First Sunday in Lent 2018

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A Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent, February 18, 2018

The Epistle, 2 Corinthians 6:1-10 – The Gospel, St. Matthew 4:1-11

The Rt. Rev’d Stephen C. Scarlett

I. Lent

Lent is the central chapter in the story of the Christian year. Easter lies out in the horizon as the fulfillment of our hopes and dreams—the fullness of life in the body in God’s New Creation. Lent teaches us that we can only get to Easter through the cross. This is why Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. To save the world he must say not to it and its promises; he must die to it and for it. This is where the gospel confronts our world. Most people want Easter; most people want to be set free from the effects of sin and the reality of death. Most people want to live in a world full of health and peace. That is why our world is full of activism and agitation. Everyone has a plan for how to fix what is wrong in the world. But these plans try to get to Easter without the cross.

Jesus did not join any of the movements of his day; movements that planned to save the world by politics, revolt, or religion. He did not side with the Sadducees, who wanted to maintain their power, rooted in the control of the temple, by maintaining rapprochement with the Roman authorities. He did not become a zealot, advocating armed rebellion. He did not become a Pharisee, who believed that if Israel would only obey the Torah and the tradition, God would save the nation. Jesus saved the world by dying to it and for it.

II. Dying with Christ.

Jesus invites us to participate in his work of salvation by dying with him. This is the meaning of our baptism. As Romans says:

Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4).

The Christian life is a continual growth into our baptismal identity; a continual dying to the world and for the world. Baptism confronts us with the unavoidable truth that we cannot rise to newness of life unless we die first. Lent is a season of growth in to our baptismal identity. As Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn. 12:24).

Death sounds pessimistic because it emphasizes only part of the truth. What Lent really teaches us is that when we unite our sufferings and our death with cross, they will result in resurrection. This is good news. For we will suffer and die anyway; apart from Christ that pain will be fruitless. But everything we offer to God through the cross will rise with Christ on Easter. Thus, as 1 Corinthians says,

We do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

III. What is means to try to reach Easter without the cross

What does it mean to try to reach Easter by skipping the cross? To skip the cross means to try to solve the problems of the world while avoiding the reality of sin that is in all human hearts. The temptation of the world and its activism is to locate the problem “out there” somewhere. If we can fix the external problem in the system, or get our people in charge of the government, or cure all disease, then we can build paradise—or the Tower of Babel.

When Jesus calls us to follow him, he calls us to die to the world and for the world with him. This means we must face a hard truth. The problem is not out there somewhere; the problem is in each of our hearts. If I want to change the world, I must begin by changing me. Or, more accurately, I must begin by becoming what Christ has made me to be through baptism and faith.

The only hope for this world is Christ, who saved the world through the cross. There is nothing in this world that can be saved except through its participation in the cross; nothing gets to the Easter except by way of Good Friday. Thus, the only thing I can offer to the world is my participation in the cross; my dying to the world and for the world with Christ. We are witness for Christ and for the life he has given us. When the world sees us, does it see Christ in us?

IV. Lent is an interior pilgrimage.

Lent forces us to look within ourselves. The cross does not allow us to blame people and circumstances out there. The cross is a mirror into our own hearts. When we look at Jesus on the cross, dying for us and for the sins of everyone, everywhere, and always, we see our own selfishness. We see our own pride, anger, greed, covetousness, gluttony, lust, and sloth. The cross moves us to humility and confession. We experience grace, the forgiveness of our sins and the power to live in a new way. In this grace of forgiveness, we find the power to forgive others. This means the power to stop blaming them for everything that is wrong with our lives and the world. Grace sets us free from captivity to sins—both our own and the sins of others.

It is only as we grow into Christ through the cross that we have anything to offer to the world. Christ is the savior of the world, and it is only as witnesses to his life, his grace, and his power to conquer sin that we can lead people into Easter, into God’s New Creation. Thus, the focus of Lent must be our own hearts.

Lent is not merely about giving things up. Lent is about entering more fully into our union with the cross so that that we may enter more fully into the power of Jesus’ resurrection. As St. Paul says, “Always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body” (2 Cor. 4:10).

