Necessary Gifts

Sermon for Sunday, November 7, 2021 || All Saints B || John 11:32-44

I’m going to start today’s sermon with the end of it. Here it is. Are you ready? Jesus’ commands include in them the gifts needed to carry them out. Got that? I’ll say it again: Jesus’ commands include in them the gifts needed to carry them out. This is a statement of faith that I think comes with quite a bit of evidence in the Gospel, especially in the passage I just read, the raising of Lazarus. I’m talking about commands and gifts this morning because in a few minutes, we are going to reaffirm our Baptismal promises. I’ll get back to Baptism in a bit, but first, here’s the evidence for that statement of faith: Jesus’ commands include in them the gifts needed to carry them out.

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Thank You, God

Sermon for Sunday, October 13, 2019 || Proper 23C || Luke 17:11-19

This summer, I went to the place where that Gospel story happened. We were heading back to Jerusalem from Galilee, and we stopped in the West Bank town of Burqin, just like Jesus did – except he wasn’t riding an air-conditioned tour bus. We walked up a hill to a church that commemorates the healing of the ten lepers. Preserved there are the ancient underground caverns – holes, really – were people with skin conditions were set apart from the rest of society. I climbed down into one, and I can’t imagine being there for more than a few minutes.

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Gifted (God’s Point of View, part 3 of 8)

Sermon for Sunday, January 22, 2017 || Epiphany 3A ||Matthew 4:12-23

Two weeks ago, we began an Epiphany sermon series in which we are imagining our way into God’s eyes and trying to see ourselves as God sees us. What is God’s point of view? What does God see, name, and celebrate about us? And how can we incorporate that divine point of view into how we interact with God’s creation?

We began with Belovedness. God sees and names us as God’s Beloved. When we enter this reality, we see, name, and celebrate that each person we meet is also the Beloved of God. Living in this reality means affirming in word and deed the dignity and value of all people. Last week we talked about God befriending us. God calls us into mission alongside God, not as subjects or employees, but as partners, friends. And this friendship leads us to create strong relationships of our own, often befriending the unlikeliest of people, many of whom are those who have received little love.

Love leads to friendship, which leads us out into the world, participating in God’s mission of healing and reconciliation. Here we return to God’s point of view because we wonder how we possibly could contribute anything meaningful to such a vast enterprise as God’s mission. We imagine our way into God’s eyes again. We discover that God sees, names, and celebrates us as gifted. Continue reading “Gifted (God’s Point of View, part 3 of 8)”

Give Me This Water

Sermon for Sunday, March 23, 2014 || Lent 3A || John 4:5-42

womanathewellLast week I talked about the fact that we crave certainty, but in this life we will never achieve it. Jesus knows this, and so he offers us something even better than certainty. He offers us the gift of himself. Today, I’d like to talk about that gift. I’d like to talk especially about what we think we need in order to accept such a gift. Specifically, I’d like to talk about four things we think we need and the one thing we actually need. We’ll use Jesus’ wonderful conversation with the Samaritan woman to explore these things we think we need to accept the gift of Jesus.

“If you knew the gift of God,” Jesus says to the woman, “and who it is who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” This gift is Jesus himself, the Son God gave to the world – and not just the world, but all of creation – because of God’s great love. In our story today, the gift of Jesus manifests in his offer of this mysterious living water, water that gushes up to eternal life. This same gift of Jesus manifests in our lives in myriad ways, some mysterious, some plain, all powerful and life-changing.

But too often we do not accept the gift because we don’t think the gift is for us. We don’t have the right social status. Or we lack the understanding. Or we don’t worship in the right ways. Or, most often, we just don’t feel worthy of the gift. In our story today, the Samaritan woman exhibits each of these four reasons not to accept the gift God freely gives us out of love. She exhibits each one, but another force trumps all. Simply put, she is willing to accept Jesus’ gift. “Give me this water,” she says. In effect: “Help me accept the gift of God in my life.”

