“Paris Street Painter” ilirjan rrumbullaku 2016. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
It is great to honor our graduating seniors on Pentecost Sunday – the Sunday we celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to the church and reflect on the ways the Holy Spirit is moving and working in our lives. One of the ways we recognize the Holy Spirit’s presence in the church is in spiritual gifts … the ways we use the talents, abilities, and skills God has given us to build up the church and reach out to the world around us with God’s hope and love.
I would bet one of the most common questions for graduates is – “What is next?” Sometimes that can be a hard question to answer.
I usually have a hard time making big, life shaping decisions … but for some reason, deciding on a college major wasn’t a struggle. I had always wanted to study art.
The challenging part for me was figuring out how I could use art could serve the church. It always felt like a challenge to connect art with the life of the church I grew up in … the art world and my church world seemed so disconnected.
I remember a conversation with someone I didn’t know all that well at church. She asked what I was studying in college. I told her I was studying art.
She responded saying, “Art? You are studying art? You are going to starve!” I know the cliché about “starving artists,” but her words stung. I was too chicken to say it out loud, but I walked away thinking, “If I was majoring in math I would starve, because I am no good at it, but I am interested and pretty good at drawing, and I think I will be able to do something with it.”
There was so much art all around me, but there was this attitude that what I was good at and interested in wasn’t really all that useful.
A while later, my grandmother mailed me an article from a magazine. It looked at a story from Exodus about these two artists, Bezalel and Oholiab, who God called aside and filled with the Holy Spirit to build the Tabernacle, the ancient Israelite’s worship space-slash-mobile-reminder of God’s presence with them.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent— the table and its articles, the pure gold lampstand and all its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the basin with its stand— and also the woven garments, both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests, and the anointing oil and fragrant incense for the Holy Place. They are to make them just as I commanded you.” (Exodus 31.1-11)
These artists and craftsmen are some of the first people we meet in scripture who are filled and empowered with God’s Spirit.
The tabernacle was a big deal.
God’s people were on the move.
They were making their way from slavery in Egypt to freedom in a new place. Along that journey God promised they wouldn’t have to seek God out, God would be with them no matter where they were along their journey. God commissioned and empowered these artists to build the Tabernacle as a symbolic reminder of God’s constant presence with them. God gave Bezalel and Oholiab artistic gifts, in turn Bezalel and Oholiabe gave the gifts God had given them back to God, and God used those gifts to serve and benefit God’s people.
As he thinks through Bezalel and Oholiab’s story and reflects on his children’s natural talents and skills, John Goldingay, a really helpful pastor and teacher writes:
These are all gifts; they become spiritual gifts if you give them over to God. In other words, spiritual gifts are not divinely provided add-ons supplementing what we would be able to do “naturally.” They are aspects of the way God in love and grace made us that can become gifts with which we serve God … They may indeed be capacities that we never realized we had that get released and find expression in a way that would never have happened if the Holy Spirit not been at work in us in a new way … Bezalel will not have been someone who was hopeless at metalwork to whom God now gave this gift; he is someone with such gifts whom God now commissions to do the work that is needed. (John Goldingay, “Exodus and Leviticus for Everyone,” pp. 110-111).
This makes spiritual gifts seem more accessible … doable … less exclusive … less mysterious and more realistic. God gives you some ability, or talent, or skill, and you can give it back to God.
Brian Peterson, another pastor and teacher, has a helpful understanding of the difference between talents and spiritual gifts. Listen to how he sees the difference, “When by God’s grace and power, talents are reoriented away from us and our own interests and when they become vehicles for God’s love, they are truly, the Spirit’s gifts to the church” He sees the difference between talent’s and gifts as their orientation, are they something we use for our own benefit, or are they oriented away from ourselves and used to share and pass along God’s love?
This stretches our understanding of spiritual gifts and gives us freedom and space to use our gifts and talents to serve God and build up the church.
This is good news – a spiritual gift can be a talent, interest, skill, or ability God has given to you, that you offer back to God, and use to serve the church and share God’s love and kindness with the world. Your gifts matter. Your time and talents and skills matter, and God is using them to make a difference.
It is also a challenge to the church – how do we create more space and freedom for people to serve and use their different gifts in our church?
God has given us all sorts of gifts, all sorts of talents and skills and abilities and invites us to use them as spiritual gifts … to give them back to God in love and service … to build up the church. In his letter to the church the Apostle Peter wrote:
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. (1 Peter 4.10-11 NIV)