The Flaw In Our Gospel

Jyn Erso died so that the Rebellion might live.

Jyn’s tale of sacrifice and redemption is powerful. The plans she sacrifices her life to get were transferred to the Tantive IV where the diplomatic envoy on board could use their ties to Alderaan to get the plans into the hands of the people who could do the most good with it – the strikeforce gathering on Yavin IV.  The leader of that diplomatic envoy? Princess Leia Organa.  And as Paul Harvey used to say on his famous radio show, “Now you know…the rest of the story.”[1]  Eventually, Luke, Leia and Han Solo would see the plans to the Death Star delivered in time so that the Empire’s massive battlestation could be destroyed.  But Jyn’s story ends on Scarif along with the lives of her fellow Rebels. The film, Rogue One, tells Jyn’s tale and by itself is one of the best Star Wars film ever made.  But it is not the end of the story.  It is one tale in a much larger tapestry that unfolds, and even though it is a good film all by itself, it’s so much more meaningful because of that larger story it is a part of.  From tiny connections to future films like the appearance of Walrus Man to much larger and more significant connections like the creation of the Death Star, it’s story is tied to a bigger story.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story..Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) in foreground, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) in background..Ph: Film Frame..Copyright 2016 Industrial Light & Magic, a division of Lucasfilm Entertainment Company Ltd., All Rights Reserved

Faith in Christ is essential to Christianity, but it is not the end of the story.

I was reading an article from Outreach magazine, and Ken Wytsma wrote something that stuck with me. He said, “If all we have is Good Friday, then we are missing Easter.”[1]  He argues the flaw in our Gospel story today is focused so much on getting people to believe that we fail to see the larger picture.  That we are only telling half the story.  He wrote in part, “Personal salvation for the individual took the spotlight (in how we convey the Gospel) rather than Christ’s redeeming work for the many.  There was an overemphasis on salvation for me…”  Jesus didn’t turn to his followers and say, “Oh, good.  Now that you believe in me, my work is done.”  He told them “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth (Acts 1:8).”  Too often we become complacent in our faith.  We say we believe, maybe we even attend church, but do we truly seek to become disciples of Christ?  Are we helping others to know his love that was so great he gave his life for us?

The cross is the beginning of our journey.  Not the end.

One of the things I love about Methodism is our emphasis on striving toward “Christians perfection.”  John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed this was something each of us could actually achieve. But whether we attained this lofty goal or not, it was an ideal we should constantly strive for.  And it wasn’t an ideal for the super-pious or for the winner of Bible Trivial Pursuit.  It was an ideal Wesley honestly believed was within reach of anyone.  And again, you didn’t need to go to seminary or become a priest to be equipped to do this work.  He felt ordinary people doing ordinary things could do it.  Things like prayer, worship, communion, reading your Bible, attending a small group were ways you could achieve this goal.  Will most of us get there?  Probably not.  But it’s the journey that makes it worthwhile.  It’s the journey that honors God.  Getting to the cross IS important, but where you go from there is at least as important.  There is a reason Jesus emphasizes discipleship and not conversion.  Conversion is a moment in time, but discipleship is a lifelong process.  It becomes part of our character.  It defines who we are.

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True discipleship takes place in community. Here, our Bishop is having a meal with our church members and sharing about life

And true discipleship takes place in community.

Faith is not a solo journey. We are meant to travel this road together.  Jesus sent his disciples out into the world two-by-two.  He told us that where two or more are gathered, there he would be.  Even in the Old Testament, we read in the book of Ecclesiastes, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: 10 If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” Our faith is meant to be developed in relationship with one another.  Not only do we gather strength in numbers, we also are able to test our belief, help each other, and be a stronger witness for Jesus in the world.  And at the same time we are growing in our faith, we are supposed to share it with the world.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. – Matthew 5:14-16

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We are meant to be a light unto the world, not hidden under a bowl

Our love of Christ was meant to be shared with the world!

It isn’t supposed to be hidden away, yet so many of us have a hard time sharing our faith or inviting people to church.  We’re worried about what people will think of us.  We’re worried we don’t know enough.  But are we genuinely worried about those things or are they excuses for not wanting to put ourselves out there?  Because we are more than willing to talk about our favorite places to eat or our favorite movies or our favorite sports teams.  Even when you are a UCLA grad who grew up a huge Dodgers fan and happens to now live in the Bay Area.  Even then we are still compelled to share the things we love because it’s part of who we are.  Isn’t our faith part of who we are, too?  When I was serving at Roswell UMC in Atlanta, GA, there was a monthly street fair during the summer near our church, and if you’ve ever been to Georgia in the summer you know how hot it gets.  So we would take part in the fair by handing out free cold bottled water to people passing by and we’d give out little cards inviting people to come to our church.  One of our members quit the church because of it.  I remember calling her on the phone when she transferred her membership to find out what happened.  Maybe we had done something wrong without realizing it.  Maybe someone said or did something to make her feel unwelcome or unappreciated.  But when we talked, she told me it wasn’t anything we did to her.  She just didn’t want to belong to a church that evangelized in public.  Keep in mind this wasn’t a requirement for the church and about 99% of our members did not participate.  It was just a handful of people who wanted to do something tangible to show the love of Christ to our neighborhood.  The woman who left our church said she didn’t think it was right.  I was really confused what wasn’t “right” about it so I asked her and she responded, “I just think faith is a personal thing.”  And she’s right.  I agree 100%.  Faith is personal, not private.  It is meant to be shared.  It is a personal choice like raising your children, but how many self-help books on raising kids were you given when you had your first child?  How many people felt free to share their own personal parenting philosophy?  Just because something is personal doesn’t mean we can’t share our thoughts, opinions, and preferences with those we love.  We trust they will understand it’s out of love we share those things and in turn listen to them when they share with us.  Our faith, like a fine wine, a good meal, or wonderful music, is made all the better when others experience it with us, so why not tell people about it?  How will people know the difference Christ can make in their life if we aren’t willing to share it with others?

