Lessons From Wolverine – Part 1 of our Do We Have “It?” Sermon Series

Jeremy Lin at the height of Linsanity!
Jeremy Lin at the height of Linsanity!
Would you pay thousands of dollars for this?
Would you pay thousands of dollars for this?

Do we have “it?”

Does our church have “it?”  That is the question our sermon series seeks to ask and answer.  Do we have “it?”  And if we don’t, how can we get “it?”  It’s funny because without ever having to explain what it is, most of you already understand what it means for a person, a group, or an organization to have “it.”  It’s an ephemeral quality that exists in people, groups, and even whole organizations.  When a group has it, there is excitement and energy that you can’t quite put your finger on but everyone can feel it.  It’s almost like magic because in so many ways it’s unexplainable.  Every successful person or group at one time had this special something.  Maybe they don’t have it anymore and are simply riding the coattails of that original success, but it’s hard to be an overnight sensation without it.  Jeremy Lin had “it” last year.  A guy from out of nowhere who didn’t have the credentials to BE an NBA player was suddenly dominating the NBA like nobody else.  An injury ridden New York Knicks team had an 8-15 record when Lin fell into major playing time on the court and suddenly the Knicks couldn’t be stopped.  After a 7-game winning streak including a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers where Lin had 38 points, the nation had “Linsanity” and Jeremy Lin jerseys were sold out everywhere.[1]  Whereas you probably could’ve gotten a Jeremy Lin rookie card in the 10-cent bin a couple weeks before, suddenly one sold on eBay for more than $21,000![2]  During that one amazing streak in 2012, Lin had “it.”  So how did he get “it?”  Is it luck?  Magic?  Fortune?  Voodoo?  While there isn’t a simple formula for this type of success, Craig Groeschel in his book by the same name shares that most people and groups that have “it” also share certain qualities in common.  What are some of those qualities and how can we utilize them in our church and in our lives is what we’ll be looking at in the next few weeks.

Wolverine doesn't appear in this book!  Funniest cover.
Wolverine doesn’t appear in this book! Funniest cover.

As comic book characters go, Wolverine had “it.”

If you’re not into comic books and don’t see a lot of action movies, Wolverine is one of the X-Men. The X-Men are a super-hero group of mutants with remarkable abilities, and they use those abilities to protect a world that hates them.  Wolverine is one of those X-Men and his catchphrase is “I’m the best there is at what I do.” For some reason, he began to be popular.  People loved Wolverine.  They seemed to respond to his no-nonsense attitude and strong sense of justice.  So much so that they craved to find out more about this mystery man.  If he guest-starred in a book, suddenly that book’s sales went through the roof.  If a mug or a shirt had a picture of Wolverine on it, it sold out.  He was the hottest property in comics.  When Marvel Comics, the company that publishes the chronicles of the X-Men realized the cash cow that Wolverine was becoming they started putting him in everything and on everything.  Pretty soon, he wasn’t just starring in the X-Men.  He had his own solo book, he became a member of the Avengers, the New Avengers, and the Uncanny Avengers.  He was a Secret Defender, an agent of SHIELD, a member of the Fantastic Four and the head of the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning.  Marvel even began putting him on covers of issues that he wasn’t even in!  And that’s when it fell apart.  Wolverine wasn’t special anymore.  What made him special, what made him have “it” was lost in the overexposure that Marvel put him through.  He might have been the best at what he did, but what he did wasn’t clear any more.  Was he an X-Man fighting for the rights of the oppressed?  Was he a man of mystery looking for his past?  Was he a headmaster of a school, a secret agent, a company man, a glorified can opener?  Nobody knew.  Marvel had lost its focus.  They were so busy trying to capitalize on Wolverine’s popularity that they forgot what it was that made him special in the first place.  So although still popular, Wolverine lost “it.”

Focus and concentration are important factors in having “it.”

People who know who they are and seek to use their gifts and talents the best way possible are much more likely to have “it” than those who don’t.  I mean, you can’t turn a horse into an airplane.  You have to be true to who you are. You can’t turn a horse into an airplane.  You have to be true to who you are.  When we forget what our core is, when we lose sight of what got us to where we were, we lose that ephemeral quality that gives us something special, that sets us apart.  This was the lesson Jesus hoped to teach two sisters in their home one day and that we’re going to share this morning.  If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, please go to the Gospel of Luke chapter 10 beginning with verse 38.  Luke 10:38.  If you’ve read the Bible at all or been going to church, you probably have already heard of this story, but hopefully we’ll be looking at it in a new light.  This event takes place right after Jesus’ encounter with the expert in the law where Jesus relates to him the story of the Good Samaritan.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these two stories are placed near each other, more than they happened in close proximity to one another.  If you notice, in the story of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite did what they thought was proper, but the Samaritan, who could easily have passed him by as the other two did, stopped and did what was right.  The echo of that story is heard in this one as well.

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Who hasn’t at one time felt like Martha?

