Just What Do We Do

Given on April 25, 2010

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Old Testament Scripture: Exodus 39: 1-14 from The Message

1 Vestments. Using the blue, purple, and scarlet fabrics, they made the woven vestments for ministering in the Sanctuary.  Also, they made the sacred vestments for Aaron, as God had commanded Moses.

2-5 Ephod.  They made the Ephod using gold and blue, purple, and scarlet fabrics and finely twisted linen.  They hammered out gold leaf and sliced it into threads that were then worked into designs in the blue, purple, and scarlet fabric and fine linen.  They made shoulder pieces fastened at the two ends.  The decorated band was made of the same material—gold, blue, purple, and scarlet material, and of fine twisted linen—and of one piece with it, just as God had commanded Moses.

6-7 They mounted the onyx stones in a setting of filigreed gold and engraved the names of the sons of Israel on them, then fastened them on the shoulder pieces of the Ephod as memorial stones for the Israelites, just as God had commanded Moses.

8-10 Breastpiece.  They made a Breastpiece designed like the Ephod from gold, blue, purple, and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen.  Doubled, the Breastpiece was nine inches square.  They mounted four rows of precious gemstones on it.

First row: carnelian, topaz, emerald.

11 Second row: ruby, sapphire, crystal.

12 Third row: jacinth, agate, amethyst.

13-14 Fourth row: beryl, onyx, jasper.

The stones were mounted in a gold filigree. The twelve stones corresponded to the names of the sons of Israel, twelve names engraved as on a seal, one for each of the twelve tribes.

Mini-lesson: The Ephod & the Crafters

This week I stumbled into new knowledge.  While reading the assignment and the lectionary, I discovered the ephod.  I had no idea what it was so went to work on learning more about it.  The new information led to a connection of ideas between the small group study and the lectionary.

An ephod is a garment that is worn by the high priests of the Israelites.  I researched it on the internet and could not resist the graphic you see on the cover of the bulletin.  The ephod was also a communication device between the priests and God.

The breastplate of the ephod was adorned with twelve gems, each representing one of the tribes of Israel.  When a question was asked of God, the shining light of the various gems became God’s message because each gem had special meaning.  (On the back of the bulletin is the list of gems and their meanings.)

The look of the ephod looks so much like the scapular that is worn by local licensed pastors that it really captured my attention.  The various images I found on the internet also connected it to the vestments worn by priests, deacons and ministers.

But another surprise was the inclusion of the memory ribbon.  The term ephod was written under the picture of the blue memory ribbon.  This sent me on another search—a list of all memory ribbons.  The only list I found was one of various cancers; I had no idea that each type of cancer had its own color-coded memory ribbon.

I suppose I should not have been surprised because Haven posted a picture of a memory ribbon, or ephod, which was designed by another thyroid cancer patient and it had three colors:  pink, dark blue and teal in gemstones.

This all takes me to one more point—the skill of the craftsmen who created the ephod.  Whether the craftsmen were hammering the gold into thin threads for the priests’ ephods or whether the craftsperson is someone who enjoys beading and making jewelry today, the talent they possess is God-given and is one more way of serving others with love.

New Testament Scripture: Acts 9:36-43 from The Message

36-37 Down the road a way in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha, “Gazelle” in our language.  She was well-known for doing good and helping out.  During the time Peter was in the area she became sick and died.  Her friends prepared her body for burial and put her in a cool room.

38-40 Some of the disciples had heard that Peter was visiting in nearby Lydda and sent two men to ask if he would be so kind as to come over. Peter got right up and went with them.  They took him into the room where Tabitha’s body was laid out.  Her old friends, most of them widows, were in the room mourning.  They showed Peter pieces of clothing the Gazelle had made while she was with them.  Peter put the widows all out of the room.  He knelt and prayed.  Then he spoke directly to the body: “Tabitha, get up.”

40-41 She opened her eyes.  When she saw Peter, she sat up.  He took her hand and helped her up.  Then he called in the believers and widows, and presented her to them alive.

42-43 When this became known all over Joppa, many put their trust in the Master.  Peter stayed on a long time in Joppa as a guest of Simon the Tanner.

Just What Do I Do

The reading from Exodus and from Acts may seem thousands of years apart, but when I sat down and read them they were side by side in my mind.  No matter what I do, when I sit down to read and to prepare our service, I am awed by the connections that appear during the week.

Over the past months I have shared about my reading experiences and about reading scripture according to the lectio divina method.  I have explained how John Wesley’s quadrilateral helps us to reflect on our readings, our experiences, and our lives.  Yet, the practice is not always easy nor do we seem to have the time to practice these techniques.

The reading from Exodus was part of the small group’s reading assignment.  The study is part of the Meeting God through Scripture series and is focusing on “Understanding Spiritual Gifts.”  Why include a reading about creating an ephod?  The focus is on the craftsmanship needed to complete such an intricate task.  Only the most gifted artisans were allowed to work on the priests’ ephods.  It was a lifetime vocation.  The ephods were not only for the priests, but also for the members of their families as priests were of the same lineage—the Levites.

Consider that:  a lifetime vocation.  When you read Exodus 39 beyond the first 14 verses, the task of preparing the ephods is explained in depth.  The task was so much more than weaving cloth together and creating a garment.  The ephods were carefully developed with meaning attached to the various colors, gems, threads, and style.  The ephods were part of the priests authority.  When God told Moses that he had chosen Bezalel and appointed Oholiab to help him (Exodus 31:2-6), he explained to Moses that he had

“filled them with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship.

