MESSAGE – BE THE BEST IN THIS WORK OF GRACE
Sunday Message, 06.27.21
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
SCRIPTURE: 2nd Corinthians 8:7-15
After hearing those words from 2nd Corinthians, wow, you know, I am just chomping at the bit to charge into a rip snorting stewardship sermon. Something that is more than a little tempting when later this morning we are going to be talking church budget stuff!
But let me first set the context of this passage from 2nd Corinthians which we have just heard. In this part of his letter, Paul IS doing a fundraising pitch, but I am going to take that in perhaps a little different direction today.
Apparently, the Christian community in Jerusalem was in dire straits – they were very poor. And Paul was leading the charge to raise funds to help them.
And Paul here is trying to shame the church in Corinth, just a little bit, to step up their relief efforts. “I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others.” v. 8
That is building on the example of the Macedonian church he talked about earlier in the chapter. Even though they were much poorer than the Corinthians, he says they had voluntarily given “according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry.”
Oh, he’s couching it all in fancy language, but basically he’s saying, come on folks, step up, if they can do it you can do better.
So yes the Lord loves a cheerful giver and all of that. And who knows, I may “pull a Paul” and browbeat you all sometime down the road. I could use the example of one of our neighbors living here downtown near the church who rejoices to bring in a handful of change. Sometimes it’s just a few pennies, nickels, and dimes, sometimes it’s quarters, sometimes even some folding money. Several times a week he knocks on the door and is eager for me to receive what he has rustled up. And as meager as his widow’s mite seems, over the course of a year it adds up to more than we receive from a fair number of our members.
But I am going to take things in a little different direction, because I am going to talk about stewardship in a little different sense.
In its deepest and truest meaning, and contrary to what you may hear on TV, it is NOT primarily about giving money to the church or the preacher. Stewardship is the idea that we are stewards, that is to say, caretakers of all that God has entrusted to us.
Time, talent and treasure, that’s how I often speak of it, and it may seem trite, but it pretty much sums it up. All that we have and all that we are are God’s gifts to us. And what we do with it is our gift to God.
God challenges us to be the best in this work of grace.
And that word grace is primarily about something that is freely given. God gives and challenges us to follow God’s example; to be creative and loving in all that we do, as I often say in our offertory language around here.
God challenges us to be the best in this work of giving of ourselves to make the world a better place and that’s something far bigger than the church. It has to do with how we go about our business of loving family and friends and neighbors, of doing our job if we’re fortunate enough to have one, of dealing with the structure of our lives, what do we do to do the best that we can given our circumstances to make the world a better place.
We’re challenged to be the best.
Not the best in the sense of better than somebody else, but best in the sense of doing the best that you can do. The best that I can do.
Many of you know I am not too much of a sports fan. I butted heads too many times as a youngster with those who insisted your worth is only measured by how many others you beat. And somehow that never set well with me. But if you look at your competitors as partners in challenging and pushing you to be your best self, that changes everything.
And so I want to share something with you today, quite out of character for me, that comes from the world of international athletics, and I hope you can hear it as being about something far more than the business of track and field, or any particular business, for that matter.
Many of you may have heard, perhaps, of Allyson Felix. She is an American athlete about the same age as my daughters, who’s been a spectacular success by any measure. She specializes in the 400 meter race, but has also excelled in the 100 and 200 and in relays.
She is tied with Merlene Ottey as the most decorated female Olympian runner with nine medals and has the most gold medals of any athlete in World Athletics Championship history.
I am holding her up as an example, not because of her athletic accomplishments, dedicated as she is, determined as she is, hard working as she has been since she was a teenager, even though she has just qualified for a 5th Olympic team, (think about that – 5 Olympics, that’s an incredible span of time) but rather for her newest venture, which I just read about this week.
When she wanted to start a family a few years ago she was told by her sponsor Nike that if she got pregnant, they could not continue to support her. And when she started a push to organize her fellow athletes to challenge that policy and change it, they told her, “You need to stay in your place, this is just business, this is none of your business.” That was the company line.
Well, that sponsorship fell by the wayside. But she had a child, and immediately after she gave birth, early on, I think she was 32 weeks along or something like that, and had that kid by C-section, and she began to rehabilitate and to compete again and to come back to the highest level of the sport.
She and another woman took second and first in the 400 meter trials. The woman who edged her out and she herself both have young children just about the same age. And they brought those kids out onto the track, cute little not even quite 3 year olds, I think.
They brought them out onto the track with them to celebrate and share the limelight. And I don’t know if any of you saw clips of that, but those kids stole the show! The reporters and the cameramen were paying more attention to them than they were to the medal winners.
But this all struck me as a powerful metaphor that could touch all of us no matter where we find ourselves in life’s journey. Because when people told her, “You need to stay in your place…” she refused to listen to that.
And that’s powerful stuff.
It ought to be particularly poignant for us here in this congregation where we have a long tradition of supporting women’s suffrage, and the right of women to determine their own fate and destiny and control their own bodies, and where we proclaim that everyone, no matter who you are, no matter where you are on the journey, is welcome here.
Be who you ARE. And be the best you that you can be.
That gets me just excited, it gets me in awe, when I see examples of people who remind us of that.
Be who you are, and be the best you that you can be.
She started her own shoe company, and I don’t know how that’s going to go but you know, she’s out there banging the drum for her brand instead of somebody else’s.
Shouldn’t we all be about that? Banging the drum for our brand, whatever that looks like, for what we do and for who we are, rather than somebody else’s.
That’s what I was hearing today when I heard that phrase from Paul to the Corinthians: “Be the best in this work of grace.”
You are, I am, works of grace.
That’s what God is about. God calls us into being, creates us who we are, and says, “Now go out there, and do something with it.”
Something amazing, something marvelous, even if it never makes the headlines, even if it never gets you on TV, even if it never puts you in the top of somebody’s donor list.
Be the best you that you can be.
To me that’s what it means when I hear Paul talking about this work of grace. Because that’s what God made us for, and that’s what God calls us to do and be about.
In the name of God, our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.