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One of our dedicated INVITE Team members, Tim, helping me out at Easter at Roswell UMC

The challenge is not whether we should share our faith but finding our unique voice to do so.

How Jesus has touched your life is almost surely different from how Jesus has touched mine.  We may have many similarities, but our stories are unique to us.  And so is how we will share it.  For those who are bold, let them proclaim it boldly!  But for the rest of us, we need to find our voice either literally or figuratively.  So this week, I’m asking you to think about one person or persons who you wish would come to church with you.  Think of one person or persons whose life would be made better, who would feel more at peace, who would feel less alone in the world if Christ was a part of it.  And pray about how you might share the love of Christ with them.  The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most phenomenal event the world has ever seen.  But it is so far removed from our everyday life experience, that it takes a personal connection to often make it real.  Among those who don’t come to church, a personal invitation from a friend was still almost twice as likely to be effective as anything else.[1]  And among those seeking to explore faith, more than half of them were looking for casual one-on-one conversations with friends and family.[2]  Even as our experience with traditional church is changing, people still crave that personal connection.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story..L to R: Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen)..Ph: Giles Keyte..© 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Jyn’s story is only a part of the Star Wars saga.

It isn’t the whole story by itself.  It’s a vital part that helps us understand all that comes after it, but it isn’t complete without the hope and redemption that follows as a result.  The Gospel story isn’t meant to be a shelter from the storm.  It isn’t a safe haven from the world we live in.  And it isn’t a safety net in case there is an afterlife.  The Gospel story is the armor and shield God gives us to have the strength to go out into the world and share his message of hope and redemption to a world that needs it now more than ever.  As Ken wrote in his article, “The gospel isn’t simply good news we hear – it’s good news we become.  We aren’t simply recipients of grace, but agents of grace as well.[3] If all there was to the story of Jesus is the cross, there would be no Christianity.  It’s what happened after that changed the world. Be a part of the story.  Help to change the world. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The Barna Group, Churchless, 2014 p.28 (Kindle edition)

[2] https://www.barna.com/research/opportunities-for-faith-sharing/

[3] Ibid, p.64

[1] “Why Race Belongs In Our Gospel Conversations,” Ken Wytsma, Outlook Magazine, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Outreach, Inc. Colorado), p. 60

 

A Pound of Flesh

28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”

34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”

35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” – Luke 19:28-44

Everything seemed to be going great!

Key word: “seemed.”  Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead.  He went over to Lazarus’ house to celebrate his renewed life and have dinner with Lazarus and his family.  Mary anoints Jesus with expensive perfume.  And the next morning, he is off to Jerusalem.  Prophecy after prophecy was being fulfilled like a Messianic checklist.  Born of a virgin.  Check.  Called Immanuel (Isa. 7:14).  Check.  Came to Capernaum (Isa. 8:23-9:2).  Check. So then Jesus knocks another one off the list.  From Zecharaiah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!  Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!  See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey…” He sent some of the disciples on ahead to fetch a donkey and he was VERY specific about it.  He tells them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” That was pretty specific.  Not only did Jesus know there would be a young donkey at the entrance to the village, he also knew no one had ever ridden it.  Not only that, but he told the disciples all they had to do was to tell the owner, “The Lord needs it,” and he’ll just give it to you.  Like Obi-Wan Kenobi.  “You don’t need this colt.  They can take it for the Lord.”  Surely, it was becoming harder and harder to deny that Jesus was the promised Messiah.  The disciples sure thought so.  They placed their cloaks upon the animal as would befit a king.  And as they approached Jerusalem, the people spontaneously spread their cloaks on the ground before him as they were singing and crying out, “This is the day that the Lord has made.  We will rejoice and be glad in it!”

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“He can take the donkey. The Lord needs it.”

If they only knew…

Things were not as clear cut as they seemed.  And soon, it would all fall apart.  Like the 2016 presidential election.  If you were a Democrat, it seemed as if you had the Presidency all locked up.  Nearly every pundit out there was predicting a pretty clear victory for Hillary Clinton.  Sure, some traditionally red states would vote Republican, but with the all the controversy surrounding Donald Trump, Democrats and even many Republicans thought it was a done deal.  And it was.  But just not the way most people expected.  As the returns came in, the electoral math grew more and more murky.  States that traditionally went the way of the Democrats started to turn red – Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan.  And even though she won the popular vote, Hillary Clinton went down in defeat.  The first female president would have to be someone else.  I imagine for Jesus’ followers it would have felt the same – except far worse.  They believed Jesus to be the Messiah!  The promised deliverer!  The one who would free them from the yoke of oppression.  Were they wrong?  And so we approach Palm Sunday with that framework in mind.  It’s a week before the end.  A week before it all would fall apart.  The crowds are growing as Jesus goes from place to place and as he makes his way to Jerusalem, the people are sure and confident that the long-promised Messiah was before them.  But even in the midst of this huge celebration, not everything is right. Not everyone is happy.

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So many people were sure they knew the outcome of the election in 2016

In the midst of the crowd, right there around Jesus, are the Pharisees.

And they are not happy.  They see what’s happening.  These fools actually believe Jesus is the Messiah!  They are hailing him and treating him like they would the King of Kings!  Some of them shout out to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” In other words, they’re telling him to reign it in.  Even Jesus, that hot-headed, self-confident braggart must realize what the people are doing is heresy.  Notice they call him “teacher?”  They don’t pretend to think he is anything but a man who spouts out advice and stories to impress his followers.  Oh, sure, he might have done a few impressive things (like raise a man from the dead?), but he isn’t the promised one.  And then Jesus has the audacity to act as if he IS the fulfillment of the prophecy!  He answers them by saying “…if they keep quiet the stones will cry out.”  The Pharisees, who prided themselves on knowing the Scripture, would have heard this as a reference to the prophesies of Isaiah where it is written that God himself said, “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” If it wasn’t clear before that this man is leading people into heresy, this about did it.

