What Faith Makes You Do by Vicar Atticus Zavaletta
Updated: Dec 23, 2019
11 August 2019
In the name of God, Amen.
“From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”
When I was a kid, my Dad used to quote this verse to me. He was telling me that I was talented, but it always felt like a shaming thing. That’s because the times he chose to call upon this verse, were times when we had both witnessed someone fail, or when the shortcomings of a classmate or peer of mine had been laid bare for all to see. So when he told me that “to whom much has been given, much will be required,” I heard, “Lots of people don’t have what you have, lots of people aren’t gifted.”
Those early experiences turned into a sense of guilt for me in later years. I felt so bad that I had something that others didn’t have, so I played down my gifts. I took a backseat, stopped raising my hand in class, and downplayed anything extraordinary I might have to offer.
Thankfully, I’ve come to understand that my father didn’t see the whole picture. I was glad that he saw my gifts, but he was missing everybody else’s.
I believe that every single person on this Earth has been blessed by their Creator with a particular genius. A gift that no one else has, unique to them and to their place in this life. I believe that wholeheartedly.
Everyone on this Earth has been gifted by God, richly.
What’s beautiful about it is that our gifts are all different. No one anywhere has been gifted by God in the unique way that you have.
I also believe… that when we choose to step into our gifts, it helps others to do the same.
Recently, my friend Pastor Sarah Garrett Krey reminded me of these powerful lyrics by popstar Lizzo, from the song, “Juice”: “If I’m shining, everybody going to shine.”
Today, there’s a thread between all our scripture passages… Today is all about faith. It’s all about faith and what it makes you do.
“‘Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’” God says to Abraham.
“Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’
And he believed the Lord.”
Faith makes you act as if what is dying is alive. It makes you hope against hope--when everything around you has fallen--that God is bringing a new life. Faith in God makes you want to give your own life so that God can keep working in the lives of others.
Faith makes us “get dressed for action” and “have [our] lamps lit.”
Things in our neighborhood may sometimes seem like they’re falling apart, but God calls us to hope, and to act as if the kindom of God is already here.
In the first verse of our passage, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” The phrase “for it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” actually appears in the what’s called the aorist tense in Greek, which means that it is something that has already occurred. A better translation could be: “It is God’s good pleasure to have given you the kingdom.”
Even though we cannot yet see it unveiled in its fullness, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t already fully part of God’s kindom. As one writer puts it, “We have it, while yet longing for the full experience of it.” In other words, we are in it, but it's up to us to make the world reflect that.
If we believe that the work of Jesus has already taken place, to accept us as his own and free us into lives of justice and joy, our only natural response will be one borne out of faith that his work in us, in our personal lives, in the life of our community, will not stop until all are free, all belong, and all are welcome at the table. Until the thirsty no longer thirst. Until the hungry no longer starve. Until everyone--every child, every youth, every adult, and every elder--is treated like a human being worthy of dignity and respect.
And, it is tragically clear that in this country, we have a long, long way left to go. Think of the recent ICE raid in Mississippi, on 7 food processing plants, which tore 680 people apart from their families and loved ones--and it all took place while children were in school. That is not the kindom; it is hell.
Last week the ELCA met at its triennial meeting, ELCA churchwide assembly, in Milwuakee. Listen to a few important outcomes of the work they did:
"A declaration of apology to our siblings of African descent, which was received by the African Descent Lutheran Association with thanks and a call for accountability and living into the words shared.
Approved a resolution declaring the ELCA a “sanctuary church body,” encouraging participation in the ELCA AMMPARO initative for migrant children, discernment of care for our immigrant neighbors in our contexts, and the promise of forthcoming resources for this work.
They also celebrated the milestones of 50 years of women's ordination, 40 years since the first woman of color was ordained, and 10 years since full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ clergy."
These are the kind of actions that find their ground and their drive in faith--they are responses to God alive in the world that bring God’s reign closer.
In the New Testament, Paul writes to the Hebrews recalling their ancestor of faith, Abraham. “Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’”
In his book, “We Make the Road by Walking,” Brian Maclaren points out that what was different about Abraham’s blessing from God in the context of Israelite religion is that he was being blessed by God so that he would bless others. Usually, one sought favor from a god in order to be blessed. But Abraham’s blessing is that he is a blessing to others, and their number, we know, is greater than the stars and grains of sand, and continues to this day.
This week we lost the great Toni Morrison, the first African American to win a Nobel prize in literature. She died on Monday, at the age of 88, in the Bronx. Known as Mother Toni Morrison in the Black church, Morrison wrote about the Black experience, and especially Black female experience, in America, which, before her, was not a subject viewed as worthwhile. Writer Irenosen Okojie praised Morrison’s virtuosic mastery of language for blessing an entire people with the gift of feeling seen, for the first time.
It is a terrible loss- she was a titan, of letters and of faith, who fought for her own people for the right to be free and to belong.
It was Morrison who once said, “Your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else."
Today to close, I want to do something a little different. When you came in today, you were given a blank colored notecard. You have pencils in the pews. Now I want you to reflect for a moment on the gifts God has given you. The gifts that are particular to you, to your genius. I’ll give you some time to think on it.
I want you to write down a gift that you have, the one that God is bringing to your mind right now. Write it down and think of this gift as something you can offer to bring the reign of heaven to Dundalk, to St. Luke’s. Think of this gift as what God can use in you to free and empower somebody else.
When you’re finished, you can place it in the basket going around. Later, all our gifts will be taken up as our offering with the Gifts of the People.
Now as your gifts are brought up, please stand as we prepare to bless them together.
Faithful and empowering God, we come to you today as a community of faith longing to see you and to serve you better. Thank you God for the ways you have gifted us. We pray that you would bless these gifts, as offerings to you, and empower us to use them as witnesses of your unending love for all peoples, so that we may look forward to the day when everyone is free, and everyone shines. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.