Spiritual Gifts

By Rev. Jennifer Hageman

Senior Pastor, Trinity United Methodist Church Las Vegas

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

— Ephesians 4:3   In Ephesians 4, Paul argues for the unity of the body of Christ as he also explores the diversity of gifts given to the members of Christ’s body. Through the Holy Spirit, each of us receives spiritual gifts that add a unique contribution to the body and its ministry. Even though the Lord Jesus by his Spirit calls the church from every tribe, tongue, and nation, we try to limit the differences and maximize the similarities — it’s just easier. We don’t have to stretch ourselves. But that is a shame. Over the years I have worshiped and served in ministry side-by-side with persons of other  cultures (such as Hispanic, Korean, Japanese, Native Americans, and African American), homeless, prisoners in a men’s minimum-security prison, senior citizens at a care facility, youth and children. The experiences have shaped me as a person and as a pastor.       In my preparations for coming to you as your pastor, I have learned of your diverse communal life and I am looking forward to experiencing and participating in that diversity as we worship and serve Jesus Christ.   Grace and peace, Pastor Jen    

 Introducing Simon Peter: Flawed but Faithful Disciple

Adam Hamilton February 8, 2019
Highlights from the Introduction of his book “Simon Peter: Flawed but Faithful Disciple”
 
I’ve read the Gospels dozens and dozens of times over the last forty years since I first became a follower of Jesus. Most of the time I was focused on Jesus, as the authors of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John intended. But recently I decided to read through the Gospels paying close attention to Simon Peter. I began to notice just how important a figure he is for each of the Gospel writers. In nearly every episode of Jesus’ life and ministry, Peter is somewhere nearby.

Most of the twelve disciples are scarcely mentioned by name in the Gospels. The disciple believed to be the “beloved disciple,” John, is mentioned about twenty times by name in the Gospels, as is Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, is mentioned twelve times. Thomas the doubter is mentioned ten times. Bartholomew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot (also known as Simon the Cananaean), and Thaddaeus (also known as Judas son of James) are mentioned only three times each. Simon Peter, on the other hand, is mentioned by name over 120 times.

Peter is not only mentioned more often than the other apostles in the Gospels, he is the leading figure among the twelve in the first half of the Acts of the Apostles. And while Peter and Paul had a bit of a rocky relationship at times (see Galatians 2), Paul recognized Peter, or Cephas as he referred to him, as one of the pillars of the church, entrusted with taking the gospel to the Jews. In addition, two New Testament epistles are attributed to Peter. In the centuries following his death, it was Peter, not Paul, who was considered Rome’s first bishop and founding pope.

But what was most fascinating to me as I took a closer look at the Peter stories in the Gospels is that, regardless of the Gospel writer, Peter is nearly always portrayed as a flawed disciple—one who seeks to follow Jesus, yet one who is also confused, afraid, and faltering. So much so that, when his faithfulness mattered most, he denied knowing Jesus.

This stands in contrast to the normal pattern in history where, over time, the less flattering episodes in a beloved figure’s life become minimized or forgotten, and only their more heroic acts remembered. The Gospels, all written after the death of Peter, do just the opposite. They each paint him as a flawed follower of Jesus. Why would they do this with the memory of one of their beloved leaders?

I believe the Gospel writers were comfortable telling these stories because Peter himself told these stories again and again across the last thirty years of his life. I suspect Peter highlighted his own failings, using his shortcomings to connect with the common struggles and failings of ordinary followers of Jesus.

My congregation tells me that the most helpful personal stories I share with them are those where I’ve failed or missed the point. These are the stories my parishioners remember and connect with. In the same way, the stories of Peter’s shortcomings serve to humanize Peter, allowing ordinary Christians to identify with him. And in the end, these stories always help to amplify or in some way clarify the identity, power, or mercy of Christ.

While Simon Peter’s shortcomings are clearly on display in the Gospels, so also are his courage, his determination, his longing to follow Jesus even if it costs him his life. The early church knew how his story ended after his dramatic denial of Jesus on the night Jesus was arrested. Following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, Peter would, in fact, become the rock upon which the church was built. He would carry his cross to follow Jesus. He would lay down his life for the gospel. While in Peter’s flaws Christians might see themselves, they might also see themselves in the moments of Peter’s courage and faithfulness, and ultimately they might see in him a picture of what they might aspire to be when empowered and led by the Spirit.

