ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS May 16, 2023 On this day in 1988, C. Everett Koop, the Surgeon General of the U.S., released a report that stated what most people already knew. The report told America that the addictive properties of nicotine were as powerful as those of heroin or cocaine. Of course, this report didn’t necessarily change anyone’s habits, as previous reports had made little to no difference. Change is hard, and when addictive issues are involved, the change becomes even more challenging.
I think about this today as it relates to our ongoing conversation on the topic of Spiritual Gifts, specifically whether or not we believe these gifts can make any real difference in the world. There is no question that addiction is a serious mental health issue, yet with that said, I believe we have a so-called addiction to hopelessness and powerlessness. We are facing so many crises in our country and world, yet we act as if there is no hope and as if we have no power. From gun violence to immigration, from hatred to the climate crisis, from poverty to an opioid crisis (just to name a few), we bicker about the irrelevant, shrug our shoulders, offer a handful of prayers, but ultimately act as if there is nothing we can do. Not to be too cynical, but there are those who prosper from our hopelessness and powerlessness.
As people of faith who believe in the Pentecost experience, and who believe that with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit come gifts for the common good and for the transformation of the world, why should we feel hopeless or powerless? I’m going to suggest that we already have all the gifts necessary to change this world and bring about healing, reconciliation, justice, and peace. Oh sure, it will require some real change within all of us, including some sacrifice (not a word most of us like to hear). It will require us to cease playing the game of scapegoating the powerless and to no longer be distracted by the nonsense that some want to suggest is a crisis. It needs to be about Jesus, who chose a path paved with nonviolence, kindness, mercy, welcome, and love. When everyone else had chosen to succumb to the path designed by the Roman Empire, a path of quiet passivity and inevitability, Jesus lived his life and shared his gifts in such a way as to reveal something radically different. To show, among other things, that love is the single most powerful force in the universe (remember, scripture says that God is love), and if our gifts are given with the purpose of making real the Kin(g)dom of love in the here and now, then any sense of hopelessness or powerlessness will not ultimately stand.
Now, what I just wrote requires a great deal of faith, and to be perfectly honest, I can’t say I have that faith every single day. Pessimism and despair creep into my heart and mind more than I’d like to admit, yet I read the Gospels and read the stories of those who were faithful to the ways of love throughout history, and what seeks to disempower God’s dream is suddenly disempowered itself. A report 35 years ago told us the truth, but it takes people to bring about real change. God has entrusted with the needed gifts, and even though I might questions God’s wisdom, it appears is if God is suggesting that God trusts us to put those gifts to good use.
Continue to keep Jesus and his grace-filled spirit close by, O God, as I desire to bring my gifts alongside the gifts of others for a purpose much greater than anything I could imagine on my own. I need your encouragement and the persistent conviction modeled in Jesus if I am going to realize the holy potential within me. Amen.