What are your sealed orders? – Ps 139: 1-6,13-17, 1 Cor 12: 1-18
I don’t know how many of you enjoy doing jigsaws. I’m one of those people who can get addicted. I have strategies of finding all the pieces with straight edges to go around the outside, and then looking for bits of a particular colour or texture so that the seemingly impossible task of fitting it all together can be accomplished. This morning I’ve given you each a piece of a jigsaw, and I’m inviting you to consider it for a moment. I’m wondering what you can tell me about your piece…?
Unique, only piece like this, part of bigger whole, etc…
One of the messages of that wonderful Psalm 139 is the unique way each of us is made. There are some pretty radical claims made that somehow there is a guiding hand at work in our very conception and the way we are knitted together. It isn’t pure chance that you are you and I am I. The poetic images tell of a power at work within our very DNA, and even I think within the family and community that nurtured the sort of person we are. I say this is a radical idea because it is in stark contrast to the prevailing narrative of our modern world which proclaims its all chance, luck, and genetics. The prophet Jeremiah who struggled with understanding his life was comforted by these words of God. “
I’m inviting you to hold your little unique piece of jigsaw and hear the words of the prophet Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” (Jer 1:5) Jeremiah struggled with depression and sometimes could see nothing of value in his life so these words were of comfort to him.
The Holy Spirit of God was somehow there as the first cells that were you came together, and somehow within your very DNA the Spirit was at work creating the very unique being that you are, and dedicating you to your unique holy purpose.
One way a modern mystic and healer, Agnes Sanford pictured this was that before we were born each of us were given what she called ‘Sealed Orders’. It was as if right at the beginning God sealed within us a unique way of sharing love with the world. I should explain these sealed orders are not commands, but are an invitation to live out your true purpose. They are not something we are commanded to do, but invited to be. In our protestant tradition we would call these sealed orders our calling. Sometimes we talk of ministers being called but actually in our tradition we believe each of us is called….each of us has a divine dream within our being, a dream that will help heal the world. Frederick Buechner, the wise American author said, “the place God calls you is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
These ‘Sealed Orders’ or what God invites you and me are embedded somehow within us. If we can discover these we will lead a meaningful life and we will be deeply at peace with ourselves because we are in harmony with our true purpose. People who never discover their sealed orders are invariably unhappy and unfulfilled. Dr Bernie Siegel tells the story of a man who wanted to be a violinist but instead became a lawyer in order to please his parents. He developed a brain tumour and was given a year to live. He decided to spend his last year doing what he really wanted. He quit law and devoted himself to playing the violin. A year later he had a job as a violinist in a concert orchestra and the brain tumour was gone.
Sadly often in our modern world people see a job as a means to get money rather than the way we might live out their our dream. It is a huge factor in the discontent seen in the modern world and we would do well to talk of calling and life purpose much more often, but I guess if you remove any idea of God beyond us or guiding power calling and purpose become problematic .
You might think that God would make it easy to discover our sealed orders but for some reason that is not so. I think that has something to do with our separation from God as human beings. We who live east of Eden will have to work to discover our true reason for being – our ‘Sealed Orders.’
I think we start discovering our ‘Sealed Orders’ when we ask the question, ‘what is the unique way I was created to share love with the world?’
We start getting in touch with our ‘Sealed Orders’ when we notice the things we get most absorbed in life, or the things that bring joy and fulfillment in our lives.
There are other ways we can get a glimpse of our sealed orders. Consider these questions….”who are our heroes and why?”, (“what creature or living thing in nature do you feel drawn to?”) “If you had only one year to live and unlimited resources what would you like to do?”, (“what do you have to do?”) “what activities bring you a deep sense of peace and joy?”, “when do you feel most alive in your body?”, and “what do your friends see as your unique way of giving love?”. It’s interesting but if you are observant you’ll see these sealed orders on display even in children as you watch them play and if you carefully observe what catches their attention. Even before birth in many cultures of our world there will be some clue as to what to call a new baby so in our scriptures often someone’s name gives a clue to their sealed orders. Jesus’ name was revealed before his birth – it means savior. Others get a name change along the way like Peter, the Rock.
There are other ways to discover our life meaning. I’m not suggesting we go looking for death but people who have near death experiences and claim they meet up with the Presence of Light and Love invariably have a much clearer sense of mission in life. They seem to glimpse their purpose and are empowered by love to live it out. An encounter with God will often reveal something of our meaning and purpose. Looking at our unique being through the lens of tools like the enneagram can give us clues. I think a core purpose of a church community is helping one another see more clearly our sealed orders. I don’t think we usually do it well. Like society around us we are good at seeing faults in one another and we all have those. What we need is more people who encourage and name what we see as our friend’s way of giving love to the world. People like John the Baptist who refused to claim the crown of Messiah but instead pointed to Jesus and said “he’s the one who has come to heal the world.”