Let’s look at each of these four and see how they keep us from accepting the gifts Jesus showers upon us like springs of living water. First we have social status. “Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well,” John tells us. “It was about noon.” Noon, you say? With the hot sun beating down? Why not come to draw water in the cool of the morning or evening? That’s when most of the women would be out. But not ours. She comes to the well at noonday. Presumably, the other women have cast her out of their circle. She comes to the well alone during the heat of the day. And there she finds the Savior of the World.

How often have we let social status blind us to the gifts of God? Maybe we thought ourselves too lowly or we didn’t feel put together. We didn’t have the right clothes for church. Or we didn’t have anything to put in the offering plate. More often than not, however, it’s not our own social status, but our dismissal of the status of others that blinds us to God’s gifts. We look down our noses. We judge on first impression. We turn away. And we fail to notice the gift of God wrapped in that other person.

And yet Jesus approaches the Samaritan woman – a social outcast, not to mention a person from another culture – and he offers her the gift of himself. And she is willing. All she needs is willingness. “Give me this water,” she says. “Help me accept the gift of God in my life.”

The conversation continues. Jesus leads her down the path from the mundane into the metaphorical and past the metaphorical into the mystical. And yet her mind stays on the level of actual, physical, wet water. When Jesus offers her his living water, she expects never to have to come back to the well for honest-to-goodness H2O. She doesn’t understand the mysteries he’s sharing. But she knows she wants to share in those mysteries. She wants to share in his life, despite her lack of understanding.

How often have we let our need to understand blind us to the gifts of God? We thought we needed to have everything figured out. We confused understanding with belief, though the two are not the same thing. We didn’t take the plunge into the life of faith because God was just so unfathomable.

And yet Jesus ushers the Samaritan woman, who sure doesn’t get everything he’s talking about, and he offers her the gift of himself. And she is willing. All she needs is willingness. “Give me this water,” she says. “Help me accept the gift of God in my life.”

Next comes the hot button issue of Jesus’ day. Is the right place to worship on Mount Gerezim in Samaria or in Jerusalem? We might call this a question of “orthodoxy.” How often have we let our fervent desire to worship in the right ways blind us to the gifts of God? Don’t get me wrong: worshiping God is a wonderful thing, something that God calls forth from us. But when we get so caught up in the practice and rules of what right worshiping looks like, we can lose sight of the subject of that worship. In effect, we begin worshiping the act of worship.

The Samaritan woman brings up this topic, and Jesus gently pushes it aside. In its place he gives her the gift of himself when he tells her, “I am” the messiah. And when he offers this gift she is willing. All she needs is willingness. “Give me this water,” she says. “Help me accept the gift of God in my life.”

Finally, the elephant in the room: our own self-worth. Does the Samaritan woman shade the truth when Jesus asks about her husband because she’s embarrassed – or worse, ashamed – of her marital past? Does she think Jesus will run away from her if he knew the man she’s now living with is not her husband? What about coming to the well at noon? How much of a hit does her sense of worthiness take if she’s been made an outcast in her own town?

And what of our own self-worth? The biggest mistake we make when we refuse to accept God’s gifts is thinking we need to be worthy of them. Of course we aren’t worthy of them! They come from God, the creator of all that is, the Lord of heaven and earth. We will never be worthy of our gifts. But that’s not the point. The point is that God showers gifts upon us anyway.

Jesus offers the gift of himself to the Samaritan woman – his own living water, gushing up to eternal life. Her sense of worthiness. Her confusion about worship. Her lack of understanding. Her outcast social status. These are traps that could hold her back from accepting such a gift. But – thanks be to God – they do not hold her back. Despite everything arrayed against her, she is willing to accept the gift Jesus offers her, the gift of himself.

