December 19, 2021, I had the privilege of hearing this sermon in person at the beautiful 175 year old Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church in Wilmington, NC.
This sermon is shared here with permission by the author: Pastor Bill Adams
Dr. Oswald Golter was a missionary to China more than 60 years ago. After World War II he was asked to leave that country. So his missionary society wired him a ticket and Dr. Golter made his way to India to catch a ship home to America. While he was there he noticed that there were many Jews living in the area–in attics and sheds and barns. They were there because India was one of the few countries in the world that welcomed the Jews following the War. And Dr. Golter was excited to see them and went around and greeted them.
It was Christmastime and he said to them “Merry Christmas to you!” And they said “We’re Jews.” “Well, I know,” said Dr. Golter, “but Merry Christmas anyway.” “I tell you,” they responded, “we’re Jews. We don’t celebrate Christmas.” “I know” he said, “but if you did, what would you want for Christmas?” “Well if we did,” they replied, “then we probably would want some fine German pastries.” So Dr. Golter cashed in his ticket home and found a shop that sold fine German pastries. Then he bought up boxes and boxes of pastry. He took it back to the barns and attics and sheds and handed it out to the Jews saying, “Merry Christmas to you. Merry Christmas.”
Years later that story was told when Dr. Golter was being introduced to speak at a seminary gathering. As he got up to the microphone a young seminarian stood up and said to Dr. Golter, “I can’t believe you did that. Those people aren’t Christians. They don’t even believe in Jesus Christ!” Dr. Golter nodded his head and said, “I know.” Then he added, “But I do.” (modified from a note by Rev. King Duncan)
There’s a lesson in this for us as we go about our daily lives in an unbelieving world. We are not to live as the rest of the world does – we’re to live as we are led by Christ, even when it seems like something that most people wouldn’t do.
We’re different! We’re children of God and we’re supposed to be different!
Nicholas was born of wealthy parents in 280 AD in a small town called Patara in Asia Minor. He lost his parents early by an epidemic but not before they had instilled in him the gift of faith. Then little Nicholas went to Myra and lived there a life full of sacrifice and love and the spirit of Jesus.
Nicholas became so Christlike that when the town needed a bishop he was elected. He was imprisoned for his faith by Emperor Diocletian and released later by Emperor Constantine.
There have been many stories of his generosity and compassion: how he begged for food for the poor, and how he would give girls money so that they would have a dowry to get a husband. The story most often repeated was about how he would put on a disguise and go out and give gifts to poor children. He gave away everything he had. And in the year 314, he died. His body was later moved to Italy where his remains are to this day.
But the story of Nicholas has spread around the world. There are more churches in the world named after St. Nicholas than any other person in all the history of the church.
People have done strange things to his memory. The poet, Clement Moore, gave him a red nose and eight tiny reindeer. Thomas Nast, the illustrator, made him big and fat and gave him a red suit trimmed by fur. Others have given him names like Belsnickle, Kris Kringle, and Santa Claus. But what’s important about him is that he had the mind of Christ. Because of his gentle selfless love, he touched the whole world. And this same mind of Christ can be in us. (modified from a note by Rev. James S. Hewett)
As I pondered St. Nicholas’ life, it occurred to me that we really don’t follow in his footsteps. By the world’s standards, we are wealthy. And the people we give gifts to are wealthy. This was not the ministry of Nicholas –he ministered to those who were poor and needy. We each need to consider what we can do to make our gift giving more like that of St. Nicholas.
Sermon: Using Our Gifts
If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.John 13:32-35
We’ve all been thinking a lot about gifts lately, especially what gifts we’d like to get for the people we love. Some of us may have been thinking about the gifts we’ll be getting.
We love gifts. Some of us dream about getting a great gift in life – that’s why so many people play the lottery. They want to invest little and get a lot. They think, wouldn’t it be great if I won a million dollars? What a gift that would be! Well, maybe it would be great, but maybe not. Not everyone has the same idea of great. One person’s wish may be another’s person’s nightmare.
Take, for example, the story of three men who were sailing together in the Pacific Ocean. Their vessel was wrecked and they found themselves on an island. They had plenty of food, but their existence was in every way different from what their lives had been in the past.The men were walking by the seashore one day after they had been there for some months and they found an old lantern. One man picked it up, and as he rubbed it to clean it off, a genie popped out. The genie said, “Well, since you have been good enough to release me, I will give each of you one wish.”
The first man said, “Oh, that’s perfectly marvelous. I’m a cattleman from Wyoming and I wish I were back on my ranch.” Poof! He was back on his ranch.
The second man said, “Well, I’m a stockbroker from New York, and I wish that I were back in Manhattan.” Poof! He was back in Manhattan with his papers, his telephones, his clients and his computers.
The third fellow was somewhat more relaxed about life and actually enjoyed life there on the island. He said, “Well, I am quite happy here. I just wish my two friends were back.” Poof! Poof! And so they were. Everybody’s idea of a good thing isn’t the same! But wouldn’t we all like to have a little more money? Don’t many Americans sit around thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great …if I won the lottery…if I had my dream house…if I was famous….?” We know its true. That’s why lotteries make so much money for the state.