So, let us fast and pray, but let us also ask the larger questions. Are you taking responsibility for your role in the disorder of your life and the world? Are you ready to make a good confession? As Jesus said to the man by the pool of Bethesda, do you want to get well? Whom do you need to forgive? Against whom do you hold a deep grudge? Are you ready to let go of your right of retribution and your need for anything to be different than it is so that you may enter into Easter through the cross? Or do you want to continue to fight your old, losing battle? What deep pain in your past do you need to face and grieve through? Is Christ the foundation for your life—the thing around which your life is ordered? Do you love God with all your heart, soul, and mind? Until you do you, until you begin to open your heart to God, you will never love your neighbor as yourself. With whom do you need to reconcile? Blessed are the peacemakers. These are questions that require a season. Lent is a season of opportunity to ask them and answer them in new ways. As St. Paul said in our epistle:

We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

Sexagesima 2018

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A Sermon for Sexagesima, February 4, 2018

The Epistle, 2 Corinthians 11:19-31 – The Gospel, St. Luke 8:4-15

The Rt. Rev’d Stephen C. Scarlett

  1. Organic vs non-organic analogies.

Last week our lessons likened the Christian life and the kingdom of God to running a race and working in a field. We noted that the main impact of these analogies was in the way they did not work. The Christian life does not consist of working for the reward of heaven or competing against each other in a race that only one can win.

These analogies can be contrasted with today’s gospel, the Parable of the Sower and the Seed, which, along with other agricultural parables and analogies, more accurately describes the Christian. The greater accuracy lies in its organic nature. The life that has been planted within us through the Holy Spirit grows in a way that corresponds to the way plants and babies grow. Thus, the more we rely on organic models to understand that life, the more accurate our knowledge of it will be.

  1. Judgment vs Growth

The contrast between competition and labor on the one hand, and organic growth on the other, gets at the reason many people struggle in the life of prayer. Many people are stuck living in narratives that focus on judgment. “If I say my prayers and am a good boy or girl, then God will reward me with eternal life.” The Christian life becomes a striving to be good. Since goodness is not attained by human effort, the inevitable result is a perpetual feeling of guilt, of having fallen short—which is relieved only by periodic feelings of forgiveness.

When we shift from judgment to horticulture, the picture changes. We are no longer working for a reward; we are, rather, fostering the growth of a life. The evil that is present in us, the remnant of our fallen nature, consists of weeds to be removed by confession and hearts to be softened by grace. The good that has been planted within us is to be nourished by the grace of Word, Sacrament, prayer and close connection with others in the Body of Christ.

When we do something wrong, which inevitably we all will do, the point is not that we are immediately condemned by our heavenly Father—any more than a good parent immediately disowns a child for misbehavior. What God wants from us is the same thing a parent want from a child; to acknowledge the wrong that was done and to learn and grow from it—pull the weed and fertilize the good. God does not expect perfection. He wants us to continue to grow over time.

  1. The foundational areas of our work

The Parable the Sower and the Seed is the foundational parable that Jesus told to describe what was happening in his ministry as he preached the word of God and it took root, or did not take root, in human hearts. The success of the seed depended on the hardness of the heart, and the things that were competing in the heart for nourishment.

The parable reveals the enemies of the soul—the world the flesh, and the devil—which we renounced in baptism (BCP 276, 277). The devil is seen in the seed by the wayside. Jesus said, “Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved” (Lk. 8:12). The devil tries to crush faith with feelings of doubt and anxiety, and by making the would-be believer so afraid of the implications of faith and obedience that faith is abandoned immediately.

The world is seen in the seed that among the thorns. “The ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity” (Lk. 8:14). Here faith competes in the heart of the would-be believer with worldly attachments. The worldly attachments leave no room for the growth of the good seed.

The flesh is seen in the seed that fell on the rocky soil. “The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away” (Lk. 8:13). Here, the would-be believer is not willing to give up the satisfaction of disordered desire—is not willing to give up pain killers to make room for genuine interior fulfillment. Thus, the word of God cannot become deeply rooted and produce the fruit of holy behavior.

This is the ongoing organic struggle in the life of prayer. The life that has been planted in us in baptism, which we receive by faith and continue to grow in through our ongoing trust in God, is challenged by these enemies of the soul. Spiritual forces of evil constantly tempt us to doubt and despair. The world offers us success, status, and pleasure to pull our hearts away from Christ. Our disordered desires tempt us to say, “Forget the will of God. I want to do what I want to do—and I deserve it!”

The pattern of temptation and sin is the same in all cases. It is tempting and powerful in the moment of temptation, but when we give in to it, it leaves us feeling guilty, empty and despairing afterwards; then it offers to take care of these feelings with another dose of painkiller—and the cycle continues.

