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Pinnacle Presbyterian Church

Echoes Blog

Family Camp, Superheroes, & Spiritual Gifts

This past weekend children, teens and adults joined together for our All Church Family Camp where we learned about how our spiritual gifts make us God’s superheroes. And when I say superheroes, the first thing we think of is Superman, Spiderman and Wonder Woman. But we moved past these people with the miraculous gifts of flying, climbing walls and super strength, to the gifts God gives us of kindness, love, helping others and smiling.

Spiritual gifts are a unique and special part of how God made each of us. They shape and form our careers, free time, hobbies and communities without us even realizing it. For example, a person might be an artist because they have an eye for seeing the beauty in things the way another might not. A teacher has a way of explaining the American Revolution that makes a teen feel like they were fighting alongside George Washington. Or a child is able to explain the complications of life in simple and matter-of-fact ways.

But these gifts go beyond the basics of everyday life to help us do the work God has called us to do. The artist sees the beauty in the desert, paints it and helps us non-artistic folks give thanks for the beauty of the cactus. The teacher blesses us by teaching teens when we think history seems boring, and the child makes our complicated and full lives simple so that we might enjoy God’s pleasures. Each person has their own gifts to share and we all have gifts to receive.

The church provides lots of opportunities for us to use our spiritual gifts - from teaching Children’s Church School to volunteering at Andre House, helping in the office to taking pictures at special events at the church. I hope you all have found a place to do that (if not please call me I will find you a place to share your gifts.)  :-)

The challenge, I think, is seeing our whole life as the work of God in us and through us. Each simple slice of our life is a part of God’s work in us. The thing that makes us God’s heroes is when we take those spiritual gifts and use them to do Jesus’ work. This means using your gift of listening to spend time with a friend who needs someone to talk to, the gift of organization to keep sanity in our life and others, or the gift of helping others to support a person in need.

This morning the song Do Something by Matthew West came on the radio and the lyrics push us to go beyond seeing our life introspectively, to focus outwardly as God’s heroes. In the song, Matthew West challenges us to get up and do something about the hurt, brokenness, and lack of love in the world instead of just learning about it or talking about it. More often than not, we struggle to believe that we can do much about war half-a-world away, racism that plagues our country and illness that destroys life.

But we can by living and using our spiritual gifts. In the music video of Do Something, people from all ages, backgrounds and cultures hold up signs of what they are going to do. Some are life goals like "adopt", "fight for justice", and "heal the hurting." Others are one-day or one-hour challenges like "rebuild" and "feed the hungry." But the ones that you can do today are as simple as laugh, love, give a hug and pray. These spiritual gifts make a difference in the world.

My questions to you are “What will you do?" "How will you use your spiritual gifts?”

Jesus Calms the Storm

Then Jesus got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”   ~ Matthew 8:23-27

In a house of four grown adults, three children, two puppy dogs and a partridge in a pair tree, you can imagine the noise that I hear waking me up in the morning. “Mom, can I have some chocolate milk?” “Mom, I’m hungry.” “Mom, mom, mom…”, “Dad, can I have your your iPad?” “Stop chewing on that.” “The dog had an accident.” “Stop hitting me!” “Trey won’t let me use the iPad.” I try to zone out the noise so I can sleep. However, this morning I awoke to a sound that I hadn’t noticed in years, the sound of a storm.

Growing up in the Midwest, thunderstorms where very common to me. No matter how bad they were I could always manage to sleep through them; but it’s been awhile and it was a sound that I couldn’t place as I was coming in and out of sleep. Once I realized that it was raining and raining really hard, I quickly jumped out of bed ran to the window to survey the damage to our yard.

Typically I wouldn’t pay much attention to the rain, and would rejoice to have it, but right now I am in the middle of replacing the rock in our yard with grass so our kids have a place to play (the things parents and grandparents do for their kids). We are at the stage where all the rock is gone, sprinklers are in and dirt needs to be leveled so the grass can be delivered tomorrow. I had a whole day of work planned for Becca and my parents to do before the grass came, but the storm had different plans.

By the time I got in my car and headed to work it had stopped raining. So despite being a little disappointed that the yard would have to wait another day, I went about my drive to work as normal. Again my plans failed. It didn’t take me very long to see the damage that the storm had caused to neighborhood and community. There were roads closed, cars stranded, fences knocked down and road crews strapping the debris from the road. No one had planned on dealing with this storm today, but yet the storm came any way… as they do in our lives from time to time, bringing to mind a few observations.

1) Storms will come. No matter who we are or where we come from there will be storms in our lives. Some will inconvenience us a little, while others will shake the very foundation on which we stand. No matter how much we try to prepare storms can be scary. Many of the disciples spent their entire lives on or around fishing boats. Storms and boats would have been something they were used to and normally wouldn’t fear. However, there was something different about this storm, this storm made them fear for their lives.

2) Storms will go. The storm that rolled in this morning was gone by the time I was ready to leave for work. Another storm rolled in twice as strong as the first and in less than an hour it too was gone. No matter how bad storms are, they will pass. No matter how bad a storm might seem (the disciples thought they were going to drown!) it will pass and better, brighter days wait on the other side. No rain, no rainbows!

3) Storms affect people differently. The storm this morning knocked out my satellite for a few minutes. It prevented me from getting some work done around the house, and made my 10-minute drive to work 25 minutes. It really didn’t affect me too much, but for others it flooded houses, totaled cars, and endangered lives. Sometimes we see the same clouds, hear the same thunder but because we are all unique, no storm is ever the same.

