Our Gifts, Our Newness (Living Stones – Part IV)

Sermon Title: Our Gifts, Our Newness

Good News Statement: God grants us gifts for newness

Preached: Sunday, October 23, 2022 at Dogwood Prairie UMC & Seed Chapel UMC

Pastor Daniel G. Skelton, M.Div.

 

Scripture (NKJV): Ephesians 4:11-12, 22-24 Today’s scripture reading comes from the words of Paul from his epistle to the people of Ephesus. We will be reading from Ephesians chapter four verses eleven thru twelve and twenty-two thru twenty-four. Listen to the words of Paul and God’s promise of newness…

Unity in the Body of Christ

11 He himself granted that some are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…

The Old Life and the New

22 to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

This is the Word of God for the People of God; And all God’s people said, “Thanks be to God.”

 

Introduction:

            A Minister was walking down the street when he came upon a group of about a dozen boys, all of them between 10 and 12 years of age. The group had surrounded a dog. Concerned lest the boys were hurting the dog, he went over and asked “What are you doing with that dog?” One of the boys replied, “This dog is just an old neighborhood stray. We all want him, but only one of us can take him home. So we’ve decided that whichever one of us can tell the biggest lie will get to keep the dog.” 

      Of course, the reverend was taken aback. “You boys shouldn’t be having a contest telling lies!” he exclaimed. He then launched into a ten minute sermon against lying, beginning, “Don’t you boys know it’s a sin to lie,” and ending with, “Why, when I was your age, I never told a lie.” There was dead silence for about a minute. Just as the reverend was beginning to think he’d gotten through to them, the smallest boy gave a deep sigh and said, “All right, give the dog to the Pastor.”

Last week, we were challenged by Paul’s prayer to the people of Ephesus in Chapter Three of his letter to the Ephesians to dream a dream of new beginnings. Paul prayed that we would not lose heart during our times of suffering, that we would be strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit, that we would come to put our faith into action as Christ dwells within us, and that we would be able to comprehend the fullness of God in our life through His love.  Paul’s prayer to better ourselves as disciples and as a church is our dream for today. Paul, through his prayer, leaves us with a dream to become the disciple and church of tomorrow. Paul has a dream for us; and this dream is what will help us become the disciple and church Christ needs us to be. Jesus grants us dreams for a better tomorrow.

Today, we learn that Paul’s prayer, our dream, has already been set in motion by God, and that is no lie. God has called us, each and every one of us, “to walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) as we learn to live out the tasks that are before us. These tasks include, “[T]hat some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:11-12). We have all been called to help build the body of Christ—we all have been given special gifts—but before we can do that we must, as Paul notes, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32); and “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires [so that you will] be made new in the attitude of your minds; and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Paul is inviting us to use our gifts and to be made new for Christ. God calls us, Jesus equips us, and the Holy Spirit makes us new for a better tomorrow.

 

Opening Prayer:

            Let us pray… Dear Jesus Christ, I pray that you bless this message in such a way that reminds us that we have been called to do your will: that we have been set aside to come together to build your church. And Lord, guide us to lay aside the old so that we can put on the new. May my words fall to the ground as your words settle in the hearts of all those before me. In Your name we pray, Amen.

 

Body:

One of the most famous baseball comedy acts to ever take place was the humorous exchange between Bud Abbot and Lou Costello. The words alone cannot do it justice, but it is still quite funny to read. The skit was originally done on the radio live until the legendary duo later included it on their other show. This humorous baseball comedy is titled “Who’s on First?” and believe it or not, it teaches us a valuable lesson when it comes to being the body of Christ  and striving to be made new for tomorrow.

Here’s a little sample of what the skit contained: Costello begins, “What’s the guy’s name on first base?” Abbott responds, “No. What is on second.” The exchange continues. (C) “I’m not asking you who’s on second.” (A) “Who’s on first.” (C) “I don’t know.” (A) He’s on third, we’re not talking about him.” (C) “Now how did I get on third base?” (A) “Why you mentioned his name.” (C) “If I mentioned the third baseman’s name, who did I say is playing third?” (A) No. Who’s playing first.” (C) “What’s on first?” (A) “What’s on second.” (C) “I don’t know.” (A) “He’s on third.” (C) There I go, back on third again!” And this humorous skit continues until it seems that Costello has figured it out: “Same as you! Same as YOU! I throw the ball to who. Whoever it is drops the ball and the guy runs to second. Who picks up the ball and throws it to What. What throws it to I Don’t Know. I Don’t Know throws it back to Tomorrow, Triple Play. Another gets up and hits a long fly ball to Because. Why? I don’t know! He’s on third and I don’t give a darn.” Abbott asks, “What?” Costello responds, “I said I don’t give a darn!” And Abbott says, “Oh, that’s our shortstop.”