But what seemed like a triumphant celebration…wasn’t.

In fact, Jesus was weeping.  The disciples must have thought it strange, those who were following Jesus into Jerusalem, to see him crying as he rides into town.  Here they were giving him a royal welcome, but he was crying.  And he wasn’t crying tears of joy or tears of gratitude as one might expect after such a warm welcome.  No.  He was crying tears of sadness because he knows that despite this honor they are laying down before him, none of them comprehend what is about to happen.  And in the span of just a few days, the people will turn on him.  Even his most loyal disciples will run for their lives.  And this crowd? This crowd that is singing his praises?  They will all but vanish as the Pharisees and the temple leaders will demand a pound of flesh from Jesus.  That’s how great their hatred of him has grown.  Nothing else will suffice than a pound of flesh.

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The term “pound of flesh” comes from the Shakespeare play Merchant of Venice

That term, “a pound of flesh,” sounds almost Biblical.  But it is not.

Instead it comes from a play by William Shakespeare called The Merchant of Venice and it refers to a technically legal but outrageous compensation and in the play, it isn’t figurative.  The lender, Shylock, really wants a pound of Antonio’s flesh.  Antonio borrowed money from Shylock and couldn’t pay him back.  And although Antonio’s friends offered twice the money due to Shylock to pay off Antonio’s debt after he defaulted on the loan, Shylock was unmerciful and according to the agreement was due a literal pound of flesh. Shylock had been mistreated in multiple ways by Antonio and his friends so he had decided no amount of money would quench his desire for vengeance.  Which is what happened to Jesus after his triumphant entry.  The Pharisees and the temple leaders have it in for Jesus.  Nothing will stop them from exacting their “pound of flesh.”  After being arrested, Pilate even offers to save Jesus’ life by offering to free either Jesus or a murderer.  The crowd chooses to free the murderer.  And while it’s tempting to look back on history and stand in judgment of the Pharisees, we only have to look at our own recent history to see we still do the same thing today.  The soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison who tortured and humiliated their prisoners jumps to mind.[1]  The atrocities those men and women committed under the banner of the US flag is disgraceful.  Then there was the series of random beatings on the Muslim-American community.  Even those who only “looked” Muslim were attacked.  A 68-year old Sikh man in Fresno was run over by two guys who THEN beat him up and shouted at him, “Why are you here?”[2]  We are not free of the hatred and violence that stirs up within the human heart. We demand our own “pound of flesh” and we take it from those who are free from blame.

But of course, those are extreme examples. 

In our everyday lives, this same tendency toward exacting our “pound of flesh” isn’t so extreme.  But it exists nonetheless.  We get so easily offended by something someone says or does and react in hurtful ways.  We gossip about them behind their backs.  We say things that demean them or show them a lack of respect.  And in our heads they “deserve it.”  But do they?  Sometimes it’s just a situation we’re in.  Maybe something goes wrong and we lash out at whoever is around us.  Have you ever done that?  Have you ever had a bad day at work, had a bad phone call, received some bad news, and took it out on whoever happened to stumble upon your minefield?  I have. And I regret it almost immediately. I hope the next time you are mad or upset or on the verge of lashing out, you will take just ten seconds to cool down, step back, and breathe.  We so often get caught in the moment that it soon spirals into something drastic, but if we only took the time to step out of the whirlwind of emotions, we would see it wasn’t as bad as we thought.  On Good Friday, we often focus on Jesus’ triumphal entry, but it wasn’t triumphant for everyone.  Had the Pharisees been able to see beyond their fear and hatred, perhaps they too would have noticed the love of Christ that was waiting for them.   Perhaps they could have embraced the life God wanted for them.  We often dismiss that possibility because we know Christ came to fulfill the prophecies and to prove he was the Messiah, but the lesson for us is that we can learn from their mistakes.  We can recognize what the Pharisees could not and act as the Children of God are supposed to – with love and care in their hearts.  In the play, The Merchant of Venice, one of the characters, Portia, gives a most poignant speech.  She says, “But mercy is above this sceptered sway. It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings; It is an attribute to God Himself; And earthly power doth then show likest God’s When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, (Shylock), Though justice be thy plea, consider this: That in the course of justice none of us Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy, And that same prayer doth teach us all to render The deeds of mercy…” May we be merciful indeed.

[1] https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2004/05/10/torture-at-abu-ghraib

[2] https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-sikh-fresno-attack-20151228-story.html

Don’t Tell – Giving UP Anonymity

Two people: One you know and one you probably don’t.

Frank Lloyd Wright 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.”

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Frank Lloyd Wright house in Minnesota

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

But much of what he has done with his life is known by many.  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 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 the 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 helped him to cultivate the talent of others.  We simply don’t have the time to share all the praise those around him have given toward this man. 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?

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George Meyer created or helped to create many of the most memorable scenes in The Simpsons

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

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. – Luke 5:12-16

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.  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 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 he wasn’t a genius or 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.

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The cast of Sports Night from ABC

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

Like George Meyers, you probably don’t know him unless you watched the television show Sports Night back in the 90’s.  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.

 

[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.

The Wall of STUFF – Giving UP Money

Hoarding is scary.

