Sermon preached September 28, 2014
Texts: Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:28-32
Bob Marley and the Wailers, “Stir It Up” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5sOzbD29GQ
The late Bob Marley was a pioneer in Jamaican reggae music. The song “Stir It Up” is a song about stirring up love. It is a love song. I am guessing that it may not be exactly the kind of love song you would play for your sweetheart, but….
James Bond is a romantic figure of another sort, a figure who, played by different actors has had a place in our popular culture for a number of generations now. No matter who plays the title role, there never seems to be a shortage of attractive women nearby.
One well-known fact about James Bond - and by the way, do you know that the writer who created the James Bond character, Ian Fleming, also wrote the children’s story Chtti, Chitti, Bang, Bang? - one well-known fact about James Bond is that he liked vodka martinis – shaken, not stirred. I am not an expert on vodka martinis, you will be glad to know, but I am guessing that Bond liked his martinis that way because he believed the drink shaken brought out its best flavors. I am not going to ask for a show of hands of those who have tested out this theory personally.
Bringing out the best. That’s what God wants to do in each of our lives, bring out our best. In Romans 12, as rendered by Eugene Peterson in The Message, we read, Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. That’s what God does in us. That’s what God’s Spirit is doing in us, bringing the best out of us, developing well-formed maturity in us.
The past couple of weeks, I have preached in various ways about God’s grace. On our Celebration of Welcome, or CoW Sunday, I said, The good news is that God’s arms are always open late, and open early, open till the cows come home. That’s grace. Last week, I said, God offers love freely and generously to all, and never gives up offering it. God’s love is not something we “deserve” except in the sense that we all deserve to be loved, which really means that we need some sense of being loved in our lives to become the full and rich people we can be, to become our creative best. Grace is God’s constant offer of that love. But then I also said, To be held, this is grace. We are held in God’s embrace. And just a quick word – this being held by God changes us, transforms our lives. This is what today is about, the transforming power of God’s grace and our response to that.
God’s love reaches out to us always. This is grace. To be embraced by God’s grace is to be on a journey of change and transformation. God is always working to bring out the best in us, develop well-formed maturity in us. But we are not simply passive participant in all of this. God’s Spirit moves in our lives, and we are invited to respond. The Spirit sings in our hearts, and we add our voice. The Spirit dances in our Spirit, and we have to move, to.
This idea that God’s grace transforms is one of the touchstones of the Methodist stream in the Christian tradition. Not long ago, when I was looking something up to help with a paper being written for our United Methodist denomination on the nature of the church, I stumbled across a sermon John Wesley, the person to whom Methodists trace their beginnings in Christian history, I stumbled across a sermon Wesley preached on Philippians 2:12-13. In that sermon I discovered these words, “Stir up the spark of grace which is in you now.” (“On Working Out Our Own Salvation” in John Wesley’s Sermons: an anthology, 491)
Stir up the spark of grace that is in you now. In Philippians 2, Paul is writing to a group of early followers of Jesus, people trying to live the Jesus way. He is encouraging them on the journey. What he asks of them seems rather audacious. “Let this same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” He goes on to write, just a bit later, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you; enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
The story Jesus tells in Matthew is a story extolling people to stir it up, stir up the grace that is in you now. It is a simple story about two brothers whose father asks them to go work in the family vineyard. One says, “No,” but goes and works anyway. The other says, “Yes,” but does not follow through. The one who actually did something, who actually stirred it up, is the positive example in the story.
Stir up the grace of God that is in you now. In our lives, we should be actively praying, actively reflecting, acting out our best understandings of what love asks of us in our relationships, in school, at work, in our community, in our world, acting out our best understandings of what reconciliation, compassion and justice ask of us as components of love. We are not merely passive recipients of God’s grace, but active participants in God’s work of bringing well-formed maturity into our lives.
I would say, however, that sometimes when we become too complacent, I think God’s Spirt blows into our lives to shake things up, to stir things up. Sometimes the Spirit nudges us if we are being too cautious, too careful, too timid. Sometimes the Spirit of God is a Spirit of inner restlessness, inviting us to pray more fervently, think more creatively, dream more imaginatively, and act more courageously.
We need to ask ourselves often, each of us, How is God stirring in my life right now and how should I be stirring it up in response?
As a church community, a community on the Jesus journey we should often ask, How is God stirring in our life together, and how should we stir it up in response?
Stir up the grace of God that is within you now.
This week I heard two stories about people who have stirred up the grace of God that is in them. New York Yankee Derek Jeter is retiring this year from baseball. Jeter has been a well-respected athlete. He has not been involved in scandals. He is the longest serving captain of the New York Yankees. He is known for his hard work and dedication. He has not always been the flashiest player. He is not known for hitting mammoth home runs. He is known for his high quality play over time.
Thursday night was Derek Jeter’s last baseball game in Yankee stadium. The Yankees are not going to be in the playoffs, though their opponents, the Baltimore Orioles are. Jeter had driven in the go-ahead run in the seventh inning, but the Orioles tied the game in the top of the ninth. In the bottom of the ninth, with a runner on second base, Derek Jeter came to bat. He hit the first pitch into right field, the runner on second came home to score the game-winning run. Derek Jeter stirred up the grace that was in him one last time, and it was magic. (http://www.si.com/mlb/2014/09/25/derek-jeter-walk-single-final-home-bat-winner)
Not all of us have that kind of spark of grace, but sparks of grace can be quieter. Thursday, Charles Osgood profiled a man from Brooklyn. A man named James Robinson. Robinson has spent his life saving lives. At age 74, he's a retired emergency medical services captain who's now teaching other people to save lives in a tough part of New York City. James Robinson trains people who want to become EMTs - or Emergency Medical Technicians. He's co-founder of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Volunteer Ambulance Corps - where they are trained to expect the worst. Robinson: "Your job is to try to resuscitate them, bring 'em back to life - and then let the emergency room work on 'em." The community in which Robinson works is one where shootings and stabbings happen often. Over the years, Robinson has trained more than a thousand kids. He says,
"I want to teach them how to save a life, instead of taking a life - and they could be anything that they want to be." One person he taught was Isaac Rodriguez. He used to sell drugs - but thanks to Robinson, he's now training to be an EMT. Isaac Rodriguez:
"This place woke me up. Seeing so much positive is like, 'I want to do that, too - I want to be a part of that...'" At least nine out of ten students pass the state licensing exam - and get fulltime jobs as an EMT. Some come back to volunteer and help train recruits. Robinson gives not only time, but also his money. He uses his pension and reverse mortgage to pay for 85 percent of the program - donations cover the rest.
When asked why he does what he does, though he is not a wealthy person, Robinson replies, “I don't think that I could do nothing else. Everybody has a mission in life. And I didn't realize my mission in life until I actually got into it." (http://osgoodfile.com/)
God is at work in you, stirring, shaking. Sing with God’s Spirit. Dance with God’s Spirit. Work with God’s Spirit to stir it up in your life.
When we do this, we will not only be our best, we will not only develop well-formed maturity, but Jesus will shine through. Amen.