All she needs is willingness. All we need is willingness: the momentary, yet momentous, courage to say “yes” to God. I invite you now in this moment or this day or this week or this year or even sometime during this lifetime or the next to allow God to free you from everything that keeps you from saying, “Yes.” And when that moment comes, dip your hands into the bucket, feel the fresh moisture cool your fingertips, and say to Jesus: “Give me this water. Help me accept the gift of God in my life.”

Art: detail from “The Samaritan Woman at the Well” by Annibale Carracci (1560-1609)

The Call and the Gift

(Sermon for Sunday, May 5, 2013 || Easter 6C || John 5:1-19)

I have some really exciting news that I’ve just been bursting to tell you. Last Monday, I became an uncle. I wasn’t an uncle, and then my sister-in-law had her baby boy, and now I’m an uncle! But since I played absolutely no part in the whole “becoming an uncle thing,” let me talk a little more about the actual players in this little slice of joy, my nephew Connor and his parents, Bethany and Steve.

cwsbaby(featured)Bethany labored to birth Connor on Sunday and Monday, and he entered the world Monday afternoon, just under eight pounds of radiant, new life: squishy elbows and beating heart and astonishingly alert eyes. I’m sure there were moments during delivery when Bethany was certain she couldn’t do it, that one more push was out of the question, that one more contraction would send her over the edge. But then she did do it, and her son was placed in her welcoming arms.

I’m sure that in the weeks and months to come, Bethany and Steve will spend many a night awake trying to sooth the baby who will seem to be crying for no apparent reason, considering they will have sated all his immediate needs. They will be strung out, exhausted, ready to fall asleep in the next morning’s bowl of cereal. They will wonder if they can function on 45 minutes of sleep and then they will do it all again the next night. And the one after that.

I’m sure that at some point in his childhood, Connor will break his arm climbing a tree or get an infection that will send him and his distraught parents to the Emergency Room. That kind of thing happens to everyone, but in the moment, Bethany and Steve will be frantic and all kinds of worst-case scenarios will run through their minds. But then Connor’s fever will break or he’ll emerge with a cast ready for signatures, and his parents will breathe a prayer of silent relief for having come through the ordeal.

Notice a pattern here. On the day of Connor’s delivery, Bethany went to the point of no return. And then she returned with a babe in her arms. In the future eventualities of sleepless nights and hospital visits, Bethany and Steve will be at the ends of their ropes, and yet they will keep climbing and they will find more rope. How can I be so sure that they will find more rope? Because I believe God called them to the sacred ministry of parenthood. And when God calls one of us to serve, God always provides us with the gifts that we need to fulfill our callings.

In the delivery room Bethany discovered God’s gift of perseverance and more determination than she ever thought she possessed. God called her to motherhood and then gave her the gifts she needed to make the calling hers. As she grows in this ministry, she will continue to discover new gifts as she faces new challenges as a mother. The same thing happens to us when we accept God’s call in our lives. The call and the gifts to achieve the call go hand in hand. To use a political metaphor, God doesn’t believe in the unfunded mandate.

If you need more convincing, check out this morning’s reading from the Gospel according to John. Jesus arrives at the pool of Beth-Zatha and finds there a man who is waiting his turn to go down into the pool. The popular belief was that when the water was stirred up, from some underground source presumably, the first person to enter the pool would be healed of any affliction. The man had been paralyzed for 38 years; can you image – 38 years of coming to this pool only to be stymied by people who could beat him to the water, 38 years of dashed hopes and unfulfilled dreams, all drained into a morass of hardened isolation. 38 years of paralysis; just think, if this encounter were happening today, the man would have become paralyzed while Gerald Ford was president and I wouldn’t be a twinkle in my mother’s eye for quite some time.

To this downtrodden, lonely soul, Jesus comes, and Jesus asks him a question: “Do you want to be made well?” The answer seems obvious. “YES” is what you’d expect. But this man seems to have a well-worn speech ready for whenever anyone approaches him, no matter what they say. “I have no one to put me in the water and when I’m trying to get over there, someone always gets ahead of me,” he says.

