Let me open up some scripture to you (it will be relevant, promise). I preached on Romans 12:1-8 this morning.
The context matters here: Paul has spent much of the preceding eleven chapters sketching out his theology for a congregation that didn’t know him. This is preparatory for a planned visit so he can raise funds to expand his mission into Spain. So having introduced himself and his thought, in chapter 12, he’s making the transition to: so what? How does any of this change lives?
Paul starts with an exhortation to the Roman congregation: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” This is, not to put too fine a point on it, ballsy. Remember, he’s writing to people in the capital, the very heart of the empire. And the empire requires sacrifice to its gods—including the emperor—at the cost of life for refusal. Disregard the haters and losers, he says. Make the real sacrifice: lay your body down for God in Christ. The nerve of some people!
But—and this is a very important but!—Roman sacrifice was understood explicitly in terms of winners and losers. It was a domination game. Winners made sacrifices, losers got sacrificed. This kept the world properly ordered. And Paul just stands that on its head. Don’t be the dominant winner, he says. Be the loser. Be the sacrifice, like Jesus was the sacrifice. All of this, says Paul, is “spiritual” worship, or logical worship—the word is actually logikē in the Greek—the rational result of worship. If you have faith in the God of Christ, this is where it leads you: to laying down your life for the good of others.
It’s more than just getting yourself killed, of course. Paul says: don’t get uppity about it, but you all have gifts and talents, given by God for the betterment of the people of God. We don’t all have the same gifts or talents, and that’s a good thing. We all have different roles, and different strengths to bring to them.
Then Paul rattles off a list of gifts: prophecy (interpreting God’s will), ministry, teaching, exhortation (coaching, more or less), giving, leading, compassion. Don’t worry if you don’t have any of these gifts. There are others. Paul’s just giving a bunch of “for instances.”
Point is, we all have some way to build up the community, and it’s up to us to figure out what that is, and start using it. If you’ve ever had developmentally disabled folks in worship with you, you know that even just a smile can be a gift. I’ve know many people who could “only” give the church the gift of cutting grass or sweeping up or putting hymnals away. It’s all good.
So I told the congregation: find what you’re good at and do it. Tell others what their gifts are. Accept the compliment when it’s given. Because God wants:
- All of your hearts.
- All of your minds.
- All of your spirits.
- All of your bodies. Not for himself, but for the good of the community, because God also gives all of these away to the beloved children of God.
So now, here’s the relevant part, the part you’ve been waiting for.
You ever wonder why Trump seems so fershlugginer incompetent? He, after all, is a baptized Christian. Shouldn’t he have received his share of gifts and talents? Well, yes. But remember, those are gifts and talents to be used to build up the body of Christ. The gifts aren’t ours, and they’re not reason for us to boast. In fact, boasting is one way to know the gift isn’t from God. So is using the gift for your own benefit, rather than that of others. This is precisely where Trump fails.
Because he is so broken, such a damaged and self-serving person, there is never any thought about using what he’s been given for others. He didn’t go into business to help people, he went into it to get rich, to get praised, and to get laid, not necessarily in that order. Trump’s one constant throughout his life is the dominance game: it’s always zero-sum with this guy. I win, you lose. He didn’t go into the presidency with any thought of service or making his supporters’ lives better. He could give two shits. He cares even less about helping people who are—oh, I don’t know—being drowned in a catastrophic flood? They’re an abstraction. It is always and ever will be about his own domination of the world around him. He wouldn’t know from sacrifice.
The result of this brokenness is that any gift, any talent, any tiniest drop of goodness that he might have been given—they’re all concealed, unused. You can’t be good at anything if you’re too short-sighted and insecure to cooperate with others. That’s Trump.
No, if anything, Trump’s powers are demonic, originating the organized chaos that arises in opposition to God’s plan of love, because the demonic is blind, unreasoning, unthinking except insofar as what this has to do for me. To paraphrase that great prophet Declan McManus, Trump wants what no one can: he wants to know the names of all those he’s better than.
That’s the voice of evil. As long it has possession of him, Trump’s bound to be a failure, because he can’t use his God-given gifts. We, our nation, God help us, put that in charge of the government. All those Republicans thought they were getting an alpha dog leader, but they didn’t realize he would hump their legs, too. America did not use its sober judgment, as Paul might say. It did not give logical worship or discern the will of God. It putzed.
We’re experiencing the judgment for that failure right now. “Good luck!” he says, as a city drowns.
Yet, there is good news, which is you still have gifts and talents, and the means to use them for good of your community. And having been given them, you should use them. You ought, for you can.
- You can donate to relief efforts for Houston. Suggested agencies are floating around. (Church groups typically give 100% to relief, no overhead or management fees.)
- You can help people register to vote. You can drive them to the polls.
- You can form a community of support for vulnerable people.
- You can meet people who are deeply different than you, and listen to them.
- In a thousand and one ways, you can resist the demonic forces that divide us one from another and focus us on our wants and desires.
- You can go to town hall meetings. You can write letters to the editor. You can talk to your neighbors. (Comforting the widower next door is as surely a political act as anything I do on Twitter.)
- You can discern the will of God, and interpret it for those who will listen. You can minister to the needs of the people.
- You can teach people the truth, and what is right and wrong. You can coach them to do more and better.
- You can give and give and give, because it really is true: you can’t take it with you.
- You can lead with diligence and expect other leaders [cough cough] to do the same.
- If nothing else, you can be Little Miss Sunshine, a ray of cheerfulness and compassion.
Anyway, those are just examples. If you’ve got other ideas for how to use gifts and talents, feel free to drop them in a response. End of. Go and do likewise. Make a real sacrifice. Amen.+ + +