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Sermon for Sunday 7 February 2021

First Reading: Isaiah 40:21-31

21Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? 22It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; 23who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness. 24Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble. 25To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. 26Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing. 27Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? 28Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. 30Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 31but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Psalm 147:1-12

1Hallelujah! How good it is to sing praises to our God! how pleasant it is to honor him with praise! 2The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel. 3He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. 4He counts the number of the stars and calls them all by their names. 5Great is our Lord and mighty in power; there is no limit to his wisdom. 6The Lord lifts up the lowly, but casts the wicked to the ground. 7Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make music to our God upon the harp. 8He covers the heavens with clouds and prepares rain for the earth; 9He makes grass to grow upon the mountains and green plants to serve mankind. 10He provides food for flocks and herds and for the young ravens when they cry. 11He is not impressed by the might of a horse; he has no pleasure in the strength of a man; 12But the Lord has pleasure in those who fear him, in those who await his gracious favor.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 9:16-27

16For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. 18What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. 19For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. 24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Gospel: Mark 1:29-39

29Immediately {Jesus} left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 32That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. 33And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, 37and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” 39And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

The Greatest Motivator

I’m not sure why, but for some reason I’ve been excessively reflective this week.  I say excessive because while reflection is good, it can reach a point when it can become counter-productive.  In other words, when you over analyze things, especially if you don’t have all the facts and figures, then all you end up doing is over-thinking a subject.  I reached that point on Wednesday, when I realized I was no longer reflecting, but obsessing over a subject for which I had no control. 

Now to be fair, the reason for my reflection was one of attempting to understand a social argument.  My motivation to understand was pure, I just didn’t have the tools I needed to make an informed decision.  The subject of the argument is unimportant, the reason I bring this up is that I realized that the arguments being used were based on a desire to achieve something.  The people I was trying to understand wanted to get something changed, and their way of seeking change was to make inflammatory and over-generalized statements to draw attention to their concern. 

On the surface, the group claims that they are motivated to seek change for the good of all, but to me, their actions and words don’t completely add up, their actions seem to say something else and their methods are suspect.  So, my question is two-fold: first, is their motivation pure or do they have ulterior motives and are their methods and actions appropriate.  I bring this up because these two questions are important, because these are the same questions we need to ask ourselves as we reflect on the why we do what we do as Christians.  The question I want to ask this morning is, what motivates us?

I read recently about a man from Spain who has gained a measure of fame in the world of sports.  He has made appearances in the French Open, in Formula One racing, and at World Cup soccer matches.  Now some may be asking, all these sports are very different, is this man somehow the world’s most versatile athlete?  Well, not really, although some might consider him a track star.  The truth is he’s a streaker.  You may have heard of him, he goes by the name Jimmy Jump.  

Jimmy has shown up at major sporting events all over the world and drops “trou”, as they used to say in the 70s, and runs out on the field.  His motivation for doing what he does isn’t for the attention or fame; Jimmy claims he’s interrupting these events to raise awareness of injustice and racism in the world.  In fact, he frequently wears a shirt that reads, “Jimmy Jump Against Racism.”  I, for one, question whether Jimmy has some deep-seated problem, and whether or not his intensions are well-meaning.  I also have to question his method.  Is the thing he claims to support help or hurt by his actions?  Or, does he really have other motives; motivations like notoriety, fame, possibly even money?  The question is, why do we do the things we do?

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced most of the world to hit “Pause” on work, social activities and plans for the future.  Businesses have been forced to shut down or scale back service and many churches still have their doors closed.  Weddings, funerals and graduations were postponed, or significantly altered.  Hanging out with family and friends has been all but placed in the off-limits category.  Everyone, from governments, to corporations, to hospitals, to schools, to churches, to individuals, began questioning why they do what they do.  We’ve been forced to reevaluate what’s important in our lives and how and why we do things.  We’ve been forced to examine the question, why do we do what we do.  

What is the underlying motivation for our work?  Our relationships?  Our hobbies?  How we choose to spend our time and our money?  Why are we here today or why are you watching this on YouTube?  Why do you call yourself a Christian?  What motivates us to think, say and do what we do?  A man tells of watching his favorite NBA team playing in the world championships a few years ago.  The championship game was being played overseas, and there were very few U.S. fans in the stands.  Back home the U.S., the team had opened up their arena, and it was filled with cheering fans watching the game over the Jumbotron.  However, the U.S. team had no way of knowing how many fans were watching them back home.

