Set your sights higher than just self-improvement - Vince Brackett
Second in series: Filling in our gaps
SET YOUR SIGHTS HIGHER THAN JUST SELF-IMPROVEMENT
You've likely heard the awesome song from Disney's Frozen: Let it Go. (Play)
But have you heard the version of Let it Go it from the Youtube channel sensation [airquotes] “crappyflute”? (it’s not actually the word “crappy” - use your imagination) (Play)
This is the musical version of "can't take your eyes off the train wreck"
I think it's not just that the recorder is so awful, it's also that the recorder isn't finding itself as a part in the larger whole of the song... there is this normal-sounding backing track and then the recorder just bulldozes over it, just close enough to the melody to be familiar but way too loud (and of course horribly off key).
It's funny because it messes with what we might call "a musical truth" - that various instruments doing different things are meant to fit nicely together to form a cohesive whole
Even in the most complex and well done orchestrations of music, you'd be amazed how often those wholes are actually just made up of individual instrumental parts each just doing one simple thing over and over... For example… (Play Clips) The bass in massive 80s hit with or without you by u2... four notes over and over at same pace and same rhythm... the whole time Indie rock band Death cab for cutie's brothers on a hotel bed - more elaborate sounding but what holds it together is a single note on the keyboard over and over Sam smith's stay with me - the beat is kick - hi hat, kick - hi hat, literally the whole song... my three year old who loves playing with drums right now could do this beat
The lesson is: one of these instrumentations on their own may not be much, but when they see themselves as just one part of a song that is a larger whole, they have great purpose
A conversation over coffee I had recently with our resident spiritual director here at BLV, my friend Nader, hit home for me how this is true also for people.
Nader brings up to me Jesus' encouragement to: seek first the Kingdom of God (a bit of the larger context in which Jesus said this is printed in your program this morning)
The KoG was Jesus' favorite topic of conversation. So many of his teachings began "the kingdom of god is something like..." It was his term for the cosmic, all of history spanning, so much-bigger-than-you-and-me story (or “piece of music”) that God is writing in the world and invites us to participate in... It was his term to quickly refer to God’s mission: to bless humanity, to save humanity from it's violence, arrogance, and power struggles, to usher humanity toward peace, humility, compassion At one point he summarized the story of the Kingdom of God, using the words of the Ancient Jewish prophet Isaiah... Good news to the poor Release for captives, recovery of sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed And a message that God has favor for humanity… God is NOT distant, aloof, arbitrary… God is invested in the project of human flourishing… God is caring and close! Above all, Jesus says, "seek participation in this bigger than you story" And then the second half of his encouragement: "and all these things [meaning all the other important pursuits of life] will be added to you"
Nader's tells me he thinks this encouragement from Jesus is the difference maker for ppl he's known for whom spirituality and following Jesus really takes root in a profound way This is what is happening when a person is reporting a level of joy and purpose and meaning and direction in following Jesus that is inspiring to others and seems to have some real legs under it This is what is happening for people who discover a resiliency and long-lasting quality to their faith -- where certain possible threats to one’s spirituality (like being distracted by a new “shiny object” in life, or waning in interest over time, or sinking into a tunnel vision about how faith ought to look) just cease to be threats… where they’re no longer potential issues
If someone really wants “alive” and “lasting” spiritual fulfillment, and not just experience some nice things for a time but ultimately see it fade, Nader seems to say, it’s seeking first the Kingdom of God that gets us that
And as he says this, it seems right on to me. Coming to mind for me were dozens of stories of people I'd met over the years. The common denominator with the people I’ve known for whom faith and following Jesus has had that “alive” and “lasting” sense -- over many years -- is that their faith would regularly take them beyond just self-help or self-fulfillment, it would take them to "participation in the grand story of all life" (not just their own life) Certainly feeling helped and fulfilled personally was part and parcel to that, but the game changer seems to be when people see themselves as just playing a single note in a larger piece of music: playing a small part in God's good purpose in the world They all seemed to “set their sights higher” so-to-speak
Many of you in this community are actually these stories that were coming to mind for me... I think of the people here in the fields of teaching, mental & physical healthcare, social services, or organizing who have landed in those settings because of a higher sense of calling to care for and positively impact children or youth or underserved populations or society at large... They give off a vibe of: "I want to join in God's purpose in the world", or "I want to experience the depth and fullness that Jesus did as he served others" Their sights are set high - on the KoG Or I think of a friend who has since moved but helped us start this church - she described her office job to me as "not necessarily inherently meaningful" (like it does not have her serving the poor or creating beautiful art or anything like that) -- BUT she tells me she is a boss supervising a team of 11, and she knows from past experience how a boss has the power to influence significantly the experience of life for their employees by the environment they foster for them and by the way they do relationships with them (the old saying: it's not what you do, it's who you do it with, right?)... She feels God has called her to best she can make work a joy for these 11 people. Even in a not necessarily inherently meaningful job, her sights are set higher. On the KoG.
In light of this talk with Nader, Kyle and I, as the pastors of this church, felt charged and excited, but to be honest...
We also felt some regret...
And we want to tell you why this morning.
This is in the spirit of something Kyle kicked off last week: he called it corporate repentance --
Just like any person, communities (ours included) aren't perfect… we have gaps... we need constant course correction as we go in order to be all we're meant to.