At least for me.  I teased my parents about being “hoarders” when I was in college because they used to have lots of stuff around the house, but after watching different shows about the condition called disposophobia or compulsive hoarding, my parents seem to be the model of cleanliness.  Hoarding is real and some have even postulated that it is a result of our obsession with STUFF.  I don’t generally watch the show CSI but there was an episode about hoarding and at the end of the episode, two of the characters, Ray and Nick, are talking about it. Ray tells Nick that the philosopher Erich Fromm forecasted a society that was obsessed with possessions.  “Fromm said that people had two basic orientations, “having” and “being.”  A “having” orientation seeks to acquire or possess things, property, even people.  But a person with a “being” orientation derives meaning from the experiences in life.  Unfortunately, Fromm concluded that a culture driven by commercialism like the one we live in today is doomed to the “having” orientation, which leads to dissatisfaction and emptiness.” Ray said, “When you consider in 1960 there was no such thing as public storage in America.  Today there are over 2 billion square feet dedicated to it.  Makes you think he had a point.”  Can you imagine that?  2 billion square feet for more of our STUFF.  Did you know the word “stuff” literally means “to fill up.”  The real question is, “What we are filling up our lives with and why?”

I can’t help but think of the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman.

He meets this woman at the well near where she lives and after getting into a discussion with her, Jesus says, “Everyone who drinks this water (meaning the water from the well) will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  So the question is, are you filling up on well water or living water?  We like to think we are filling up on living water, but most of us are probably filling up on well water.  We get stuck in the grind of daily living and we become convinced that our problems will be solved with STUFF.  Whether that STUFF is money or power or likes on Instagram, we crave the accumulation of things, hoping that it will solve all our problems, but in the end, we are always thirsty for more.  Because what Jesus said is true.  Only when we drink of the living water, only when we live a life in Christ, and realize the impermanence of this place will our thirst be quenched.  What we need to do is change what we drink, not drink more of what we have.  We need living water.

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We have always struggled with the balance between God and STUFF.

Our reading this morning in one of Paul’s letter to Timothy he talks about this exact issue. If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, please go to Paul’s first letter to Timothy beginning with chapter 6, verse 3.  1 Timothy 6:3. Although there are many instances where people write similar stories or letters about the challenge of giving, Paul offers a reason beyond simply telling us “because you should.”  He offers a concrete difference between people who make giving a priority and those who don’t.  And he explains why it’s better to give.  I believe that whenever God tells us to do something it’s always for our benefit and not necessarily for God’s.  God doesn’t need anything from us, he wants something FOR us.  And when we listen to God, our lives become better, even if we can’t see it at the time.  That’s why God wants for us to become detached from STUFF and develop a heart for giving.  Sometimes it seems counter-intuitive that giving up our abundance will somehow make us more wealthy, but we find out how in Paul’s letter to Timothy.

If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. – 1 Timothy 6:3-9

Paul basically invented the saying, “You can’t take it with you.”[1]

He writes to Timothy, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”  No matter how much STUFF we have at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.  We can’t take it with us.  The guy who wrote the saying, “He who dies with the most toys wins” didn’t know what he was talking about.  Paul tells us our goal should be “godliness with contentment”; to live a Christ-like life which brings a peace that only God can give.  It’s why he writes, “…godliness with contentment is great gain,” because that peace is not something you can buy, but a gift from God for living the kind of life that honors him.  But Paul also warns against people with corrupt minds, the kind that uses “godliness (as) a means to financial gain.”[2]  He warns that the person who “acts Christian” to get more money, more possessions, more STUFF is disconnected from the life God wants for us all. We get so focused on these unimportant things we don’t even consider whether or not it will really bring us the joy and peace we all crave.

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My friends Karleen, Rick, and Jay from our high school days – much later than the Jabberjaw lunch pail days

Let me give you a non-monetary example.

When I was in 4th grade, I had a crush on a girl named Karleen Boyle.  I don’t know how it started, but everyday after school I would chase her out the door.  Kind of a foolish way to tell a girl you like her.  Go and chase her down.  Pretty soon it became almost a daily competition.  Sometimes her friends would join in.  She had this Jabberjaw lunch pail that I got to know real well, because she would swing it at me if I got too close.  There was some sort of unwritten rule that if she made it to the parking lot she won.  And even though I lost every day, I was undeterred.  I would chase her and every day she escaped.  Until one day, she swung that Jabberjaw lunch pail and missed.  I reached out as it passed by me and grabbed her by the arm.  She just looked at me as a triumphant grin spread across my face and she asked, “So what are you going to do now?”  Honestly, I didn’t know.  So I let her go.  I had become so focused on getting her, I never really thought what I would do once I did.  Sometimes we’re like that about the material things in our life.  We become so focused on it, on more money or more things or more recognition – we become so focused on filling our lives with STUFF, that we don’t often think about what happens after we get it.  We’re sure that once we get whatever it is we are after, life will be so great!  But there’s always more money to grab, more things to own, and more fame to have.  When will it be enough?  When we realize the STUFF of this world will never give us the peace we crave.

What holds us back from giving more is this obsession with STUFF.

Hoarding is just an extreme example of it, but each of us struggles with letting go.  When we do give, we often become focused on what we get out of it.  But we forget ultimately giving is about living.  We give to live.  Because giving is an attitude.  Giving is a spiritual discipline.  When we remember that it isn’t ours to begin with and that it all belongs to God, we become more grateful for what we have and we become less worried about what happens to our gift.  When we have an attitude of giving we draw closer to God.  And giving has some lifelong benefits, too.  Like the fact that 80% of people who tithe have no credit card debt compared to the national average of 61%.[3]  74% have no car payments compared to the $750 billion in loans out there today.[4]  48% have no mortgage.[5]  But as one analyst said, the tither looks at these statistics and says his life got better for giving.  The doubter looks at the same stats and says to himself the tither is able to tithe because his life started off better.  For all of the evidence I can share with you, it still comes down to a personal decision to do it – to give more.  God wants us to give, not because he needs the money, but because when we let go of all the STUFF in our lives, our lives become better.  One of my favorite pieces of Scripture is from Malachi where God tells the people of Israel, “’Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.’”  That image of God telling us, his people, to test him and see the abundance of blessing that will come from your giving.  “See if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it!”  That’s the kind of life God wants for you.  A life of abundance.  Abundance in peace.  Abundance in life.  Abundance of love.  The things that are most important.  But again, as in all things, this is a choice.  You have to eventually trust that God’s system works and try it for yourself.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like STUFF too.  I’m not saying that having stuff is a sin.  I’m not advocating for living like John the Baptist on honey and locusts.  But I am advocating that what Ray told Nick in that CSI episode is true.  The trick is to not let the STUFF get in the way.  I want to challenge you that during this time of Lent to give more financially.  Whether or not it’s to the church or to your favorite charity or to a cause you believe in, I want to challenge you to give more, to tithe if possible.  To give 10% of your income to God.  Now, for some of you, that really isn’t possible or safe for you or your family and of course if that’s your situation just your very presence is a blessing.  But for some of us, we can stretch ourselves and our faith to give more.  Take the God challenge and see if making this a regular part of your life doesn’t make your entire life better.  You would be surprised at the difference it can make.  Take a drink of the living water and see how refreshing it can be.

