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The Laity

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but he 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 the in everyone.”  1 Corinthians 12:4-6

In our congregations this Sunday we celebrate the Ministry of Laity.  It is a time to lift up the ministry that everyone shares by using the many gifts they have been given.  The apostle Paul uses imagery of the body and how we are all connected, and he reminds us that we are all one in Christ and called to use our gifts and talents to further the work of the church together.  We do this to the glory of God and to build up the family of God here on earth.

All of us who are clergy once were laity, too.  That’s how we started in ministry, and most of us really struggled with our call to become ministers to the ministers.  It’s not an easy path, and it can be a very lonely place to be.  Ethically, we really can’t become friends with our parishioners – not close friends, anyway.  We can socialize, but we aren’t supposed to play favorites.  We put ourselves in jeopardy when we share our personal frustrations and irritations with parishioners whom we fell we can trust, but if something happens for them to be mad at us, that information can be used against us.  No matter where go, we are visible to our parishioners, and they always have that word “pastor” in the back of their heads when they are with us.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my congregations, and I think they are wonderful people.  But I also know that I will be with them a much shorter time than they will be with each other.  The laity have a unique opportunity to share their gifts in community and to build on those gifts.  They are the “movers and shakers” in the church – or at least about 10 percent of them are.

I don’t remember when the church researchers say that momentum shifted from a partnership in ministry with pastor and congregation to “let the pastor do it.”  That attitude is, fortunately, beginning to turn around as the laity realize that they have a calling and are the ones who are still there when a pastor leaves.  Many are beginning to claim their gifts and use them to further the work of Christ in the church and, even more importantly, in the world.

The passage from 1 Corinthians above has been one that I have read many, many times, but I was struck this week when I was reading it again that the word variety is used three times referring to three different ways of answering God’s call:  gifts, service, and activities.  That just about covers everything!  We share our talents, offer whatever gifts we can, serve in whatever way we feel we can best serve, and in a wide range of active ways.

Service isn’t confined to the church only, and that is sometimes hard to remember when the Nominating Committee is on the search for people to serve on committees or as officers in the church.  Even though we need people to do the work that keeps a church going, the most important mission field is “out there” where we work, play, shop, live, and interact with the world around us.

Coming to church on Sundays or being active in the church is part of a type of training ground where we learn about Christ and hear God’s call in our lives.  It’s where we grow in faith and connect with other disciples who are growing.  Church is where we practice so we can be sent forth.  That include the clergy, but they are, frankly, in the minority.

So, clergy, let us lift up the laity of our churches!  And let us celebrate who they are, Whose they are, and the gifts they have, even as we help to lead, inspire, instruct, and nurture them.  Oh yes, and call them – and us – to accountability as we strive to serve faithfully with each other to the glory of God.

So . . . what DO we have to do?

“As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Matthew 25:30 (NRSV)

Wow!  The master of the household went away, giving huge sums of money for his “slaves” or servants to manage, and the first two did quite well!  They invested their money and did a good job for the master.  The third servant, however, didn’t fare so well!  He buried his because he was afraid that – what – he might lose it?  He might spend it?  He might have it stolen?  We don’t know.

What we do know from this parable is that he was punished for not investing it and making more for his master.  He didn’t do his job, didn’t manage the money well.

So often, we hear this parable as comparing Jesus to the master; but, you know what?  I don’t think I could ever view Jesus as that kind of master.  The guy in the parable is domineering, demanding, harsh, and cruel.  The third servant was right, he was a “harsh man, reaping where he did not sow, and gathering where he did not scatter seed.”  (verse 24)  Does that sound like Jesus?  Not to me.

So what do we take away from this parable?  Do we read into it that God will punish us if we don’t produce?  Do we think that money management and making more money is vitally important in our lives?  (Come to think of it, that IS what the world tells us!)

One thing we might take away is that we are called to use the gifts/money/talents/possessions/relationships that we have been given wisely and productively.  We can build up rather than tear down.  We can share our gifts and offer blessings to others through them.  We can glorify God through the way we use our gifts.  It’s really not just about money or being talented as much as it is about being good stewards – caretakers of what God has given us.

When we abuse, misuse, don’t use/share, or hide what we have been given, we fail to care for the gifts we have been given. God isn’t going to strike us down if we don’t (unlike the master), but we are all accountable for how we lived our faith in the world.

Perhaps the questions are:

How do we share what we have to make the world a better place?

How do we give generously?

How do we care for and act as good stewards of our gifts and blessings?

It’s certainly food for thought!

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