Sermons

11/27/22 Sermon: The Gospel According to Mary Poppins

Sunday, November 27, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
First Sunday of Advent
Preacher: Pastor Day Hefner
watch this service online (readings start around 25:52; sermon starts around 31:08)

I was having dinner recently with my good friend Heidi – and she was giving me grief because I spent a good 20 minutes digging through my bag, trying to get my hands on something I absolutely could not find. I tend to carry a lot of junk with me. But, you see, I have this goofy theory – which I had shared with Heidi – that at the end of the day, there are really two kinds of people in this world: there are the people who always walk around with their handbags and their pockets overflowing with stuff that might be useful… and there are the people who depend on the people with the pockets and the bags to be carrying the useful things that they need. Heh, I definitely belong to the first group – and so does Heidi, for that matter! – we’re sort of like aspiring Mary Poppinses, and I suppose it takes one to know one. 

I hate it when I accidentally buy clothing that has no pockets, because it leaves me feeling weirdly naked and useless. I always have stuff in my pockets, and usually in the same place: on this side, all my keys, my car fob; and on this side, a tube of chapstick, prayer beads, often some hair ties or bobby pins, and at least two pens. It’s always at least two pens because I have my lefty pen (with smooth-writing, quick-drying ink that leaves the side of my hand smudge-free) that I don’t like loaning out, but I don’t want to be stingy or unhelpful if someone around me needs a pen! So I always carry a decoy pen, lol.

It’s very important to me to be helpful and generous. I think these are some of the best gifts that God has given me, and I feel called to put these gifts to use by being a helper and a giver. So I make sure that I am always ready with whatever tools I might need to be as helpful as I can. Among the things I carry in my bag: hand sanitizer, lotion, sunscreen, gum, mints, phone charger, cat stickers (you never know!), stamps, two kinds of painkillers, antacids, (Adderall, but that one’s not for sharing!), notebook paper, a mirror, a mini-screwdriver with interchangeable heads, and a teeny, tiny pair of folding scissors. Among other things!

I always want to be ready to help when the opportunity arises. But just like in our readings for this morning, I never know when that day or hour might be coming – so it is important to wait and to watch and to be prepared. Part of that waiting and preparation is taking stock of my tools – it might mean cleaning out and reorganizing my bag so it doesn’t take me 20 minutes to find something when someone needs it! But it also means being mindful of the tools I carry that aren’t tangible – gifts like compassion and empathy and generosity. It means offering those tools and making them available for whatever God calls me to do with them.

We each have so many gifts with which God has blessed us – both tangible and intangible. And we are each called to offer up our gifts and use them in ways that give glory to God and that show love to our neighbor. When we do these things, whether we realize it or not, we are stepping into the kingdom of God, helping to usher in that kingdom piece by piece. 

This language in our gospel reading about “one will be taken and one will be left” has been so overblown and wildly misinterpreted in various ways that it’s hard not to hear it as a dire proclamation about the end times. But there are actually many opportunities to step outside the daily grind of our lives and into the work of God, many opportunities to be taken by Christ into some small slice of the kingdom that is happening here and now, right in front of us. But it requires us to be watchful and to wait, to have our gifts and tools at the ready, and to be attentive to where the Spirit may be calling us. 

(It will probably be clear from context below, but on this Sunday, we celebrated the gifts and talents of the St. John’s congregation, giving thanks at the culmination of our fall stewardship emphasis. If you’re reading this later and would like to get more of the full effect of this sermon, I encourage you to take a moment right now to consider your own gifts: What are your talents and passions? How are you already using these things to serve others and/or your faith community? Where do you sense the Spirit might be inviting you to step further into one of your gifts or to offer it to help others? I invite you to write these things down, and then to use the prayer below to offer them to God with thanksgiving.)

That is something I’d like to do this morning in a real, tangible way. Everyone should have gotten a copy of our One Body, Many Gifts survey, if you haven’t filled it out yet. I’d like to give you a few minutes now to complete it. Each of you hopefully also grabbed some kind of tool from the basket on your way in. Heh, we’re hearkening back to the goofy little skit we did with the tools to kick off our stewardship emphasis. 

But today I also want it to be a symbol for each of us: a reminder that each and every person here is an extraordinary and gifted child of God, and that each and every one of us brings gifts and tools to the table that the body of Christ needs. So when you’re finished with your survey (you can hand it off to me or to an usher), I want to invite you to bring your tool forward and place it up here in God’s toolbox, to offer it up with the silent prayer on the little slip of paper you got with your tool. And then at the end, we will gather all these gifts up in prayer.

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Individual prayer:
Loving and gracious God, you have been so good and generous to me. Thank you for the unique gifts and talents and resources and abilities with which you have blessed me. Help me to remember always that my presence matters, that I am a part of the body of Christ, and that I have something valuable to contribute. I offer you today the gifts that you have first given me. Help me to listen for your voice and to answer your call. May all these gifts be used for your glory; and may they be a witness to others of your glorious kingdom to come. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Prayer together:
God of abundance, we bring before you with thanksgiving the precious fruits of your creation, the many gifts and tools and talents that you have entrusted to us. Teach us patience and hope as we watch for you and wait for your invitation to join in the kingdom work. As you have blessed us with your gifts, let these gifts in our hands become blessing for others. May our gifts and our vocations joyfully point the way toward the coming of your kingdom and toward the coming of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, in whose name we pray.
Amen.

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