Sermon Transcript - 4.30.23 Mary Brooks "Finding Our Sweet Spot"
Well, it is a joy to get to come and be with you this morning and I'm always glad to give pastors an opportunity to get away on a weekend. Um so many of the time, they plan their vacations and things so they're never gone on a Sunday which means they're doing sermon preparation while they're on vacation. So, I was really glad to be able to come. Lyndon, Kansas is is about 30 miles south of Topeka. It's where if you come down Highway 75 from Topeka, we make you slow down to twenty-five to drive through the middle of town. So, that's how you know you are in Linden. I actually live between Linden and Melbourne. So, I'm out in the sticks as so it is said. but it was a beautiful drive this morning the words of these hymns of brought all kinds of things to mind as I'm driving and thinking this morning, I spent Friday afternoon and and Saturday morning at “connecting council” which is our sort of governing body of the church while between annual conferences. One of the things we were discussing was “what do you think the church will look like in the year 2050?” Well, I'm going to be pretty old in the year 2050. And then It was said that the difference in time between 2050 and now is the same as from 20 from 1996 until now. And if that doesn't make you think, wow. My oldest granddaughter was born in 1995. And I found that I couldn't imagine what the church will look like in 2050.
So, I think I have to leave that to the younger generation to figure out what church is going to have to look like in 2050. So, I know Pastor Christopher is planning on doing a sermon series around spiritual gifts and when he and I talked about spiritual gifts, I went to my bookshelf and I pulled out one of my favorite authors, Max Lucado. Now, if you've ever played golf or baseball, you know what the sweet spot is. I'm not a golfer but I love to watch baseball. And in baseball, the Sweet Spot is where the ball meets the fat part of the bat at just the perfect spot. Usually results in a home run. So, what is the sweet part in life?
Max Lucado in his book, “Cure for the Common Life,” describes it as the intersection of how you used your uniqueness to make a big deal of our God every day of your life and he draws this picture with three circles that intersect each other. One is labeled your everyday life. Another is labeled your strengths and the third is labeled God's glory. Where the three circles intersect that is the sweet spot. And the goal is to live in the sweet spot.
So, let's look at each of those circles. Paul tells us in first Corinthians twelve seven, that the Holy Spirit is given to each of us in a special way that is for the good of all. We are each of us unique. There's never been another person just like you and there never will be. Part of finding our sweet spot is identifying what makes us unique. What skills do we have? What makes our eyes light up and puts that smile on your face? Max recommends we spend time finding our uniqueness. Not to spend time worrying about the skills we don't have it or coveting the strengths of others. God has given and each of us gifts and the purpose of those gifts is to honor God Why is it that we so often focus on the gifts we don't have? God packed a bag for just for each of us. So, why do we try so often to live out of someone else's bag?
Have you ever heard? “I wish I could…______” “Fill in the blank with: play the piano, sing, paint, play ball - a thousand things you could think of. When we try to live out of someone else's bag, we settle for commonness. I think we may do children a disservice when we tell them, you can be anything you want to be. It's not that I think we should limit their dreams or discourage their ambitions but rather we should help them discover their uniqueness and the things that make their eyes light up. We tend to think of children as a blank canvas that the whole world is ahead of them and there is nothing on there that yet when they're tiny children, but that's not really true, is it? Children are born just like we are with innate gifts and talents. Their canvas isn't blank when they're born. God knows exactly who they are supposed to be. So, let's face it. There are things you and I can't do no matter how much we might wish to. I would never have made a professional athlete no matter how much I wanted to or how much I tried. I do not have athletic genes. God didn't pack my bag for athletics. That doesn't mean that children or us shouldn't try things But sometimes trying those things help us discover what we are not built for. When I was in my early 30s, I decided I would join the church softball team. I love to watch baseball so and I could throw a ball fairly well.