 
 

Before I die, I want to _____: A Lenten reflection

A UMC.org Feature by Joe Iovino*
 
One day, not far from her home in New Orleans, artist Candy Chang noticed a large abandoned building. “I thought about how I could make this a nicer space for my neighborhood,” she said during her TED Talk, “and I also thought about something that changed my life forever. In 2009, I lost someone I loved very much… Her death was sudden and unexpected. And I thought about death a lot, and this made me feel deep gratitude for the time I’ve had and brought clarity to the things that are meaningful to my life now. But I struggle to maintain this perspective in my daily life. I feel like it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget what really matters to you.”      

A Before I die wall in Hillcrest, San Diego, California        

Candy Chang’s “Before I die…” wall turned an eyesore into art. Photo by Tony Webster [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

With permission from the town and her neighbors, Chang turned the eyesore into a work of art. She covered one side of the house with chalkboard paint. Then, she stenciled a few words on the wall approximately 80 times. The stencil read, “Before I die I want to _____________________.” She put a bucket of chalk near the wall. Before the wall was finished people were stopping by, asking if they could write on it. She reported on the TED Radio Hour that one of the first people to finish the sentence was dressed as a pirate, as people in New Orleans are wont to do. He finished the sentence, “Before I die I want to be tried for piracy.” In her TED Talk, she reads some other things people wrote on the wall.

  • Before I die, I want to straddle the International Date Line.
  • Before I die, I want to sing for millions.
  • Before I die, I want to plant a tree.
  • Before I die, I want to hold her one more time.
  • Before I die, I want to be completely myself.

After playing that clip from her TED Talk, host of the TED Radio Hour Guy Raz, explained, “The power of the ‘Before I die…’ wall is that it actually didn’t make people think about death so much as it made them think about life.” When Chang posted a few photos of the wall online, she was surprised how quickly the idea spread. “My inbox blew up with messages from people around the world who wanted to make a wall with their community.” Today there are more than 1,000 “Before I die…” walls in cities all over the world. Asked about their death, people talked about life, real life, exciting things they would like to do with their lives. People focused on things of life that really matter. In the interview Raz asks Chang what she has learned about death. “I think that contemplating it can lead to a lot of great things,” she says. What a great image for reflection during Lent. Contemplating death can lead to a lot of great things. Jesus taught this to his disciples as he contemplated his own death. Preparing his disciples for his glorification, Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24 CEB). Life, real life, abundant life, comes when we are willing to die to self.

Answers from the Before I die wall in Hillcrest, San Diego, California.        

The power of the “Before I die” wall is that it makes people think about life. Photo by Tony Webster [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Later in her interview with Guy Raz, Candy Chang expounds on the thought. “Contemplating death really clarifies my life and regularly contemplating death,” she continues, “has been a really powerful tool for me to restore perspective and remember the things that make my life meaningful to me.” In a lot of ways, that is exactly what this season of Lent is all about. A time to restore perspective and remember the things that make life meaningful. And so we fast. We give up chocolate or Starbucks or soda, not just to do it. Not to prove anything to anyone or to impress God. We give it up to remind ourselves that those things don’t really matter. Our life in Christ does. We worship on Ash Wednesday reflecting on our sin, asking forgiveness, and seeking to live a new life free from it. We don’t do this for a front row ticket to heaven, but because we know we have short-changed life by living our own way rather than God’s. We receive ashes on the first day of Lent with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We remember our mortality, not to be morbid, but to remember to live for God now, because our life is a precious gift that we should live to the full. Like Candy Chang, we struggle in daily life to maintain a perspective on what gives our lives meaning. “It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget what really matters to you.” Lent invites us to remember what gives our lives life. During these 40 days, how will you restore perspective and remember the gifts you’ve received from the Lord Jesus Christ that make life full and meaningful? Then maybe you’ll be ready to truly live. Before I die, I want to _______. Think about it. *Joe Iovino works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact him by email or at 615-312-3733. This story was first published on February 10, 2016.