In one of his books, author and retired minister, Robert Fulghum, says that in the past he has been a frequent guest in school; most often kindergartens and colleges. While thinking about these experiences Fulghum came up with some observations:
“Ask a kindergarten class, How many of you can draw? and all hands shoot up. Yes, of course we can draw – all of us. What can you draw? Anything! How about a dog eating a fire truck in a jungle? Sure! How big do you want it?
How many of you can sing? All hands. Of course we sing! What can you sing? Anything! What if you don’t know the words? No problem, we make them up. Let’s sing! Now? Why not!
Do you like to act in plays? Yes! Do you play musical instruments? Yes! Do you write poetry? Yes! Can you read and write and count? Yes! We’re learning that stuff now.
Their answer is Yes! Over and over again. Yes! The children are confident in spirit, infinite in resources, and eager to learn. Everything is still possible.
Try these same questions on a college audience. A small percentage of the students will raise their hands when asked if they draw or dance or sing or paint or act or play an instrument. Not infrequently, those who do raise their hands will want to qualify their response with their limitations: I only play piano, I only draw horses, I only dance to rock and roll, I only sing in the shower.
When asked why the limitations, college students answer that they do not have talent, are not majoring in the subject, or have not done any of these things since about third grade, or worse, that they are embarrassed for others to see them sing or dance or act.”
Fulghum concludes by asking himself what went wrong between kindergarten and college. “What happened to YES! of course I can?”
(Uh-Oh, Robert Fulghum, pg. 227)
I have often wondered why it is that we lose faith in the ability of God’s gifts to be manifest in our lives. Why do we, in the church, so often lose our trust that even simple talents are gifts from God and are an important contribution to our ministry together as the Body of Christ?
I’ve been a member of the United Church of Canada my whole life and lived in many different places and I have always been saddened when I’ve heard comments such as: I couldn’t possibly read the scriptures in church, what if I make a mistake; I love to sing in the shower but I don’t sing well enough to sing in the choir; I play a musical instrument but not perfectly so I couldn’t possibly play during a worship service; I’d like to go to a Bible Study but I’d be embarrassed for people to find out how little I know about the Bible.
It is sometimes hard for us, as people of faith, to believe the words we heard last week from Ephesians: “Now to God who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20)
In a book called, The Truing of Christianity, John C. Meagher says,
“Faith is…the sustained habit of trusting, accepting and loyally affirming. It is the vitality of the ‘Yes!’ through which one engages oneself in a self-giving that at once affirms who one is, defines what one chooses to be, and establishes the nature of the reality to which one is committed.” (The Truing of Christianity: Visions of Life and Thought for the Future, pg.16)
We are not asked to pretend to have gifts we do not have or to try to be someone we are not. We are simply asked, as stated in Ephesians, “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called”. (Ephesians 4:1)
I read a wisdom story from Jewish tradition this week that emphasizes this point:
There was a man named Simon. Simon always wanted to be more like Moses and he was constantly worrying about the ways that he fell short of this goal. The constant worry and his critical self evaluation was making Simon a very unhappy person. One day he decided to visit his rabbi and said to him, “Rabbi, I must lead my life so that I live more like Moses did.” The rabbi responded, “Simon, God will not ask you why you were not more like Moses. God will only ask you why you were not more like Simon.”
We all have gifts to offer. When we offer the gifts of our lives motivated by a strong sense of God’s calling, we are fulfilling God’s purpose for us as people of faith. Living with authenticity, being true to ourselves and recognizing the spiritual gifts we have been given, enables us to live with gratitude offering what we can willingly and joyfully, without guilt or shame. Very often, in my experience, one reason we can be afraid of offering our spiritual gifts is because we fear negative criticism or being judged by others to be found lacking.
This idea of living with authenticity, offering our gifts for the strengthening and work of the community, requires a deep and compassionate love for one another. Ephesians 4, that we heard from today, talks about “bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” while at the same time, “speaking truth in love”.
Recently, I had a conversation with a colleague who stated that we’d be better off in church to substitute the word respect for love in our conversations and in our actions. I commented that respect is present when love is truly embodied. My colleague’s reply was that if respect was truly present in all our conversations and actions then people in the church would be able to disagree on important matters and still maintain a sense of unity and community.
To be able to be true to one’s dearly held beliefs and allow another person to hold their different but just as dearly held beliefs is important to the unity of the Christian church today. Unity does not mean uniformity. We do not all have to think and do exactly the same things. What we do need to do is, “lead a life worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)
The biblical commentary, Feasting on the Word, makes an interesting comment about the connection, in today’s passage from Ephesians, between love and calling. The commentary says that, “…love is an act of the will. Paul is not calling for the early Christians to feel warmly toward one another, but to act according to their calling.” (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, pg. 306)
In response to this comment I offer a quote from Nellie McClung who was not only a human rights advocate but also a deeply committed Christian. “How very glad I would be to exercise my religion in a peaceable, blameless, mellow way, to sing hymns, read a Bible, teach dainty little dimpled darlings in Sunday School, carry jellies to the sick, entertain strangers, and let it go at that. Then I would have the joy of hearing people say, ‘She is a very sweet woman.’ But here is the trouble. God demands our love, not just our amiability.” (Globe and Mail, article by Lorn Dueck, June 29, 2002)
As people of faith, members of the Body of Christ, we embody God’s love in the faith-filled words and actions of our lives. With love and respect, faith and hope, we recognize the gifts that God has given us and we respond with thanksgiving in the offering of the gifts and resources of our lives for the realization of God’s commonwealth in our world.
May it be so, this day and always.