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Sermon for Diocesan Training Day by Canon Anne Kitch

What makes your heart sing?
by Canon Anne E. Kitch
St. Stephen’s Pro-Cathedral, Wilkes-Barre, PA
April 24, 2010
I Peter 4:7-11
Matthew 16:24-27

What makes your heart sing?

I have a friend whose gift is hospitality. She and her husband happen to run a retreat center, and you would expect such a place to be hospitable. But what Wendy and Jon offer is something more than welcome and comfort. It is grace and respite for travelers and strangers, imbued with a vision of what a redeemed world might look like. Theirs is a hospitality grounded in a holy desire for God’s justice, unrelenting in it’s endeavor to continually grow and deepen, and embodying a love of God’s creation and the people who inhabit it. This makes what they offer extraordinary.

I am convinced that Wendy’s gift for hospitality is part of her spiritual formation. But the fact that she wields it so exquisitely is a matter of honed skills, learned leadership, and hard work. She navigates all the intricacies of providing for her guests with a sense of humor, a deep love for God, and the seeming effortlessness that comes from being extremely well prepared. No guest ever knows the behind-the-scenes work that goes into every detail. This is her gift. And because she employs her gift gracefully, she deeply embodies the love of Christ and that spreads to others just as abundantly as her hospitality. Like a good steward of the manifold grace of God, she serves others with the gift she has received.

This is the ministry to which we are each called. Not to run a retreat center, or offer exquisite hospitality, or work behind the scenes. But to recognize and use our gifts with love, and in doing so, to glorify Christ. This is the exhortation found in the First Letter of Peter, “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.”

So, who are the ministers of the church? This is not a trick question. The answer is right in front of you…and to your right and to your left and behind you. You will also find the answer on page 855 in the Book of Common Prayer. Our catechism tells us the ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons. And what is the ministry of the laity? That too is readily accessible, not just because you can look it up in the BCP, but also because it is evident here today. First and foremost, the ministry of lay persons (and bishops, and priests, and deacons) is to represent Christ and his Church. After this, each order has some distinct work. Lay persons are to 1) bear witness to Christ wherever they may be, 2) according to the gifts given them carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world, and 3) to take their place in the life, worship and governance of the Church.

According to the gifts given you. This phrase tells us at least three things: we each have been given gifts, we do not all posses the same gifts, our gifts are meant for Christ’s work of reconciliation. How do you know what your gifts are? Well, what makes your heart sing? Debra Farrington, Episcopal author, once taught me that one way to recognize your gifts is to distinguish them from skills. A skill is something we learn to do well. We may receive satisfaction from using that skill, but it doesn’t necessarily make our day. But a gift is given. When we employ our gifts they energize us and bring us joy. So what are your gifts? Well…what makes your heart sing, and brings you joy in the doing and energy in the making? Teaching? Parenting? Exercising administrative oversight? Budgeting resources? Creating? Healing?

I believe using the gifts God has given us to serve others is the goal of lifelong Christian formation. You may have come here today to be informed. I hope that has happened and continues to happen this afternoon. But you are also being formed in your faith life today. The people you encounter, the worship we share, the gifts offered and received can effect changes in you that deepen your connection to God.

“Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” We base our life in Christ on the assumption that God has showered grace upon grace upon us. With this grace, we are to serve one another. Not out of a sense of burden, not out of an attitude of limited resources, but with our gifts. The Christian response to service is not one of burden, but one of joy. Having freely received the grace of God, our response is to sing with our hearts, use our gifts, become our best.

We can easily be led astray into seeing the cross of Christ as a burden to be endured. But it is not that. It is the way of life—joyful life, gifted life. This is perhaps what lifelong Christian formation is: to replace in our understanding the burden of the cross with the grace of the cross. Use your gifts, lift up your hearts to God, and let them sing!

perhaps you came here today to be informed

            and that may happen

                        especially if you approach what is offered with an open mind

            what you may not realize is that you are also being formed

                        especially if you open your soul

that is not to say you are each here like a lump of clay waiting for some epert ot make you tinot something

you get to do the making

we are neither blank slates waiting to be written on

            nor empty vessels waiting to be filled

                        we never were

from the moment we were born

            we were complete

                        completely human

                                    fully created in God’s image

the moment we were reborn by water and the spirit in baptism

            we were complete

                        completely Christisn

                                    and gifted

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