Discovering Your Own Gifts For
Epiphany Series A,B,C
Merry tenth day of Christmas.
Christmas is twelve days long.
From Dec. 25th to Jan. 6th.
In the Western Christian Church based in Rome, Christmas
begins on Dec. 25th. In
the Eastern Christian Church based in Constantinople (Istanbul), it
begins on Jan. 6. So
which of the two days should we celebrate the birth of Christ?
Dec. 25th or Jan. 6th? We
have reached a compromise, thus we have the twelve days of
Today, in our
congregation, we are celebrating Epiphany Sunday.
Our focus is the story of the three Wiseman, the guiding
star, and their giving of gifts to the Christ child, their gifts of
gold, frankincense and myrrh. Our particular focus today is on giving our giftedness, our gifts,
to God. Each of us has a set
of gifts that we give to God. Let me explain by means of a
How many of your
watched the Rose Bowl this year?
Very few of you didnít.
Go Cougars. The
Cougars of Washington State hadnít gone to the Rose Bowl in 67
years, so many of us Washingtonians were glued to the tube on New
Yearís Day to watch Washington State battle Michigan.
As it turned out, it was a great football game, Michigan
barely won, and there was tension to the very last two seconds of
the game...all of which made it an entertaining game to watch.
The most valuable
player of the game was the quarterback from Michigan.
His name was Brian Griese, the son of the famous professional
football quarterback from Miami who won several Super Bowls, and
this same famous father was doing the TV commentating on the Rose
Bowl and proudly watching his son perform so well that day.
.... But this is the story that wasnít told that day on TV but I
read in a newspaper. When
Brian, the son, was twelve years old, his mother was dying of
cancer. His older siblings had already left home, and young Brian was
fully present to absorb the pain of losing his mother.
After his mother died, he and his famous dad were now home
alone, his dad having to learn how to cook the breakfast eggs and
take care of his sonís daily needs.
The father and son bonded in a special way, sharing both
their motherís death and the subsequent years together.
Ultimately, Brian went to Michigan University although his
father had gone to Purdue. There
at Michigan, Brian was a good player, but not a great player, but
elected to come back for his fifth year to be the quarterback of
this great Michigan team.
While at the
University, in addition to his football life and the normal
activities of being a young scholar\athlete, he spent his Thursday
nights visiting the local hospital.
Being a leader, he always took other athletes along.
Gradually, the hospital staff began to expect
young Brian Griese on Thursday nights; that was his regular
Well, there was
this young woman who was involved in an automobile accident,
suffered a spinal injury and was to be confined to her wheelchair
for the rest of her life. She
enjoyed Brian Griese calling on her because he cheered her up.
He didnít give her sympathy but deeply admired her courage.
Time went by, and while in the hospital, she and Brian became
friends during those regular Thursday night visits.
Eventually, she asked Brian if he would escort her to her
Senior Prom. He
declined, not wanting to draw attention to himself, not wanting to
cross inappropriate boundaries.
He told his friends about the invitation, and they told him
he made a mistake, that he should honor her request and take her to
the Prom. So he did.
He danced with her in her wheelchair throughout the night,
picked her up with his strong arms and danced with her without the
wheelchair. It was an
electric night, filled with emotion for all who were there.
And Brian Greece felt it was his humble honor to escort such
a courageous woman as this, a young woman who had much more courage
and inner strength than he did.
You see, Brian
Griese is a devout young Christian, and he gives all of his
giftedness to God: his athletic abilities, his good home life, his
wonderful mothering, his fathering who coached him in special ways
to be a quarterback, but Brian also gave his gift of compassion.
.... Where did Brian learn this gift of such compassion for
this young woman? I
would guess that he learned it during his motherís battle with
cancer. During those
long months, I would guess that Brian learned a quality of
empathetic compassion that many people never learn.
His great tragedy in his life, the loss of his mother,
eventually was transformed and matured into being a gift, a gift of
empathetic compassion for people in difficult circumstances.
Yes, he gave all of
his gifts to God.
That is what this
Sunday today is all about: about
us giving all
of our gifts to God.