  1. Spiritual Disciplines

We talk about “spiritual disciplines.” These are practices of spiritual horticulture; things that reduce the pull of temptation and help the life of Christ within us to grow. In Matthew 6, Jesus discusses the three foundational spiritual disciplines; prayer, fasting and alms giving. These three disciplines are the primary ways we combat the three enemies of the soul.

Prayer is the primary way we combat demonic temptation. Maintaining a close relational connection to God through prayer is the main we keep doubt and despair at bay. We cannot overcome spiritual evil except through constant prayer. We cannot fight the demons with our own strength, but as St. John says, “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 Jn. 4:4).

Fasting is the primary way we combat the temptations of the flesh. If our appetites overwhelm us so that we cannot say no to things, we must practice fasting—practice saying no to things to gain the mastery over them. This is a necessary but neglected discipline in our overindulged culture. Most of us need to practice it in our use of electronics and technology. These things often threaten the spiritual life more than excesses of food and drink.

Almsgiving is how we combat the temptation of the world. When we become too attached to worldly things, we must practice giving them away. Tithing is the foundational discipline of freedom from money, and generosity is the ongoing practice of freedom from the world. Rather than pursuing more, we look for ways to give. Practicing humility is how we fast from our need for worldly status.

During the pre-Lenten season we should examine our hearts to see how we are being tempted and tested by the enemies of the soul; then we should adopt spiritual disciplines for Lent that root out the weeds, soften our hearts, and draw us nearer to God. Are you struggling with doubt and despair that comes from the evil one? How will you increase your practice of prayer to live in closer communion with God? Are you overcome by your appetites? What things will you fast—and which electronics, video games, and social media will you give up to develop greater self-control? Are you too attached to the things of the world, and to the status that the world gives you? How will you give and practice humility in new ways?

For we are practicing spiritual horticulture. And, as Jesus said, “The ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience” (Lk. 8:15).

Septuagesima 2018

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A Sermon for Septuagesima, January 28, 2018

The Epistle, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 – The Gospel, St. Matthew 20:1-16

The Rt. Rev’d Stephen C. Scarlett

  1. The meaning of Pre-Lent

We arrive at church today to discover a change in the season. The green of the Epiphany season has given way to the violet of pre-Lent. Septuagesima reorients us. Epiphany season, which just ended, is a meditation on the Incarnation; it looks back at Christmas. Today, we turn our heads and begin to look forward to Easter and to the cross that necessarily precedes it. Pre-Lent is a tap on the shoulder that tells us that Lent is coming in two and a half weeks.

I remember a professor who wrote a commentary on Mark’s Gospel. He said that as Jesus is being revealed as the Son of God, there is a growing drumbeat of rejection that says, “He is going to die.” Pre-Lent has this effect on the life of prayer. Just as we are glorying in the revelation of the Son of God, in the ways we have come to know him, and in all the possibilities of faith, we remember that he is going to die, and we share his resurrection life by sharing in his death. Or, to put it in positive terms. Easter is coming, but there is this little thing called the cross that we must participate in first.

  1. We are not in Lent yet. Pre-Lent provides us with a runway. We are not fasting, but we begin to think about the ways we will, even as we enjoy some final pre-Lent celebrations!
  2. Laboring in the field and running the race

The lessons for Septuagesima, the Parable of the Laborers in the vineyard, and a 1 Corinthians passage about the discipline necessary to win a race, both point forward to a goal. The laborer works for the denarius, which represents salvation. The runner strives for the crown, which represents eternal glory. Both point us towards Easter. We are striving for the crown of resurrection; we are laboring faithfully in time towards the end of eternal life.

However, there is a significant way that each analogy does not work—and that is part of the point. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a man who hired laborers for his vineyard. Then he preceded to tell a parable that explains, precisely, how the kingdom of heaven is utterly unlike the standard labor arrangement. The man who worked an hour got the same as the man worked twelve. Try that at your business and see how it affects morale!

St. Paul says that all run in a race but only one receives the prize. However, his whole point is that every Christian can run in such a way as to receive the prize. To win, we must strive against the adversaries called the world, the flesh, and the devil, but we do not have to compete against each other. We can all win. So, the kingdom of God is not exactly like a race either.

