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What Color is Your Parachute?
a sermon based on 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
by Rev. Thomas Hall

I ran across a little cartoon this week-the Wizard of Id. Two of the king’s servants are standing in the royal stable. Says one: "I’ve been contemplating a career change." "Oh really?" says the other, "to what?" The other retorts, "To anything up wind."

That’s the response we might get from Moses. The out of town in-laws have come to visit Moses. We know what that’s like-especially if they stay past the holidays. So after a weekend of pleasantries and camel talk, time to get back to work. After all, Moses is the pastor of the largest congregation in town. But since his in-law has stayed yet for another day, Moses invites him to spend a day with him at the office. Maybe he wants his father-in-law, Jethro, to see how busy the ministry really is and take a hint that it’s time to go home.

So when Monday morning rolls around Moses and father-in-law Jethro are up bright and early-Moses has no choice but to get up early because people are already lined up outside his office by 5:30 am. On this particular morning, Moses works straight through his lunch break-person after person comes for counseling from their pastor.

"Pastor Moses, my neighbor’s goats keep eating my tent. Please do something about it." Then a youthful Israelite comes up. "Like ah, Mr. Moses, sir. Like we have this cool desert band-it really rocks-and ah, we were wondering if we could have a concert in the desert amphitheater this Friday?" Right, concert in desert amphitheater Friday.

Why, at day’s end, he has filled two legal pads with requests, with demands, petty complaints, and some really important issues.

Now you’d expect this in-law-who has watched the ministry this entire day to be empathetic about his son-in-law’s busy schedule. After all, he’s just worked from sun up to sun down. The man has tried to help at least one hundred people. Moses is exhausted. He’s thinking he has done a noble think, helping all these people with their problems, spiritual questions and such. In his thinking, all of this hard work has helped to make this world a better place. He’s listened to problems and suggested solutions. We may want to place Moses among greats like Mother Teresa, Julian of Norwich, or Pastor Hall as persons who are really working hard around here. But Jethro looks at Moses’ day in the life of a minister very differently. He looks Moses in the face and says, "Moses, you’re like a son to me, so don’t take this personally, but that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. Standing up here all day from morning till evening, wearing yourself to a frazzle, trying to do all of this work yourself! Didn’t they teach you anything in seminary? Why, Moses, work smarter, not harder."

"Oh," says Moses in a humble sort of way. Scripture says, "Moses took Jethro’s advice." So with his father-in-law’s help, the two of them organized a teamwork approach to ministry. Moses now had trained leaders who did exactly what he used to do. No clergy burn-out. No church splits. No more goats eating other peoples’ tents.

What does this story say about our lives? About the way we are to think about church? The story isn’t about Moses, is it? I think the story is about how weak and puny Moses is to accomplish what needs doing in the world. The story seems to be about how God sends friends to help us do a great work together.

Two Sundays ago, I talked about the need to get a full-time minister. What we really got around to discussing was not the kind of minister who gets a paycheck every two weeks. That’s Moses all over again trying to do it all by himself. No, I was referring to the other full-time ministers-whoever’s left in this church after the paychecks run out. God has called all of us into full-time ministry. Fact is, some of us full-time ministers just don’t look good in a clerical collar. Instead, we’re walking around as dentists, attorneys, grandmas, stay-at-home-moms, quail farmers, dog trainers, teachers, babysitters, and rugby players.

All that to say that God has a mission for every one of us. Do you know what your Mission in life is? There is nothing that can equal the rush of getting out of bed in the morning, going back into the world and knowing why.

So let me begin with a few questions for you to ponder:

1. If God were personally to tell you three things that He wanted your life to stand for, what would they be? What reason can you think of that God might have left you on earth for a few more spins?

2. What legacy does God want you to leave when you leave this world?

I spent some time this week reading a book that has been on the New York Times bestseller list for the past 288 weeks; has sold over 9 million copies and has been placed by one literary organization as in the list of twenty-five most influential books ever in American literature. It is What Color is Your Parachute? By Richard Bolles.