Paul doesn’t talk about sealed orders or ways we can share love – he uses another term – spiritual gifts. In a number of his letters he says we need to learn what our spiritual gifts are so we live out our unique lives and can serve God in healing this broken world. He says everyone is gifted somehow, and one of the key functions of church is to help each other discover our spiritual gifts. He names some of these gifts….
Wisdom, trusting, hearing God clearly, healing, encouraging, leadership, administration, teaching, praying, practical helping, offering hospitality. We could add other gifts….
Paul encourages us to discover our gifts or ‘Sealed Orders’ and reminds us that all of us are gifted. Then he says that when people get to know their gifts they need to offer their gifts and use their gifts in service for the healing of the earth. Further he says together as a church family we can we can build a team of ordinary people who know their gifts and together can make a great difference. That’s another reason I’ve given you a piece of a jigsaw. Each of us is just one part and we need each other if we are ever going to put the jigsaw together and create a new picture. Each living out our ‘Sealed Orders’ and sharing love with the world. This healing of the earth is a team game and often it’s the least important pieces that can be the critical pieces in terms of putting it all together. So there is a challenge here…to know our own gifts better, and to help each other know our sealed orders.
A story. The chaplain of a woman’s prison invited a team of spiritual directors to lead a retreat day with the prisoners. The theme of the day was self esteem because that is a huge problem in prison. So many prisoners and other misfits in society believe they have no constructive purpose in life and that leaves them very vulnerable to destructive influences. Low self esteem literally infected these prisoners. They had poor posture; their skin was sallow, their voices thin and their eyes full of fear and doubt. In the afternoon the spiritual directors asked for a volunteer and Kathy raised her hand. She was invited to sit at the front while the other 20 participants were asked to tell Kathy the things they really valued about her. Prison life doesn’t encourage that sort of question but slowly the other women began to name Kathy’s gifts. Someone kept a list of what was said for Kathy to keep. The surprising thing was that as Kathy heard the women list her gifts her entire appearance changed. She sat up straight and her skin began to glow. At the end she was asked how she felt. She said, “there is a warm glow in my heart that is spreading all over me,” and you could see it. The others had helped Kathy discover something of her ‘Sealed Orders – her unique way of sharing love with the world. I’m not about to ask for a volunteer but I am asking you to commit to working harder to be aware of your own gifts and to share with others in our faith communities what you see as their unique way of giving love to others. Instead of seeing faults, see gifts. Name the gifts. Instead of keeping a passive distance take the plunge and affirm the gifts you see. And if you want an extra challenge do it for someone you maybe find it hard to get along with easily. That really gets the Holy Spirit excited!
Dugald Wilson 20 Jan 2019
Background to 1 Corinthians 12:
When Paul came to the city of Corinth around 49 AD he would have found a bustling commercial center of about 80,000 inhabitants. It was a boom town. Athens down the road was a cultural center with a rich history, Corinth was a hive of business and manufacturing opportunity. It was a tourist town and some of that tourism revolved around the temples – one to Aphrodite on the mountain overlooking the city with its sacred prostitutes, another to Apollo, but more popular was the temple of Asklepios, a god of healing. In and around that temple many representations of body parts made of clay have been found indicating people’s thanksgiving gifts for their healing. One of the rituals in this temple was eating the meat offered to the gods and Paul picks up on this issue of eating food offered to idols in one of his later letters to the small Corinthian church.
Paul founded a small Christian community in Corinth during his 18 month stay. Typically he encouraged some with leadership ability like Stephanus, Apollos, Gaius, Erastus, Chloe and Pheobe. Gaius had a large fine house which served as a meeting place for the new group of Jesus followers. However most of the new group which numbered maybe 30 people by the time Paul moved on were of low status. Inevitably this caused issues. When Paul moved on he kept in touch with the communities he founded with letters. His communities would make contact with him about issues they were facing and Paul would offer advice. We have two letters written to the Corinthian Church in our New Testament, but there were more.
As we hear in Paul’s letters the status issue was a repeating core issue. Gaius’s house would have had an elaborate dining room where typically invited guests could recline on couches and enjoy fine hospitality. Adjacent would be a larger open space, the atrium, where other guests were offered standing room and the food offered less lavish. The design of the house and the social customs of the time divided people according to status in ways that were much more divisive than our own society. This division and way of seeing each other inevitably crept into the new group and when the little community came together the well to do ones retreated to the formal dining room for some fine dining while the rest stood around in the atrium and got ecomomy class food. This was anathema to Paul who aims some pretty strong words to the community. This new religion, of Jesus followers, respected and valued every person. Every one was a child of God and women and slaves in particular were drawn to the new community because it offered recognition of them as human beings and it valued the contribution they could make.
We’ll hear some of Paul’s deeper thinking on all this in the passage we are reading from 1 Corinthians today… its about spiritual gifts….the way each of us is wired and the gifts we bring to God’s mission of renewing and healing the earth. ?u*