In today’s epistle we hear some of the words of encouragement from the great Apostle St. Paul to the Christians of Rome. These words are a beautiful reminder to all of us who are here together to build this mission and spread the Orthodox faith.
What we learn above all else is that it is only possible if every single one of us uses the gifts that God has given us. St. Paul tells us that we are each given gifts according to the grace of God. Some have the gift of prophecy, some have the gift of serving, some have the gift of teaching, some have the gift of exhorting others, some have the gift of contributing financially, some have the gift of helping and yet others have the gift of doing acts of mercy. As we name all of these different gifts it is important to remember that while each of us may have a special gift by the grace of God, it does not mean that we cannot have more than one gift. It also doesn’t mean that we can only focus on one gift and ignore all of the other aspects of ministry. That is not what St. Paul means to say here. Rather, he focuses on the fact that each and every person within the Church has a specific purpose and place within the house of the Lord.
One of the most destructive ideas within the Church is the idea that only the priest ministers, and all of the others are passive recipients of this ministry. The priest plays a role, and the main objective is to help each person within the body of Christ to find and fulfill their role as well. St. Peter teaches us that we are all a part of the royal priesthood, the chosen people of God (1 Peter 2:9). It must be true because Jesus Christ is our high priest and we have all entered into this priesthood by our entrance into the Church through baptism and chrismation. So if we do not minister with the gifts that God has generously given us, the problem is not that God has withheld His mercy and His grace, but we have perhaps not believed that we were meant to serve the Church with these gifts. Our gifts are not simply meant to serve ourselves or our families. They are meant to serve our Church, and that means the people who are here, praying with you.
God made each of us in order to know and to love and to commune with Him. He has also made us to desire to bring others into a loving relationship with the Lord and with His body, which is the Church. We serve Christ as we serve one another.
St. Paul doesn’t stop by listing the gifts within the Church. He goes on to describe the attitude and the temperament of those who use their gifts in the Church. He has this to say...
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, and serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
There are many words of wisdom here; so many wonderful attitudes and actions that we can each practice. This community is a blessing. What can we do to multiply our blessings? Do we love each other with genuine love or simply go through the motions? Do we love each other with brotherly affection, which means, as a family loves each other? Do we outdo each other in showing honor? Do we maintain a healthy zeal for God and His Church? Are we glowing with the radiance of the Holy Spirit? Do we serve the Lord through all of our actions and even our thoughts and words? Are we full of hope and joy as the people of God? Are we patient when others persecute us? Are we constant in our prayers? Do we contribute to the needs of those within the Church? Do we practice warm hospitality? These are just some of the things that we must constantly think about as we try to build a rock solid foundation for this church.
We are still at the beginning of something great as we pray and grow together both spiritually and numerically. We have started off with so many blessings as a mission. Do we get comfortable now or do we challenge ourselves to try to live up to all that the Holy Apostle has put before us? We are at the beginning of something great but God can truly make it special if we are willing to cooperate with the grace of the Holy Spirit. I want to cooperate with the Holy Spirit so that the work that I do will not be wasted. Are we ready to pray humbly every day and to ask “Lord, how can I serve you this day?”
Our Lord says, Without Me, you can do nothing. Our Lord is inviting us to work with Him to use the gifts that He has given us. If we are ready to serve each other and the Lord with genuine love, there is no limit to what we can do, because God is not limited by our human limits. He transcends them and He sees all of our weaknesses, and by His grace He turns them into great strength. He takes what is dark and transforms it with His light. He takes what is lacking and fulfills it by His grace. He takes what is weak and gives it great power. May we learn to love one another and to serve one another, and to compete in our service and our love; because it is not one another that we serve, rather, it is the Lord Himself whom we serve.
May God strengthen and transform each of His servants and allow each of us to overflow with His heavenly blessings! Glory be to God forever AMEN.