But as Christians…as the people of God…what if instead of wishing for money or fame or success or more “things,” we would just wish with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength that we could love the Lord and our neighbor as ourselves? A wish like that could change the world.
This morning I’m going to talk about the gift of love – it’s a gift that God gives to us and the gift we offer back to Him.
Jesus was a gift of love to mankind. God didn’t have to send Jesus. He could have just let us go on killing and mistreating each other. He could have just let mankind remain ignorant of his love for people.
But, because of God’s love, Jesus came to earth and he literally loved us until his death. On the last night he was on earth, he washed the disciple’s feet, shared a meal with them and then taught them.
And one of his last teachings that night was about God’s love. It is our scripture for this morning from John 13:32-35.
You know, out of his love for us, God gives each one of us talents and gifts. The other day amid all of the Christmas music on the radio I heard Handel’s “Messiah.” What a gift that music is for all time.
Handel was a gifted man. He learned to play the harpsichord by age 7 and was composing music by age nine. His father opposed his gift of music – he wanted young George to become a lawyer. But when the dad went off to work, George’s mother made him practice.
George was obedient to his father, and he entered law school. But after his father died, he abandoned law. He kept true to his gift and became an organist at the Protestant Cathedral. There his talent quickly began to blossom.
God definitely gave Handel a gift and thank heavens he chose to use it! Today, we still recognize Handel’s gifts and are blessed by his efforts.We also need to remember and recognize that God’s gift of talent to Handel was a gift of love to us. Just imaging how much poorer we’d be if he’d stuck with law.
Each person here this morning also has God-given gifts. They may not be a great as Handel’s but you have them. God makes each one of us unique.
But so often we fail to recognize our gifts. We have to discover them. And once we do, we have to use them.
History shows us that people who have achieved greatness using their gifts had to persevere. Your gifts may not even be recognized until you’re gone. How many starving artists never achieved fame in their life times but are now considered to be great?
Robert Frost, one of the greatest poets, wrote poetry for twenty years without fame or success. He was 39 years old before he sold a single volume of poetry. Today his poems have been published in over twenty languages and he won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry four times.
When Enrico Caruso, the great Italian tenor, took his first voice lesson, the instructor thought he was hopeless. He said his voice sounded like wind whistling through a window. Today, he is recognized as perhaps the greatest tenor who ever lived.
So, if the world has failed to recognize your talents, you’re in good company. When God gives us a gift, He doesn’t want us to just sit and admire it, he wants us to use it.
One of the ways we can be happy in life is to keep using the gifts God has given us. If you have been gifted in music or math, you’ll probably never be happy driving a cab. If you have great hand-to-eye coordination and athletic skills, you probably won’t be satisfied with a desk job. In so many ways, our happiness depends on us using our gifts.
But what if we don’t use our gifts? Not only will we risk our happiness, the Kingdom of God will lose out on what we could have done. It will miss out on all the love and beauty we could have shared.
As Christians, it’s our job to love and to help other people. God loves us not because we are lovable, but because He is love. Nowhere in scripture does Jesus give us a pass on loving other people – any kind of people.
Even though Judas was going to betray Jesus, Jesus loved him. Jesus even washed his feet. He told us we’re to love our enemies. God wants all of us to use his gifts and love to change our world. God needs our gifts and love to help make his kingdom the reality we live in each day. Because life in the Kingdom of God is not created by just a few people. God’s Kingdom is made up of all of His people.
Because God loves us God has given us gifts and it’s up to us to use them. We are each unique and we each have value. God didn’t craft you carefully for you to live casually. You’ve been wondrously made to do wondrous things!
And so use the gifts God has given you. Don’t worry about the particulars. If you’ve built a wall around yourself, tear it down and become available to God.
Remember, God has given all of us the greatest gift – the gift of Himself through Jesus. He made Himself available to us because we cannot save ourselves.
Because He made Himself available, and because He made Himself an offering on our behalf, we have salvation. Our sinful thoughts and acts are forgiven.
In thanks, we need to take our everyday, ordinary lives and place them before God as an offering. We should serve God because we want to. And when we do, we’re operating out of our strongest gift – our love.
Remember the story of the boy who offered his loaves and fishes. They were offered as a gift to God and God multiplied them. Five loaves and two fishes were multiplied to feed over 5,000 with leftovers to boot.
But that’s what God does with gifts that are being used; He multiplies them and does even greater things!
God offered the gift of salvation to Charlie Soong in this very place. Charlie Soong then carried that gift to China and used it to change the world for millions of people. God multiplied his efforts!
No matter where we are in life, or what situation we’re in, we can contribute to God’s Kingdom. God needs every gift in this room to be used to advance His Kingdom.
God needs you and me. If we don’t open the gifts God gave to us out of love, things will not be changed. Don’t leave His gift unopened. It’s one of the most special gifts you’ve ever received.
So, this Christmas go ahead and open His gift, give thanks, and offer your own loaves and fishes up to heaven! Give the gift of yourself to God.
Open the gifts He has given you and use them and just watch what God will do. I think you will be amazed.
In the name of Jesus – who was, and lives, and is to come. Amen.
For more inspiration, visit 5th Avenue United Methodist Church in person on Sundays at 10:30AM at 409 South Fifth Avenue, Wilmington, NC.