Year C; 2 Epiphany; 1.21.2019

I Corinthians 12:1-11

 

“God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit…All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people. The variety is wonderful: wise counsel, clear understanding, simple trust, healing the sick, miraculous acts, proclamation, distinguishing between spirits, tongues and interpretation of tongues.”

This list is from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of First Corinthians 12 from “The Message.”

”…all kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit.” The list of gifts seems endless.  “The variety is wonderful…” tells us that we must never forget that at whatever age or capacity we are in life, God’s Spirit is gifting us.  And these various gifts come together to create a unified whole called the Body of Christ.

Some of us from time-to-time don’t feel much giftedness. Some of us might not know quite how to discover those gifts God gave them. I remember my carpenter husband John used to say that he never felt any inkling of God calling forth gifts in him. Yet, to me, it was crystal clear that God gave him the gift of generosity. John is the one who put us on a plan to increase a percentage of our income each year for our pledge.

John also had the gift of hospitality. Every Sunday John single-handedly offered a glorious coffee hour after the early service. It was such a generous offering of hospitality each week that when we went on vacation, he had to put everything in several huge bins: coffee, tea, sugar, plates, napkins, cups. He always made a long grocery list for the volunteers who filled in while he was gone.

John also had the gift of teaching. One early spring John recruited and trained a crew of volunteers to build a handicap ramp from the street into the Narthex. And just before he died he was finalizing the carpentry of the handicap restroom the parish installed in the narthex.

We may not know or ever be aware of the gifts that come from God. But Paul writes the great truth of our faith that God gives us gifts for the common good and that they come from one source: God’s Spirit.

Tomorrow, our nation will observe the annual birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. God gave Dr. King intelligence, a prophetic voice, courage and persistence. The more I read about the Civil Rights Movement in this country, the more clearly I see the vast variety of gifts God called forth from all kinds of people: brave people, young people, old people, people of faith, hopeful people and people who became martyrs for the cause.

Last year I talked about Diane Nash, an African-American college student, a Catholic whose gifts as a strategist and leader led to some of the most successful campaigns of the Civil Rights era. This year I would like to introduce us to a young white Lutheran pastor who was called right out of seminary to pastor a black parish in Montgomery, Alabama, Trinity Lutheran Church.

Pastor Robert Graetz began his ministry in Montgomery in 1955 and became a friend of Rosa Parks. That same year was the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott when Rosa Parks was arrested for sitting in the “Whites Only” section of the Montgomery public bus. She was arrested because she integrated a bus which was against the law in Montgomery. The boycott began in protest against the unjust segregation bus law.

Pastor Graetz stood with his black congregation and even became a member of the executive board of the Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization founded to organize and support the boycott. He appeared at meetings with Martin Luther King, Jr. and participated in the boycott by driving in the carpool, driving African Americans to work or shopping. The bus boycott was a hardship on the black citizens of Montgomery because the buses were the only means of transportation to work and to shop for most blacks. Organizing car pools and rides was a difficult thing to do because so few blacks owned cars.

And yet the boycott went on for over a year, until the federal court ruled against the law for segregated buses in Alabama. This decision finally led to the Supreme Court decision that segregation bus laws in Alabama were unconstitutional.

Martin Luther King wrote about Pastor Graetz in his memoir about the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Acknowledging the hope of the activism that the white pastor brought to the Movement “King recalled that Graetz served to remind those who were boycotting that ‘many white people as well as Negroes were applying the love-thy-neighbor-as-thyselfteachings of Christianity in their daily lives.’”

Pastor Graetz wrote a letter to his white clergy counterparts introducing the objectives of the boycott and asking for their support. The full and complete rejection from his white colleagues not only meant he and his family were ostracized, they also became victims of violent and angry white people.  He and his family suffered three bombings on their home. To this day he is a Civil Rights activist who speaks with a prophetic voice. At 90 years old, he is still speaking against current racial violence in this country.

Our patron, St. Paul writes, “Now, 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.” Paul urges his Corinthian congregation to consider that God gives them gifts that come directly from God’s Spirit and these gifts are to serve the common good. This is how a community of faith is to live together, sharing their gifts for the common good.

So, if you think you have none or too few gifts to offer, step back and take a look at your life because the gifts are there. Have you been a mentor, counsellor, teacher, activist, healer, leader, encourager or intercessor? Do you have a heart for hospitality, justice, compassion, hope, faith, love?

Have others observed gifts in you that you haven’t observed? Consider this: an entire Movement of Civil Rights was activated by the gifts God brought together in a diversity of people in that moment in history.

What gifts is God is calling forth in you?