The following was part of my sermon preached last Sunday. The theme was “Our roles in the workplace as Jesus followers.”
The protestant church in Canada is in numerical decline. This is not a secret. Similar numbers have been said about Mennonite Church Canada. We are getting older, having less kids, and people are walking through church doors less and less.
James Penner from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada wrote a report on young adults and how they are staying away from the church like it’s a disease. They are staying away because they see the church as judgmental, hypocritical, exclusive, and unable to admit failure. He told a bunch of us younger pastors: If it’s a linear line, the protestant church in Canada will cease to exist in your lifetime. Your buildings will be empty. But good thing it’s not linear. But there will be a time in your life where the majority of people in Canada will be able to put themselves into one of two categories: they will either identify themselves as atheists, or as mystics.
Mel (the other pastor at Grace) and I were talking this week, about how those of us who identify ourselves as Christians interact in the world. Do we shout really loud? Do we have public prayer meetings? Do wear Jesus t-shirts? Do we put Bible verses on neon signs? Do we wear crosses? Will we be allowed to wear crosses? It’s all changing, really, really fast.
But the one thing that Mel said that stuck out to me was: Eventually, when almost nobody claims to be a follower of Jesus, those of us who still do will have to act in a way where people say: “There’s something different about that person. Something unique. Something peculiar.”
From the book: Small Things With Great Love by Margo Starbuck
Biggest loser wins. That’s the whole premise of the popular weight-loss reality show featuring women and men who are hundreds of pounds over-weight. Whoever loses the most, wins. Every week, as someone is voted off of the weight-loss ranch, a compassionate host must confirm, “You are not the biggest loser ” Dejected, the not-loser packs up his or her belongings and heads home.
If the scene feels weirdly familiar, it’s because it’s a story that’s been told before. In Matthew 25, Jesus describes a divine host who gathers all the contestants and divides them up into two teams. Up until then, they’d all been living and dining and working out together in one big group. The host forms a red team on his right and a blue team on his left. And although the show’s producer knows how the cut was made, the participants aren’t yet privy to the behind-the-scenes priorities.
Then the host turns to the red team and says, “You win! You’re the biggest losers! You lost your life, for me. You saw me hungry and shared your healthy snacks. When I was thirsty, you offered me your water bottle. When I was brand-new here, you welcomed me. When the airline lost my luggage, you shared your clothes. When I was sick, stuck in my room, you visited me. Even when I landed in jail, you visited.”
The red team then looks at the host, feeling confused “Um, did all that stuff even happen? We don’t really know you that well—probably because you’re the celebrity and we’re just regular people dressed in red T-shirts. We actually don’t remember doing any of that stuff.”
“What you didn’t realize,” the host explains patiently, “is that my kid brother, Marquez, who suffered a brain injury when we were kids, is on the food service crew. So whatever you did for those guys, you did for me.”
Slowly, the red team catches on. Thinking back, they recognize that they sort of had done all that the host had mentioned. That very morning, in fact, when local cops had mistakenly picked up his brother, they’d gone to bail him out at the police station.
Then, the host turns to the blue team. “You’re finished, gang I was famished while you feasted. I was thirsty while you drank your pricey flavored vitamin waters. I was in need and you ignored me.”
Because a lot of the folks wearing blue had been sucking up to the show’s host all along, they were particularly confused.
“Um,” they asked, “when did we see you have any of those needs and not help you?”
The host explained, “Whatever you didn’t do for the folks who cleaned the rooms where you’ve been sleeping, the ones washing your dishes, the ones working in wardrobe—not to mention the undocumented ones living in trailers along the route where you jog who’d love to have any of those jobs—you didn’t do for me. I’m sorry to tell you, blue team, you are not the biggest losers.”
In the weird kingdom reversal, those who gave their lives away kept them, and those who clung to their own lives lost them. The blue team, disappointed, packed up their belongings and headed off dejectedly to eternal damnation. The red team, now sharing the stage with the gracious host, started jumping up and down, waving their new friends—the camera operators and paper pushers and the wait staff and the cleaning crew—onto the stage to share in the shower of confetti.
Once you’ve grieved the disappointing ending for the blue team, you’re left with the gospel-driven men and women on the red team who are daily choosing to lose their own lives for the sake of the ones Jesus loves.
In this kingdom reversal, whether a relationship elevates one’s own status or meets one’s own needs becomes less important than the ways it confirms the inherent worth of another and satisfies his or her needs (bold mine). Giving one’s life away in relationship with those in need—according to Jesus—is the way to gain it. Whoever loses the most wins.
That said, we’re not talking about huge losses here. We’re talking about grabbing two sub sandwiches from the grocery store and sharing one with someone you just met who is really hungry. It might be offering some cold lemonade to the recent immigrant who’s been mowing your lawn all morning. Inviting a stranger in might be as manageable as opening your dinner table once a quarter to foreign students attending a local university. Clothing the naked might just mean you quietly slip the athletic director at your kids’ school—or your school!—some extra cash for the players who can’t afford to pay for pricey uniforms. Visiting those in need could mean that you have coffee at the nursing home with an elderly woman from your church and then give her a ride to visit her son, who is doing time in prison for white-collar crime.
This is how Kingdom Losers is played.
When we speak, may we continue to speak the very words of God. When we serve, may we do so with the strength God provides.
And when we go to our places of work, may we continue to do small things with great love, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To God be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.