Today is Epiphany
Sunday in our congregation, and we focus on the story of the three
Wiseman. Now, most
congregations donít celebrate Epiphany Sunday every year as we do here at Grace Lutheran.
Why? Well, I
just like the themes and hymns for Epiphany Sunday, and to celebrate
it once every seven years is not enough.
And besides, the original candlelight service is not
Christmas Eve but Epiphany Eve which focuses on the light overcoming
darkness. So, we
never celebrate the Second Sunday After Christmas; for us, the
Second Sunday After Christmas is always
Epiphany Sunday. So
every January, we approach the story of the three Wiseman and have
to come up with a new sermon. Well,
this year focuses on giving the gifts that God has given us.
What are the gifts
that God has given to you? They
are your talents, abilities, aptitudes, events that have happened to
you. These have shaped
you, your family, your health, your everything.
Your gifts are the sum total of all the resources that God
has given to you. Your
gifts are not just
genetic abilities and natural aptitudes, although these are part of
your gifts. Many of your most precious gifts are qualities and resources
that have been developed in you over time.
God has given
everyone in this room an abundance of gifts.
Here in my hand, I have a bare stem from a grapevine; it has
three grapes on it. You know when you see this stem that it is an anomaly.
You know something is wrong with it;
that someone has taken the grapes off of it.
But here in my other hand, is a large cluster of grapes and
there must be a hundred, more than hundred grapes on this stem. You
know that this is the way
that God makes grapes, in large
abundant clusters. That
is the same way that God
makes all human beings, with large clusters of talents, abilities,
aptitudes, and resources. God
is enormously generous with each one of us.
Let me illustrate.
I talked with Chris
Kramer this past week, our youth director, and asked him what were
the gifts that God had given to him.
He, like all people, hemmed and hawed about the question and
didnít want to answer because it may sound like bragging. I
persisted and he finally was willing to share.
He has what I call the ď M & MĒ personality.
He said that he was good at motivating
groups of people, of being enthusiastic for idea, of selling ideas.
That is true about Chris, he is a good motivator of groups of
people. He also said he
had the gift of music.
If you have heard Chris on the guitar, piano, or sing, you
know he has that gift. If
you hear our new Generation X rock band, you know that Chris can
motivate kids into music. He
said he was good at managing, and I have seen him manage large numbers of kids
successfully. Also, God
gifted him with mechanical
abilities. If you see
Chris driving his old Volkswagen bus with his ever-resent tool
chest, you know he needs to be mechanical to keep it running.
I asked to speak to Heidi, his wife, and asked her about
gifts that are inside of Chris.
She mentioned that Chris is a great husband and has
learned to be a good listener; that he wasnít very good at
listening in their early marriage, but has learned it.
So it is with many gifts; they are not merely natural
abilities but important qualities we learn over time. In other words, picking up these two clusters of grapes, God
created none of us with a few gifts but God has created all of us to
be like this large cluster of abundant grapes.
So I talked to John
OíNeal, fellow pastor here at Grace, and asked him the same
question as Debbie was standing at his side.
John, quickly glancing at his wife, said, ďThe best gift
that God has given to me is my wife and children.Ē
Smart answer. And true. Some of Johnís great resources are his wife and
children. Knowing his
family, we would all agree. Debbie
quickly added that John is good is plumbing; he can fix anything.
John went on to say that a gift is his genuine caring for
others, his compassion that runs deep.
And where does that come from?
Is compassion a genetic trait?
I think not. I
would guess that John learned his compassion when his mother died of
cancer when he was a teenager at home, and his father at that time
was in prison. Who is
to say how God transformed the life of this young teenager through
the death of his mother when he was quite alone, facing the world.
Debbie added: people tell me he is good at one on one relationships in the
hospital and that he will give you an unusual degree of objectivity
if you go to him for advice. I would quickly add about his
integrity; John is wonderfully a true and genuine person. So here is
John OíNeal, so very different than Chris in the blend of gifts
that God has worked in him. And like this cluster of grapes in my hand, his gifts are
So I put myself to
the same question and ask myself what are the gifts and resources
that God has given me. First,
God gave m a wonderful mother, as many people would say.