Jesus takes this response as a “yes.” And then Jesus just skips all the preliminaries. He doesn’t tell the man his faith has made him well. He doesn’t touch him. He doesn’t pray. Jesus simply commands the paralyzed man to stand up, take his mat, and walk. Jesus calls this man to do something he is absolutely and without a doubt unable to do.

I imagine the man gives Jesus an incredulous look, perhaps a raised eyebrow. A hollow chuckle. Who does this guy think he is, the man wonders? But Jesus’ words ring in the air, strong and solid and shimmering. The man looks up and sees Jesus staring down at him, and he realizes that Jesus is serious. What if? What if I don’t need the pool? What if this is my chance?

He pokes his leg with his finger. No sensation. He tries to wiggle his toes. Nothing. But Jesus’ call to stand up is still ringing in the air, and now the words fall to earth, fall into the heart of the paralyzed man. No more poking. No more wiggling. He reaches up and grasps Jesus’ arm and pulls himself up. He can stand. He can walk.

Somewhere between Jesus’ call and the man’s standing, Jesus gives him the gift of the ability to heed the call. The healing happens in order that the man can obey Jesus’ command. Like I said, God doesn’t believe in unfunded mandates. Jesus tells the man to stand up. But he hasn’t stood in 38 years. And then he does because the call carried with it the gift to accomplish it. He realized Jesus had blessed him with the gift when he used it to stand up.

God called Bethany and Steve to be new parents. And I believe God will give them all the gifts they need to raise Connor to be the child God calls him to be. Jesus called the paralyzed man to stand and gave him the gift to do so. I wonder what God is calling you to do? I wonder what God is calling you to be? How many of us hear God’s call but then shy away from it because we assume we aren’t good enough to accomplish it or we don’t have the necessary gifts to do it?

This story of the man by the pool teaches us that God never issues a call without dispersing the gifts that accompany it. In fact, God calls us to certain things specifically so we can discover our giftedness.

So the next time you pray, I invite you to ask God what God is calling you to do or be. For the duration of the prayer, ignore both the seeming impossibility of the call and your utter inadequacy to accomplish it. Just sit in silence with God, listening to the call ringing in the air, strong and solid and shimmering. And then, like the paralyzed man, stand up, take your mat, and walk. Say “yes” to God. And discover all of the gifts that God has been bursting to shower upon you.

The Seeds of the Kingdom

(Sermon for Sunday, June 17, 2012 || Proper 6B || Mark 4:26-34)

When I was nine or ten years old, I walked into the church across the street from our house really early on a particular morning. Ash Wednesday had always been one of my favorite days. I’m not sure why, but I think I liked going to school with the ashes scraped across my forehead – hence me being in church really early. As many of you know, my father is also a priest, and he met me in the church wearing all of his vestments. But no one else came for the service early that morning. However, as Jesus says, “When two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” So we went ahead with the service, just my dad and me.

When the time came for the ashes, he put his thumb in the gritty, black stuff and scraped first a vertical and then a horizontal line across my forehead, making the sign of the cross. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” he said. Then he knelt down and offered the little bowl with the ashes to me. I was surprised, but I put my own thumb in the gritty, black stuff and scraped the sign of the cross on his forehead. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” I echoed with all the solemnity that my fourth-grade voice could muster.

Then we finished the service, he took me to school, and we went about our days, and we went about our lives. And about a decade later, my father and I realized that on that Ash Wednesday morning, God planted a seed in me, one so small that neither of us noticed the seed until the stalk started poking through the topsoil of my life.

