No Longer Slaves, Week 4 — The “To Be Or Not To Be” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Used a Seinfeld clip to make a point about grace.
  • Revolved around a quote BY JESUS not found in any of the Gospels but re-tweeted by Paul during a speech in Acts to the church at Ephesus. Got all that?
  • Culminated our Radical Impact Project with partners the International Justice Mission, Lily Pad Haven, and Justice Ministies.
  • Had an inquisitive bottom line: What if you were more concerned with BEING a blessing than with GETTING one?   


Is it OK if we begin today with a little lesson in Christian-ese?  That lingo, that vocabulary that exists in sort of the subculture of church land. Some of you grew up speaking it and didn’t know it. Others of you are new to all this and you’re barely aware of it. Still others just wandered in here today because we’re about a cause you believe in even if you don’t share our core beliefs, and you hear me tell you I’m going to give you a lesson in Xnese and you’re scared to death I’m going to start praying in tongues.  Nope.

                That’s next week.

                Xnese is really kind of incomprehensible to people who’ve never really been in or connected to church.  This is why at GS we try as hard as we can to RARELY use it.  Some Xnese examples are IF IT BE GOD’S WILL (Code for THAT AIN’T HAPPENING), FELLOWSHIP (Code for OVEREATING), LET US PRAY (CODE FOR WE’RE DONE HERE),

                And then there’s the one Xnese word I want to mention today:  BLESSED.  Blessing.  It’s one of those tweener words, one that people in and out of church use, but it can be Xnized REAL FAST.  Because as you likely know, blessings are good things that happen in your life.  Folks who follow Jesus typically attribute those blessings to God.  Other people – normal people! – give credit to good luck or better karma. They’re more likely to say “this cool thing happened” or “I got great news” or even “I can’t believe my good fortune.”  Xns typically attribute those things to God AND really focus in on the BLESSING at work.

                Get a new job?  Blessing.  Your child makes the honor roll?  Blessing.  You decide GS is your church?  Blessing.  Your injury heals, your sickness vanishes?  Blessings.  Your in laws move to New Zealand?  Blessing.  All these are what you WANT TO get, what we yearn for, it’s why some of you have t-shirts that say TOO BLESSED TO STRESS and others of you know that great old hymn Count Your Many Blessings Name Them One By One.  All this is good, normal, whether you speak Xnese or not, and so you’re welcome for the vocabulary lesson. 

                And all that leads to a speech by Paul to a church in Ephesus that includes some words OF JESUS that aren’t in the Gospels.  Got all that?  It’s Acts 20 and in this book that is part history book / part travel diary, Paul is giving his farewell speech to a group of people he knows VERY well.  (Some of you are kind of excited right now as in “does this mean Talbot is giving his farewell speech too?”  Sorry to disappoint.)  But we’ll pick up the speech near its conclusion at 20:32: 

32 “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

READ.  So: there’s some Xnese there.  Do you know what he is telling the Ephesians?  I am giving you this and reminding you of it:  your life is built on grace.  You didn’t earn it, it’s not an achievement, you’re not good enough for it, it’s not a prize you win, it’s a gift you inherit.  It’s the best thing about you!  The daily realization that apart from God doing for you what you could never do for yourself you’re sunk is your greatest celebration.  Grace isn’t something you HAVE (Elaine clip Seinfeld?), isn’t something you SAY, it is instead the gift of God that defines all who name Jesus as Lord.

                And notice how collective it all is. This is what we are becoming together.  Not isolated individuals defined by grace; a community of misfits and mess ups redeemed by blood and as a group addicted to grace.  What Paul says to Ephesians, I say to you!

                Then Paul quickly mentions how he worked with his hands (making tents) so that he was no financial burden to the church while he was there in Ephesus. 

33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions.

And then the rousing conclusion of the whole thing: 

35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

“Hard work” – so grace propelled him not to laziness but to labor with the purpose of “helping the weak.”  And then the zinger at the end: the Jesus quote.  REPEAT.  You’ve heard it a million times, whether in or out of church.  The problem is that the saying is NOT in Matt, Mk, Lk, or John.  It may be in a RED LETTERS in your bible but the fact remains that Paul is re-tweeting the Savior and we don’t have the original.  Oh no!  The authority and reliability of the bible just came tumbling down! 

