So I dusted off the guitar and tuned it up. I printed out the music and started practicing. I realized it had been a while - the fingers didn't move as easily as they had years ago, and the calluses on my fingers had long since softened. But I kept at it, and on Sunday, I got to play in the band. I admit, I missed a few chords, got lost more than once, and the chords I played were not always right, but as I often say, "Grace Abounds!" No, it was not a stellar event, and no one rushed the stage or asked for my autograph afterwards (not like that was going to happen anyway!). But it was good to be a part of the band. Together we made music as an offering to God, and led the congregation in worship.
We all have gifts we can offer - everyone of us. These are gifts from God. We give thanks to God for what God has done for us by using these gifts to share the message of God's great love and forgiveness with others. The American writer - Henry David Thoreau, spoke about the responsibility that comes with our having received talents and abilities from God. He retold today's parable to get at this point:
Once there was a king who had three sons, each with a special talent. The first had a talent for growing fruit. The second for raising sheep. And the third for playing the violin. Once, the king had to go overseas on important business. Before departing he called his three sons together and told them he was depending on them to keep the people contented in his absence. Now for a while things went well. But then came the winter, a bitter and cruel winter it was. There was an acute shortage of firewood. Thus the first son was faced with a very difficult decision. Should he allow the people to cut down some of his beloved fruit trees for firewood? When he saw the people shivering with cold, he finally allowed them to do so.
The second son was also faced with a difficult decision. Food became very scarce. Should he allow the people to kill some of his beloved sheep for food? When he saw the children crying for hunger, his heart went out to them and he allowed them to kill some of the sheep.. Thus the people had firewood for their fires, and food for their tables.
Nevertheless the harsh winter continued to oppress them. Their spirits began to sag, and there was no one to cheer them up. They turned to the fiddler, but he refused to play for them. In the end things got so bad that in desperation many of them emigrated.
Then one day the king arrived back home. He was terribly sad to find that many of his people had left his kingdom. He called in his three sons to give an account of what had gone wrong. The first said, "Father, I hope you won't be mad at me, but the winter was very cold and so I allowed the people to cut down some of the fruit trees for firewood." And the second son said, "Father, I hope you won't be mad with me because when food got scarce I allowed the people to kill some of my sheep." On hearing this, far from being angry, the father embraced his two sons, and told them that he was proud of them. Then the third son came forward carrying his fiddle with him.
"Father", he said, "I refused to play because you weren't here to enjoy the music." "Well then", said the king, "play me a tune now because my heart is full of sorrow." The son raised the violin and bow, but found that his fingers had gone stiff from lack of exercise. No matter how hard he tried, he could not get them to move. Then the father said, "You could have cheered up the people with your music, but you refused. If the kingdom is half-empty, the fault is yours. But now you can no longer play. That will be your punishment." (Henry David Thoreau)
I shared this story in a sermon at my previous church. I know at least one person was listening to me. She stopped on the way out of church and said to me, "I used to play the violin when I was in college, but I haven't played since. The story you shared in your sermon was like God speaking to me, that I need to get out my violin and play for church. Do you think I can play with the praise band?" Yes, yes you can! And she did. And she still does. And what a blessing that was and is to the congregation, and to God! Because she broke out the violin again, this inspired her daughter to take up the violin as well.
I have had other people hear the invitation to use their gifts for the church to give thanks and praise to God. The junior high girl who asked if she could dance in church. While it had never been done before in that church, we made the arrangements and it happened. And what a beautiful dance it was. Then there was the third grader in another church I served who had been taking guitar lessons, and when he heard me mention using your gifts for the church (another person listening to the sermon!), he asked his Mom and Dad if he could play in our praise band. We had to make arrangements for rehearsals with him so it wasn't past his bed time, but we made it work. He was better than most of us, and played a few solo parts in our songs. The local newspaper even ran an article on him!
I share these stories with you to encourage you to consider what you can give back to God in praise and thanksgiving. We do this in response to what God has first given us - ourselves, our time and our possessions - all signs of God's gracious love. What about you? Want to join the band, or the choir, or handbells, or the puppets or the drama team or the sound tech team or...? (I could go on and on.) We would love to have you be a part of the team As one theologian put it, find what brings you the greatest joy, and seek to use it to address the world's greatest need. I believe as a church, we are called to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the message the world needs to hear. May we work together, using our gifts to share the message.