There are a million things to do and she’s not getting ANY help.  She’s got to clean the house, finish sweeping the floor, bake the bread, bring in fresh water from the well, milk the goat; who knows what else?  People are coming over and her lazy younger sister Mary is sitting there at Jesus’ feet just listening to him.  I’m sure Martha is cleaning their home and thinking, “She COULD listen to him AFTER everything’s ready. I mean there’s 12 more guys coming over to the house!”  Now, we don’t know how long Mary was sitting there, but we can imagine it was probably a while.  But eventually, she can’t take it anymore and she says to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!”  Sounds pretty reasonable.  I think most of us would feel that way.  Come on Mary, get your priorities straight!  There are things to be done!  But Martha is so busy with busy work that she can’t even hear what’s going on.  She doesn’t realize WHY Mary is so fascinated with Jesus.  And how many times does that happen to us?  Don’t we sometimes get distracted by the unimportant things in our lives and forget what’s truly important?  Sometimes we get caught up in the little things and we can’t see the forest for the trees. Sometimes we get caught up in the little things and we can’t see the forest for the trees.  So Jesus tells her, “Martha, Martha” and you can imagine he’s probably shaking his head, in a kind way, but to let her know she got it wrong.  “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  See, Mary was focused.  She knew what was important and she concentrated on that one thing, listening to Jesus.  And even though she could probably feel Martha’s eyes boring into her, even though she probably felt Martha giving her the evil eye, she sat there and absorbed everything Christ said to her.

Are we focused like Mary? Or are we busy like Martha?

Are we focused like Mary?  Or are we busy like Martha?  Does our church have a vision for who we are and what makes us unique, special, or great or is our idea of ministry a hodgepodge of assorted activities?  Craig Groeschel told a story in his book about a minister he ran into who was pastor of a church of about 400 people and the minister told him they had 187 ministries.  I like Craig’s response, “I didn’t know if he was bragging, asking me to pray for him, or making the case for a frontal lobotomy.”  When asked which ministries were the most important and effective, the minister said with a smile, “All of them.”[3]  Churches have this idea that they need to be all things to all people, but not only is that impossible, but not the best use of our gifts and graces.  We need to showcase the gifts and graces God has given us, not the ones we think we need to have.  Not everybody is fit to do children’s ministry well.  Not everybody is fit to run a soup kitchen or do a clothing store.  Not everybody is fit to do choir or have a music ministry.  When Paul talked about the church being the body of Christ, in 1 Corinthians he said, “Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.”  But Paul should have added a line that said, “And if the foot said, ‘I want to be a hand’ it would not for that reason suddenly be a hand.”  If the foot said, “I want to be a hand” it would not for that reason suddenly be a hand.  We all have gifts that God has blessed us with and as a church we are created for a purpose and we should make the most of those gifts and that purpose instead of trying to be something we are not meant to be.  That lesson is true in all aspects of our lives, not just in church.

One of the Zany Brainy signature toy stores
One of the Zany Brainy signature toy stores

I worked for a company at one time that had it and lost it.

And watching the company spiral into bankruptcy when everybody knew what was wrong was sad.  I used to be a general manager for Zany Brainy and before that I used to work the floor part-time.  Zany Brainy was one of the premier educational toy stores in the nation and one of the reasons I joined Zany Brainy was because I believed in their vision – to make learning fun for kids.  What made them different was their singular focus on children.  Their shelves were no higher than five feet because the CEO said it would frustrate him as a child not to be able to reach or even see some of the stuff when it was so far above his head.  We would have games and movies and demos all the time, and every week we would have a craft and storytelling with the kids.  No weapons, no violent toys or games, everything was focused on making learning fun.  But when Zany Brainy got bought out by FAO Schwarz, they started bringing in baby items that had nothing to do with making learning fun.  We had strollers and car seats and safety rails and whole bunches of other stuff and the educational side got smaller.  Then after a while, they decided they wanted to capitalize on even more of the toy market and they brought in swords and guns and action figures, and the educational side got smaller again.  And all of these toys you could get cheaper and have a better selection at Toys R Us, Target, or WalMart.  And that’s where the people went.  What made us unique was our singular focus on making learning fun for kids and when we started to become like every other toy store out there, we lost them all because who needs just another toy store?  And one where you pay higher prices?  The company forgot that, and sometimes we forget that.  Not just in church or in our work but in our personal lives as well.  You’ve heard it said that the key to happiness is finding what you love and then DOING that!  That is as true for church and work as it is for us everyday.  I want to challenge you to think hard about the things you love the most and concentrate on those things.  Like being the best spouse you can be and the best parent and the best friend you can be.  Set time aside in your life for the things that are truly important and you’ll find life to not only be more focused, but more fulfilling as well.  And when you are fulfilled, people will respond to that deep satisfaction within you in positive ways.  Find your focus, find your vision, find your passion, be the best Mary you can be and live it to the glory of God.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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