Bolles started out like Moses. A minister and doing a lot of things that he wasn’t particularly good at, but things that somebody had to do. When he lost his job in the early ‘70s, he began to listen closely to God and to his life. It was through this soul-searching that he wrote this book. It’s actually about finding our vocation, or calling instead of finding just a job and a buck.

Three directives come from the book: 1) Find your mission here on earth, which is to become aware that you are standing in the presence of the One who has given you a mission to accomplish. That is, we must know the Missioner before we can discover the Mission. 2) Do what you can, moment by moment, day by day, step by step, to make this world a better place. And the only way we can do that, Bolles’ says, is simply by following the leading of the Holy Spirit. 3) Discover and then begin to use your Talent-or passion-which you came to earth to use.

One recent radio advertisement begins like this: "What do you like to do? Not what you’ve been trained to do or what you went to school to learn to do or what looks good on your resume. But what do you have a passion for?"

To read What Color is Your Parachute is to read our second lesson all over again. Listen to what Paul says about passion:

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit gives them. There are different ways of serving, but the same Lord is served. There are different abilities to perform, but the same God gives ability to all of us for their particular service. All of you are Christ’s body, and each one is a part of it.

God gives us a passion to accomplish our Mission and to leave a legacy. The Bible describes the tools God has equipped us with the word, charisma. Charisma is more than graduating from Miss Manners School or owning a winning smile. Charisma is translated "gifts." What’s interesting is that it comes from the root word, charis, which means "grace." And charis comes from the root word char, which is the word for "joy."

God has equipped us to fulfill the purpose for why we are still here. From the time we were being formed in the womb, God’s purpose for us has been tattooed into our DNA; it’s been scripted into our genes. God’s grace is made specific and unique in our lives through the gifts that he equips us with. Those gifts are nourished and sharpened through our experiences and professional training, maybe, but they ultimately come from God.

God’s grace is like refreshing rain that falls on all of us. And as each droplet is unique, so God’s grace in our lives is unique. And when we allow God’s grace-the rainfall-to refresh us, they become gifts that enable us to be God’s unique people, serving humanity in unique ways! And when we’re offering our unique gifts to God and neighbor, only then can we experience joy at the deepest core of our soul. So I’m beginning to realize that God’s wonderful gifts help us to locate our niche and purpose in this life.

With God’s gifts comes passion to do specific things. In this church, what is your passion? What kinds of activities or actions, that when you’ve done them, is like having "Christmas everyday" because it fills you with such joy? When you are operating in your gift and passion, you will experience maximum effectiveness and minimum weariness.

Have you met people who have passion? I have. A recent one hundred year anniversary homecoming drew folks from all over to a large mainline Presbyterian Church. One person, a minister for twenty-five years, stood up and said, "I owe my earliest sense of God’s calling to Kay." Thanks, Kay." Before the service was done, five people had stood-all of them serving churches as professional clergy-to express their gratitude to Kay.

Who’s Kay? Everyone was wondering. They had had no Kay as a minister, not even as an associate or part-time youth worker. Who’s Kay. When Kay stood up, everyone knew what this was all about. Kay had been stuck back nursery for 55 years. Every Sunday, as everyone went to their classes, as ministers came and went, Kay had prayed for these babies and offered them to God.

I want you to hear this: no one had to beg her to volunteer. It was her passion. It was her breath. It was her Mission in life. Kay, I want to say to you, "Mission accomplished." Thanks.

What is your passion? What will you leave as a legacy? What gift can you bring to make this church and this world a better place-because you have journeyed through life with passion?

I conclude with a statement from G.K. Chesterton. It has lodged in my mind the entire week as I have thought about this sermon. May it inspire you to pursue your passion: "We now have a strong desire for living combined with a strange carelessness about dying. We desire life like water and yet are ready to drink death like wine." We know that we are here to do what we came to do, and we need not worry about anything else. Amen.