The Rev. Peter M. Carey
Emmanuel Episcopal Church
17 January 2010
In this season of Epiphany, we might turn our attention to all the ways that we can understand gift in our lives. Of course, the story of the wise men bearing gifts sets off the season of Epiphany, and we might reflect for a time upon their action of giving to the baby Jesus. Broadening and deepening our focus upon “Gift” as a theme for Epiphany.
There are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit. These words roll off the tongue so easily, for they resonate through the teachings of Jesus, and the theology of St. Paul. Variety of gifts, but activated by the same Spirit. These are beautiful words, and yet, the deep sense that in the Kingdom of God there are varieties of gifts, and varieties of peoples, can be a difficult gospel to hear. Our tendency may be to go the other way, “if only people saw things my way.” “If only you knew what I knew.” “If only people were as _____ (fill in the adjective) – bright, organized, dedicated, diligent, intuitive, … as me.”
Paul is reminding us that all the gifts are activated by the one and the same Spirit, and that these gifts are allotted, they are allotted (given) by the spirit to each one individually as the Spirit chooses. Not us, not you, not me, but the Spirit. We are not the same, we are not going to understand everything the same way, we are not going to do things the same way, but this is not only just tolerable. This is not only just ok. This is not only just acceptable. No. This is quite beautiful, and it is an inbreaking of the Kingdom.
There are many gifts but the same Spirit. And when these gifts are actualized, when they are recognized and cultivated, it can be beautiful, indeed. One of the best examples for me is music. When I was in high school I was a proud member of our school band – both concert band and marching Tigers’ band. Our band director was Mr. Wasco, and Mr. Wasco was a leader who pushed us and demanded our best efforts. If he was an English teacher, I believe we’d all be getting 5s on the English AP. If he had been the soccer coach, I believe he would have had is in the state playoffs every year. His great gift was to be able to support and somehow pull great music out of us. As a percussionist, I had the wonderful experience of playing a variety of instruments, from the tympani to the snare drum to the cymbals to the “wood crack” to the triangle to the castanets. When I played the tympani, I often spent a great deal of time counting out measures, waiting for the “grand entry” in the final stanza of the piece, perhaps. 1-2-3-4, 2-2-3-4, 3-2-3-4, 4-2-3-4, 5-2-3-4, 6-2-3-4…and on and on. And during these long periods of counting, sometimes, if Mr. Wasco was focused on the flutes and piccolos in front, or the trumpets and trombones over on the side, I would crouch down, and sit behind the tympani. Lying on the floor, I would listen to Mr. Wasco rehearse the various instruments.
When the flutes played, sometimes they would carry the melody, but much of the time they were playing a harmony that sounded nothing like the piece. When the saxophones played, they would also sometimes play the recognizable harmony, but other times were playing (what seemed like) unrecognizable notes.
For weeks on end, Mr. Wasco would have us play the piece, sometimes stopping to try to blend one group of musicians with another. Sometimes stopping so that the 5th chair flute would be clear on what he was playing, sometimes making sure that I properly re-tuned the tympani mid-piece so that I wouldn’t be out of tune for the grand finale.
Finally, as we approached the performance, somehow, Mr. Wasco would have found some way to conjure, provoke, convince, coax a group of 14-18 year olds into playing something that sounded quite a bit like music. On our own, we would not have been able to knit together the various parts into anything resembling Vivaldi or Pachelbel or Bach or Louie Armstrong. We each had a part to play, literally, a part to play – and we could not live in the false idea that band was “all about me” – it was about Team! Encouraging us each to fully actualize our own gifts, and also to blend and work in harmony with others, Mr. Wasco was somehow able to pull this all together for weekly football shows in the fall and concerts through the year. Taking unrecognized and undeveloped gifts and transforming them into not only individually developed gifts, but also gifts to be enjoyed and intertwined with others.
You probably see where I’m going at this point. God is perhaps like a band director, helping us to develop our gifts, and then so we can work together to make something greater in the sense of communal purpose than we can on our own.
This is, of course my main point.
However, the scenes and stories of destruction in Haiti this week brings home the message of community, our interconnectedness with our fellow human beings, and the importance of not only recognizing our gifts, but also stepping up to give to our brothers and sisters in need.
The scenes are so graphic, and the stories are so dire, it is hard to even know where to begin. I have never been to Haiti, however, I have been the recipient of great giving from a son of Haiti, and when I think if Haiti, and the ways that I am connected to Haiti, I think, of Joseph. Joseph is an administrator at Virginia Theological Seminary. While we were at seminary, he gave our family many gifts. He was the staff liaison for the spouses and partners group – looking out for the families of those who were attending seminary. For a year, he was the mentor of my colleague group – called colloquy – and brought his wonderful perspective, deep wisdom, and incredible generosity to each of our sessions. He taught me much about being a Christian, and being a priest. He also was the person who baptized our son, Sam, and I will never forget the service that he encouraged us to plan – with a variety of music, participation by a wonderful group of friends, and Joseph’s quiet and deep presence. He gave us many gifts, and we would not be the same without them. He played an important part in the musical piece that was seminary for us.
And so, I think of gifts being given, a variety of gifts being given, all activated by the same Spirit, and the deep ways that we are interconnected, even with those who don’t seem to look like us, see things like us, do things like us, and I think of the ways that we all have received many many gifts. Truly, our neighbors have been gifts to us, and we also may be gifts to them. And so, when I think of the destruction of Haiti, I mourn, I am saddened, but I am also reminded of the deeply personal ways that the musical piece of my life, the symphony of my own living would not be the same without the personal offering of Joseph. And, then I realize that he would not be giving that gift if he hadn’t received it both by the Spirit, and by the community that formed him as well.
We all have been given so many gifts. The gift of life, the gift of this day, the gift of this moment; and then there are the gifts that make us each unique. We may not have quite the gifts we would have chosen. But we each have been given gifts, and we each have the ability to be gift for our neighbor. We each have the encouragement of the Spirit to not only relish our gifts, but also to give them, to our neighbors near and far. And, I would encourage you to reflect upon your gifts, and see where they might be being called out by the Spirit. We need your gifts, your wisdom, your compassion, your knowledge, your leadership, your pastoral presence, your scholarship, your fellowship, your humor, and your love. God may be calling you to exercise some gifts long dormant. I am already looking to buy some tympani on eBay so I can play along with Larry!
And, please also consider giving your money to those in need in Haiti.
Prayer for Haiti...