By the time the skit is over, almost every position on the baseball field has been mentioned. Who is on first base, What is on second base, I Don’t Know is on third base, Why is in left field, Because is in center field, Tomorrow is pitching, Today is catching, and I Don’t Give A Darn is at shortstop. Almost every position is mentioned. Do you know which position has been left out? Abbott and Costello do not mention a right fielder. Later on, in the Selchow and Righter board game, the right fielder’s name is “Nobody.” But in the original skit, there is no right fielder which means the team is incomplete.

Like I said earlier, this skit teaches us a lot about being the body of Christ—the church of today and tomorrow. It teaches us that we all have special gifts and talents that come together to build a successful team for Christ; but when one player loses sight of their calling—their gifts and talents—the team becomes incomplete. When one team member hurts, the whole team hurts. When one team member is lost, the whole team is lost. When one team member is suffering and in pain, the whole team empathizes with them and endures their suffering and pain. And when one team member is experiencing joy, happiness, and righteousness, the whole team is leaping for joy and cheering. We are better together than we are separate. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:16 “From whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” We build the team, the church, in love by operating together and by using the gifts and talents that God has “gifted to His people” (Ephesians 4:8).

Paul says to the people of Ephesus in Ephesians 4:11-12, “He himself granted that some are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” He Himself refers to the idea that Jesus established these gifts in us for a reason. They are the work and appointment of Jesus, and no one else. Jesus has given you a special gift that can be used to help build our church, to be a place where people want to come and worship, and to be a space that builds people up with strength, power, grace, love, and faith. Your gifts, whatever they may be, can help build the body of Christ and make Christ’s team more complete and whole.

According to Paul, some of these gifts include being apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. First, Paul mentions Apostles. Apostles are special ambassadors of God’s work: those called to freely and boldly proclaim the good news wherever they are and whenever they can. We have all been called to be Ambassadors of God’s work, to invite others to walk by faith, and to remind them, no matter their past, that they are loved by God and have been called by God to part of His team. We are apostles of God’s work.

Second, Paul says that some are Prophets. Prophets are called to speak and share the Word and Truth of God by means of discernment for the church of today and tomorrow. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:29, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.” God has called us to be prophets: to speak the Word, to share the Truth, and to let others know Jesus is the light of this world. As prophets, we have been given the gift to bring others to Christ and to help them gain the encouragement to face tomorrow. We are prophets called to be build the church.

Third, Paul calls some of us to be evangelists. In Greek the word evangelical simply means to “spread the good news.” Although I believe Paul when he says some are called to be evangelists, I have to laugh because Jesus calls all of us to be evangelists, not just some. When giving the Great Commission in Matthew 28, Jesus says to his disciples and to all the people who read the Gospel of Matthew, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). As Methodists we are called to “make disciples for the transformation of the world.”

All of us are capable of sharing and spreading the good news: we can share how much God loves us on social media, through a text message, by a phone call, through an email, by writing a letter, or by simply talking face-to-face with someone. The church doesn’t grow by chance; the church grows because you are willing to share the good news and do what God is calling you to do. The team of Jesus is incomplete until we, the church, have a full roster; and let me tell you something, I hope our roster is never full. I hope that we will always have room for one more person to worship with us. Doesn’t everyone deserve to experience the love and salvation and good news of Jesus Christ? We are all evangelists.

Lastly, some are called to be preachers and teachers. In the original Greek text, Paul notes that some are called to be shepherds and teachers. Pastors and teachers are shepherds of the flock of God primarily by teaching the Word of God. According to one Biblical Scholar, “Teaching is an essential part of the pastoral ministry; it is appropriate, therefore, that the two terms, pastors and teachers, should be joined together to denote one order of ministry.” A preacher teaches and a teacher preaches. Needless to say though, as a church we are all preachers and teachers and ministers of the Word and we have been called “to seek out and to save the lost” (Luke 4:19). God has given each of us a gift to “bring good news to the poor; to proclaim release to the captives and recovery sight to the blind; to set free those who are oppressed; and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). We are all ministers and doers and believers of the Word.

God has called all of us, through our gifts and talents, to make sure others know about Jesus Christ. Not only has God called upon us, but He has equipped us with the tools and ideas to become a complete team for His church. The purpose of our gifts, whatever they may be, is clear. It is that saints—God’s people—might be equipped for the work of ministry—the service and teaching—so that the body of Christ would be built up—expanded and strengthened and made whole and complete. Equipping also has the idea of “to put right.” This ancient Greek word was used to describe setting broken bones or mending nets. God needs our gifts, again whatever they may be, to work together to produce strong, mended, fit Christians for the sake of the good news. Each and every one of you are worthy to do the work of God; you all have gifts; and you all have been equipped to do what God is calling you to do.

