because it allows God to speak to us both as individuals and as the larger body called church.  

    And what does God say to us through Isaiah?

    First, God reminds us that he called us to do his work even from before our birth.  God called us to serve him in order to show God’s glory to others.  He called us to restore people to God--both those who already are insiders to God’s promises and those who are considered outsiders.  This is possible because we are God’s beloved.  God honors us and gives us strength.

    Sometimes I forget that I am God’s beloved.  Sometimes I forget that it’s not all up to me.  I am sure I am not the only one who forgets these things.  When I forget these things, and try to do it all myself, it usually does not turn out well.  I need to fully rely on God to help me do what God wants me to do.

    As he begins his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul builds on the idea that God honors us and gives us strength.  Paul gives thanks for the grace, the unconditional love and favor, that God has already shown his people in Jesus Christ.  Paul points out that God has gifted his people for ministry--so much so that Paul asserts that the Corinthians were not missing any spiritual gift while they waited for Christ to be revealed fully in glory.  Because of this, God called them to be partners with Christ in ministry to the world.  

    God has also gifted us for ministry.  This does not mean that any one of us has all the gifts we need.  It means that together we have all the gifts we need to do the work of God in the world, and we are called to work with God in utilizing these gifts to help people come into deeper relationship with God and others.  God has given us everything we need to do his work.

    Many times we in the church have a hard time believing this.  We are often inclined to think that we would do better with our ministry if we had more money, or more people, the right programming, or the right pastor.  Of course, pastors (me included) can be just as prone to think they would do better if they had a bigger church, a better salary, a more cooperative congregation, or fewer antagonists.  While it is true that sometimes pastors and congregations do not fit each other well, and that can get in the way of good ministry, it is also true that making changes in any of these things does not guarantee that things will be any better.  

The church in Corinth to which Paul wrote 1 and 2 Corinthians was far from perfect.  As one reads through the Corinthian letters, one finds a church that was badly divided, argued about many things, sometimes behaved in ungodly ways, and whose people did not always treat each other well.  Yet Paul tells them “you are not missing any spiritual gift while you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.”  Even in their imperfection, God had richly gifted them for ministry, and Paul encouraged them to make use of those gifts.

    Even in our imperfection, God has richly gifted us for ministry.  I encourage you to make use of those gifts.  A pastor, no matter how gifted, can only do so much.  You have among you relationships with people throughout this community that often go back many years.  You have among you the ability to be compassionate and caring to those who are hurting, and often demonstrate this.  You have among you the gift of hospitality and welcome for people who are new to the community.  You have gifts and talents among you for organizing and planning.  And there are many other gifts to be found among the people of this church.  God has given us everything we need to do his work.

In many churches, too much of the work is expected to be done by too few people.  The church has sometimes been described as being like a football game.  22 people are out on the field working their tails off and badly in need of rest, while 20,000 people sit in the stands watching who are badly needing exercise.  Being a follower of Jesus was never intended to be a spectator sport.  God never calls a penalty for having too many players on the field.  The work of God in the world is so extensive that all hands are needed on deck to accomplish it.  Every person’s God-given gifts and abilities can play a part in helping God’s work happen in our community and in the world.  God has given us everything we need to do his work.

So what do we need to do God’s work?  We don’t need a fancy program.  I have seen many programs and approaches to church life  marketed to churches over the years claiming to be just the thing to turn any church around.  However, I have also found that just because a program worked well in one church doesn’t automatically mean it will work well in another.  A good example of this in our recent experience in this church was the “single board” model of church governance.  This has worked well in a lot of churches, but it did not work well here.  For whatever reason, it just did not fit right, and while it was worth trying, I think it was wise that we decided not to stay with it.   

We don’t need more money before we can do God’s work--indeed, the wisdom I have been hearing in recent years is that money follows mission.  Intentionally carry out your mission and ministry in the community and the world, and people will give to support that mission and ministry.  

What we need to do God’s work are things God already has provided us.  God already loves us and has commissioned us through our baptism to do his work.  God leads us, guides us, and empowers us by the power of the Holy Spirit.  God has already given a variety of gifts among us to accomplish God’s work in this community and in the wider world.  We need to trust God, trust one another, and work together as partners with God to do what God calls us to do.  This is true now, and this is true no matter who your pastor will be after I leave here in a few months.  

God has given us everything we need to do his work.  Trust that promise.  Live that promise.  And may God be with us all as we do so.  Amen.

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