Second in series: The Return to the Davis Theater
NEW PEOPLE! NEW SITUATIONS! WHAT DO I DO?
A story from my life some of you may have heard me told before comes to mind for me this week.
Years back, before this community was in existence, my wife Keziah and I as young adults were involved for some time in another church community
I had not grown up a churchgoer, and as a kid had struggled to find a group of friends that I truly “fit in” with - I sort of bounced around to lots of different circles...
So at the time maybe the most positive thing for me getting involved in this church community was that I ended up getting to fill some roles that felt significant, like I mattered and was important there
Keziah and I play music, so we regularly did that for this church’s Sunday services, and people seemed to really like that
And I also spent a fair amount of time mentoring guys in their early 20s
This gave me a sense of belonging and purpose… I’d never had that before
So one week, I notice this other young adult guy who had started getting involved in our community
I notice that, just like me, he sings and plays guitar… hmm...
And, just like me, he has a wife with an incredible singing voice that blows him out of the water
I learn that, just like me, he has been mentoring some guys in their early 20s
And, just like me, he has short hair and glasses…
But, wait! he's taller than me, and objectively more handsome… Dang it!
Suddenly, I’m feeling defensive and protective
I’m supposed to be the young, musical, mentor-of-early-20-somethings guy in this place! - with a wife far more talented than me, and short hair and glasses
Who is this guy? What has he done to deserve this?
I remember ending up in conversation with this guy one day
Of course the reason we’re talking is that he was going totally out of his way to compliment me on something — because he’s like the most gracious person ever
And so I’m pretending to be gracious back, although secretly I feel like he’s stepping on my turf
But then while we’re talking I have this super strong impression that I think was God speaking to me
The impression was: “Vince, you need to become friends with this guy"
In my head, my question back to God is “what?! why?!"
And instantly the logic behind the suggestion just fell into place for me
I felt God was saying:
You need to become friends with this guys, because otherwise me bringing the same sense of belonging you’ve felt to him is just going to suck for you…
And that’s what I want to do - help him feel belonging and purpose, just like you… so… umm… do you want that to suck for you, Vince?”
I did not want that to suck for me
It's funny, as we’re talking, it felt kind of like God interrupted what I was about to say and inserted new words that I just blurted out: “So, you want to do breakfast Tuesday?”
I think it came out with all the “playing it cool” of Ron Burgundy - “I’LL SHOW YOU AROUND THE CITY! THEN MAYBE AFTERWARDS WE CAN GO TO LUNCH?”
But we did grab breakfast.
He made me pancakes. (visual: Chappell’s Prince pic)
Not even joking. Who could make that up?
And we did become friends, over lots of breakfasts and coffees together
He remains a dear friend today. We don’t live in the same city anymore but got coffee a few weeks ago as he was passing through, and it was a great time as always
All because God seemed to initiate this shift in me from closed-off and entitled, to open-hearted and generous
Jesus often told stories called parables that captured poignantly an aspect of "the way life is"
And one common theme in these stories was that a particular character or group misses out because they are closed-off or entitled in some way (like me at the beginning of this experience I’ve shared)
This is a trap that anyone can fall into… maybe it’s been a trap since the beginning of time
Jesus, in his day, highlighted the trap particularly in the distortions of his Jewish religion that he encountered
We don't have to think for long to uncover this in our own contemporary American brands of politics and culture
And, in our individualist age, I wonder if one of the biggest ways we all sometimes fall into this trap is the subtle ways modern people like us are prone to self-centeredness
How we often without realizing it end up closing ourselves off to other individuals
Simply because another individual is not me
What were all of my initial reactions to this guy, who now is such a good friend?
He’s encroaching on my turf! He’s not me, he doesn’t belong here.
Thankfully, mid-stream, I felt as though God spoke to me and offered to help me change my experience
To tease out what I think happened there for me, I want to read one of the parables Jesus told, recorded in the Gospel of Matthew
To me, it really has that feeling of being so poignant…
It makes me say “yes! doesn’t that just capture life?!”
20 “For the kingdom of heaven (“experiencing fullness and depth of life”, we might say at BLV) is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius (a day’s wage) for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Alright, we have a large number of workers (multiple groups of workers) who are gratefully satisfied with employment from a generous landowner
BUT the generosity of this landowner is lost on the workers who worked the longest day
And the reason it's lost on them is a sense of entitlement in comparison to others — Either we deserve more, or they don’t deserve anything!
