Nov. 19, 2017 sermon
Matthew 25:1-13/ Judges 4:1-8
Gifted People, Working Together
Almost two weeks ago, I went to Nanaimo to attend a workshop on emotional intelligence and human relationship skills. I didn’t really know what to expect, except that there might be a lot of lecturing and taking notes; aren’t we all used to this type of learning? What surprised me about this workshop is that learning about emotional intelligence and relationship skills is best done in a group environment. It wasn’t a workshop aimed at healing the emotions, like psychotherapy, but more than half of our sessions felt like therapy because our emotional intelligence and how well or badly we relate to one another is grossly influenced by what we have been through.
Our first evening, we were told to write down our learning goals on a big piece of paper and post it on the wall, so we can all see it. For me, the two biggest challenges I face and should work on, were being proactive and learning the specific cultural language of my new people; that is Canadians, and more specifically, our Kimberley congregation. We were also encouraged to try out new behaviours to reach our goals. During our many “therapy” sessions, I realized how much my cultural upbringing has influenced how I am and how I interact with people; I had not realized it until recently because, having been hurt by a lot of my cultural values, I tried hard to keep my culture in the closet and not think about it. I am an introverted woman whose culture teaches that women should not be proactive and take charge; women with strong leadership skills are called bossy and not desirable. I grew up in a culture where we are taught that if we have problems and cannot cope, that means we are weak. “Just toughen up and deal with your problems! And don’t bother anyone!” Only recently, with a growing mental health awareness that we started talking about seeking help. Moreover, related to what I just mentioned, pastors are not supposed to let their weaknesses known to their congregations. These are some of my cultural baggage.
But that is not all; as an individual, I bring personal baggage too. For example, as a quirky child growing up in a culture that doesn’t condone being different, my differences were not encouraged. On the contrary, my individuality was often met with negative responses, and as a result, I became more and more timid about interacting with people, except for those who get included in my inner circle. In short, I was trained to be guarded and reserved, which makes it difficult for my job as a pastor. Five days of workshop cannot suddenly turn me into a social butterfly, of course. But what I did gain during the workshop was the emotional knowledge (as opposed to the intellectual one)-knowledge on an emotional level-that it is okay to be proactive, and that it is okay to ask for help and guidance. I practiced it a lot. My eleven group mates and two facilitators provided me with a safe and comfortable space to take risks and try out new behaviours. As I share these with you, I want you to know that it is hard for me to open up like this, just like when I was training myself to keep eye contact. It is very difficult because I was never taught to. The reason why I am sharing these with you is so that you can better understand where I come from, and my challenges that stem from my background. I feel that me pretending that everything is okay didn’t do either of us any good. Now I feel braver to be more proactive and ask for your guidance when I’m not sure. I can promise you that from now on I will be more open to you, and more proactive in seeking relationship with each of you. What I need from you in the process is your guidance, because I don’t always know how to talk or relate to you. Guide me and encourage me. Teach me the cultural cues that I do not know; gently, if possible, please.
What I experienced and learned during those 5 days is such big stuff and it’s a lot to digest. But it is also tremendously important stuff because the kingdom of heaven is a community of disciples working together. As we have seen in the Parable of the Talents, we all received different gifts from God. Also, the gifts we have received is not for our selfish causes. They belong to God who gave them to us, and we are expected to use them for the good of God’s kingdom. Working with you in different ways makes me marvel at the incredible gifts you bring to our ministry. I may know how to preach, but I don’t know how to bake anything. I may be good at learning foreign languages, but I’m allergic to numbers and anything related to numbers. Our gifts shine when we work for a common goal; the good of God’s kingdom to which we belong. We need each other.
We also read about Deborah and Barak. This was the period in Israel’s history when they didn’t yet have kings to rule over them. They were God’s people, so they weren’t supposed to have human rulers. This is the period when prophetic people were called to be the leaders of Israel, Deborah being one of them. It is unusual that in those ancient times God chose a woman to be the leader of God’s people; but she was wise. She was wise enough to know that she cannot deliver her people from invasions and attacks by being the one supreme and charismatic superhero. And even charismatic superheroes sometimes need to collaborate with other superheroes and experience the synergetic effect of their powers. Deborah and Barak worked together to defeat the enemies. She knew the power of working together.
Both biblical stories we read today remind us that God’s kingdom is where God’s people work together with the different gifts they bring. It was important for me to open myself up to you today because we have to be team players, and team players know and understand each other. As we bring our different gifts to be used in our ministry together, I urge you and me to be more open to and better communicate with each other; if we can’t understand each other, it is difficult to work together. Remember that Deborah, the leader of Israel, humbly worked with Barak, as I was taught that good leaders know how to use their resources, human or otherwise. Remember that our gifts and talents were given to us by God so that we can use them for God’s works. The servant who didn’t yield any profit on the money he had been given was banished and probably punished more severely than we might think he deserved. This story and its ending is a demonstration of God’s expectations for us. What we might consider not so serious might be super serious to God.
Let us declare that today is the first day of the rest of our life together as Kimberley United Church congregation. Let us promise each other that we will openly communicate with each other so that we can be a healthier community of God. I promise you to be more open and proactive so we can build a closer and healthier relationship; and I’m going to need your help and guidance along the way. Let us promise that we will understand and work better with each other through open communications. Hopefully, I will be able to share with you some of the communication skills I learned from the workshop so we can practice together. Meanwhile, I bless you with the love and compassion of God that we learned from Jesus.
Rev. Sunny Kim