I seriously doubt that many of us think that the creative skills we possess would ever be selected by God to create something holy.  Still there are those who are selected because of their skills, their talents, and their love of God.

We are so fortunate here in our own community to know those we feel talented, and we may even have told them that they are so gifted.  Yet, can you imagine your shock when Moses came up to you, told you that God had spoken, and you were going to create these special garments for the priests?  I expect that you would protest.  We would tell Moses that there is no way we could possibly do the job he wanted.  Still, Moses would not let us out of the new job assignment.

Just what would we do?  All too often when we are gifted in a special talent, we seem embarrassed.  Sometimes we try to hide it from others. Sometimes we indulge in it for our own sense of accomplishment.  There are times when a family member or a friend gets hold of something you have created because they admire it.  Suddenly others see it and ask where they could get one, too.  The secret talent is out.  What does one do now?

Bezalel and Oholiab did not back away from the call.  They followed the call and their skill created unbelievable works of art filled with the Holy Spirit.  Not only did they make the vestments for the priests, but they also created the curtains that hung in the tabernacle.  In fact, other artisans may have completed their other ideas and designs around the temple while they worked on the vestments, the ephods.  They hear God’s call to create and that was their vocation as well as their ministry.

Just how does the Old Testament scripture connect to the New Testament scripture?  The connection is in the skill.  When I tackled the lectionary, the story of Tabitha surprised me.  I had not remembered that Peter had performed miracles of healing and of bringing anyone back from death.  Yet, after reading and talking about Jesus’ miracles, I was surprised to read this scripture.  Then I was surprised how in one week I had two different reading assignments that were still connected by a thread (pardon the pun).

The thread is quite literal because Tabitha was a seamstress, a respected seamstress known not only in her immediate community but in neighboring one, too.  Her death was a shock and a tremendous loss.  When word spread of Peter’s talents in healing, he was called to Joppa with hopes he could heal Tabitha.  Joppa was a community several miles from Lydia where he had healed Aeneas of paralysis.

God had called Peter into ministry and had breathed upon him filling him with the Holy Spirit.  Moses called the artisans equipped with special talents and the Holy Spirit to complete work on the temple.  God had also given Tabitha special talents and the Holy Spirit to complete her work.  Her work served others in the communities and she demonstrated how to love one another using those skills.  The thread which connected Tabitha, Peter, Bezalel and Oholiab is the Holy Spirit.  These two stories show how the Holy Spirit equips us to serve one another.  Serving one another is just one more way we worship God, too.

Just what do we do now?  We look at our lives like God would and determine what gifts we have.  We take those gifts and thank God for them; then we make sure we are using those skills to serve and to love one another.  Sometimes the work we do may not appear to reflect unique creative talents, but we do not always see the beauty of our work.  Others may see beauty in what we do, and you can be sure God sees.

Maybe you are a seamstress or tailor.  Maybe your passion is gardening.  Possibly you enjoy photography or painting or sculpting.  Maybe you are good at tatting, crocheting, knitting, or embroidery.  Woodworking may be your special interest.  What about baking or smoking meats as a special gift?  These are the gifts we often consider simple hobbies, but I can assure you that hobbies can become gifts from God.

In the last two weeks, I opened up the boxes of yarn, laid out the needles and hooks. For a group of at-risk girls who are street wise and already hardened by life, the yarn looked like gemstones.  They picked up the skeins, touched the yarn, sat it down color by color, and started.  I discovered a few had learned some crocheting techniques from family members, but never really invested any time in it.  They became the teachers as the crocheting began.  My knitting needles sat quietly until one decided she wanted to try.  She remembered the skill quickly, and off she went.

The special talents of these young women started to take form.  We forget the value of our own skills and talents.  We fail to use them, ignoring what God has given us.  As we continue looking at our spiritual gifts in the small group study, we need to reflect on ways to use the gifts to carry God’s message to others.  When I start brainstorming, I see all kinds of opportunities.  We have special skills and talents we use at work, too; but the ones that we enjoy as hobbies can provide a unique thread to connect us with others in our community.

Just what do we do?  We do.  We have some fun.  We share the fun.  We pray as we have fun.  We give to others so they, too, may experience the grace of God as we share our gifts with them.  As I studied the ephods and looked at the various images, I wanted to learn more.  Maybe that is what we do—study a little more.  Reflect a little more.  Do a little more.

I know God will be there with each stitch, each stroke of the paintbrush, each basting of the ribs, each twist of a wrench.  God has given each and every one of us a special set of gifts and talents.  We are to use them as evidence of God’s glory.  We are to share them as a means of reaching out to others.  We can use them at work, at home, with others, in groups, and even alone with God.  What we do is just do.  Imagine the potential reach we can have when God’s Holy Spirit leads and even our hobbies have us crafting for Christ.

Dear Father Creator,

We do not always feel we have anything to give.  We feel like we have no time other than to work and to care for our family.  We have some special interests, skills and talents, but we did not think they were important.  Help me to understand why you gave me these gifts and what you want me to do.  Help me to find you in each thing I do.  Help me to use the skills and talents to share your grace, your love, and your word with others.  Thank you for your gifts.  Thank you for letting me find joy in the work I complete.  Thank you for hearing me and for speaking to me as I use the gifts as prayers of praise.         –Amen

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