“When Nelson Mandela walked out of prison after 27 years, he knew that he had to leave the bitterness behind or he would still be in prison,” said the Rev. Cynthia Hale. “The Father of the Nation [of South Africa] had to resist the urge of revenge. He needed to provide an example of forgiveness.”
Hale preached at the morning worship service at 9:15 a.m. Friday. Her sermon title was “Work Your Grace” and the scripture text was Romans 12:3-12.
“When Mtibaa transitioned, President Barack Obama said, ‘Now he belongs to the ages.’ David Cameron, prime minister of Great Britain, said, ‘A great light has gone out of the world.’ Mandela is remembered for being the embodiment of grace, of operating with uncommon grace. That image led people to believe he fell from the sky,” she said.
“But everyone of us is graced by God. You may say, ‘Not me; I could never measure up,’ but you don’t know who you are. God created you by design; just as Mandela was unique, so are you. All of us on earth are different, as our fingerprints attest, but that is not what makes each of us different — it is God’s workmanship in you.”
Hale said that God graces each person with giftedness. No two people have the same gifts.
“Your gifts were tailor-made for you and you are graced for greatness,” she said.
In Romans, Paul spoke with authority about gifts, she said. He had written to the Corinthians five years earlier to tell them that each person’s gifts are needed for the community to be whole.
“Paul wanted to make sure that the Romans did not have an inflated idea of the self, that they were not over intoxicated with their own gifts,” Hale said. “Through faith comes the power of discernment to determine the nature and extent of individual power and grace.
“Paul also speaks to those who think less of themselves,” she continued. “All are gifted; there is no big ‘I’ or little ‘you’ in the faith community. Don’t think that the community is doing just fine without you.”
Hale used the word “grace” to talk about gifts because Christians are saved by grace and gifted by grace.
“We don’t deserve what God has done in Christ. We are gifted in a way that we could not imagine, we could not earn, buy, borrow or steal,” she said. “God is the giver of every good gift and distributes gifts to us for a purpose.”
Paul used the analogy of the body to describe how the gifts of one work with the gifts of all. Each member of the body of Christ belongs to all the others and they work together for the common good, “whether they like one another or not,” Hale said. When people are baptized into one body they are connected by God’s spirit.
“People come together from individual places and become part of the community to serve one another and to serve the world,” she said. “We need one another and we are essential to the success of every individual and the whole. That is God’s purpose in making us different and distinct so we are equipped to carry out God’s mission and service.”
Spiritual gifts are similar to natural gifts but the Holy Spirit supersizes them, Hale said.
“You may be a good speaker or fine singer, or you minister to people in a way that changes their lives, you may have the tech skills or work among the least, but you are set to change the world when the Holy Spirit energizes and empowers graces and turns them from ordinary to extraordinary,” she said.
She told the congregation that “we equip each other, we build each other up, because when we first came to Christ we needed help. Pastors are not the only ones to whip — I mean equip — people into shape. Each person has the responsibility to pick up another.
“We are given different gifts to provide balance, to help the body mature. No one should have too many posts in the community. Look at your neighbor and say, ‘I hope she is not talking about you.’ It is the nature of any community that not everyone is using their gifts. Then people start to say ‘let the young people do it; I am retired and tired.’ My grandfather, at 90, used to say, ‘Don’t rust out, wear yourself out.’ ”
Hale said that church communities would never be all that God would have them be unless everyone was working.
“There is no unemployment among God’s servants. That would be wasted opportunity. If you are graced, just do it,” Hale said. “Do it with enthusiasm, do it with joy. Work your grace. Serve the needs of others. Be the ministers of God’s grace.
“Your gifting looks good on you, but it is not an ornament to be worn — it is an instrument to be used for God’s glory.”
The Rev. Ed. McCarthy presided. The Rev. Dr. Mary Lee Talbot read the scripture. The Motet Choir sang “Go Out With Joy” by Hank Beebe, based on Isaiah 55:12-13. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, directed the choir. The Daney-Holden Chaplaincy and the Jackson-Carnahan Memorial Chaplaincy supported this week’s services.