I wonder if any of us know what our gifts are? We’re told in the letter to the Corinthians that 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.
I wonder what you might have as a gift that I don’t? I wonder why my work isn’t as good as someone else’s. I wonder if I should be concerned that someone else is better than I am at a certain task? I wonder why I can’t get or understand things in the way that you do. I wonder if I work hard enough at a particular thing, like sewing or knitting or even engineering, whether I could call that a gift.
I wonder if I use that gift to better the lives of others or for my own needs? I wonder if there’s a sense of my own self-importance in what I do and whether that is important to me? Does it make me popular?
So many questions and of course it sounds so introspective. Or to use another turn of phrase “inward looking.” Should we be so fussy about whether someone has a greater ability to do a particular task than ourselves? I guess that it was a similar situation that Paul was writing about when he wrote to the Corinthians. Someone might very well be better than the person next to them in one particular thing, but this isn’t about comparison of one another, instead it’s about working together towards a common goal.
To create a worshipping community, a church, a body that has Christ at its centre. Did you know – this is a complete tangent that clay that is being moulded on the wheel has to be thoroughly centred before it can be made into a bowl or plate or whatever. And it’s not that once you’ve centred the clay on the wheel that it’s centred, but that the clay can go out of kilter at the top, the middle or the base where it’s on the wheel as you’re moulding it, and at any point during that process of creation.
It’s a real skill for a potter to successfully throw a pot that has been thoroughly centred from beginning to end. And any study of humanity through its walk with God will show exactly the same thing. We can go off kilter at any point in our lives. Our mouth might be trying to convince the mind of one thing, while we do something completely different with our bodies. And the only person who will know, truly, deeply, is God.
So our need to be loved, to be popular, to be successful shows the constant tension between us and what God is asking of us. Our comparison of who we are, and what we are, only serves to make us more anxious, and more fearful of being the only one who doesn’t appear to have it all together.
The Gospel reading about the wedding at Cana highlights Jesus’s frustration that his mother is asking him to do something that he feels isn’t the right time. Obviously, his childhood wasn’t like ours otherwise his mother wouldn’t have asked Jesus or told the servants to do as he asks. She knew some things that we don’t know about and aren’t recorded in the Bible. He performed a miracle. I say performed, because there was an expectation that he would do something amazing in response to his mother’s request. The result? Fantastic wine, increased social status for the bridegroom, popularity for Jesus and a bunch of disciples who now believed in him.
Did it come over as a popularity stunt? Is that why, in John’s Gospel, the next passage has Jesus cleansing the temple? So the disciples see that life with Jesus isn’t going to be hunky dory or roses all the way? Of course, we learn in the Gospels later on that the disciples bicker amongst themselves about who is the greatest and we come back to this fear of not holding it together or thinking we need to compare ourselves to the next person.
So we turn back to the reading from Isaiah. We could read it on one level as it being about the land and we could think it through, keeping Caithness in mind. Or, we could use the speech as if to a person. “You shall be called by a new name that the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord and a royal diadem. You shall no more be termed ‘discarded’ or ‘depressing.’ For the Lord delights in you.” As we are. Church isn’t about worrying who we are and how unworthy we are of God. It’s about a community coming together to acknowledge that they stumble, that they go off kilter, that they feel the need to hold on to God even though they’re not sure about him, or each other.
Church is about walking into that which God is calling us to. We can only do that if we pick ourselves up off the floor, muddy and mucky from our past and hold on to what God is calling us into. To serve each other with the gifts we have, in the way we feel we are asked to. It might not be as good as the next person, but we have to rest in the knowledge that God is asking us to do something in a way that only we can.
“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.All these gifts are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”
“You shall be called by a new name that the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord and a royal diadem. For the Lord delights in you.”