Giving UP Anonymity: Don’t Tell – Part 4 of our Giving UP sermon series

Ultimately, what is our goal as a Christian?

Is it about saving ourselves or is it about saving others? Because if we take seriously Jesus’ command to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations, it seems pretty clear what our mission is. So ask yourself this question, would it be easier to make disciples if we were super famous or not? That’s what we are going to explore this morning. Not necessarily the effectiveness of being super famous, but more importantly if gaining credit for ourselves helps our cause or not. This is the fourth topic in our sermon series “Giving UP” and in our series we have been exploring this concept of giving something up for Lent. But we posed the question, what if instead of simply sacrificing – the traditional interpretation of giving something up – we instead decided to give MORE of something to God. We’ve talked about giving in general, about time, money, and today we’re going to talk about giving up anonymity.

Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright
Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright

Let me give you two names: George Meyer and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Odds are you’ve heard of one and not the other. Frank Lloyd Wright as most of you know is a world famous architect whose works have been touted as being genius. Even non-architects like myself have heard of the famous Frank Lloyd Wright who designed the Guggenheim Museum along with hundreds of other buildings. He was named as the “greatest American architect of all time” by the American Institute of Architects.[1] But Wright, as famous as he was, was equally famous for refusing to share the limelight. Even when other architects made brilliant design contributions and in some cases took the lead on a project, he refused to allow them any credit. He even threatened to bring them to court on charges of forgery unless they put his name first and submitted all documents for his approval.[2] Wright was so consumed with his own fame and recognition that he refused to spread it to others. At one point he decided to go it on his own without the help and collaborative effort of others in his field. He immediately went on a nine-year slump where he only completed two projects. It wasn’t until he invited people back into his creative process that he again flourished, but again didn’t credit anyone with his work. Ed de St. Aubin, a psychologist who studied Wright’s work, said, “It is amazing that few of the hundreds” of Wright’s “apprentices went on to achieve significant, independent careers as practicing architects.”

The Simpsons
The Simpsons

George Meyer on the other hand is definitely NOT a household name.

But much of what he has done with his life is. He is a writer who has worked on shows like Late Night with David Letterman, Saturday Night Live, and most famously for George, The Simpsons.[3] Many of the most famous lines from that show are credited to him, and even the ones that are not, most writers on the staff say have been influenced by him. George is a giver. He likes to give credit where credit is due. Sometimes even when it’s not. There have been times, George could easily have pushed for more prominence (and deservedly so) on many episodes of the The Simpsons but instead would let others have the credit and help develop their careers. He often did the unglamorous work of rewrites because that was where he felt the show needed him the most, although many believe he often had many great ideas. He would put some of his strongest effort into helping out scripts focused not on the prominent guests like Madonna, but on lesser known ones that didn’t get as much attention. He had what they call in world of mountaineering, expedition behavior. Expedition behavior is a term for those who are selfless, generous, and put the team ahead of themselves.[4] It’s the kind of quality that defined George. The way George gave of himself, and you just have to read about the many selfless ways he encouraged others, we just don’t have time to delve into all of them here, but the way George gave of himself is how he was able to cultivate the talents of others. Unlike Frank Lloyd Wright who took all the credit for himself and didn’t make an effort to cultivate the architects around him, George’s collaborative style has led to the success of many others who have gone on to very successful careers of their own. Some have won Emmy Awards, some have become authors and actors, some have become cartoonists and columnists, one man wrote the famous “Soup Nazi” episode for Seinfeld (who also was an Emmy-nominated writer and producer for the show), and one went on to create the show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air that launched Will Smith’s career.[5] Adam Grant in his book Give and Take calls George a genius-maker. But what if we took these same ideas of selflessness and giving and turned them toward being better disciple-makers instead?

We’re going to delve into that from a story in the Bible this morning.

If you have your Bibles or a Bible app on your phone, please go to Luke 5 beginning with verse 12. Luke 5 beginning with verse 12. This is the story of the man with leprosy. It’s very short but we’re going to look at it in a different way. As we read it, I want you to think about the different way in which Jesus approaches his mission on Earth. If he’s come to save the least and the lost, he’s doing it in a weird way – at least by our standards today.

12 While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy.[b] When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

13 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.

14 Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”

15 Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Jesus says many times to different people, “Don’t tell.”

