“Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophesy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.”–1 Timothy 4:14
Last week, I went on a massive cleanout of some of my flower beds that the wet summer here turned into massive wild grass collections, including the ever-dreaded watergrass, which gets deep roots and can choke out neighboring plants in nothing flat. When I got to tearing into all that grass, I discovered a surprise–several small common milkweed plants, a little stunted from being partially choked out by the grass, but still producing bright orange flowers and attracting monarch butterflies. A little more looking produced a few sprigs of evening primrose and common dayflower–all capable of producing blooms that attract bees and butterflies.
Despite my neglect, and despite any appearance that my plan for creating flower beds of native plants had any success at all, some of that actually had been happening right under my nose, without my help. I had been on the verge of tilling the whole thing under and starting over next spring, and it turned out there were actually positive signs of my conversion of that flower bed to native plants. I’m glad I didn’t do what I usually do when I’ve neglected my flower beds–have a fit of temper and tear the whole thing apart and start over.
Although the author of 1 Timothy very likely was talking about ordination (the Greek word for “elders” is presbuteriou, i.e. “by the presbytery”), what’s being said here has relevance for lay and ordained alike. Each and every one of us has spiritual gifts. The reality is that it’s also likely we’ve neglected them at some point in our life or are still neglecting them, or don’t even believe they are spiritual gifts. We tend to think of spiritual gifts as being churchy things–lector, acolyte, lay Eucharistic minister, etc., and yes, those are spiritual gifts, but thinking of spiritual gifts only as churchy things (or things that happen at church) puts God (and us) in a pretty small box.
Perhaps you’re the person who has a varied tool collection that can help someone else with a project. Maybe you don’t know how to cook for one or two people and you always have food left over that could be shared. Can you sew on a button? Run a chain saw? Knit or crochet a stocking hat? Baby-sit a child on short notice? Pull someone out of the ditch with a log chain and your pickup truck? These can all be spiritual gifts, too, when they are combined with the simple willingness of being present for another person in need, along with the understanding we are doing them as a result of grace, rather than an attempt to obtain grace. (To borrow from Augustine of Hippo, “Grace is not given because we have done good works, but in order that we might be able to do them.”)
In our Gospel reading today, the authorities are pulling out the stops, groping for something–anything–to paint Jesus as anything but who he is. They even go so far to suggest he’s a (gasp!) Samaritan–and we all know there’s nothing good about those Samaritans, right? The 21st century secular anti-theistic mindset revolves around the idea that Christians are bigoted, sanctimonious, “churchy” people with no stake in the world, only in an afterlife for themselves–at best, misguided people who believe in fairy tales and Santa Claus…at worst, responsible for a great deal of the evil perpetuated through history. Sadly, there’s enough of our failings out there to give it traction.
Sure, serving in various forms of worship is important, and if we have a spiritual gift in some part of that, it’s great–but chances are, it’s the unsung obscure spiritual gifts that, at first glance, don’t seem terribly churchy, that become most illustrative of being the church in the world.
What “gift that is in you” might be a bit neglected, buried in the grass in the flowerbed that is your life, and how can it re-emerge to be a part of the church in the world? What is your stake in the world, where grace calls you to be more fully present?