 

[1] http://www.joe-ks.com/phrases/phrasesY.htm

[2] http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/1Tim/Christian-View-Money

[3] http://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/credit-card-industry-facts-personal-debt-statistics-1276.php

[4] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/us-consumer-debt-rises-on-student-auto-loans/

[5] http://www.christianpost.com/news/study-christians-who-tithe-have-healthier-finances-than-those-who-dont-95959/

The Long Game – Giving UP Giving

Let me share with you the true story of a guy named Sampson.

Sampson wanted to be the “Clinton of Illinois” and set his sights on winning a Senate seat.  No one thought him a likely candidate.  But he had a lot of determination.  Sampson ran for a seat in the state legislature at only 23 years of age…and lost with a resounding 8th place finish where only the top four won a place.  After operating a completely failed business, he tried a second time and took second, this time earning that seat.  Serving eight years, he decided to go national and try for that Senate seat he had his eye on.  He was up against two very strong opponents – Shields and Trumbull.  Both had been State Supreme Court justices and Shields was the incumbent.  But in the first poll, Sampson was ahead with 44% support, Shields had 41% and Trumbull only at 5%.  But then a fourth candidate entered, Gov. Joel Matteson who quickly took the lead.  Shields withdrew and Matteson was on top 44% to Sampson’s 38% with Trumbull holding on at only 9%.  It didn’t look good for Sampson, so he did what no other politician would have done – he withdrew from the race and threw his support behind Trumbull.  Despite clearly having the larger percentage of the vote, Sampson fell on his sword and gave the race to Trumbull who won 51% to Matteson’s 47%.[1]

01 Trumbull WinsBut why would Sampson do such a thing?

Why would he sacrifice his own position to another opponent?  The thing is that Sampson’s goal once Matteson entered the race was not to win, but to stop Matteson from getting that seat.  He had suspicions that Matteson was crooked.  Reports about Matteson attempting to bribe influential voters was enough to convince Sampson that Matteson was not going to be good for the country and he and Trumbull, while political opponents shared common ideology about the development of the state.  So for the good of Illinois and the good of the country, Sampson withdrew.  Good thing, too.  A year later, Matteson was indicted for fraud after cashing outdated checks to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.  And as for Sampson?  After a second failed attempt at the Senate, he finally got a seat with the support of many of those who had originally opposed him.  His generosity, his willingness to sacrifice for others, had earned him a great deal of respect.  And in 1999, C-SPAN conducted a poll of thousands of people about Sampson and about three dozen other politicians who vied for similar political office and he came out at the very top as having the highest evaluation of any of them.  Sampson, or rather Sampson’s Ghost, was a pen name this politician used in letters.  His real name was Abraham Lincoln.[2]

Adam Grant, the youngest tenured professor at the Wharton School of Business, used this example.

He wrote about it in his groundbreaking book, Give and Take, and in it, he writes that the best way to succeed in business is to have a giving mentality.  He found that there are basically three types of people who inhabit our professional lives – givers, takers, and matchers.  Givers, takers, and matchers.  As you can probably guess, givers are those whose primary focus is not on themselves but on helping others.  Whether it’s co-workers, clients, or random people asking for help, givers love to help other people, not expecting anything in return but because they believe in the philosophy that life is about giving to others.  Takers believe in that old maxim by Mark Twain who said, “The principle of give and take; that is diplomacy – give one and take ten.”[3]  Takers can sometimes act like givers, but generally only in the short run.  They are likely to give to people they feel are their superiors while often forgetting about those who helped them make their way to the top.  Matchers are status quo type of people.  They give but generally to curry favor, bank a future favor, or to repay a favor.  They are happy to give, but don’t like being indebted to people or have people too indebted to them.  As Walsh noted, there’s a little bit of all three of these in all of us and they come out in different ways at different times, but those whose primary mode of operation is as a giver often end up being very successful.  On top of that people who are givers generally have people rooting for them to succeed and will often sacrifice for them to see them move ahead as opposed to takers who are always having people gunning for them.

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Adam Grant’s book Give and Take which advocates for being nice!

As you can imagine, giving takes time, energy, and effort.

Often times givers are at the bottom of the workplace success ladder.  They often score lower and do not perform as well as takers and matchers.  In a study of 600 medical students in Belgium, the students with the lowest grades had unusually high scores on giver statements like “I love to help others” and “I anticipate the needs of others.”  They went out of their way to help their peers study, sharing with them what they knew and often filling the gaps in other people’s knowledge.  They sacrifice their own time, energy, and effort, sometimes at the cost of their own performance so you’ll often find givers at the bottom of the success ladder.  Do you know who you’d find at the top?  GIVERS!  Givers are generally at the top of the success ladder as well.  How can that be?  It turns out that over time, givers who are successful learn how to manage their time most effectively to be both true to their core (as a giver) and to succeed.  Often times it is BECAUSE of their giving that they achieve the success that they have.  People have long thought that raw talent and chance opportunities determined our success, but as more and more studies have been conducted, other factors like hard work and giving have been found to be more influential than chance, luck, or talent.

