In the church, we often talk about how everyone has a certain set of gifts and talents. One person has the gift of coming up with quick solutions to immediate problems, while another person has the gift of processing information slowly over time and producing long-term solutions for deeper problems. Both are essential.
One person has the talent of singing and playing piano while another person has the talent of preaching and playing guitar. Both are essential.
These are our gifts and talents, and we acknowledge that they are given to us by God, and we strive to use them to glorify God—to give God thanks and praise—and to magnify God—to make God bigger and to make God’s kingdom bigger on earth as it is in heaven.
Fred Rogers thinks of our gifts and talents as our alphabet and numbers. Fred Rogers is the Presbyterian minister that many of us know fondly as our neighbor, Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers says we all have a God-given alphabet and numbers. And what’s important about that alphabet and numbers is how we use them. Hear this wisdom from Fred Rogers:
What matters isn’t how a person’s inner life finally puts together the alphabet and numbers of his outer life. What really matters is whether he uses the alphabet for the declaration of a war or the description of a sunrise—his numbers for the final count at Buchenwald or for the specifics of a brand-new bridge.
We can use our God-given alphabet to declare war, or we can use it to describe a new day. We can use our God-given numbers with indifference by counting the ongoing death toll of children taken by gun violence or women taken by the sex trade or LGBT youth taken by bullying, or we can use those numbers for the specifics of bridge-building dialogue and action.
We can use our alphabet and numbers to show the world our vision.
But here’s the thing: when we recognize that our alphabet and numbers are God’s gifts to us, then how we understand God, the giver of those gifts—how we visualize God—determines how far we will go with our alphabet and numbers. How big we see God is how big our vision becomes.
If our vision of God is this small, then our vision will only go this far. If our vision of God is only this forgiving, then our vision will only allow for this much forgiveness. If our vision of God is only this inclusive, then we will only include so many in our vision of inclusiveness. If our vision of God’s love only goes this far, then our vision of love, how much we love ourselves and how much we love our neighbor, will only go so far.
Did you know that same-sex relationships are illegal in more than a third of countries around the world and punishable by death in five? According to Amnesty International, in Africa, homosexual acts are still a crime in 38 countries.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu is one leader trying to change that. Desmond Tutu is the retired Archbishop of Cape Town, and he remains the moral conscience of Africa.
At 81 years of age, Archbishop Desmond Tutu is still using his alphabet and numbers to show the world some vision.
With his help, the United Nations just released an aggressive campaign pushing for gay rights in the global struggle for equality. Desmond Tutu says that this initiative is just as important as the struggle to end apartheid. Now, where does Desmond Tutu get this vision from? He descibes it like this: “I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this.”
How deeply do we feel about the brokenness and injustice and inequality that plague this world? Well, how broadly do we see God’s vision of reconciliation and justice and love? These are the same question.
Our denomination, the United Church of Christ, is made up of women and men who have used their God-given alphabet and numbers over the centuries to glorify and magnify God. Thanks to so many faithful souls before us, we belong to a family of faith that testifies to a God that is too big to be confined by the limits of patriarchy or misogyny or racism or ageism or homophobia or transphobia.
The United Churh of Christ uses its ABC's and 1,2,3's to grant the world vision.
As early as 1700, the UCC took a stand against slavery. In 1785, the UCC ordained the first African American pastor in history. In 1846, the UCC launched the first integrated anti-slavery society. In 1853, the UCC ordained Antoinette Brown, making her the first woman to be ordained since New Testament times. In 1972, the UCC ordained the first openly gay person into ministry. In 2005, the UCC became the first denomination to support gender equality in marriage. And as of a few weeks ago, making a bold witness to a response to global warming and climate change, the UCC General Synod voted to become the first denomination to move toward divestment from fossil fuel companies. That’s how big we say God is.
How big do we say that God is at Friends Congregational Church? Well, when we say that we have this vision of offering God’s extravagant welcome to all, just who all is included in that welcome? These are the same question.
God has given each and every one of us an alphabet and numbers, and God calls each and every one of us to use them. The world is looking at how the people of God will use their A,B,Cs and 1,2,3s. Our children are looking at how we will use our alphabet and numbers. How we use those gifts determines the extent to which the kingdom of God is revealed on earth as it is in heaven.
How we use our gifts tells the world and tells our children who God is and how big God can be.
God said to me: “Write this. Write what you see. Write it out in big block letters so that it can be read on the run. This vision-message is a witness pointing to what’s coming. It aches for the coming—it can hardly wait! And it doesn’t lie. If it seems slow in coming, wait. It’s on its way. It will come right on time.”
When you look at the world, what do you see? When you look at God, what do you see? These are the same question. Amen.
Adapted from a sermon for Friends Congregational Church