But I ask you today, what are you doing to show others that Christ lives within you, that Christ lives within our church, and that you are the apostle, prophet, evangelist, preacher, and teacher of today and tomorrow? What are we doing to build our church and to be a place where people want to come and worship? How can we put our gifts and talents to action? God’s people do the real work of ministry, and the time has come to figure out what sort of work we need to be doing. But before we can do this work, we need to do one thing: we need to set aside the old and put on the new.

When it comes to dress-up, my nieces will jump at the opportunity to dress-up in princess outfits. It’s almost like playing dress-up is part of their DNA. They love putting on Anna dresses, Elsa dresses, Snow White dresses, and Mini Mouse dresses. Sometimes the dress stays on all day, but there are days when each dress is worn for five minutes. Whether the dress is worn all day or for five minutes, each girl takes on the role of whoever that dress is associated with: it’s almost as if they become someone new; they have set aside the old and put on something new. On the other end of the spectrum, think about a prisoner who is released from prison, but still wears their prison clothes and acts like a prisoner instead of a free person. Until they learn to shed the past and to change their clothes, they won’t be able to truly live into the gifts that God has laid upon their heart. This is exactly what Paul is telling us to do today as we build the church that Christ needs us to build.

Paul notes toward the end of his letter,  “[P]ut away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and…be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).  Paul is calling us to remove our past—the worry, the stress, the frustration, the mistakes, the misfortunes, whatever may be keeping us from experiencing the “fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19)—and put on the righteousness and holiness of Christ. It’s time to put on the uniform of Jesus and get into the game and become renewed.

I often share this with couples who I am working with before they get married: Before you go to bed, take out the trash: physically take out the trash—the scraps and unwanted things from that day and put a new trash bag in the trashcan—and emotionally take out the trash—anything that is weighing down and causing distance between you and your partner. By doing this, you begin tomorrow with no more “trash”—with newness and renewal—and a pleasant odor if you used Glad scented trash bags. Fundamentally, Paul needs us to spiritually take out the trash—remove anything that is causing distance between you and God, let go and let God take care of it: there must be a break with the past, we must be willing to throw away the trash so that we can be made new for ourselves and for the church.  Jesus isn’t merely added to our old life, the old life dies and Jesus becomes our new life. Our new life may not seem perfect to others, but because Jesus is in our new life, our life is perfect to us.

 

Conclusion:

I leave you with this story about a seven-year-old boy named Nathan. Nathan and his parents live in a simple middle class neighborhood. Their house, cars, savings, possessions and overall lifestyle are quite modest.. One day Nathan’s second-grade teacher gave her class a unique assignment. She told each student to write a brief essay and to draw a picture depicting their version of a perfect life. Nathan completed the assignment and turned it in to his teacher.

Nathan’s perfect life picture had three sections. First, he drew a picture of his modest house. The drawing included Nathan, his mom and dad, and his dog. Under the drawing of his house he wrote “My home.” To the right of his house he drew a checkerboard with faces inside each square. The caption under the drawing read, “My friends.” Next to his friends Nathan drew a picture of a church with a steeple. The caption read, “My church.”

Under the three pictures of his home, his friends, and his church, Nathan penned his brief essay. Nathan wrote, “A perfect life for me is the life that I’m in right now. Because I have a lot of friends, and a good family too, and a good church. I do not need a perfect life. I already have a perfect life.”  Nathan is only seven years old. But he’s already figured out that contentment in life comes not from getting more, but from being grateful for what we already have.

Our life is perfect because God gave us gifts to make each day better than the day before, because Jesus dwells within our heart, and because the Holy Spirit is ready to clothe us with a new life. The time has come to put our gifts and talents to work. The time has come to allow God to tell you what He needs you to do. The time has come to build our church both within and outside these walls. The time has come to take out the trash and to do something new. Each of you are an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a preacher, and a teacher of God’s word. The time has come to get in the game as God’s right fielder who is named Somebody instead of Nobody.

What is God calling you to do today? What is God calling you to do for this church? What is God calling this church to do and to be? Don’t let your ideas go to waste: set aside the old and put on the new.

 

Closing Prayer:

Let Us Pray… Dear Jesus Christ, thank you for being willing to make us new, to build your church, and to do what you need us to do. Lord, you have given us gifts to keep your church alive and to build our faith. Help us use our gifts in positive ways as we remove the old and put on the new life of Christ. In your name we pray, Amen.

 

Benediction:

The Psalmist stated, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:28). As you find yourself seeking ways to build our church and as you find yourself taking out the trash in your life, may the gifts that God has blessed you with strengthen you and bring you newness until we meet again. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit go transforming lives as you live well and wisely in God’s world. And all God’s people said, Amen. Amen. Amen.


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