Sylvania United Church of Christ
Claimed by God, Responding as Disciples
Worship - People


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The sermon for week July 20, 2014

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The Why Part One: Heirs to the Promise

I recently listened to a TED talk by Simon Sinkey on How Great Leaders Inspire Action. His thesis is that people “don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

In Romans 8, Paul is writing about why he does what he does. Paul is facing all sorts of persecution, doubts, division, and pain. He writes his “why.” Paul is writing why he faces the persecution, doubts, division and pain. We’ll hear his exact why in next week’s sermon, this Sunday is his lead up to “The Why.” But this is rather abstract. So I will share the story that Simon did in his TED talk:

“Most people don't know about Samuel Pierpont Langley. Samuel Pierpont Langley was given 50,000 dollars by the War Department to figure out this flying machine. Money was no problem. He held a seat at Harvard and worked at the Smithsonian and was extremely well-connected; he knew all the big minds of the day. He hired the best minds money could find and the market conditions were fantastic. The New York Times followed him around everywhere, and everyone was rooting for Langley. Then how come we've never heard of Samuel Pierpont Langley?

Yet just a few miles to the south of us,in Dayton, Ohio; there's some brothers that we do know. Orville and Wilbur Wright. "They had none of what we consider to be the recipe for success. They had no money; they paid for their dream with the proceeds from their bicycle shop; not a single person on the Wright brothers' team had a college education, not even Orville or Wilbur; and The New York Times followed them around nowhere. The difference was Orville and Wilbur were driven by a cause, by a purpose, by a belief. They believed that if they could figure out this flying machine, it'll change the course of the world.

“Samuel Pierpont Langley was different. He wanted to be rich, and he wanted to be famous. He was in pursuit of the result. He was in pursuit of the riches. And lo and behold, look what happened. The people who believed in the Wright brothers' dream worked with them with blood and sweat and tears. Those who worked for Langley worked for the paycheck. And they tell stories of how every time the Wright brothers went out, they would have to take five sets of parts, because that's how many times they would crash before they came in for supper.

“Eventually, on December 17th, 1903, the Wright brothers took flight, and no one was there to even experience it. We found out about it a few days later. And further proof that Langley was motivated by the wrong thing: The day the Wright brothers took flight, he quit. He could have said, 'That's an amazing discovery, guys, and I will improve upon your technology,' but he didn't. He wasn't first, he didn't get rich, he didn't get famous so he quit.”

Simon Sinkey ends this story with his thesis that “people don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

Simon is talking about business. But for our purposes, I would say that “People don’t follow what you do, they follow why you do it.”

In today’s scripture, Paul is writing to a church in Rome he has never visited. Unlike his other letters, there’s no sense of personal connection--Paul is connected to this church through friends. And he is writing to tell them why he does what he does.

He sees a problem. Maybe Paul heard something about the community in Rome, that they were living for glory; getting rich off of this new message. Or maybe Paul is addressing rumors about himself that he’s only doing these things for the glory, money and power. Whatever he’s addressing, Paul says that if you live for the flesh, you will die. If you live for what Langley lived for: power, fame, money, you will die. Your goals will die with you. That’s not why we do what we do. Instead we live for the Spirit. We live for the freedom that we find in God. We live for the freedom of using our God-given gifts to build up God’s kingdom. And all the blood, sweat and tears, all that we suffer with Jesus will be glorified with Jesus. And what we suffer now is nothing compared to what God will bring about in our world.

Paul sees Jesus connected to his Jewish roots. Paul once persecuted Christians until he saw how Jesus actually gave fullness and life to his faith and tradition. Paul works hard to connect Jesus to what has come before. Paul calls us “children of God,” connecting to the idea that the Jewish people were God’s chosen people, but Paul goes one step further. We’re all children of God. We all can get in on the covenant promises God made to Israel through what Jesus has done. Jesus brings us all of that and fulfills it.

It's also good to know that Jesus struggled with living for the flesh, too. Living for power, fame, and money. After his baptism, he went to the desert to pray and was tempted. He was tempted about food, being protected by God, and the urge to rule over everyone. He resisted. He was living for something else. Jesus had his why. His why was the kingdom of God.

So why do you do what you do? You probably know the what and the how.