From her I learned a loving zest for life, an energy, an
aliveness in all aspects of life. Most importantly, I learned how to do family-love, as do all
of my siblings. From my
father, I learned how to work hard and effectively.
From him I learned that some people work hard but
not effectively; there is a significant but subtle difference.
There are gifts and resources that happen to you depending on
your birth order. There
are advantages of being first-born, middle child, or last child.
I am younger that my siblings, enough so that I am like an
only child, and for me this is a source of much creativity and
coloring outside the lines. Yes,
somewhere I received the gift of preaching.
Every week, I compose a song, that is, a sermon, and every
week, I make music with it, which is a different gift.
The creating and delivering of sermonic thoughts are two
different gifts. The
other day, I was at a funeral and heard a gorgeous soloist.
I said to him that when I get to heaven, if allowed, that is
the gift I will ask for. The
point is: we are all
abundantly blessed with a variety of gifts; and our blend of gifts
are all so different. This is clearly revealed in the different sets
of gifts that God has given Kris, John and myself.
Mary Schramm has
written a book entitled, GIFTS OF GRACE, and I will refer to it for
much of this sermon. She suggests that there are five steps in ascertaining and
using your gifts, and I would like to walk through those steps with
first step is to discover your gifts, and you always discover your
gifts in relationship.
You rarely or never discover your gifts in isolation.
For example, the essence of all good parenting is to help
your child discover his or her gifts.
Yes, we love them and give them stability, but part of the
genius of good parenting is to help kids to discover their own
unique talents and resources which are personally there own.
The great temptation of parents is to impose oneís own
values on which gifts a child should have rather than for them to
discover their own. Another
relationship in which to discover your gifts is all school, with
teachers and coaches and conductors and peers.
The purpose of education is not only to acquire knowledge of
subjects, but to get to know oneself and the resources within
oneself. That is the essence of good education. We also discover our giftedess while at work.
Our fellow employees help us as we mature in our talents and
certainly marriage is a place where you discover your giftedness.
In a good marriage, a spouse is forever helping you to
discover your talents and how to use those talents most effectively,
from the time you are first married until you die.
For you are forever growing and changing, and a good marriage
partner is one who helps you to discover yourself and what you want
to do next with your life. Friends
also help you to discover yourself. For example, my wife. Years
ago, after doing the homemaker job for several years, decided to go
back to work outside the home, and like so many people, she took an
aptitude test to see more systematically what her preferences were.
ďReading teacherĒ came up high on her chart, and so she
went and became educated in that field. Time has gone by and she is now ready for another change.
She has been listening to our adult speakers on prison
ministry and has been thinking about that. The other day in the newspaper, there was an article about
teaching inmates at prison to read childrenís books into a tape
recorder and sending that recording to their children.
When Jan went to visit a friend, Joan Anderson, the other
day, Joan had seen this article and cut it out for Jan.
Now, that is a good friend.
They know your interests and resources and changing
circumstances of life and they help you to discover and expand your
giftedness. ... So the first step is to discover your gifts, and this usually
happens in a variety of relationships, and this discovering and
developing of your giftedness usually continues throughout your
second step is to accept the gifts that God has given you.
This is the art of maturity, learning to accept the gifts
that God has given to you and not given to you. A key thermometer is how jealous and envious you
are of other people and their gifts.
If you are jealous and envious of other peopleís giftedness
or feel inferior, chances are you have not really accepted your own
blend of gifts that God has given to you.
For example, throughout my whole life, but especially during
college years, I was always envious of people whom God had given
more brains, so they could go to medical school, dental school or
engineering school. These
were the smart ones and I always felt dumb and inferior around such
persons, as if God had given me inadequate brains.
I still continue to be secretly jealous of many of such
people. I feel the same
way with people who can tell jokes.
I am a terrible joke teller; but worse yet, I put myself down
for not having that gift. Nor
do I develop that gift. One
of the primary keys of life is to accept the gifts that God has
uniquely given you, your unique blend of talents, aptitudes, abilities, life experiences, the
sum total of all your resources.
That means to accept the gifts you donít
have, get on with life, and use the God given gifts that you have
third step is to enjoy your God-given gifts.