Notice a victim mentality in the way they report their story of what’s happened: “we have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day"
To Jesus' original hearers, a day’s work for a fair wage was nothing to take for granted or grumble about… it would have been understood as a great gift
That is not always an easy thing to recognize for readers like us in a country where the peak of unemployment during the 2008 Recession was 10%
Although, for some of us here, we may not have trouble recognizing this at all… we may know full well a day’s work for a fair wage is nothing to take for granted!
So I see my experience all over this story
I was a worker with no income and a generous landowner gave me employment, so to speak
I’d never really experienced much belonging or purpose before, and then, because of some things that I understood to be unique about me, I did start to experience an amazing sense of belonging and purpose
But then another worker shows up later (and with an eerily similar skill set)… and the generous landowner also wanted to give this guy the same experience
And the big question the parable points to is posed:
Is that a threat to me?
Doesn’t that just capture so much of life?!
Doesn’t this capture how basically all of our circles of relationships operate?
In middle school it was: will my best friend’s new friend replace me?
Maybe today it’s: will the new person in the office disrupt the good thing I feel we have going here?
Will these new in-laws disrupt my family?
Will these new and different-from-me neighbors disrupt my sense of home?
Maybe sometimes it still is: will my friend’s new friend replace me?
And, significantly when it comes to a community like ours here at BLV,
Is it a threat to me and my experience of this community when new people connect here?
Lots of people tell us they appreciate the size of our community right now — 70 to 80 people, which means there are 40-50 of us on a Sunday — they tell us it has an intimate feel
What if a ton of new people connect to our community and we are 100 people on Sunday? That would feel different, there’s no avoiding it. How might I respond?
Or there’s the fact that, if you’ve been here a while, Kyle and Vince are always repeating themselves… all the time… like every Sunday… they explain each part of the service over and over…
Maybe the threat to me there is that, if I personally am not new to this, that might feel boring sometimes.
Or maybe you’re like me, and someone who offers a set of gifts to our community very similar to your set of gifts connects with us
And you feel the threat to your sense of belonging. To feeling special and unique.
Jesus tells us: to be human is to, from time to time, perceive threats like this
We are all the workers who worked the longest day, tempted to go down the eternally dissatisfying road of entitlement and ungratefulness and victim mentality
BUT, in the very act of shining light on this unavoidable aspect of being human, Jesus shows us his offer to help us navigate it
What God did with me -- changing me from skeptical to open-hearted toward this guy who is now such a good friend -- this is what God is in the business of doing for people
Opening you up to more connection and friendship
Removing callouses from you heart
Turning your perceived threats into opportunities
Helping you navigate the inevitable changes in your relationships and situations
In one sense, all this takes is paying attention internally…
Might God be speaking to all of us constantly with invitations into these sorts of gifts?
I simply paid attention to that impression that felt to me like God: you’ve got to be friends with this guy
I’ve really come to believe this is the case… God is constantly giving such invitations to us
Truly, all we have to do is pay attention
And, if we follow through, we will love the results that yields
But, at the same time, I’ve also experienced that this kind of paying attention is the sort of thing that will take our entire lives to hone and master
It is simple
And yet it is also one of the great tasks of life
In the onslaught of demands and stresses and busy-ness and noise that is life, paying attention internally to the voice of God inside us is a challenge that will keep us invigorated for a lifetime
So, if what I’m describing sounds appealing to you, my first takeaway for us this morning is an exercise of reflection and prayer:
First, a question to ask yourself
What new people or new situation in your life are you perceiving as a threat right now?
And second, a prayer
Be open with God about this. You don’t have to hide. You’re not a bad person. You’re human.
Just be honest, and then listen for God’s help in navigating you away from self-centeredness, toward something better
Pay attention to your thoughts, impressions, feelings - believing God likes you and wants to speak to you through such things… Sometimes this feels like a thought we’ve already had but suddenly there’s a flashlight shined on it - that’s often God
Ask God to show you the benefits of open-heartedness, generosity, and receptiveness -- at home, at your job, in your classroom, in your neighborhood, at the bar, at the gym...
In a bit, I’ll lead us in a time of prayer and we can try this out.
