1.14.2007

Sermon for Epiphany 2

Are you a good gift receiver? Do you take compliments well? Gifts? Affection? I know this parish is filled with wonderful givers—I’ve seen your generosity since I’ve gotten here. But this morning I’m wondering: are we good receivers? I ask because it seems to me that our readings this morning are about God’s gifts, I think a lot of us feel awkward about receiving presents. What would it be like if we watched for gifts in our days as little love notes from God? Can we look at the things we enjoy as little tokens of God’s affection?

Jesus was able to bless the wedding at Cana with fresh wine, not a necessity, but a nice thing for the guests. His first miracle wasn’t healing, or a life-changing act—just some nice wine. Not a need, a gift. A simple, kind gift.

The prophet Isaiah told the people of Israel that “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you,” that they would be called “My Delight is in You.” It’s quite a gift to be fussed over and cherished—but this is part of our relationship with God. If we’re going to take this comparison seriously, this means that God is excited about spending time with us. God loves it when we call. God waits anxiously to hear from us. If we have a big day, God wants to know how it went. God thinks you’re beautiful. God thinks I’m funny, even when I do that dumb joke with the clothes hanger on my head. God holds our hand when we’re scared, and cheers us on when we’re brave.

So why does our response to these gifts of God matter?
Have you ever given a gift to someone who didn’t seem to enjoy getting it? It’s a little painful, a little embarrassing, a little disappointing, to put thought and care into choosing a gift as a way of demonstrating that you care—only see that it’s not very meaningful to the recipient. It’s like this in our relationship with God, too. Sometimes gratitude feels like a burden—an obligation rather sincere enjoyment. Certainly there are painful times in our lives where watching for joy doesn’t come naturally.

Gratitude works both ways—it’s nice for the giver, and it’s good for the recipient. One particularly tough time for me occurred the most beautiful fall I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, I spent most of that season paying more attention to my own worry than to the beauty around me. When I was finally about to appreciate the leaves, and the mountains, and the sunshine, I gained a lot of peace. It didn’t solve my problems, but it did bring me comfort.

Before we go any further, maybe we should acknowledge that true love just isn’t always dignified. If we’re going to give and receive love well, we’re probably going to look a little nuts at some point. We have to forget ourselves a little in the process, be willing to put celebrating the other—in this case, God, ahead of what people think about us. The psalmist certainly appreciates God’s gifts—“How priceless is your love, O God!” The psalmist is basking in the warmth of his God’s love. It’s a beautiful, generous way to receive a gift.

Paul speaks of receiving God’s gifts, too, in his letter to the Corinthians. Paul says he doesn’t want us to be uninformed: God gives all kinds of things, “wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophesy, discernment, tongues, interpretation.”. Paul encourages us to open up to gifts that we might be reluctant to receive. We find variety in others, and we find variety in ourselves. A very kind, well-respected man once confessed to me that the part of our Baptismal Covenant he struggled most with was the part where we seek and serve Christ in all persons. Sometimes it’s a challenge to be grateful for the gifts God gives others—we see some strengths and abilities as more valuable than others. Paul’s telling us to broaden our perspectives sometimes, and rejoice in things even when they’re different—because they’re from God.

And while I’m on the subject of Paul, and how there are varieties of gifts, there’s something else that strikes me as important. Paul says that there are varieties of gifts, services, and activities, but that it is “the same God who activates them in everyone.” Everyone. All of us. It’s a good thing to enjoy your own gifts, the ones that bless other people. If you sing in the choir, or feed people who are hungry, or make sure the roof isn’t leaking—those are gifts. If you’re good at something, it’s a gift. If you find joy somewhere, that’s a gift too. They’re yours to enjoy, be grateful for them. It can be even harder to appreciate gifts in ourselves than in others. They’re there. Celebrate them. God gave them to you, because God is crazy about you. We can return God’s love by appreciating the gifts we’re given.

As we go forward in the service this morning, and celebrate communion together, Reverend Beth will observe in prayer our “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.” It is my prayer that this is an offering we joyfully give each day.

2 comments:

  1. Anonymous9:21 PM

    Great job, Mrs. M! I like your discussion on undignified love- cool! (Yeah, I'm feeling incredibly articulate tonight!)

    ReplyDelete

"So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was."
-Saint Molly Ivins