One point made by both lessons is that the dynamics of grace don’t always fit into ordinary life examples. We get the point of both only when we understand the discordance; the way the kingdom of God is not like an ordinary race or a normal labor arrangement. This discordance reflects a foundational paradox of the Christian life. All is grace, but we must work very hard. Salvation is a gift that costs everything we have.

III. The Paradox of Grace and Labor

Reconciling this paradox is of no small importance. The division of the western church is founded upon it. On the one hand, there is the proclamation that salvation comes by faith and cannot be earned by our labors and merits. On the other hand, there is the truth that spiritual growth requires the practice of actual disciplines over extended periods of time.

Alexander Schmemman exposes the excesses on one side when he writes, “The fight of the new Adam against the old is a long and painful one, and what a naïve oversimplification it is to think, as some do, that the salvation they experience in revivals and “decisions for Christ” and which result in moral righteousness, soberness, and warm philanthropy, is the whole of salvation, is what God meant when he gave his Son for the life of the world” (For The Life of the World 78).

But it is also an error to think that performance of religious duties and good works somehow stores up merits that will earn us entry into the kingdom on the Day when our Lord comes to judge. For every worthy religious thing we do is deeply rooted in grace—is itself a gift from God. We must, indeed, establish disciplines of prayer and fasting. Yet, the very ability to pray requires the Holy Spirit, whom we received as a gift.

The primarily labor of the Christian life is repentance; the continued death of the old Adam through confession, and the continual purification of our motives and aims through the work of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is a gift, but we must open our hearts to receive it. Salvation does not mean freedom from labor. It means freedom from futility. In Christ, through the Spirit, our labor is fruitful.

  1. Lessons from our lessons

As we orient towards Easter, we can draw a lesson from each of our lessons. The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard challenges our pride and our selfishness. If we are honest, we are sympathetic with the guy who worked all day and got the same as the man who worked only one hour. But this is about the kingdom of God, not about paying your employees. No matter when you come to faith, you will receive the reward of eternal life and resurrection.

The sin of the all-day laborer is the sin of self-righteous religious people who think they deserve more: “I’ve been in church all my life; then these new people come in and take my seat and get all the attention.” The longer you have been in the church as a believing and practicing follower of Jesus, the more you should know about the love of God and the more you should want to share it with others. Do you think you deserve more because of how good you’ve been for so long a time? Do you begrudge God’s goodness to newer believers whom you deem less worthy? Such attitudes reveal a need for self-examination and repentance as we move towards Easter.

The teaching of St. Paul about running a race reminds me of a scene from a high school cross country meet. One on my sons did a year of cross country, so it was new to me. The scene I remember was at the end of the race. Every runner had finished except one girl, who was finishing quite a bit behind the pack. But the whole team was at the finish line cheering on this one girl as she finished. However, the point was not merely charitable support for a girl who did not have natural gifts for running. They were cheering because this girl was running hard to achieve her personal best time, which, if memory serves, she achieved on this day. She wasn’t running against anyone else; she was running against her “old self” and trying to get better—and that is all that matters in the race we are running.

As we look towards Easter and contemplate the ways we want to grow, it is important not to look at other people and compare ourselves with them. God doesn’t care how we compare with anyone else. Comparisons are demonic in origin. They serve only to distract us from the real goal of the spiritual life. We are striving to grow beyond our own sins—not the sins of others; we are striving to grow into the image of Christ in the unique way God placed that image within each of us through the gift of the Spirit.

Third Sunday After Epiphany 2018

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A Sermon for The Third Sunday after the Epiphany, January 21, 2018

The Epistle, Romans 12:16-21 – The Gospel, St. John 2:1-11

The Rt. Rev=d Stephen C. Scarlett

  1. The epiphany miracles in our lessons

In the lessons for the Third Sunday after Epiphany, the miracle of changing water into wine in the gospel is paired with an epistle that describes another miracle Jesus performs in us. By his work of grace, Jesus enables us to respond to evil with good. As Romans says,

Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:19-21).

In both miracles Jesus is revealed as the Son of God who changes things. He changes water, the water of Old Testament purification, into the new wine of the kingdom of God. He changes angry, unforgiving people into his new people who can respond to evil with good. By changing water into wine, Jesus manifested or revealed his glory. When we learn to do good to those who hurt us and hate us, the glory of Jesus is revealed in us and through us.

