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FEbruary 12, 2018

“Embracing Good Gifts”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Mark 9.2-9

Romans 16.1-5

February 11, 2018

            Many of you know that one of my goals this year has been to support volunteers. You have served God through your actions and your time and your energy in this church, and I am grateful – as are so many people whose lives are impacted. When you are a volunteer it can be easy to keep going and feel underappreciated. Often the actions of volunteers go unnoticed because a volunteer is behind the scenes and their paycheck doesn’t show up on a budget line. Magically, floors are cleaned, committees are productive, and people are thrilled and don’t notice who did it because sometimes we don’t realize how much someone does until they aren’t doing it anymore. I am grateful for what you do – for those activities I know you do as volunteers, and I am sure those things that magically happen that I don’t realize you do. I am thankful for the gifts God has given you.

            Who is a volunteer? I don’t want to name names today because I am sure that I will forget someone. I will list a few, though – and want you to add to it. For example, some volunteers include our treasurers, the members on session, the wonderful women who serve in the nursery each Sunday, and people who help with the preschool. Anyone who helps with House of Hope or the summer lunch program or serves on a committee is a volunteer. There are people who volunteer their ideas, their time, their energy. What other volunteers can you think of? How do you volunteer?

 

            In the first scripture today we hear about how the Paul encourages the Romans to welcome these women who serve God. He lists Phoebe and Prisca and Aquila, commending them to the Romans. Now, I’m not sure whether they were paid or not – whether they were volunteers or not. We know that they were serving God with their gifts, and that Paul has witnessed how they have done that and tells others about the great things these women have done.

Phoebe is specifically mentioned as a deacon, and we know that deacons aren’t typically paid. A deacon is someone who shows compassion and hospitality, caring for people who are homebound or in need of a meal, listening to people, and offering the gift of their time. You can’t put a price on that. Paul tells of these good gifts and encourages a great welcome.

All of the people named in this passage are women. In our denomination in this day and age it may seem like a moot point to address, but I think it is important to mention. Women were in leadership during the time the Bible was written, which disproves anyone who tries to point to other scripture passages to explain why women shouldn’t be leaders in the church. Paul and these women work together as partners spreading God’s Word throughout the land. We might also make note that Phoebe is a deacon – not a deaconess.[1] The word is not feminized, because a deacon is a person who is serving specifically to care for people – not a man or a woman specifically.

Phoebe, Prisca, and Aquila were women who risked their lives for the Gospel. As Christians today we do not do that – there are not many opportunities when we need to risk our lives. We certainly take other risks, though. Sometimes people risk their safety when they go to help someone who is in a difficult situation. We might risk our money, if we expect to be paid back, but just do not know if that person can pay us back. We risk our time, trusting that when we give up a few hours that we didn’t think we had, hopefully it made an impact on someone’s life. We risk in a different way, and we risk because we have faith in God.

We are all called to serve God but our calling is not always clear. Not everyone likes committee meetings. Not everyone has money to donate. Not everyone has the time to sit in a two-hour session meeting. We have to find our niche, where our great gifts meet the needs of the world.

Lent is a good time to discern. We spend forty days listening to God. We are introspective, as well as seeking God and how God works in our lives. As Lent begins on Wednesday, we have the opportunity to decide how we will spend those forty days. Perhaps we can spend those forty days listening to God, asking where God is calling us in this world. Is God calling you to volunteer? Is God calling you to do less? We can spend these forty days discerning God’s will for us.

Jesus prepares the disciples for the next steps through his transfiguration. In the Mark passage Jesus takes a few disciples up to the mountain and they have what we have come to call as “the mountain top experience.” Moses and Elijah appears and God speaks similar words that were spoken at Jesus’ baptism. Except, this time, the words are spoken to the disciples. Jesus is dressed in dazzling white and everyone is in awe.

What happens next? How do you top that experience? Well, Peter, at a loss for words, decides to stay on top of the mountain and build a nice tent for them so they can stay there forever and ask Jesus who does his dry cleaning, because – come on! – that robe was better than bleach could have fixed it!

Peter has clearly missed the boat on this one, and Jesus tells the group they must go back down but must not talk about it. Have you ever been told not to tell an exciting secret? Maybe a surprise birthday party or trip? News of an engagement or baby? It can be difficult not to share these experiences. This must have been a similar experience for these disciples. They have seen Moses and Elijah and heard God’s voice, but they have to keep it all inside. Who is this man who has such authority? Who are they to be in his presence? They probably do not have his identity completely figured out (just as we continue to discern) but they are closer than ever after their experience on the mountaintop.

The Gospel of Mark deals with all this questioning of identity.[2] Just when someone identifies Jesus as the Son of God or as having authority, he silences them. I am sure the disciples wondered at times what they were doing – why they were the chosen ones to walk with Jesus – why they were the ones called to carry on his mission after his death and resurrection.

I believe at times we all question our call – why are we doing what we are doing, and did we hear God’s call correctly? Sometimes it is the beginning of honing our call, or shifting to something new. But often, it is merely our doubts, clouding in and trying to convince us that we are less than God created us to be. Some people call this “imposter syndrome,” where we question who we are and our legitimacy of being there – wherever “there” happens to be. Someone who has imposter syndrome often thinks, “soon, they’ll figure out that I’m not as smart as they are,” or “I’m not as educated as they are,” or “I’m not as” insert-adjective-here “as they are.”

Author Neil Gaiman once wrote an incredible blog entry on imposter syndrome, especially about how so many people experience it, but need to realize to ignore it. He writes about being at a party where he was doubting his reason for being there, thinking that others did not recognize him or his accomplishments, and others must be better than him, and more accomplished. He saddled up to another man in the hallway, who, ironically, was also named Neil. He wrote: “And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, ‘I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.’ And I said, ‘Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.’”[3] Then and there, Neil Gaiman realized that Neil Armstrong had his own doubts – his own imposter syndrome. Perhaps he wasn’t alone.

You are not an imposter – you were given gifts that were meant to be shared. You have been called by God. You belong here. The question isn’t “if” you belong here – but “how.” So, as we prepare for Lent, decide how you will spend the forty days – praying? Reading scripture? Listening? Writing? Listen to God, for you are being called. Thanks be to God. Amen.          

 

[1] Craig C. Hill, “Romans” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, eds. John Barton and John Muddiman (Oxford: University Press, 2001), 107.

[2] Marilyn McCord, “Mark 9.2-9” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 452.