And as we're coming out of a season in which we have been unpacking an ambitious 2 year plan for our church here on Sundays and we've excitedly moved back here to the newly renovated Davis, we feel led to take pause and remind ourselves: a humble look at selves is just as, if not more, important than "our greatest hits" or "our best appearances"... this pursuit of humility is the attractive and magnetic life we saw Jesus live… that is what we’re after here as a Jesus-centered community... and we feel the power in humility it is all the more potent right now in light of the defensive, reactive, insecure way authority is currently being wielded in our country.
So that’s the series of talks we’re in the middle of, and our hope is that this will help us -- Brown Line Vineyard -- fill in some of our gaps.
Now, for today's corporate repentance... Kyle and I feel some regret after Nader so helpfully pointed out the game-changing-ness of "seek first the KoG" because we feel that's given us a window into ways we've been leading this community motivated by fear rather than by our purpose (helping people live deeper, fuller lives through connection with God)
Here’s what we mean: We are not a mega church. We are a start-up church. In start-ups (a company, a tech endeavor, a coffee shop or bar, a church, whatever) there's not as many people to share loads so stakeholders can get asked to do a lot. But Kyle and I don't like asking people to do a lot. And we want people to feel served here, not like they're working... All good intentions on our part, but what we've missed is that, mainly, we're afraid of appearing needy. And the cost of this has been that we have sheltered people from the work it is to make this church happen in ways that we think God probably wanted to activate people, to bring people into participation in something bigger than themselves, to get people setting their sights higher, toward the Kingdom of God (as that is uniquely playing out here). We've gotten in the way of God doing that But it goes even deeper we think... it goes to the way we've tried to counsel and pastor you all... we believe we (as the ones setting the terms of conversation here through our Sunday talks) have not given you enough opportunities to set your sights higher than just self-improvement. Our fear in this case has been about wanting to avoid appearing like a version of the American church that has triggered Kyle and me personally in the past - That is churches that abuse the message of “set your sights high” In these environments there can be a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) separation of serious people of faith from nominal people of faith (and the word nominal is meant as an insult when said by the serious - “you’re only in name; you’re not authentic!”). The talks in these environments applaud the serious people of faith for perceived courage and heroics and shame the nominal people of faith for not being more courageous and heroic. And in our view, this just seems to inflate the egos of those who see themselves as “the serious people of faith”. Adherents pick up the message that they are (and ought to be) better than the rest of the world because of how serious they are about their faith So we are triggered by that and don't want to be that... Again good intentions right? We still don't want to be that version of church (it does not feel like Jesus to us) But if our vision just stays "not that" we are merely reactive. We are not actually charting a course somewhere different, we are just avoiding somewhere we don't want to go. And as a result, the good version of "set your sights higher" fades into the background from what we do here, simply because we're afraid. that's not good! Leaders should not lead with fear, they should lead with purpose.
So we repent, as the pastors of this community, for the ways our leadership has been motivated by fear…
And I ask you all to consider with me this morning, if you're game, some practical ways we all might this week seek first the KoG (and have all those most important pursuits of life added to us as well)...
(1) Ask for a greater role here If you're not currently volunteering, volunteer (help us host here at the Davis on Sundays… or volunteer with the WC we help staff for neighbors experiencing homelessness) If you're a faithful volunteer or been faithfully involved in some way or another, tell us "I'm ready for the next level of investment for me” and ask us: “what is that?" And lastly, if you’re someone who feels pretty heavily invested here already, then the Q for you is: who is God asking you to call out to come alongside you? (This is the difference between leading a "thing" or "project" and leading "people") Whose unique gifts and impact is God asking you to this week help unleash? -- on BLV, but also on that person’s whole world I can speak from personal experience: when certain people in my life have chosen to go beyond their own self and invest in me, saying: I want to help you grow… that has changed my life (2) To paraphrase from 20th century American theologian Frederick Buechner, ask yourself the question this week: "where does your deep gladness intersect with the world's deep hunger right now?" This could be in the context of something inherently meaningful, like serving people directly, or like making phone calls to elected officials Or this could be like my friend who is just hoping to make the office for her 11 employees be a place of joy and healthy relationships Or perhaps this week this is about you re-upping on a commitment to something you’re already involved in
In a moment, I would love to lead us all in prayer to get us started asking this question to ourselves But first, one last comment Right now, more so than in a very long time (I’m told by people who can remember), people in our city and around the US are galvanized behind missions that feel very much wrapped up in the way Jesus summarized the mission of the Kingdom of God Good news to the poor Release for captives, recovery of sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed A message that God has favor for humanity… God is NOT distant, aloof, arbitrary… God is invested, caring, and close! Perhaps you’re feeling among those who are galvanized And if so, I want you to know this is an opportunity for you to experience an “alive” and “lasting” quality in your faith, maybe like you have never known This is what Jesus, the God of the Bible, the God behind the Kingdom of God has always been in the business of... What if we attach our missions to that all-of-history-spanning mission?
Alright, after I finish praying for us, we’re going to enter into a time of song… something spiritual communities have done for centuries to slow down from the pace of life and encounter God at an emotional level.
You can engage in whatever way feels best to you. Maybe it is singing along (we’ll have the lyrics up on the screen here). Or maybe it is just sitting back and letting the music hit you.
And, as we are doing that, this morning’s prayer team will be in the back. Any of them would love to pray with you if you’re feeling any kind of sense that God might be speaking to you -- whether you’re feeling that right now or at any point while we’re singing together.
I really want to invite anyone who’s feeling something going on internally to take advantage of this! Powerful things often happen in our prayer times on Sundays. The people on our prayer team are trained and safe folks; no one is going to make you feel uncomfortable or give you unasked for advice, and everything you share is confidential.
Stand with me, if you would, and I’ll pray.