Gifts from heritage.

“Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that He said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Today, our Church celebrates Heritage Sunday. Scripture provides reasons to celebrate this particular aspect of God’s creation.

When our Church was organized, it took care to stress the fact that God makes Himself and His teaching manifest through the use of nations and peoples.  Each nation is given gifts, unique perspectives and charisms that, when shared, enrich our faith in Jesus and teach us more about Him. We are called to respect, cherish, and celebrate what God has created and to learn from it.

Jesus came to God’s own people, the Jewish nation, to reveal all that God is and to call them to walk in the Way of the Gospel. They were called to see kingdom already but not yet fully present. Then, they were to cooperate in bringing the Kingdom of God to completion.

Paul, in writing to the Church at Galatia, reminds the gentiles that the Gospel preached to the Children of Abraham contained within it the promise that through them, all nations would be blessed (Galatians 3:8). The scriptural promise is fulfilled in that Abraham becomes the father of many nations.

While each nation has: allotted periods and boundaries, as well as the call to seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him (Acts 17:26-27), scripture also calls us to use great care in recognizing that we are citizens of heaven. Thus, we are never to place nation over God, or over the Holy Church, or over our call to first a foremost find our way toward God.

So, our Church set out to do exactly that. We honor heritage and all nations as a gift and as a means by which we find our way to God and build His kingdom.

Instructive in the way God works through nations is our first reading. Cyrus was called by God to free the people of Israel. Cyrus did not know God. As ruler over many nations he saw many gods and forms of worship. Cyrus himself likely worshiped Marduk. Yet, God used him and his nation to free and restore Israel.

Jesus understood that we will be established in nations as a means by which the Gospel is known and experienced. No one nation is good, and in all cases, we are to maintain perspective. Practical societal requirements (like taxes), are not what is important. Our growth in knowing God, appreciating His gits, and in building His kingdom, which has no coins, is what matters.

You
have it.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.

In the days prior to the first Pentecost, Jesus’ followers were in one place together. In the upper room they followed a single command and awaited a single promise. Jesus enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father.” So they did.

What exactly were they waiting for?

When Peter spoke to the gathered masses from every corner of the world, he quoted, as Paul does in writing to the Corinthians, from the Prophet Joel. The outpouring of the Spirit, the promise of the Father was for everyone: slaves and free, young and old, male and female. Paul calls it the gifts for everyone, different and varied – for the benefit of all. They awaiting ‘having it.’

The advent of the Spirit means that we, along with every Christian, have been endowed, gifted, given, granted, and provided with true power, commissioning, and strength for the work of God. The gift of the Spirit pulls us together to share in the ministry of witness and proclamation. We have it.

That witness and proclamation is simple and straightforward. It is sweet to the ears of those who feel so rejected and put aside; not just by outward prejudice and hatred, but also by inner questioning and doubt. Here is what to say:

The Kingdom of God is here, come take part. The Kingdom of God is for you. There are gifts awaiting you and an inheritance as well. God is ready to bless you with His Spirit, for His work. God, and I, value you beyond any label – world given or self-imposed.

Pentecost power is knowledge that we have it and a call to action. We possess a gift, perhaps several, for the benefit of all. The Spirit of God came to the apostles and disciples suddenly and disturbingly, as the sound of a violent wind and tongues of fire. So it should be with us. Let us allow that strong driving wind to knock the dust off our gifts. Let it burn away our storage shelves. Let the gifts we have stored fall from their closets and break open into the world. Seeing them new again, let us set to work for some benefit.

Growing, learning,
blazing forth.

I remind you, to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.

St. Paul wrote these words to his beloved co-worker, Timothy, who helped Paul by co-authoring and/or delivering six of Paul’s letters. He was addressed directly in two others. Timothy was originally from Lystra in Lycaonia, the son of a Greek father and a Christian mother. Paul commended Timothy’s sincere faith and mentions that the same faith was previously alive in Timothy’s grandmother Lois and mother Eunice. This is a great testimony to the power of family and its example in the Christian life. Timothy joined Paul around 49 AD and worked with him throughout his life. Timothy was with Paul and Silvanus when they first established Christian communities in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth. After training Timothy, and seeing his faith, gifts, and his family’s example, he ordained him as chief pastor and bishop of his community.

As with Timothy, God has placed a gift in each of us. But, like coals burning under the ashes, sometimes God’s gift remains hidden. The challenge is to reveal and awaken it. How to do it?

Jesus spoke of mustard seeds several times. This small seed, this life filled ember, needs to be nurtured and grown. Jesus asks us to have at least faith like that seed. In prayer we help that faith to grow, to become a large bush in which the world can find refuge. We turn it from a smoldering ember to a blazing fire. That fire causes us to do more than the minimum God asks, it helps us in becoming God’s saint heroes.

By praying and in worship we begin to discern the gift God has placed in us. We awaken it and help it to grow into something that is so much more. This is our contribution to the process.

Others also contribute by awakening the gift of God in us. When we look at ourselves, it can happen that we only see what we lack. That leads to discouragement. When someone looks at us with trust, it can transform us. That is how Timothy discovered his gifts – through his grandmother and mom who had planted the seed and encouraged him, and through Paul who trusted him. This is how his mustard seed of faith grew into a blazing fire of witness.

God is the One who awakens His gift in us. God believes in us and trusts us for what we are. God himself has given us “a spirit of strength, love and self-control” He has given us the inner strength to dare to give our life for others, to grow our small seeds and to blaze forth; to encourage all we meet so their flame of faith may grow.