This seed was the mustard seed of God’s kingdom, the one that Jesus talks about in today’s parable from Mark’s account of the Gospel. Before we go any further, however, I want to dispel any notion that you may have that such a seed would only be planted in someone destined to be ordained as a priest. While some of the seeds of the kingdom that God planted in my life have germinated into my call to the priesthood, others have grown into my call to be Leah’s husband and to spread God’s love through our marriage. I hope other seeds that are still hidden in the soil will sprout into a call to parenthood. God sows within each of us, not just we few who wear the collar, the seeds that grow into a panoply of kingdom callings. Together, as our seeds stretch upwards into beautiful flowers and trees, we help God transform this planet once again into a garden of God’s kingdom.

I firmly believe that God has sown seeds so wildly, so expansively, that every person on this planet has the seeds of the kingdom nestled in the soil of their souls. The parable before the ones we heard this morning speaks to this belief. The sower doesn’t seem to mind that his seed lands, not just on the good soil, but on the road and on the rocky ground and among the thorns, as well. The sower doesn’t just plant in nice furrows in the prepared field, but across every surface, no matter how ready the ground is to receive the seed.

Because of God’s unrestrained scattering of seed, each of us surely has the seeds of the kingdom within us. But, as Jesus says, the seeds start out so small that we can barely see them. In fact, until the seeds have grown into visible plants, we won’t have much luck seeing them at all. But this is how the life of faith works – oftentimes, the moments when the seeds of the kingdom drop into our soil are as small as the seeds themselves. We miss these moments all too easily because they tend to be subtle and quiet. Or they tend to happen in the midst of really difficult and challenging circumstances. Or they tend to happen when we least expect them, when our soil is least ready for the seeds.

With God’s help, we can train ourselves to notice the seeds of the kingdom earlier and earlier in their development. Perhaps, you have a mustard seed that has grown into the full-fledged plant or perhaps you have a stalk peaking up from the ground. Move into a space of prayerful reflection and trace that plant back to the subtle, quiet moment when God scattered the seed in you.

Consider this example. God has given you the gift of teaching. Even though some of the students can be pains in the neck, you love going into the classroom everyday to teach. You feel that teaching is certainly a way that you respond to God’s call. Now, work your way back past your first year struggles, past your student teaching, past your high school days, and find yourself back in fifth grade when your favorite teacher in the whole wide world instilled in you a love of learning and a desire to teach. There’s the seed. God used the dedication and love of your fifth-grade teacher to plant the seed of the kingdom in you.

Here’s another example. God has given you the gift of cooking. Recently, you began helping at your church to prepare hundreds of meals every week for a local homeless shelter. You can feel in each stir of the pasta and each pour of the sauce that you are doing something in which God takes great joy. Now, work your way back past your joining the church, past all those experiments in the kitchen trying to perfect your pie dough, past that semester at culinary school, and find yourself in the kitchen with your mother on the day she finally let you spice her world famous chili for the first time. There’s the seed. God used your relationship with your mother, who passed on her culinary secrets to you, to plant the seed of the kingdom in you.

No matter how old or young we are now, God has planted seeds in us. Some have grown into the greatest of shrubs and the birds nest in their branches. These are the places where we can see God’s kingdom blooming into beautiful gardens around and within us. Other seeds are still nascent, still tucked in the soil waiting for the right moments to start their journey toward the sun. By tracing the plants we can see back to when they were invisible seeds, we can train ourselves to recognize the currently hidden seeds even sooner in their development. And when we do, we can join God in more active participation of their cultivation.

Every week in the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The kingdom begins as tiny mustard seeds, which God scatters wildly into our very souls. As we live out our lives as followers of Jesus Christ, we become gardens of the kingdom, spreading the beauty of God wherever we go. The seeds are in each of us. The seeds are sprouting and growing and blooming each day. All we need do is notice.