                Hardly.  Get this (look around).  Jesus said lots of stuff that’s not in his biographies.  PLUS, when Paul gave this speech in Acts 20, it is very likely he’d never seen Matthew or Mark, and no way he’d seen John.  He probably had access to the pre-publication galleys of Luke, since Luke himself is here on the scene writing and recording Acts!  So it’s an interesting dilemma but hardly a biblical problem.

                But look at what Jesus said, again: READ.  More blessed (Xnese, kind of) to give than to receive.  After telling them their lives are defined by what and who they have received!  And why? Because they can help the weak.  Oh.  Maybe there is more to blessings than counting them up?  Maybe we’ve even missed out on what is in fact the real heart of a blessed life, a blessed season, a blessing itself?  Because as we wind up NLS with an opportunity to give later in our time together, I’ve got to ask a question.  A question for all your understandably normal people who are blessing GETTERS.  Counters       Here is is:  What if you were more concerned with BEING a blessing than GETTING one?  That’s it.  That’s all.  What if you’re more interested in personifying blessing – good things, good outcomes, freedoms – in the lives of other people than you were about perpetuating blessing in your own life?  REF

                This is because it all zeroes back to that idea in 20:32 about forgiveneness that’s GIVEN and grace that’s RECEIVED.  And getting grace like that does NOT land you in an EASY CHAIR (have one on platform and sit) but instead puts you on a LAUNCH PAD (something to catapault?).  That’s what grace does.  On behalf of others.  Not lead to lazy.  Propel to bless.  What if you were more concerned with BEING a blessing than GETTING one? 

                Or it’s like Mt. Carmel UMC where I was in the 90s.  In 1994, when we averaged 116 ppl per Sunday, we built a Habitat For Humanity house.  Paid for it, constructed it, delivered it. All by ourselves. The smallest church ever to do such a big project solo.  They don’t usually give awards for THE SMALLEST CHURCH TO … but maybe they should.  That’s what it was, that’s how it happened, because people started asking dif questions:  What if you were more concerned with BEING a blessing than GETTING one? 

                And, remembering the admonition that it’s on behalf of the weak, I believe it’s most like my friend Maria Hayes, who I want to speak with for a few moments: INTERVIEW   What if you were more concerned with BEING a blessing than GETTING one? 

                So yeah, we’ve identified the WEAK for whom we want to stop counting blessings and start becoming one. 

                Because for NLS, we’ve identified the weak. Girls, mostly; boys, some; victims all.  They are the treasured sons and daughters of the King who are being merchandised as if they are trash in a kennel.  And know this: a lot of you will give and give well to this project and I am NOT going to promise you a harvest in return.  I’m not going to promise some kind of BLESSING BOOMERANG where you will get some kind of blessing (a raise, a winning lottery ticket, a date) in proportion to your level of financial sacrifice.  I’m not going to do that because that is the wrong motive AND the wrong biblical understanding for something like this. 

                I want to purify you and me of that because we’ll likely never get a thank you note for our generosity.  You may never get a blessing in return to the blessing you’re giving.  But now, today, you don’t care because you are so rooted in God’s grace, we are such a collection of misfits who are getting better than we deserve in life and in eternity, that we’re all gonna be asking a completely different question: REFRAIN. 

                And what will happen? 

                Young girls, previously caught up in the rape-for-profit industry, will have their physical freedom restored, their emotional dignity renewed, and their living relationship with Jesus Christ begun.  They will get mercy. Their traffickers will get justice. 

                And you will have done it.  Not for applause or for acclaim but for this reason and this new question:  REFRAIN.  If you’ve been part of these projects before, know there are ALREADY GIRLS living freely because of your generosity.  In college instead of in the strip clubs.  And you did it!  If you weren’t with us before, that’s what you get to be part of.  A collection of people who don’t hoard their blessings but instead become them.