But this is nothing new to God.

God wrote the playbook on success far earlier than Adam Grant.  He even gave us that knowledge in the Bible.  We’re going to read a short quip this morning from the Bible to illustrate this, so if you have a Bible or Bible app on your phone, please go to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 6, beginning with verse 37.  Luke 6:37 and 38.  This takes place right after he chooses the twelve to be his apostles.  He begins to teach them immediately and a gathering of his disciples crowd around him while Jesus shares these life lessons with us.  He talks about giving right after he talks with them about loving their enemies and this is what he says.

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” – Luke 6:37-38

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From my NIV version of the Bible

This is just one of many verses God uses to talk to us about the power of giving.

At first, the verse doesn’t seem to go that way.  In fact, the little chapter subtitle is “Judging Others.”  At least it is in my Bible.  But looking closer at it, both of these verses are really about giving.  “Do not judge, and you will not be judged” is just another way of saying that you should give the gift of grace to others because you will need that grace yourself from God.  “Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned” is another way of saying that we should give the gift of mercy because we need God’s mercy to get into Heaven.  And “Forgive, and you will be forgiven” is along the same lines.  There isn’t a one of us that doesn’t need God’s forgiveness.  Then Jesus sums it up with verse 38.  “Give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  Jesus re-emphasizes here the importance of giving and offers an example that the people of his day would be familiar with.  A person going to market would often bring a cup or bowl to measure the grain he was purchasing.  Grain wasn’t sold by weight but by volume so after agreeing on a price, the seller would then fill the bowl to the top.[4]  A “good” measure was one where the seller would make sure you got your money’s worth.  After filling the bowl, they would press it down, then shake it to settle any loose grain, and then pour more grain until it was running over and then literally pour that into your lap.  You would usually come to market with a loose fitting tunic for just that purpose, to carry things like grain back to your home.    Since the seller would fill the bowl to overflowing, it would be too hard to carry without spilling in the bowl.  This is the kind of abundance we should be giving to others.  “For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

What Adam Grant discovered was something God’s been trying to tell us for centuries.

Give and it will be given back to you in abundance. Don’t you find that this is true?  When you get exceptional service at a restaurant, don’t you tend to give a larger tip?  Maybe even one that is MORE generous than usual? Sometimes when people give freely without strings attached, we give more in return, not because we feel obligated, but because we feel so loved by their generosity and willingness.  There is one caveat.  Giving must come from the heart. As Grant describes in the book and I’m sure you’ve experienced in your own life, there are plenty of fakers – people who pretend to give or maybe even convince themselves that they are giving out of concern for others, but are really only giving for what they get out of it.  When we give in order to receive, if that is our purpose, we will be found out.  People can smell authenticity.  You may be able to fool them for a while, but eventually people are able to tell.  The abundance that comes from genuine giving is because of the goodwill and love that genuine giving generates.  Not because of the giving alone, but because we are naturally drawn to people who are so willing to help us and others for no other reason than they want to.  And this ties in to the character of God who is the most generous giver, and God is pleased when we behave in ways that mirror him. More than a generous giver, God loves a genuine giver.  Because it’s not about the amount you give, but the heart in which you give it.  Challenge yourself this week to be more giving in every way, to give more of your time, effort, energy, and gifts.  Because God is waiting to pour back into your lap the measure in which you give to others.

[1] From the book Give and Take by Adam Grant pp. 11-17.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Op.Cit., p.1

[4] http://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/1996-11-24-The-First-Law-of-Christian-Giving/

Plus It! – Giving UP Lent

Lou Green isn’t a household name, but his creation is.

Back in 1962, Lou was the owner of a little fast food place in Cincinnati, Ohio and he was struggling with sales every Friday.  Business got to be so bad that he was making only about $75 on that day of the week.  See, Lou worked in a neighborhood that was 87% Catholic and back then, Catholics didn’t abstain from meat just on the Fridays during Lent, but on every Friday and Lou only sold hamburgers.  A competing restaurant in town, Frisch’s, had been making a good fish sandwich and all Lou’s customers were going over there.  Knowing he could come up with something on his own, he created a special batter, made his own tartar sauce, and presented his creation to the head of the company, Ray Kroc.  And the Filet-O-Fish sandwich was born.[1]  But even then it wasn’t easy.  Ray wasn’t convinced it would sell and he had created his own sandwich to combat “meat-free Fridays” – the Hula burger, a cold bun served with a slice of pineapple in the middle.  Ray challenged Lou and put the burgers together against each other and said whichever sold better the company would adopt.  Needless to say, Ray lost.  Today, McDonald’s sells over 300 million Filet-O-Fish sandwiches a year.  Lou doesn’t see a penny of it, but don’t worry.  When Lou sold his franchise he owned 43 McDonald’s locations across Greater Cincinnati.

01 Double Filet
The Double Filet-O-Fish is a creation of the McDonald’s in Singapore

What surprised me was to find out at one time Catholics were meat-free EVERY Friday.

Today it’s just during Lent, but before Pope Paul VI loosened the restriction in 1966, it was meat-free every Friday.[2]  If you don’t know, Lent is the period Christians observe from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday and represents the forty days Christ spent in the desert.  In fact, the Latin word for Lent is “Quadragesima” which means “forty days.” [3]  But why go meat-free in the first place?  And why Fridays?  Some people jokingly or not speculated the Church mandated the restriction to help the fishing industry. But it was done to honor Christ and to remember his sacrifice on the cross.[4]  Since Christ died on a Friday, Catholics not only skipped red meat but the flesh of any warm-blooded animal.  Dr. Michael Foley explained that it seemed theologically fitting to abstain from eating the “meat of an animal whose blood has been shed” on the day in which Christ’s blood was shed.[5]  Today, you often hear of Christians, both Catholic and Protestant alike, giving something up for Lent, if not meat them something else. Soda. Sweets. Swearing.  But something that’s meant to be challenging in some way to honor and reflect on Christ’s sacrifice for us.