My best friend - his brother was a pitcher on a teenage team and pitched rather well. I always said I was the eighth kid in their family. Um so went and threw a ball with Neil a lot and played catch. So, I thought, well, I can do this. One of my first games, I hit the ball and I started out towards first. The first baseman told me quietly that you're not supposed to slide into first base. Those of you who watch or have played ball note, you're not supposed to slide into first base. And I was too embarrassed to tell him that I tripped over my own feet and I was just fortunate enough. I was close enough to first base that I could reach it. Sadly, the same thing happened when I ran to second base. Uh needless to say, my career in coed softball was short lived. My bag was not packed for athletics.
Likewise, I would make a terrible CPA. I got good grades in math in school. And I can manage to balance my checkbook. But working with numbers brings me no joy. It is a tedious chore. My friend Kathleen on the other hand, she loves to make spreadsheets and her eyes light up when she's going through financial statements and giving you all the information on that. That's how her bag is packed. So, I think with children, instead of “you can do anything you want to be” and this big, blank canvas which really is kind of scary when you think about it. If all things are possible for you, how do you begin to choose? Instead, maybe we would be better off helping them find out how their bag is packed. What things make them happy. What things they're good at. What talents they have.
Have you ever had the experience of someone holding a position in the church that they dearly loved and were really good at? And then the nominations team moves them to a different committee because they're three years are up. We do that in the church. Unfortunately. We either move people away from jobs that they love. Because their three years are up or we leave them there forever. Until they find someone to take over. Not only do we move people sometimes from the position they love but we put them in something they aren't gifted for and then we're surprised when their interest wanes. I'm pleased to see the church begin to instead of looking at filling slots that we look at the gifts that people have, that we have the ability to do, that we have the passion to do. The Bible has multiple stories of people finding their uniqueness and using it for God and probably there's no better example than Moses. Moses had a passion for people, for justice for people. Early in his life, he saw an Egyptian that was beating a Hebrew slave and he interceded when he fled Egypt, he protected the daughters of the priest of Midian at the well when they were being chased away. And eventually he led the Hebrew people out of Egypt, out of slavery. He found what his passion and his gift were and used them for the glory of God. Max says we should take some time, now and then, and reflect on what we have always done well and love to do. And, he suggests, we go back to our childhood. To remember the things when you were a child that you really enjoyed doing. Did you like working with animals? With people? Numbers? Nature? What triggers your motivation? What makes you want to do something instead of saying, oh, I have to do that today. When do you feel God's pleasure that God is pleased with what you're doing? I came home from kindergarten one day and I was picking out the songs from kindergarten on the piano. God packed me for music. I started piano lessons shortly thereafter and one of the things that is joyful for me is playing piano for worship. Before I came today, I had to make sure somebody was going to cover. We have two of us at Linden that play piano, and we trade off months. So, April has been my month, but I had to make sure that Mindy was going to be there today to play for church before I could make a commitment that I could be here and she was gracious to do that. We do that for each other quite a lot but every summer, I work with our high school youth that go to institute. And evening worship is always praise music. I love playing the praise music at Institute. That's what makes my eyes light up.
The second circle is making a big deal of God. Max puts it this way. Don't waste time embellishing your own image. No disrespect but who needs to see your face? Who doesn't need to see God's face? He suggests we use our uniqueness to take risks for God. I read somewhere that one of the results of the pandemic is that we have learned loneliness. While we were shut in our houses, afraid of interacting with others for fear of the COVID virus, we came to accept that isolation is normal. We're seeing that in our churches as it's slow to get folks back into community. We were meant to be in community. And we were meant to worship God. I know I'm preaching to the choir because you all are here. But it seems we've forgotten how to be in community. Churches that used to have monthly covered dish dinners have let that practice evaporate and many churches no longer have a choir or have Sunday school. I was so excited to hear your choir and understand you're missing some folks today but I I used to direct the choir at Linden and we just got to the point there weren't enough of us to keep that going. And I missed that in so many ways. So it was such a joy hear your choir.