(Sermon for Sunday, August 22, 2010 || Proper 16, Year C, RCL || Jeremiah 1:4-10)

These geeks feel inadequate most of the time (NBC's shortlived, but brilliant "Freaks and Geeks")

Human nature urges us to shy away from thing we aren’t too good at. Boys at the middle-school dance tend to add their support to the structural integrity of the gymnasium rather than venturing out onto the dance floor. Folks who don’t have the best singing voices often lament the fact that they are “tone-deaf,” which, statistically speaking, is unlikely. I’ve never been a strong swimmer, so I keep to the shallows, or more often, the shore. We all nurse feelings of inadequacy – whether in dancing, singing, swimming, or whatever might be your particular constellation of shortcomings.

These inadequacies define as just as much as our strengths do. But while strengths define us positively, like an artist drawing shapes on a canvas, inadequacies fill up the negative space around those shapes. Our discomforts, our shortcomings, our inadequacies press in from outside of us, telling us that, no matter our strengths, we are failures. We are failures before we even try because we know we’ll never be any good, and therefore, we never try new things, we never step out of comfort zones. And when we never step out of comfort zones, they never have the chance to expand. As such, the feeling of inadequacy greatly impedes growth of all sorts: physical, emotional, spiritual.

But God, I think, sees our inadequacies from a different perspective than we do. To us, our inadequacy is an impediment. To God, our inadequacy is an opportunity for God to display God’s glory. This morning’s lesson from Hebrew Scripture demonstrates this perspective.

Jeremiah’s feelings of inadequacy prompt him to attempt to dissuade God from calling him to be a prophet. But God has no inclination to heed Jeremiah’s argument. Rather, God seems to call Jeremiah specifically because of the boy’s feelings of inadequacy, not in spite of them. Notice how God answers Jeremiah’s single piece of dialogue in the passage. After God informs Jeremiah that God has appointed him to be a prophet to the nations, Jeremiah says, “Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”

God hears these words and keys in on the second half. “Do no say, “I am only a boy,” God says. Your youth doesn’t matter because I am with you to deliver you. You can’t help being your age. If I wanted someone older I’d call someone else. But no similar assurance addresses Jeremiah’s inadequacy in speaking. God never tries to assure Jeremiah by saying, “Do not say, ‘I do not know how to speak.’” Rather, God uses Jeremiah’s inadequacy in speaking as an opportunity to put God’s own words in Jeremiah’s mouth. God sees room for growth in Jeremiah, and God fills that room with God’s own words.

For his part, Jeremiah knows he is an inadequate speaker. But when he points this out to God, his argument backfires. What Jeremiah doesn’t realize is that God picks him precisely because of his inadequacy. This is a pattern throughout the Hebrew Scripture. Moses has a speech impediment, but God still calls him to stand up before Pharaoh. David wears no armor and carries only a sling and stones when he challenges Goliath, the Philistine champion. Gideon drastically reduces the numbers of his army – from 22,000 to three hundred – when he contends with the Midianites. In each of these cases, the human vessel called to work God’s purpose is laughably inadequate to the task at hand. And every time, God’s purpose succeeds.

God works through human inadequacy to display God’s own glory. In a sense, God is showing off. But this is not vanity, because God shows off for our sakes. I’ve mentioned before in sermons that we humans are a pretty thick lot. We often have trouble attributing our giftedness to God, which allows the sin of pride to creep in at ground level and start rotting out our appreciation for God’s blessing. This trouble magnifies greatly for gifts that we perceive we’ve always had. The constancy of our strengths makes us less apt to remember to thank God for them.

But we have a much easier time thanking God for abilities we’ve had to work hard to obtain. God cultivates growth in us by targeting our inadequacies. We remember what the inadequacy felt like when we didn’t have certain abilities, and so we thank God for helping us to step outside of our comfort zones and try new things. This is my experience with learning how to sing, and I’m willing to bet each of you can think of a similar example in your own lives.

God knows our trouble at offering thanks for our strengths, and so God insists on working through our inadequacies to remind us that God is the giver of all gifts. Rather than viewing inadequacy as an impediment, we can see it as God sees it. Our inadequacies are opportunities for us to invite God to work through us in new ways.