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Giving up sweets for Lent – always challenging for me. What is challenging for you?

Are you giving something up for Lent?

If you’ve never done it before, I want to encourage you to try it.  It’s not a requirement.  Nothing bad happens to you if you don’t do it, but this could be something to challenge you to grow in your faith.  And if you have done it before, I want to challenge you to do something new.  I want to challenge you to “plus it.”  If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone we’re going to read from Luke 6:27-36.  We’re going to read from this passage today. “Plus it” is a term Walt Disney used when talking about making something even better. Never one to settle for something that worked, he always challenged himself to find a way to do something better and he called that “plussing it.”  One day, early in Disneyland’s history Walt was talking to a group of his accountants who were trying to convince him not to hold this Christmas parade he wanted to do.  They ran the numbers and to do everything Walt wanted was going to cost about $350,000, and this was back in the 50’s and early 60’s when the park was still young.  They told him not to spend the money, that nobody would complain because they were already going to be there and they wouldn’t be expecting it and he said to them, “That’s just the point…We should do the parade precisely because no one’s expecting it. Our goal at Disneyland is to always give the people more than they expect. As long as we keep surprising them, they’ll keep coming back. But if they ever stop coming, it’ll cost us ten times that much to get them to come back.”[6]  That concept of always challenging ourselves to “plus it” is true for our faith also.  If we grow complacent in our faith, it will take so much more effort to energize us once again.  Instead, we should keep finding new ways to examine our faith, to practice our faith, and to grow our faith.  We only have to look to Jesus for an example.  If you would please rise for the reading of the Gospel as we share from Luke 6:27-36.  Hear now, the Word of God.

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Walt Disney’s idea to “plus it” meant never being idle but always thinking of ways to improve. Are we challenging ourselves in our faith?

 

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

   32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Christ calls his people to do something radical.

He wants them to “plus” their spiritual life.  He challenges his followers to love their enemies and to do good to those who hate them.  We take it for granted now that this is the way we are supposed to act, but back then, this was completely against what they had been taught.  Instead of “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth,” Jesus was saying to turn the other cheek.  Give your shirt to the guy who just stole your coat.  But listen carefully to what Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners love those who love them.”  Jesus is challenging his followers to do more than the status quo.  He’s saying to them that it really isn’t much of a stretch to love those who love you.  He’s pushing them to do something MORE!  And not because it makes us look better in God’s eyes.  We aren’t trying to score Brownie points with God.  Jesus is challenging us to grow deeper in our faith by taking love of neighbor to a whole new level. What if we did the same?  During Lent we traditionally give something up as a way of honoring Christ’s sacrifice and to remind ourselves how much we need God’s forgiveness.  But what if we did the unexpected?  What if instead of just giving something up, we gave something more?  What if we gave more of ourselves to God and to one another?  What if we gave more time, more money, more prayer, more of everything to God?  What would that look like?

01 Real-Life-Up-House

Over the next weeks, we are going to explore that question together.

I want us to challenge ourselves to do more than just give something up.  But to really give something UP!  To INCREASE what we do for God.  To really “plus” your Lenten experience this year and make it one to remember.  In the coming weeks, we will talk about some different ways to do that, to make Lent not just a six week period where we give something up, but maybe increase and deepen our faith by doing something meaningful.  And if you’ve never given something up?  Then try at least this year to do that and use that extra time, money, and effort to invest in God.  Lent is a time for us to reflect on all that Christ has done for us.  Let us use this time to do the unexpected and be the people that Christ calls us to be.  As you come up for communion today, prayerfully ask God what he is leading you to give up during this Lenten season.  And then ask how God wants you to give more so that you will grow deeper in your faith.  Let us pray together.

Heavenly Father.  As we enter into this Lenten season, help us to grow spiritually in our faith in you as we remember the sacrifices Christ made so that we can enter into a relationship with you.  Help us also to be the type of people who do the unexpected that we may shine a light on you with our lives.  The Lenten season is only about to begin, but help us look forward to the end when we celebrate the Risen Christ who represents all the hope we have in the world.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

 

[1] http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/industries/food/2007-02-20-fish2-usat_x.htm

[2] http://www.catholiconnection.com/2013/02/fasting-and-abstinence-old-rules-compared-to-new-rules.html

[3] http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09152a.htm

[4] http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/04/05/150061991/lust-lies-and-empire-the-fishy-tale-behind-eating-fish-on-friday

[5] https://heavy.com/social/2019/03/no-meat-fridays-lent-catholics/

[6] http://grumpymickey.com/tag/plussing-it/

Pinky and the Brain Join the Church

The Brain and the church have a common goal.

We are both trying to take over the world. Pinky and the Brain was an animated television show back in 1995 and it featured two laboratory mice who cook up a new scheme every episode to conquer the planet. The show opened the same way every time.  Pinky would ask, “Gee, Brain.  What are we going to do tonight?”  And Brain would respond, “The same thing we do every night, Pinky – try to take over the world!”  So, we have that in common.  We just plan do to do it differently.

Our hope and our goal is to win over the world with the love of Christ.

