If you were the coach of a team — any sport, it doesn’t matter – would you rather have a team with 1 or 2 really, really good players who win you lots of games, or a team with no really good players, but they work well as a team, and win just as many games? Thursday’s CNN.com ran a fascinating article about today’s generation of young athletes. Geno Auriemma, head coach of U of Conn. women’s basketball team for the past 30 years, and hasn’t lost a game in over two years, has seen a significant change in player attitudes. Here’s a clip of a recent press conference during which he addressed the selfish attitude that’s become much more prevalent in sports. (show clip)
I can’t say for sure, because I don’t follow UConn basketball, but just based on this clip, this winning coach would rather have a team that works well together…who care more about the team’s performance than their individual performance.
5 years ago Shane Morris was recruited to be play QB at Michigan. He was a topped ranked high school QB, and everyone anticipated that he’d be huge. The only problem was, every year he found himself surrounded by other QB’s who were just as good if not better. And over the course of his four years as a Wolverine, he only played in 16 games, never threw a TD, never ran for a TD, and had 5 interceptions. But every year he kept at it.
At one point I remember asking myself how it must feel going through four years of college with the expectation that it would eventually lead to a career in the NFL, only to never play enough to get yourself noticed? I always wondered if he ever got to the place where he could truly and honestly celebrate the team wins even if he didn’t have a lot to do with them? That is, could he be content knowing that in his own limited way, he’d contributed to those team wins? Could he be happy with the advancement of the team instead of the advancement of himself? And on the flip side, would he be willing to sacrifice the desires of self for the betterment of the team, the community?
In this sermon series, we’ve been talking about growing in our commitment to focusing our energies and resources on those outside of our immediate church family. It’s my hope that we cultivate the value of being externally-focused.
This is not to suggest that we neglect our own needs, but more so that we give priority to ministering to the needs of those who aren’t here. Is this a difficult thing to do? Certainly. We’re wired to take care of self above all. And so it’s something we have to consciously choose to do. Being externally focused is a matter of the will. It doesn’t happen automatically.
And it’s based on the story Jesus told of the shepherd who left the 99 sheep to go in search of the one that was lost. Locating that single “lost” sheep was more important than making sure the 99 were kept safe and sound. The world says, “It’s better that one should die for the well-being of the many.” But this particular story seems to indicate that God takes a different perspective. That those outside the fold have a priority over those within the fold. Translation: those outside the church have a priority to God than those within the church.
If that’s an affront to you, take it up with Jesus.
So far, in answer to the question, Why should we care about them? we’ve proposed three answers. 1) Because Jesus cares about them. 2) Because they matter. And 3) Because those outside the church are often credited with possessing greater faith than we inside the church. This morning I’m suggesting a fourth reason: Because it ultimately benefits the whole community.
Let me give you an example from something that’s familiar to many of us here: marriage. And even if you’re not married, it’ll still make sense to you. Marriage is the coming together of two separate entities, right? Before you’re married, your focus is on self. Life is about what I want and need. What career do I want? Where do I want to go to school? What kind of car do I want to buy? Where do I want to live? What will I spend my money one? Where will I go on vacation?
There’s nothing wrong with this, as it’s the way it’s supposed to be. But saying “I do” changes everything. Because in marriage, it’s no longer about me but about us. It’s not What’s best for me? but What’s best for us? Where’s the best place for US to live? What should WE spend OUR money on?
If I as a single persons have a dog, but my wife is allergic to dogs, guess what I need to do? Find another owner for the dog. If I as a single person always travel to Miami in the dead of summer because I love the heat and humidity, but my spouse finds such weather to be unbearable, we’re going to find a new place to vacation. Because it’s no longer about me and what I want. It’s about what’s best for us.
When that’s the approach couples take in their marriage, it makes the marriage all the stronger. In fact, I’d even say that when it’s that way in a marriage, the individual experience of life is all the more fulfilling.
Along those same lines, here’s something else I tell couples during pre-marriage counseling. I look at the man and say, “If you put her needs before your own,” and to the woman, “and you put his needs before your own, then guess what? Both of you have your needs met.”