He told the man he healed of leprosy, “Don’t tell,” but people knew what had happened. The Bible isn’t clear if the man said something or if there were witnesses to this miracle, but we read that the news spread and crowds gathered to be healed. He healed two blind men in Matthew 9 and said, “See that no one knows about this,” but they told anyway. He raised a girl from the dead and again Jesus told the parents not to say a word. The Bible doesn’t tell us if they did or not, but others already knew about her apparent death. When the three disciples see Jesus with Moses and Elijah, Jesus says not to tell anyone until after he has gone. When Jesus reveals to the disciples that he is the Messiah, he tells them also not to tell. Haven’t you ever wondered why Jesus did this? Wouldn’t it make more sense to tell EVERYBODY? I mean, if you knew that Jesus could heal the sick and raise the dead and had eyewitness testimony about it, wouldn’t you believe? If you saw Jesus talking to Elijah and Moses, two of the most important prophets in Jewish history, wouldn’t that prove his divinity? The thing is, Jesus wasn’t doing it out of humility. He was trying to point the way to God. He was trying to give credit where credit was due, to our Father in Heaven. I know it gets confusing because we believe that Jesus IS God so isn’t he just giving credit to himself? But that’s not it at all. Jesus was trying to deflect credit away from the things on this Earth and point them toward Heaven so that people would approach life with a heavenly perspective instead of an earthly one. Jesus was trying to point the way toward a heavenly perspective instead of an earthly one. He knew that if people started fixating on him only, that they would see Jesus as the solution to their problems, much like they had earlier demanded that God send them a King. They would turn to Jesus to being a ruler of THIS world when Jesus was trying to get us to focus on the next. So Jesus kept deflecting people’s attentions toward the Father instead of the Son. He was trying to get across the point that it’s the message not the messenger that matters. It’s the message and not the messenger that matters. We get so caught up in creating idols that we often neglect the truth behind the image. We see Frank Lloyd Wright as this amazing architect, but that’s an image he created for himself. He needed the inspiration and collaboration of others to realize his true genius. But instead of building others up, he tore them down instead and we helped him by continuing to focus solely on his name, but the name “Frank Lloyd Wright” is just an image. The truth behind it is far more complex. That’s not to say that he wasn’t truly a genius or that he isn’t an amazing architect, but wouldn’t the world be better off with hundreds of Frank Lloyd Wright’s instead of just one? Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we learned to share not just the credit but our talent, if we were willing to sacrifice personal glory for the greater good?

There is no greater example of this than in the life of Jesus.

At any time, he could have proven his divinity, but he chose not to. He chose instead to live the life of a servant. He came not to conquer but to build community. He came to bring glory to God and not to himself. Had he wanted, he could have ruled the world by force. Instead he chose to sacrifice himself for the world. Had Jesus become the leader that the Israelites were looking for, Jesus would have been lord over a temporary kingdom, but instead the kingdom he built and is continuing to build through us is one that will last an eternity. And that is the difference between givers and takers. Givers are looking at the long haul. They are looking to make the world a better place. And even if that means sacrificing personal glory, they know that the contribution they make will long outlast anything else they could achieve.

One of my favorite stories is about a man named Cliff Gardner.

Like George Meyers, you probably don’t know him unless you watched Sports Night like I did. There was a scene in one episode where one of the characters Sam, is explaining exactly who Cliff Gardner was to the studio executives. He starts out by asking, “Do you know who Philo Farnsworth was? He invented the television. I don’t mean he invented television like Uncle Milty, I mean he invented the television in a little house in Provo, Utah. But the one I really admire is his brother-in-law, Cliff Gardner. He said to Philo, ‘I know everyone thinks you’re crazy, but I want to be a part of this. I don’t have your head for science…but it sounds like in order to do your testing, you’re gonna need glass tubes.’ See Philo was inventing the cathode receptor, and even though Cliff didn’t know what that meant or how that worked, he’d seen Philo’s drawings and he knew they were gonna need glass tubes and since television hadn’t been invented yet, it wasn’t like they could get them at the local TV repair shop. ‘I want to be a part of this,’ Cliff said, ‘and I don’t have your head for science. How would it be if I taught myself to be a glassblower? And I could set up a little shop in the backyard. And I could make all the tubes you’ll need for testing.’ There oughta be Congressional medals for people like that.” The world needs more Cliff Gardners and more George Meyers. We don’t need more Frank Lloyd Wright’s. If we want to get the job done that Christ has given us, we need to be in the business of building people up, not taking people down. Life is not a zero-sum game. Life is not a zero-sum game. We don’t have to sacrifice the well-being of other people to get ahead ourselves. Instead, we need to be focused on being disciple builders. We need to focus on the needs and well-being of others and not worry about the credit we receive. Because there is only one person whose approval we should be seeking, and his home is our ultimate destination. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

[1] Details of Frank Lloyd Wright’s career are from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Lloyd_Wright

[2] Adam Grant, Give and Take, p. 78. Details about Wright’s self-centered actions and Meyer’s selfless ones are all taken from Adam Grant’s book in the chapter The Ripple Effect.

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Meyer

[4] Grant, p. 74.

[5] Grant, p. 93.

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