  1. Our outward behavior is the result of our own experience of grace

We can only respond to evil with good because God responds to our evil with his good, and this experience of grace changes us. Romans says, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). The grace of the cross comes to us continually in the Sacrament even though we still have sin. As we partake of grace, we become agents of grace.

The opposite is also true. Someone who has not experienced grace from God will have difficulty acting with grace towards others. People who are complaining and critical towards others typically feel criticized and judged themselves. We pass along our own experience. Our outward behavior reflects our own interior experience.

Our anger, our desire to make others pay, doesn’t magically vanish the moment we come to faith. We are not always able to immediately forgive those who have hurt us. Sometimes we will forgive only to discover that the anger returns, and we must forgive again. We grow into the experience of grace. Our progress will be measured by an increasing interior experience of love and grace from God that leads to an increasing ability to love and forgive others. This growth in grace and love reveals that Christ is at work in us. We must be patient without ourselves in the process of growth.

III. We must face the truth about our anger

Forgiving others and acting in love does not mean denying or ignoring our anger. In fact, Jesus cannot change us until we are honest about our thoughts and feelings. Anger and vengefulness are symptoms of our inner wounds. Healing requires that we look beneath these surface emotions and ask, why? Why am I so angry? We will usually discover pain and injuries beneath our anger; something was done to us, or we experienced something painful that makes us angry at others—perhaps even angry at God. We must let God touch this deep interior pain if we want to be healed.

There is a reason we avoid this work. It is easier for me to blame you. My anger allows me to pretend that my unhappiness is your fault. You can be my scapegoat. This is as old as the first sin. Rather than looking within himself, Cain blamed his brother Abel and took his anger out on him (Gen. 4). Conversely, if I look within myself I must face the truth that I am the one who must change—or who must be changed by grace.

This does not mean that we are all as guilty as Cain, whose offering was rejected because he did the wrong thing. Sometimes we are victims of malice perpetrated by others—and it was not our fault. Our relatively innocent victimhood is a door through which Christ enters our lives. For he was the truly innocent victim. As 1 Peter says, he “bore our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24). He took upon himself all the anger we feel for the wounds of our sin. As we unite our pain with his pain, our wounds are healed by his wounds; as Isaiah says, “by his stripes we are healed” (53:5). As we experience healing through the cross, we find the grace from God to say with him, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

  1. The rationale for responding to evil with good

Forgiveness is logical. To forgive is to give up our right of retribution. To refuse to forgive keeps us stuck in the timeless human cycle of injury and vengeance. When give up our right of retribution and commit the job of judgment to God, we refuse to let the evil of others determine our behavior. We set ourselves free from the tyranny of sin and anger. We allow our behavior to be determined by who we are in Christ, not by what others have done to us. We are free to do good no matter what anyone else does.

This keeps us from judgement. When we respond to evil with retribution, we invariably become subject to judgment ourselves. Our retribution is not always just. Our anger typically leads us into sin even we think it is righteous anger. It might begin as righteous anger, but it will become something else if we allow anger to have free reign. This is how the sins of the fathers are visited on the children. We respond to sin with sin and perpetuate the timeless cycle of sin, guilt, judgment, and death. Responded to evil with good breaks this cycle, and initiates a new pattern of grace, forgiveness, transformation, and life.

One point about forgiveness should be clarified. Nothing about forgiving others mitigates against the responsibility of governing authorities to administer justice for crimes. In Romans 13:4, we are told that the governing authorities are “God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Rom. 13:4). Nothing about forgiveness mitigates against the justice that God himself promises to execute. The epistle says, “Vengeance is mine says the Lord. I will repay.” Justice will be done. However, we are to focus on doing what is right and commit the task of judgment to God.

  1. Conclusion

This is the final Sunday in the Epiphany season this year. Epiphany is about how Jesus is revealed. Today, Jesus is revealed as the Creator who changes water into wine and changes us from fallen, wounded, and angry people into new people who are being re-created in his image. Thus, as Romans says, “Repay no one evil for evil…. Do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:19-21).

Second Sunday After Epiphany 2018

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A Sermon for The Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 14, 2018

The Epistle, Romans 12:6-16 – The Gospel, St. Mark 1:1-11

The Rt. Rev’d Stephen C. Scarlett

  1. The Baptism of Jesus and our baptism

The lessons for Epiphany 2 combine the baptism of Jesus with a discussion of spiritual gifts. The two themes are connected because the Holy Spirit who descended upon Jesus in his baptism is the same Spirit we receive in our baptisms. As we receive the gift of the Spirit, we receive gifts of the Spirit.