Now, one might argue and say that if I put my own needs first, and she puts her own needs first, then we’re both getting our needs met. Logically, that makes sense. But there’s just something different about meeting the other’s needs. Meeting my own needs separates. Meeting another’s needs unites. It’s the classic, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
When we focus our ministries on those who aren’t here – those outside of our church – doing so benefits not only those persons, but the larger community as well. Let’s supposed we offered a divorce recovery ministry. Those who participated in a divorce recovery group would personally benefit, right? But there would also be collateral benefits as well. In such a group, someone might begin to address their anger, which would probably have and positive effect on their relationships with their young children who, in turn, might do better in school.
Or, if we offered a ministry specifically for men that helped them be godly husbands and fathers. Not only would it benefit them personally, but it would likely have a positive effect on their families. If a parent learns how to support and love and discipline in godly ways, it might help ward off future negative attention-seeking behaviors that often have bad endings. I think you see where I’m going with this.
In today’s story that Jesus tells, a Jewish man is mugged and left for dead. In time, a Jewish priest happens by and sees his brother in need, but walks by on the other side, leaving him to die. Soon thereafter another Jewish man, this time a Levite, also happens by, and also keeps on going, leaving him to die.
But then the Jewish man’s enemy stumbles across the scene. The audience, listening to the unfolding story, anticipates what will happen next: the Samaritan, too, will walk on by. But Jesus throws them a curve ball. The man who is supposed to leave him for dead does the unthinkable: he helps the man lying in the road. He puts him on his own donkey, brings him to an inn, pays for the man’s lodging and medicine, and returns a few days later to see how he’s coming along.
That’s the story as Luke preserved it. That’s where it ends. But let’s take a bit of creative license and think about the rest of the story. Maybe a week or two before all this went down, the Jewish man had encountered a Samaritan in a similar situation, and because they’re enemies, he took that opportunity to verbally ridicule the Samaritan while he was down, and then went on his way, laughing. Let’s further suppose that when this Jewish man came to and found himself at the inn, didn’t remember a thing. And that when the Samaritan showed up a few days later, he saw who it was that helped him, and it was none other than then man he verbally derided the previous week.
What effect could his loving actions have on the Jewish man? Maybe he eventually rejected the notion that the Samaritans are enemies. Maybe he partnered with a Samaritan in his business and modeled loving forgiveness. Maybe he talked with his fellow Jews, and based on his own story and actions, others saw the truth and began acting neighborly towards Samaritans. Maybe years later that little village wasn’t the same place it was, all because one man made it a priority to meet the needs of someone else above his own.
When you and I give of ourselves at Share the Warmth… when we take meals to others in our community…when we tutor children’s reading at Lincoln school…when we take a week of vacation to volunteer with the Appalachian Service Project, the entire community benefits. We benefit, the persons we minister to benefit, and it has the ripple effect of changing our city.
What’s our mission? To develop new and maturing followers of Jesus Christ. And what do we envision will happen as we live into our mission? Nothing less than the transformation of Adrian. That’s our vision, friends. The transformation of Adrian. We don’t envision the transformation of First UMC. Too small a vision. We envision the transformation of our entire community to the place that divorce rates decrease and, drug use decreases, the quality of low-cost housing increases, school attendance increases and grades go up, crime decreases.
Most importantly, however, more people come to faith in Jesus Christ. That is, more people become followers of Jesus Christ who, in turn, help others choose to become followers of JC. When this happens, communities change.
The night before Jesus was crucified he was in the garden praying, asking the Father to change his circumstance. He didn’t want to face the suffering of the cross. “Take this cup away from me,” was how he put it. So what if Jesus came to the decision that the excruciating pain wasn’t worth it? What if he’d said, “Not me!” and walked away into the dark night? Where would you and I be today if he’d taken a purely selfish approach? We’d still be dead in our sins. But because he choose to be externally focused, you and I are truly alive and forgiven.
So here’s the question for us this morning. If our community is the ‘team,’ what are we, the player called “First UMC,” willing to do or sacrifice for the sake of the team, the people in our community? How far are we willing to go to make sure that what we’re doing and offering here has the purpose of benefitting them more than us….for the betterment of us all?