Worship lifts our eyes from ourselves to God. We all need that. One of my favorite old hymns is, I'm so glad to be part of the family of God. You probably all know that one. I'm so glad to be part of the family of God. Through Jesus Christ, you and I, our brothers and sisters, I didn't pick you and you didn't pick me and I may not like you and you may not like me but since God picked us both, we're family. And we should treat each other as friends. How much better would the world be if we could just remember that. Now, what does that have to do with gifts? Well, remember, God gives gifts for the good of the church. If you take the gift God packed in your bag and you never bring it to church, you're like the story of that servant that you know, got the talents. There were the three servants and one got so many talents and the next one got a few and then the third one just got one and then he went and buried his talent in the ground. Thank you. So, imagine that you have a friend who's going to have a birthday and so you go and you pick out this special gift for your friend's birthday. You are so excited to give it to them and to see their reaction when they unwrap the present. So, the day arrives and you go to their house and you place the beautifully-wrapped present in your friend's hands. And they set it on the table and invite you into the house. You wait and you wait but your friend never opens the present and says, oh I'll do that later. Finally, you go home. Disappointed that you didn't get to see them open the gift. Weeks later, you're at the house again and the gift is still sitting on the table, still unwrapped. Imagine your deep disappointment and then imagine God's disappointment when we fail to the gifts that he has given us to glorify him.
Thirdly, give God your everyday life. God's cure for a common life is to change our reporting structure. What if everyone worked not to satisfy themselves or to please the bottom line but to please God. At the time, this book was written. Max says that a survey said, one third of Americans hate their job. Statistics show that more suicides occur on Sunday nights than any other day of the week. More heart attacks occur on Monday than any other day of the week. Says a lot about how we feel about our work, doesn't it? So, what are you supposed to do? Just quit your job, look for something different, you still have bills to pay, that's not always the solution. The problem might be less the occupation and more your attitude toward it. Max says to us all, Jesus says, your work is my work. Try working for Jesus instead of just your paycheck and see how your attitude changes.
Now, for those of us who are retired, so many struggle to find a purpose in life. Now, that we're no longer part of the workforce. What gives you a reason to get up in the morning? My mother's advice was find someone to help. When you're helping someone else, it's hard to dwell on yourself and feel sorry for yourself. Find a place to volunteer. Meals on Wheels is always looking for people to deliver meals. The local hospital may need volunteers in the surgery waiting room. There's lots of things we can retired people can find to do. Sometimes, we get so busy doing those things. We don't have time for the things we should be doing. Sometimes, we need to take a break. I'm glad your pastor took time to be away this weekend. Pastors find hard, find it hard to step away from the responsibility of their congregations. Encourage him to do so on a regular basis. Make sure he's taking his day off. I can't tell you how many pastors I talked to and I say, are you taking your day off? Well, I try to take a day off. No, are you taking your day off? They need to be intentional about taking their day off and and y'all will have to help him with that. If he's struggling with not taking his day off. Jesus is our example. What did he do when he was tired? He went away to a quiet place to spend time in prayer with God. Sometimes, we need to say no to the good things so we have time for better things and what could be better than spending time with God?
So, I close with this. We may think that the gift we have is so small that no one will notice. But think about this little poem. Moses had a staff. David had a sling. Samson had a jaw bone and Rahab had a string. Mary had some ointment. Aaron had a rod. Dorcas had a needle. And all were used by God. What do you have? Let us pray. God who gives us gifts small gifts, large gifts, gifts always to be used in your glory. Help us to not leave that gift unwrapped but to find those ways in which you have packed our bag uniquely to each of us. To find a way to use those gifts in a way that pleases you and glorifies you. And find a way to live in that sweet spot every day of our lives. In Jesus name. Amen.
Once again, I thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to be with you this morning. Um one of the things that I learned in my very first Lace speaking class was that no one will ever complain if they get out of church early. We lay preachers tend to talk too long rather than too short but anyway, main standing for our benediction. God who grants us gifts. Help us to find those gifts. Find ways to use them in your glory every day of our lives. So that we can live in the sweet spot. Go and help others find their sweet spot. Amen.