To take pleasure in them, to appreciate what God can do
through your life.
fourth step is to mature or develop those gifts. Like all gifts, they need to be put to work, to be exercise,
developed. Nothing in
this world becomes stronger without hard work and investment of
time, self and energy. Just
to rely on native talent and avoid the hard work of developing that
gift will lead you nowhere, but will cheapen your gift and you as a
person. We all know
people who live off their gifts and resources and not truly
And the fifth step
involves all of the steps, and this is to surrender all your gifts
to God. It means to give all of your gifts to Jesus Christ.
Thatís what was wise about the Wiseman.
Their wisdom wasnít merely giving their material gifts of
gold, frankincense and myrrh, but it was the gift of their total
selves to their journey to find Christ. Their trip took years to
find Christ in their searching, their looking, their time, and their
energy. They were
totally devoted to the mission of finding Christ, using all of their
resources. Wisdom is
giving all of your gifts to Jesus Christ.
.... If you
donít, you will use your gifts for your own benefit...to glorify
yourself or to satisfy yourself. And itís either/or; one way or
another; there is no middle ground.
Either you give your gifts to the service of Christ and his
mission in this world, or you donít.
So those are the
five steps about your gifts: discovering,
accepting, taking joy in, maturing, and surrendering them to the
work of God in this world.
But there is one
more aspect we havenít discussed. When
you discover your gifts, use your gifts, and surrender your gifts,
you are doing the will of God for your life.
In this book, GIFTS OF GRACE, the author refers to
another book, THE EIGHTH DAY OF CREATION, in which is discussed the
thesis of discovering the will of God for your life.
Many people ask that question.
You have asked that question:
What is Godís will
for my life?
Very simply, God wants you to discover, surrender, and use
your gifts. Itís not
that difficult. People
make it such a complex issue; what is the will of God for my life. Like so many essential questions, it is simple, more simple
than we want it. To do
the will of God is to discover and use your God-given resources to
make the world a better place, to be the kingdom of God in your
little time and space.
One more issue:
between candles and stars.
We are all candles, little lights turning away the darkness
for one brief, brief moment in our journey here on earth.
There are very few stars.
The vast, vast majority of us are little candles who bring
light to lives around us.
this sermon becomes interactive.
That is, I want you to write down on your bulletin or worship
registration card five gifts that God has given you.
If not, you will spend the rest of 1998 in a Lutheran
purgatory and who would want to do that. So everyone, children too.
Write down five gifts that God has given you, knowing that
you have been given hundreds. Remember
gifts are talents, abilities, aptitudes, events that have happened
to you, some tragic, some great, its the sum total of all the
resources that God has been giving to your throughout your lifetime.
.... Now, would
two or three of your share your lists.
... (Discussion). ... Now,
when you go home after church, I would be appreciative if you would
ask someone who knows you to add five more gifts to your list that
God has given you. That
way the sermon can continue.
Now comes the
second part of the interactive sermon.
You determine the will of God for individuals by ascertaining
their gifts and then surrendering those gifts to the work of God.
The same principle is true of groups of people:
nations, cities, schools, and churches.
Write down on the same paper five gifts you believe that God
has given to Grace Lutheran Church.
Congregations, like people, are all different and have
slightly different callings, based on the gifts that God has given.
What is the blend of gifts that God has given to Grace
Lutheran Church? As we
discover these gifts, accept them, surrender them, mature them, we
end up doing the will of God for this congregation.
Itís pretty simple.
After you have composed your list, I would like to you raise
your hand and mention one gift that God has given this congregation.
You young people and children are really good at this, so I
want to hear from you as well.
(Discussion about the gifts and therefore unique calling of
Grace Lutheran Church.)
Well, today is
Epiphany Sunday at Grace Lutheran Church. It is that Sunday in which
we celebrate the gift that the Wiseman brought to Christ.
And indeed, that is when someone is wise:
when they discover the unique blend of gifts that God has
given, accepted those gifts, enjoyed those gifts, matured those
gifts, and surrendered those gifts to Christ.
That is a wise person. Amen.