Usually, the home team has a huge psychological advantage over the visiting team because they’re playing on their home court and they’re surrounded by a crowd of cheering fans.  So the team from the U.S. was at a distinct disadvantage.  Yet the NBA team won.  Afterwards a reporter interviewed one of the players.  He asked, “Wasn’t it hard to play on the road where no one was cheering for you?”  This player said: “what helped me was that I could imagine our fans back home cheering for us—and I was playing for their applause.”  This man was motivated by the adulation of the fans.  That brings me to our epistle reading for today.

Paul traveled all over the Roman Empire preaching about Jesus and starting new churches.  He also faced constant rejection, persecution and danger.  But unlike our basketball player, he didn’t care if anyone was cheering him on.  He was sharing the gospel for God’s approval, and no one else.  Can we say the same about our own work in God’s kingdom?  When asked why we call ourselves Christians, do we answer, to go to heaven instead of hell?  Is what motivates us to serve God all about the reward, or is it because of our love for God and love for others?  You and I have a very limited time on this earth.  And if we’re fortunate enough to have a natural lifespan, then we’ll spend a great deal of time in our various activities.  For a good many of us, one large time-consuming activity is our lives at work.  So, what are we working for?

Years ago, “60 Minutes” did a report on a nun named Sister Emmanuel.  Sister Emmanuel was at retirement age when she prayed that God would send her to the most desperate spot on earth.  God did.  Sister Emmanuel ended up in the poorest slum in the city of Cairo, Egypt, in a place called “the City of Garbage.”  That’s the actual name of a “suburb” of Cairo, Egypt where the people who collect Cairo’s garbage live.  They not only collect the garbage, they live in the garbage, eat the garbage, and salvage all their earthly belongings from the garbage as well.  These people are considered the most despised people in Egypt.

For one, they raise pigs in their garbage kingdom.  Pigs are forbidden in Moslem society.  Into this desperate situation came this retired nun to live among the garbage people, to love them and to teach them and their children better ways to live.  Did she succeed?  Most certainly.  They now have schools and at her urging, the government has provided better housing.  Many lives have been immeasurably improved.  Emmanuel means “God with us.”  Certainly the people of the City of Garbage knew that God was with them in the presence of this determined and dedicated nun.  Sister Emmanuel died in 2008.  What was her reward for her amazing work?  Nothing earthly, to be sure.  

Sister Emmanuel lived as simply as the people to whom she ministered.  She was 79 years old and still passionately involved in ministry when she was interviewed by Diane Sawyer on “60 Minutes.”  Diane asked Sister Emmanuel if she thought about death.  Sister Emmanuel showed Ms. Sawyer a painting on her wall of angels joined hand in hand dancing in the Celestial kingdom.  “One of these days,” said Sister Emmanuel, “they will offer me a hand and I too will dance into the Kingdom of Heaven.”  Saints like Sister Emmanuel and the Apostle Paul were driven completely by their love for God and their love for others.  

Their motivation to serve God faithfully wasn’t just to go to heaven, although that is a great benefit!, it was to serve in God’s kingdom in thanksgiving for all God had done for them.  It’s imperative that we constantly ask ourselves, what is it we’re working for?  What is it that motivates us?  Is it money, fame, power, a reward of some sort?  Some of you will remember a hit song by the 1970s rock group Led Zeppelin.  In fact, it was the most requested song of the 70s.  It was called “Stairway to Heaven.” 

The song is about a woman who thinks her happiness lies in money, and she’s convinced that money and material possessions are a path to true happiness.  She thinks money will buy her a stairway to heaven.  Remember the opening line?  “There’s a lady who’s sure All that glitters is gold And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.”  Greed never pays, that’s why it’s listed as one of the 7 deadly sins.  Maybe that’s why “Stairway to Heaven” was voted in 2003 as number three by VH1 on its list of the 100 Greatest Rock Songs.  Fortunately for most of us, there’s a limit to the motivating power of money.  So, if money, fame, or reward isn’t what motivates us, then could we somehow be motivated by fear?  Fear can certainly be a powerful motivator.

Shelby Yastrow, the former general counsel of the McDonald’s Corporation, once said in an interview that he was consistently haunted by a dream that he would humiliate himself by being totally unprepared for a meeting.  You don’t get to be general counsel and executive vice president of McDonald’s Corp. by being average.  Shelby Yastrow is probably one of the best lawyers in the U.S.  And yet even in his prestigious position, he still has fear-dreams about being unprepared in a meeting.  There are many successful people in this world who are motivated by fear.  Another strong motivator is a desire for acceptance and respect.

