Do you remember where you were when JFK was shot? Or when Martin Luther King Jr was shot? Do you remember your surroundings? Who you were with or what you were doing at that very moment when you heard the news? In my lifetime – it was the death of Princess Diana, the challenger explosion, and more significantly, because I was an adult at the time, the terrorist attacks of 9-11. I remember that morning I was driving back home to Hanover Ontario, where I lived, from Sarnia, where my in-laws lived, and I stopped at a stained glass shop not far from my house to pick up some supplies. The artist and shop owner was the one who told me the news. And then like many others, I spent the next few days glued to the TV. I remember that first Sunday after it happened was my first Sunday to preach at a new church, as I was filling in at the United Church in Durham, the next town over, after their long-time minister retired. What a Sunday to have to preach.
There are very few other news events or life events that I remember the circumstances of so clearly.
Sometimes these events cause a shift in our thinking or how we might view or interpret things that happen. This pandemic has been one of these life changing and shifting events. Often times like this cause us to revisit those big questions… like what is my purpose? What brings meaning to my life? Why does my life matter? Throughout these last many months since life as we knew it changed, I have been part of many conversations with many people about these big questions, with my friends and family, with Thrift Shop volunteers and customers, with many of you, even with my massage therapist! A variation on a question such as this was the basis for multiple Sunday Zoom Coffee conversations!
I think that for a lot of people, before March 2020, our days were full of activities and responsibilities. Some of those activities were things that brought meaning to our lives or helped to form our identity. Some of those activities may have felt like an obligation, something that maybe we took on because no one else would do it or because we had the time or maybe just because we knew that we had the skills. Some of our time was spent doing activities that satisfied our egos, and other activities may have truly felt like a passion. But for many of us – we just kept doing those things because that was what we knew and that was what we did. It is 2pm on Tuesday, so it is time to play bridge. It is Thursday afternoon, so it is my shift at the Thrift Shop. It is Wednesday night – time to go to choir.
And then for many of us, our activities stopped quite suddenly. Maybe you were one who appreciated this time with fewer activities and responsibilities. Maybe you were one who missed everything. But more likely, you found yourself missing some things, and maybe not missing others. Maybe the only reason you stopped doing some of those things you loved was to keep yourself isolated and therefore safe and healthy. Maybe it felt like in order to spare our lives, we had to let some of those beloved activities go.
This pandemic time gave us the space and the time – whether it felt like welcome space, or forced upon us – it was time nonetheless. Time to re-evaluate how and where we spent our energy and our time.
The time without a lot of things to fill it, helped (or maybe forced) us to take a look at our lives and determine what was really important. It helped (or maybe forced) us to slowly piece our lives back together in ways that were maybe surprising or had a new direction for us.
For many of us – it reinforced the importance of family or friends who are like family in our lives. At a time when many of us were separated from those dearest to us, we found other ways to connect. I heard about grandmothers who learned how to FaceTime and got more comfortable with texting, so they could be in regular contact with grandchildren who they could not visit. I heard about people making significant decisions about relocating to be closer to family, so they would not have to go through being separated again.
I heard about people realizing their own mortality and deciding that they could not wait anymore to do the things that they had been putting off.
It also reinforced the importance of spending our time in meaningful ways. I heard about people who picked up an old hobby they had set aside for many years, or finally reading those books that had been on their “to read” list for years. I heard about people who finally made that career change they had been contemplating and those who made the decision to retire.
In today’s reading, the Greek word, charismata, which is used is typically translated as ‘gifts’. But the word comes from the Greek word charis, which means grace. So in this reading, these diverse ‘gifts’ of the Spirit flow directly out of God’s grace. These gifts are not to be claimed by the individuals as a product of their own talents, but they are divine grace gifts. God’s intention for our lives is for us to recognize these divine grace gifts and be the unique and extraordinary person that God has called each and every one of us to be. The next section of the reading says: “and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
The Spirit works through each one of us and our unique and divine grace gifts, to benefit the entire community.
When I was thinking about the idea of God’s purpose for our lives, and finding our purpose it got me thinking about how this reading is so apt. If we each can recognize our divine grace gifts and then find ways to use those gifts to form our activities, and spend our time living out of our giftedness, then we will be living into the fullness that God intends for our lives. If we all are empowered to live our best lives, then the communities to which we belong will benefit from our best selves.
In order for our community to thrive we need people to offer their gifts. Yesterday I was thinking of Ken Fowler and his contributions of wisdom and insight throughout the decades to see the potential for this church. I think about all the people who offer their gift of hospitality to welcome newcomers, to live out the welcome that we say every week, and make it known and felt. Or the gifts offered by those who knit prayer shawls that are distributed to people when they are ill or grieving. Or the gifts of knowledge shared in book studies and bible studies. The gifts of prayer that have held up so many people of this community every single day. The gifts of time and expertise of all of our volunteers in the thrift shop and in the garden and the library. The gifts of music. The gifts of compassion and of empathy and of presence.
These are the gifts from God for us – the people of God. I invite you to take a moment and think about what might be your divine grace gift. What is something that motivates your actions? Sometimes it helps to think about it in terms of something that you are often complimented for – or something that people notice that you do well. Sometimes you can recognize it by realizing that you value it in others. So take a moment to think about what might be your gift… and think about how you might share that gift this week to build up your community or to build up someone else.
In recognizing these gifts, and living out of these gifts, it can help us to find our purpose… What does God want for our lives? God’s intention for us all is for us to live fully into who we were intended to be, and when our gifts and our activities are aligned, this helps to bring meaning and purpose to our lives. So maybe if this pandemic has taught us anything, it is to be intentional about how we spend our time in ways that give life to others, that benefit the community around us, that give us meaning and that shape our identity as God’s people in the world.
God’s intention for our life is for us to recognize these divine grace gifts and be the unique and extraordinary person that God has called each and every one of us to be. In this we will be living out our purpose as God’s people.
Thanks be to God.