I have noticed over the last decade or so a shift within the protestant church. For years our work in the world had been simply about individual salvation – bringing the gospel to the world one person at a time. Our goal was to see more sinners become saints and even our mission work had that as its primary objective. But more and more the shift has been toward serving people in Christ’s name. We have come around to the understanding that a person cannot hear the gospel when their stomach is growling, when there is nowhere to rest their head, and no place to find security. Maybe we’ve simply realized that people are hurting in a variety of ways and the hurt has to be addressed so that spiritual healing might follow. Or maybe it is just my imagination running away with me…
One of our fundamental beliefs is that every professing and baptized member of the church is endowed by the Holy Spirit with a spiritual gift. This spiritual gift is intended by God to be used in service to the faith community and in the world beyond. The key is for each of us to know what our gifts are and to be aware of the moments where our gifts can be put to use.
Not long ago ABC News had a series on television titled “What Would You Do?” It was hosted by John Quinones and the idea was to put people in ethical dilemmas and through a hidden camera film their response or lack thereof. They tested the unknown public to see how they would respond when thrust into real-life situations of racism, teen trouble, homophobia, bad parenting, elderly abuse, obesity and weight issues, bullying, and on. The question was “how many people would witness an injustice and actually be bold enough to confront it?”
We don’t need to watch a television show or the news to see injustice in our world – it is around us day in and day out. There are ample opportunities in our little worlds to witness and respond to situations that are wrong and harmful – if we are moved to do so.
Have you ever wondered why so many people aren’t moved to respond to injustice in the world? Here are a couple of reasons that I thought of; I’m sure there are more. Maybe the issue of injustice is simply too big – because of its global nature it is too far spread, in a land that is too far away, or at a scale that it seems insurmountable. Or it could be that the issue is so deeply rooted that it is incurable (such as poverty, disease, national or interpersonal hostility). Or maybe we are moved because it doesn’t fit within our religious or political worldview. There are ample reasons (or excuses) that we can muster up for not getting involved when we encounter injustice in the world.
And yet I would say that our efforts, no matter how great or how small can and would make a difference in the world around us, in the lives that we would encounter. Bonaro Overstreet, an American poet, wrote these words: “You say the little efforts that I make will do no good: they never will prevail to tip the hovering scale where justice hangs in the balance. I don’t think I ever thought they would. But I am prejudiced beyond debate in favor of my right to choose which side shall feel the stubborn ounces of my weight.” I believe the ethical call of all people who claim the title “Christian” is to let the stubborn ounces of our weight fall on the side of justice. This is our daily act of acceptable worship of God!
Many of us are under the impression that acceptable worship applies only to the hour we are together on Sunday. Acceptable worship is the right dress, the right code of conduct, in the right worship style at the right time. We’ve boiled it down to a particular form and function based upon preferences for a particular group of people and when the leaders uphold the expectation and standard, worship is acceptable.
But the author of Hebrews reminded his audience that acceptable worship is not based upon our judgment but rather on what God finds acceptable. And that acceptable worship is how we live every second of every minute of every day. The Hebrews author lists 13 exhortations – a quick list because the original audience knew them well; they were customary things, traditions for them and so they did not need extensive teaching on them. But they did need reminding because they were missing the mark on acceptable worship. They were not using their gifts to serve others and thus their worship of God was unacceptable. The Hebrews like others before them and billions after them were given spiritual gifts to show hospitality, help those in prison or being mistreated, and for doing good while sharing with those in need. But like so many they had failed to do so, forgotten along the way and needed to be reminded what holistic worship of God is.
So how many of us are living a life of worship that is acceptable to God because we are also using our spiritual gifts to serve when and wherever needed?
John Wesley was a member of a holy club while studying at Oxford. They were a group who had a particular regimen when it came to reading scripture, praying together, having communion, and holding each other accountable for confession of sins and repentance. But they also went beyond these acts of personal piety; they were known to have visited the sick at the local hospital, to go and be present with children who resided in the local orphanage and they visited those who had been imprisoned. This was not normal in Wesley’s day – these were not the activities of the people of the Anglican Church but he and his companions felt that it was all a part of their worship of God. In the Wesleyan tradition we have a saying – “there is no personal holiness without social holiness; there is no social holiness without personal holiness.” They are two sides of the same coin and they cannot be divided. The weight of our stubborn ounces should be generously given to “loving God and loving our neighbor.”
The body of Christ is gifted by the Holy Spirit with all that is necessary for its full life together and for mission in the world. All of us are exhorted to use our gifts to serve others rounding out our acceptable worship of God. So, what is your spiritual gift? If you do not know there are several on-line tests that you can take that will give you immediate results. On the UMC.org website there is a test that you can use. Then you can research the definition of your gift, what your gift is intended for and where it can be used to glorify God.
You might not think your gift matters to the church or the world but I would argue that it takes all of us participating in God’s kingdom work for the vision of God to unfold. We are all a unique piece of God’s puzzle portrait – without our piece in the place God designed us for, there is a gap that no one else can fill. Your spiritual gift and its presence in the community and world is vital to God’s purposes. Combined the weight of all our stubborn ounces will make a difference here and beyond. I know that I want my worship of God to be complete and acceptable; I am confident that you desire the same. So what are you going to do about it?
Blessings for the journey!