But that’s not a task we can accomplish alone.  As brilliant as Brain is, he still needs Pinky, and in the same way the task of bringing the world to faith in Christ is not one we can do on our own.  It takes all of us, working together to make a difference.  In that way, it’s a lot like our favorite sports teams.  The Golden State Warriors won the NBA Championship last year again.  Three times in four years.  That’s pretty remarkable.  But as great as Steph Curry is he didn’t score every point or make every steal.  He didn’t even win the MVP of the finals. The same is true of other great sports teams.  Look at the Giants when they won the championship back in 2014.  On paper, there’s no way they should have won, but you don’t play the game on paper.  You play it on the field and that team came together at just the right time and in just the right way to take the World Series.  There wasn’t any one player you could point to who did it all.  Madison Bumgarner may have won the MVP, but he couldn’t have won without players scoring those runs.  Likewise, Jordan had Pippen.  Gretsky had Messier.  Shaq had Kobe (or maybe Kobe had Shaq). Montana had Rice.  And the list goes on and on.  The same is true outside of sports, too.  J.K. Rowling didn’t create the world of Harry Potter without editors, friends, and advance readers supporting her.  Chefs have sous chefs.  Pastors have congregations.  No one, no matter how talented or great, can do it alone.

01 Sports

That’s why we join the church, because we can do more as a team.

A team that is poised to take over the world with the love of Jesus Christ.  As Jesus commanded us, we are to go into the world and make disciples of all nations and that is a task we cannot do alone.  We are stronger as a group.  We have more resources, more knowledge, and more support as a group.  We build each other up and we carry each other’s burdens as a group.  And each of us in our own way contributes to that effort. Each of us has gifts we can use to make that vision a reality.  We don’t all have to be Michael Jordan or even Scottie Pippin.  Maybe we are Steve Kerr, and you see how well he turned out. Our gifts are needed to make the team successful.  We see how important those gifts are in our passage this morning.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. – Romans 12:3-8

We have different gifts for a purpose; to compliment the Body of Christ.

Each one of us adds our own particular talents, knowledge, thoughts, and experience to the wider community.  And in that way, we help to equip the body, this larger community, for the work God calls us to do.  We often underestimate our own value.  If our gifts aren’t flashy or cool or obvious, we think they aren’t important, but tell that to the linebacker who protects the quarterback from harm.  The quarterback often gets the credit for his team’s spectacular plays, but where would he be without his linemen protecting him?  Where would he be without a wide receiver or tight end to catch the ball?  You are important to Christ’s mission in the world.

But we also join the church so we can grow in our own faith. 

Not only are we tasked to help others come to faith in Christ, but we find Christ through the work we do together.  We find a community we fit into, we plant roots in that community, and we grow deeper in our faith.  Faith-building is a process of willful engagement where we test our own theology in the framework of our fellow believers. As it says in Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”  When we try to grow on our own, we don’t have any mechanism for feedback.  We don’t have a way to test our theories and beliefs.  We can’t get the feedback of others who might be able to sharpen and refine our beliefs.  Just as each of us have gifts to lend to the sharing the love of Christ, we also have gifts to help our fellow sisters and brothers in Christ to grow deeper in their faith.  Other people have views and opinions that help to refine our own.  Other people have ideas we’ve never even considered.  And that helps to shape and mold our understanding of God. The long seasoned follower of Christ has experience on their side while someone new to faith can see things from a fresh perspective.  We study the Bible together, we interpret God’s actions in the world together, and we hold each other accountable.  When John Wesley began the Methodist movement, that was an essential component – to hold each other accountable.  Each person was required to join a small group that would meet regularly and at each session they went around and answered the question, “How is it with your soul?”  Wesley felt it was important for us to be accountable to one another.  It was another way to strengthen the glue of our faith.  And that’s another reason we join the church to build each other up in our faith so that together we can take over the world with the love of Jesus Christ.

01 Sunday
Sunday in the Park with George by Seurat

Your membership in the local church is a commitment to a certain group of people.

You’ve promised to join a community of like believers who offer something unique to the community and to one another.  Our churches are like the dots in George Seurat’s “Sunday in the Park With George.”  If you’ve ever seen that painting, you know that it’s made up of thousands of tiny dots.  Literally tiny dots.  Our churches are like those dots.  Each one contributing to the whole, but only together do they make a beautiful painting.  Likewise, without the dots, there is no painting.  If the painting is missing a section of dots, it looks incomplete.  We commit to being a part of one of those dots.  Individually, our community is important, but its importance is largely because we are part of that painting.  Together, we make the painting complete.  We solidify that commitment by taking vows before the congregation when we join the church.  Like wedding vows and baptismal vows, our vows of membership are a public way for us to express our faith in Christ.  It says in the letter to the Romans, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” By coming before the congregation we are doing just that, declaring with our mouths that Jesus is Lord.  We’re giving voice to what we already believe in our hearts.  So as we take on the larger commitment to baptize all nations, that journey begins in our local church.  As Dr. Stamm wrote in his summary of membership, “…the United Methodist membership vows call us to make the world our parish one neighborhood at a time.”  If you’ve been coming for a while but haven’t joined, I hope you’ll challenge yourself to ask why that is.  Why is it you have been willing to take part in the life of our church, but unwilling to join?  It may not seem important, but it is.  Like wedding vows and baptismal vows and citizenship vows, they are more than a piece of paper.  They are the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.  If you’re new to BMUC, you’ll soon realize this is a community of loving people who want to be a vital part of the world around us and I hope you’ll want to be a part of that, too.  Do you have to join to become part of God’s mission here at BMUC? No.  And you’re gifts are welcome either way.  But I think you’ll find personally that your faith life will be enriched when you take that extra step.  And if you are already a member, I hope you’ll pray about how you will use your gifts to continue to enrich this community of faith.

So you see, our mission is the same as Pinky and the Brain.

Like them, we are out to take over the world.  But we don’t do it for our glory, but for God’s.  And unlike basketball, baseball, football or hockey, we don’t win at the expense of others.  In fact, if the mission of the church was like a playground game, it would probably be more like Red Rover.  The game isn’t over until everyone is on our side and then everybody wins.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.