Think about your own most recent shortcoming. How can you invite God to work through this inadequacy? Perhaps God might say something like this:

“Do not worry that you don’t know how to speak. I do. I’ve been speaking creation into existence since time began. Borrow my speech and soon it will become yours.”

“Do not worry that you can’t turn down a fight. I did. My son went to the cross in order to show that violence does not have to beget violence. Borrow my courage and soon it will become yours.”

“Do not worry that you can’t sustain a relationship. I can. I have been the husband and the parent of my people for as long as anyone can remember, and I have never broken my promise to them. Borrow my love and soon it will become yours.”

Whatever our shortcomings, whatever our inadequacies, God can work through them to display God’s glory. God uses the inadequacy of Jeremiah to put God’s words in his mouth. God uses the inadequacies of Moses, David, and Gideon. And not just them: Jacob was a cheat. Joseph was a prima donna. Jonah hightailed it in the opposite direction. Rahab was a prostitute. Ruth was a stranger in a strange land. Rachel had trouble conceiving a child. Paul was a persecutor. Ehud was left-handed. Aaron built an idol five minutes after he heard the commandment not to. And not to mention, the disciples fled.

So why not us? Thousands of years may have passed, but our shortcomings, our inadequacies are the same. (Well, being left-handed isn’t so bad anymore.) Our strengths are opportunities for us to thank God for how God has always worked through us. But we thick humans have never been so great at that. And so God works through our inadequacies, granting us the ability to grow in God’s grace and praise God for all of God’s good gifts.

This week, I invite you to ask God to work in you, to work through your deficiencies. Pray to God for the courage to take a step outside of your comfort zone. Pray for the hospitality to welcome a stranger into your midst. Pray for the trust to give up some of your resources toward the work of God in the world. Pray for the peace necessary to stop in the midst of this swirling world and find God in the middle of your day. Pray to God to work through your inadequacy, and soon you will discover new strengths, which you can use to serve God in your lives.

Not FEMA trucks

I’ve been rereading C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters in preparation for a class I will be teaching at my church. The book is a series of letters from one of Hell’s executive level devils sent to a junior tempter who is tasked with corrupting the soul of a new convert to Christianity. In Letter #14, Screwtape is alarmed that Wormwood’s “patient” is showing signs of becoming humble.

This is not as dire as it may seem, says Screwtape, because the true meaning of humility is easy to conceal. He counsels Wormwood: “Let [your patient] think of it not as self-forgetfulness but as a certain kind of opinion (namely, a low opinion) of his own talents and character…. By this method thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools.”

You can see just how handy this kind of self-deception could be for those who work against God (who Screwtape calls “the Enemy”). If people are deluding themselves in such a way as to take less than full advantage of their gifts, then Screwtape and his boss are winning. And here’s the main point: thinking yourself less talented than you are does not lead to humility, but to dereliction of duty.

God pours out on each one of us a collection of gifts and talents. If we don’t use them due to a case of misplaced modesty, then we are not fully living the lives that God’s abundance makes possible. We’d be like those FEMA trucks held back from the hurricane zone, full of uneaten food and unused supplies. Humility has nothing to do with a low opinion of your talents. Humility has everything to do with the proper attribution of and thanksgiving for those talents to God, the provider of all good gifts. And the best way to give thanks to God for your talents is to use them in the service of others—giving of yourself out of the things God has given you. Indeed, the only way to thank God properly for your gifts is to use them and use them fully, with no hindrance from a false understanding of humility.

So, come to the Lord in prayer and ask God what are those gifts and talents God has poured out on you. Be humble by acknowledging that those gifts and talents have a source, and you aren’t it. But do not sell yourself short. God gives gifts so they can be used to glorify God. Any cropping of your talents for the sake of that false understanding of humility lessens your ability to reflect the glory of God out into the world. Give thanks to God for all the opportunities God has given you to reflect that glory and serve God with that life of yours, so full of gift, talent, and promise.