Before I do that though, there’s a reason we wanted to talk about Jesus’ brilliant and insightful parable of the workers today
Our current series of talks are all revolving around our community’s upcoming return to the Davis Theater, our permanent Sunday home… that’s going to happen at some point mid-fall
The Davis has been in the process of a $4 million dollar renovation, which we are going to get to benefit from.
If you listen to the recording of last week’s talk from Kyle, the first in this series, he gave a little list of some of the things we will enjoy
And I love that the greatest applause you hear in the recording is after: "and we’ll have nice bathrooms for the first time in our church’s existence!"
Everybody was like: yeah! Bathrooms!
Seriously though, there is going to be a buzz around the Davis in our neighborhoods
And we think there’s a real chance that is going to translate to a buzz around the church that meets at the Davis
There is plenty to be excited about!
BUT there’s also a real likelihood that each of us will in some way or another be tempted to perceive some changes that come with what’s next for our community as threats
Perhaps like the examples I mentioned earlier
So, in addition to our hope that you all feel encouraged this morning to go to God for help with any new people or new situations in your life, personally…
We are also hoping that you also feel encouraged to go to God for help with any new-ness that you experience specifically in terms of BLV
And, as a last takeaway, can we pitch to you some really concrete ways that you might preemptively counter self-centeredness in you… and help BLV immensely at the same time?
In my experience and from what I’ve observed mentoring other people spiritually over the last decade now, the number one way I’ve seen people grow spiritually (and find more success navigating things like self-centeredness) is by actively taking interest in the experience of others
It’s not been acquiring more knowledge
It’s not been coming to new levels of conviction or inspiration
It’s not been pursuing more powerful experiences in prayer
All those things can be great
But the way spiritual growth happens most for people is when we take interest in other human beings
It makes sense… spirituality is about connecting with God, which requires getting outside of ourselves… so we can make that connection.
Taking an interest in someone else is also getting outside of ourselves… when we are doing that, we’re smoothing out the same pathways that take us to God
So here’s our pitch: help us host our Sunday services
This is our community’s built-in opportunity for anyone to actively take interest in the experience of others
We actually love that our church runs so much on volunteer power… because, no surprise, we find that people love the experience of getting outside of themselves to make Sunday service an awesome experience for others - and we see the fruit of that in their spiritual lives!
To be sure, it’s also really easy to volunteer in a way completely disconnected from any sense that you are helping make a great experience for others
And I’ve seen people have those experiences of volunteering too, and that’s NOT fun! And that doesn’t lead to spiritual growth at all.
So, you have our promise (Kyle and me, your pastors) that, when you volunteer at BLV, we will do our best to help you see just how concretely you are helping make other people’s experience awesome
Here’s how we need your help:
Setup and takedown volunteers
No training or special skills required. You can help us next Sunday if you want! This is the way most people who help at BLV volunteer, and we’d love to have you too!
This is our core volunteer every Sunday, who helps direct the setup and takedown volunteers, and who takes care of certain important details. There’s a little bit of training, but we do those trainings via online video conferencing. So it only takes an hour and a half on weeknight and you can be in your pajamas if you want!
This is another detail-oriented position, dealing with audio and visual stuff. You don’t need any prior understanding or experience so don’t be scared off by the intimidating number of knobs and faders on a sound board. All the training for this role is done by shadowing a more experienced volunteer, until you feel ready to do it on your own.
Finally, as Kyle spoke really inspiringly on last Sunday, we also need your help with Childcare on Sundays
If you’re at all interested, as you leave this morning stop at the table we have set up with background check consent forms and fill one out… It won’t commit you to anything, but it means if you ever do want to help you’re good to go.
A little later in the service, we’ll ask you to tell us what interest you have in any of these roles
Well, I’d like to lead us in prayer, as we enter into a time of singing and prayer -- something spiritual communities have done for centuries.
We invite you to engage in that time in whatever way feels best to you. Maybe it is dancing and singing along (we’ll have the lyrics up on our screen here). Maybe it is just sitting back and letting the music hit you.
And, as we are doing that we have a team of people in the back who would love to pray with anyone here who feels any kind of stirring that God might be speaking to them or doing something in them -- whether you’re feeling that right now or at any point while we’re singing together.
We find that God shows up in surprising and powerful ways when we ask someone else to pray for us -- in ways that couldn’t happen if we just prayed on our own.
Our prayer team is a trained, safe group of folks; no one is going to make you feel uncomfortable or give you unasked for advice, and everything you share is confidential.
So if you will stand with me