The baptism of Jesus reveals God as Trinity. The Father’s speaks; the Spirit descends as a dove; the Son stands in the water. Three persons who together are one God. “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end Amen.” The western church is indebted to St. Augustine for its understanding of the Trinity as love. Augustine said that there is a lover, a beloved and love itself. The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the love that flows between them and out from them into the world in creative activity. God is love because he a loving relationship.

We know love because we are grafted into the Holy Trinity through our baptism. The Spirit descends upon us, and the Father adopts us as his beloved children. As Romans 8:15, “You received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15).

  1. The source of our giftedness

When we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, we also receive “gifts” if the Holy Spirit. When we receive the general gift of love from God (Romans 5:5) we also receive specific ways to love. As our epistle says:

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us… if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness” (Rom. 12:6-8).

These gifts are rooted in the reality of the Holy Trinity and love. God is love, and God created the world with the motivation of love. The love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father naturally overflows into creative activity. Love cannot be contained by the lovers; Love leads to gifts because the lovers will want to share what they have.

We believe that God is complete in himself in his Trinitarian love. He did not have to create the world. He was not lonely. Rather, he created the world to share his love with it. However, there is a sense in which God had to create. For love must move beyond itself into loving activity. Love doesn’t strictly need the other; love is not a hole that must be filled. But love is a fullness that must be shared. It overflows. Love makes the creation necessary.

III. Our experience of God’s love.

Romans 5:5 says, that the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Our experience of prayer is an experience of Trinitarian love. God made us to share his love with us, and he loves that we exist.

This gift of love first comes to us in baptism. Sin separates us from God, but God so loved that world that he gave his Son to redeem it and renew it. When we turn from our sin and towards God, God adopts us as his children. He brings us out of our separation from God, which is death, and brings us back into union with him, into life. As Ephesians says,

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:4-6).

In the Eucharist we renew the experience of our baptism. As we come to receive Christ again with repentance and faith, we experience again the forgiveness of our sins, and we are filled again with the Spirit. We are loved, not because of anything we have done, but because God is love, and he chooses to love us.

God’s love naturally flows out into creative activity. Likewise, our experience of God’s love will naturally result in a desire to give. All that we do in the Christian life is simply our feeble response of gratitude and love to the gratuitous gift of love from God. If we understand and experience the love of God, we will not need a sign-up sheet or a guilt laden appeal to get us to give. If we have been filled with God’s love, we will love.

  1. Our spiritual gifts

Your spiritual gifts are the natural form that love will take. Do you have a gift for understanding and proclaiming the will of God in particular situations? Do you have the gift of service, to do things for people without needing to be seen or recognized? Do you have the gift of teaching, of helping others see and know what you see and know? Do you have a gift for encouraging those—being a sign for them of God’s love? Do you have a gift of leadership that can bring a group together in unity to pursue a common goal in peace? Do you have the gift of giving so that you are able to provide resources that for the church and for those in need? Do you have the gift of being merciful to those in need?

Something is a gift when we can give to others, and they feel edified by it, and we do not need anything in return. Spiritual gifts are not a need to be needed. They are not what the church guilts you into doing. They are the ways that you can love others as God has loved you. Ministry will reflect God’s love if we each devote ourselves to serving in the areas of our giftedness—and if we learn to say no in areas where we have no gifts.

The use of our spiritual gifts is not limited to our time on the church property. We are the children of God who bear witness to God’s love wherever we are by the way we love and serve. “The ministry of the church” is the sum of all the things that each of us does for others, at home, at work, and at play because we are the children of God.

The key is always the motive. As 1 Corinthians says,

Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing (1 Cor. 13:2-3).

This is the reason that the proper exercise of our spiritual gifts depends upon the consistency of our prayer. Our ability to love depends upon our ongoing experience of love. We must continually return to the scene of baptism—which is the pattern for all prayer. We must hear again the voice of the Father claiming us as his children; we must experience again the descent of the dove and the grace of forgiveness and cleansing so that our hearts cry, “Abba Father.” Only after we taste the love that comes from God are we able to share that love with others. And once we have tasted the love that comes from God, we will be compelled to share his love with others. As St. John writes,

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 Jn. 4:10-11).