There are a good many people who conform their lives, priorities, lifestyles, and personalities around some ideal that they think will gain the respect and admiration of their peers.  This is why the so-called “social influencers” of today have gained so much notoriety.  People will listen to an “expert” in order to find better ways to win the approval of others.  Money, fear, reward, respect of others—there are many motivators in life.   However, I’d like to suggest that the greatest motivator in this world is love. 

As Rollo May wrote, “Will flows from caring.”  It’s based on Proverbs 4:23, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”  Think about that: Our will flows from our caring.  There’s nothing in this world that can motivate like love: songs, documentaries and entire service organizations are developed because of it.  Let me ask you another question.   If one of your kids or grandkids were critically ill and needed an extremely expensive operation, how much would you be willing to spend?  Would you be willing to take all of the money out of your bank account?  The answer to that is obvious. 

In order to help the child, we’d be willing to sell our home, our cars or anything else of value in order to raise the money and we’d do it without a moment’s hesitation?  We would look for opportunities to work a second or even third job, wouldn’t we?  We wouldn’t give a second thought to working late at night washing dishes at a local restaurant.  Most of us would do whatever it takes to ensure our child or grandchild got what was needed.  When something is really important to us, we usually find a way to accomplish what’s needed.  What do you think motivated St. Paul?   Our Epistle lesson for the day is one of the most interesting passages.

St. Paul makes note of the fact that he himself never accepted any payment for his missionary work.  He was a tent maker by profession.  As far as we know, Paul never accepted money for the preaching of the gospel.  It allowed him to say truthfully and dramatically, “I’m not doing this for the money.”  So if money wasn’t his motivation, what was?  Could Paul’s motivation have been Prestige?  Hardly.  

St. Paul was feared by many in the church.  I’m sure this is why God sent him to the Gentile communities.  Outside the church he was persecuted, imprisoned and beaten, therefore, it couldn’t have been prestige that motivated him.  So what was it then that motivated St. Paul?  It was love.  Love for God.  Love for other people.  Love for the Gospel.  And that love motivated him to preach the good news of Jesus Christ, even to those who rejected him, slandered him, beat him, and threw him in prison.  As he wrote, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”   So we’re back to our original question, what is it that motivates us? 

There’s only one motivation that matters in the Christian faith: Love.  St Paul says at the end of 1st Corinthians: “Do all things in the spirit of love.”  That’s the only true motivation.  That’s what motivated Paul.  That’s what motivated Sister Emmanuel to go into the City of Garbage.  Love for Jesus and love for people.  Why do we do what we do for God’s kingdom?  Is it our love for God?  Is it our love for others?  If so, does our work, our priorities, our lifestyle and our relationships with others reflect that love?  Many of you have enjoyed Cadbury Chocolates, especially those Cadbury Easter Eggs over the years.

The Cadburys were devout Christians who built their company around Jesus’ golden rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).  They began their chocolate-making empire in the 1800s in Victorian England when most factories were dangerous, grueling places to work.

The Cadburys chose to build their factory to make it as safe and comfortable for the workers as possible.  Around the factory, they built a workers’ village with houses, vegetable plots, a sports field.  The Cadburys even set up a workers’ retirement plan, something that was unheard of for factory workers of that time.  John Cadbury was a social activist who led campaigns against slavery and child labor.  He manufactured the first commercial cocoa drink as a substitute for alcohol.  The Cadburys were Quaker Christians, which means that they opposed war.  However, they also felt a patriotic duty to support their country.  

So, in World War II, George Cadbury “reactivated the Friends’ Ambulance Unit to support the British troops in battle.”  The Cadburys could have been like the typical wealthy class of their time.  They could have oppressed their workers and forced them to work in horrible conditions.  They could have spent all their wealth on luxuries and status symbols.  What was it that motivated them to work for justice and equality for others?  Multiple generations of Cadburys built their businesses around their Christian principles and service to their fellow man.  So it was with St. Paul.

 Paul spent the last years of his life focused on loving God and loving people.  But what about us?  What is it that motivates us to work in God’s kingdom?  What kind of difference could we make in this world if love for God and love for others became our motivating force?  If love became the “why” for everything we do, think of what could happen in our world today.  Proper motivation begins with giving our life over to Jesus wholeheartedly.  Then pray daily for the Holy Spirit to guide us in wisdom and love.  Examine your heart each day and ask God to show you areas of your life that are not conformed to His love.  When we do these things, we’ll realize the promise Jesus gives in Matthew chapter 5, “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (vs. 8).


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