You go to the office, or you stay home and watch your kids. Or you go to breakfast with friends. You have your routine, your daily grind. But do you have your why? Why do you endure the daily grind?

Find your why, creativity and passion will follow. There’s a light that shines within you and only you. There’s a set of gifts given to you by God. There’s a story that you have, a family history and struggle that is yours and yours alone which has brought you to this moment. Your why is within you, waiting to be articulated. And once articulated, you will bless the world with it.

Maybe you need some more examples of ‘the why.’

Simon Sinkley gives the example of Apple. They could market how they do what they do. We build computers that are better than Microsoft because they are better designed, look cooler, and work better together, want to buy one? Instead, Apple talks about why: We believe in Zen-like design and intuitive use of our products which are built to talk to one another. That makes our products the best.

Disney doesn’t draw cartoons based on Americanized stories from other cultures and have two theme parks based on that. Disney makes magic; telling magical stories which carry you away into a world of possibility.

For a non-corporate example, I recently met a friend who told me about his friend. This man was a prominent heart surgeon here in Ohio. He had all the money and prestige he could garner and still there was more. He had the fast cars, the big house, the expensive clothes, but he still felt empty. So he spoke to his priest who told him to go on a mission trip. He took a sabbatical that was supposed to be 3 months working alongside Mother Teresa in Calcutta. It turned into 4 years. He felt fuller there, had his purpose. There he remembered his “why”; why he became a heart surgeon in the first place: to save lives. To give people more life which was denied his own father who died from heart disease.

Have we found our why? Or are we stuck talking about our how?

How about as a community, as the church: we have all these programs, mission trips and things and we gather together to worship because we believe in God and that Jesus has something to do with God. Want to come join us? That’s a what.

Or we can state our why. We believe that the love of God shown in Jesus Christ changed the world and we are about that work bending the world towards blessing; where the earth is honored and the neighbor is loved.

You might not feel qualified, you might not feel worthy. My response to my calling to become a minister was, “Who, me, Lord? Aren’t there smarter, more compassionate people than me for this job?” But flight was discovered by a team of amateurs who defeated a whole team of well-educated people with credentials. The why trumps the what every time. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and he did so with those we didn’t expect.

Jesus picked crude, foul-mouthed, smelly, fishermen. He picked a well-known crook of a tax collector. He picked a political extremist. He picked a cynic and doubter. And Jesus picks us, fickle, unreliable and sinful as we are. The saying is true: God elects the rejects. And through us, God is going to renew creation. (Laney)

Jesus has picked us! This church is impacting so many lives. The how is parking all of these cars for the Golf Tournament. The why is we believe that people deserve affordable housing and a place to call home.

The how is putting solar panels on our roof, the why is because of how much we love God’s beautiful creation and we wish to walk lightly upon it.

The how is visiting people in the hospital, the why is “When I was sick you visited me.” We rent our space to AA and Racing for Recovery, that’s a how. The why is that Jesus came to liberate the oppressed and that includes those affected by the bondage of addiction.

The how is right now, here in worship, we gather every Sunday. The why is because we seek to be God’s people and bring heaven to earth throughout our lives.

When you’re driven by hope, by your why, it will catch, and others will be inspired, your children, grandchildren, cousins, nephews, nieces, perfect strangers--they’ll catch your Spirit. They’ll get your why, and they’ll go nuts with it! It will all be worth it. And what’s pain and struggle compared to making that sort of impact on someone’s

When people understand why you do what you do, when you understand why other people do what they do, you’re more open to their story. More receptive, more compassionate. People don’t follow what you do, they follow why you do it. This is so freeing because they won’t get trapped into “doing it a certain way because that’s how my dad or mom did it.”

You can do things for the same reason, but in new and creative ways. This is such a cool thing. It is this very Spirit bearing witness to this truth and we know within our spirit that we are children of God. The church has a proud history of helping people find their why and taking this mountain moving faith and blessing the world.

Next week, I will talk about my “why” and what I did on sabbatical that made it clearer. I hope to see you next week.

Works Cited
Laney, Matt. Picked. UCC Daily Devotional, May 28, 2014.

Sinkey, Simon. How Great Leaders Inspire Action. TEDx Talks.

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