The storm that the disciples faced in that boat was like no storm they had ever faced, but, as we know, it was not the last. They waited and waited and waited, until the point they thought they were going to drown before they bothered to wake Jesus. Why? He was in the same boat and in the same storm they were in. If they thought he could do something about it, why are they so surprised when he calms the wind and waves? Perhaps it is because the disciples, like us, don’t want to bother Jesus. We think “Jesus has better things to do”, “he has other people who need more than I do”, or “I shouldn’t be so selfish to ask Jesus for myself”. We convince ourselves that other people need Jesus more than we do and it is only when we start to drown in the midst of a storm, that we finally ask Jesus to help us. We often find ourselves using Jesus as a life preserver. We know that he is there, but it is only if things get really bad that we will ask for his help. This is ok, but not what Jesus really wants.

Jesus wants to be our boat, not our life preserver. He wants to be the vessel that we use to sail through life. His love was intended to permeate our beings, to be with us always, not only when drowning. I urge you today to feel his presence, to invite him to all parts of your life, to look for him in the sunshine, not just the storms. But most of all, we need to remember that if the storm we’re looking at seems too dark, too dangerous, too all-consuming, like it will never end…you…are…not…alone. You are not going through it alone, he is carrying you. Take a moment in the midst of the storm to feel his arms around you and know that God is bigger and God’s love is greater than any storm.

 

Last Sunday we read Luke 15:1-10 in church. It's Jesus responding to his high class critics after they attack him for spending too much time with the wrong kinds of people doing the wrong kinds of things—"welcoming sinners and eating with them" (15: 2):

“Brother Jesus, we’re a little concerned that you’ve been spending too much time down the street at that daycare and job-training center and not enough time tending to your flock over here. You've been out with the kids too much, and not always with the kinds we think are the best examples for ours. The church has perfectly good structures in place to establish acceptable funding procedures within our well-allocated and proportionally delineated budgets in order to provide appropriate and accountable support to vetted social service or psychological counseling agencies exhibiting proper oversight mechanisms to assure optimal mission investment and accountable human return. Don’t worry about the people; that’s the deacons job! You're a teacher.” 

Against this, Jesus doesn’t appeal to articulate strategies of missional effectiveness or list all of the adult ed classes he taught or in-office counseling hours he put in at the Temple last year. In fact he doesn’t defend himself at all, at least not directly. He simply casts a story alongside, and invites his questioners to the feast:

Luke 15:4-7 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who turns than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no turning. (NRSV, slightly edited)

Much has been made of Jesus praising the shepherd who leaves 99 in the wilderness for the sake of 1, but I wonder if we might have romanticized this a bit too much over the generations. I say this because if there was more than one shepherd, as Jesus' hearers would probably have assumed there was, the other shepherd or shepherd(s) will have taken care of the remaining sheep. They would have taken them back to the village.

So what was true then is true now: we don't take care of each other alone. We do it with others. The answer to our needs is not a superman or superwoman. It’s not enough to have heroes. We need each other. We need a church. And the work of the ones who take charge of looking for the one sheep depends on the day-to-day faithfulness, helpfulness, commitment, involvement, quiet and behind the scenes effort of others.  

This shows that Jesus is pluralizing the problem. His critics are dealing with a whole movement, not just him and his peculiarity. They're dealing with God's work among all of Jesus' followers.

This observation also makes me wonder about our American habit of praising only the stars, or the ones who act in the public eye, and forgetting those who labor anonymously for the good of others in rarely rewarded ways: Teachers, nurses, volunteers, those who open their checkbooks to fund the work, those who pray.

The answer to our need is not a lone hero or a magic individual who alone can make a difference. The answer is a whole network. The answer for us, as people of faith, is the church­—as the church follows its Lord.

Our work is to do our best, in all our imperfections, to be a community built on faith that includes the whole picture imagined in this parable: the 99 sheep in the group, the 1 sheep outside the group who's waiting to be found (maybe more of us are that 1 than we like to admit), the shepherds tending the group, the shepherds reaching out, the villagers waiting and praying and celebrating the reunion, and each of us being nudged to the feast Jesus is hosting. 

In 1964, when the heart disease that had plagued her for years finally took Gracie's life, George Burns was inconsolable. The doctor asked Burns if he wanted to see Gracie one last time. "Of course I did," Burns says. "I wanted to stand next to her onstage and hear the audience laugh. I wanted to hear that birdlike voice. I wanted her to look up at me with her trusting eyes. I wanted to ask her just once more, 'Gracie, how's your brother?' "

For a time, Burns admits, "things were very, very bad for me. My life was Gracie. But then, about two months later, I started sleeping in her bed—we had twin beds—and things just started turning around for me."

At the age of 62, when most men are thinking of retiring, Burns found a new career. "I was retired when I worked with Gracie," he says. "I did nothing." Or as he puts it in the book: "For 40 years my act consisted of one joke, and then she died." A successful nightclub act that snowballed into TV appearances and movie roles proved that Burns could be funny on his own. 

I like this story of George and Gracie because it exemplifies the process of grief.  An inconsolable loss, followed by awful times.  And then--if we are fortunate-- new opportunities and new joy emerge.

Beginning on September 16th Pinnacle is offering a new program called “Loved and Lost.”  L&L is a grief support group which will meet monthly on the third Tuesdays  of each  month. Someone commented that a joy shared is a joy doubled and a sorrow shared is a sorrow halved.