St. Paul’s – Epiphany 5 – 2/7/21
What motivates you to do what you do?
I read recently about a man from Spain who has gained a measure of fame in the world of sports. He’s appeared in the French Open, in Formula One racing, at World Cup soccer matches. Is he the world’s most versatile athlete? No. He’s a streaker. Yes, I said a streaker. The man goes by the name Jimmy Jump. He has shown up at major international sporting events all over the world and runs out on the field.
Is he doing it for the attention and fame? Not according to Jimmy Jump. He claims he is interrupting these events to raise awareness of injustice and racism in the world. In fact, he frequently wears a shirt that reads, “Jimmy Jump Against Racism.”
Personally, I think Jimmy Jump has some deep-seated problems. His motivation may be well-intended, but his method is suspect. What is it that motivates you to do the things you do?
The national economic shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic forced most of the world to hit Pause on our work and our social activities and our plans for the future. Businesses shut down overnight. Churches closed their doors. Weddings and funerals and graduations were postponed, or significantly altered. Hanging out with family and friends was off-limits. Many people found themselves with a lot of time on their hands. Everyone, from governments, to corporations, to hospitals, to schools, to churches, to individuals, began questioning why they do what they do.
What is it that motivates you to get out of bed every morning? What is the underlying motivation for your work? Your relationships? Your hobbies? How you choose to spend your time and your money?
That brings us to our Bible passage for today. Paul, the man who wrote this passage and about 2/3 of the New Testament letters, traveled all over the Roman Empire preaching about Jesus and starting new churches. He faced constant rejection and persecution and danger. Which is all right because Paul was looking to please only one being – God.
Can we say that about our own work? You and I have a very limited time on this earth. And if we are fortunate enough to have a natural lifespan, then we will spend most of our lives at work. So what are you working for?
Many years ago, 60 Minutes did a report on a nun named Sister Emmanuel. Sister Emmanuel was at retirement age when she fell on her knees and prayed that God would send her to the most desperate spot on earth. God did.
Sister Emmanuel ended up in the poorest slum in the city of Cairo, Egypt, in a place called the City of Garbage. That is the name of a suburb of Cairo, Egypt where live the people who collect Cairo’s garbage. They not only collect the garbage, they live in the garbage, eat the garbage, and salvage all their earthly belongings from the garbage as well.
They are the most despised people in Egypt. For one thing, they raise pigs in their garbage kingdom. Pigs are forbidden in Moslem society as they were in the Old Testament.
Into this desperate situation came this retired nun to live among the garbage people, to love them and to teach them and their children better ways to live. Did she succeed? More than you might possibly imagine. There are schools now, and at her urging the government provided better housing. Many lives were immeasurably improved. Emmanuel means God with us. Certainly the people of the City of Garbage knew that God was with them in the presence of this determined and dedicated nun.
Sister Emmanuel died in 2008. What was her reward for her amazing work? Nothing earthly, to be sure. She lived as simply as the people to whom she ministered.
Sister Emmanuel was 79 years old and still passionately involved in ministry when she was interviewed by Diane Sawyer on 60 Minutes. Diane asked Sister Emmanuel if she thought about death. Sister Emmanuel showed Ms. Sawyer a painting on her wall of angels joined hand in hand dancing in the Celestial kingdom. One of these days, said Sister Emmanuel, they will offer me a hand and I will dance into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Who can doubt that Sister Emmanuel is dancing with the angels right now? I work in a comfortable casita and church office and never have to think about garbage or face persecution in my work. But I envy people like Sister Emmanuel and the Apostle Paul. They are driven completely by their love for God. So, I’ll ask you again: what is it you are working for? What is it that motivates you? Is it money?
Money is a powerful motivator in our society. Some of you will remember a song by the 1970s rock group Led Zeppelin. In fact, it was the most requested song of the 70s. It was called Stairway to Heaven.It’s about a woman who thinks her happiness lies in money, and she’s convinced that money and material possessions are a path to true happiness. She thinks money will buy her a stairway to heaven. Remember how it starts? There’s a lady who’s sure All that glitters is gold And she’s buying a stairway to heaven. But it never works. Those who are motivated by greed, it never works.
Fortunately for most of us, there is a limit to the motivating power of money. But what is it that motivates you? Is it money? Or could it be fear? That’s another powerful motivator.
Shelby Yastrow, the former general counsel of the McDonald’s Corporation, once said in an interview that he consistently was haunted by a dream that he would humiliate himself by being totally unprepared for a meeting. Anybody have a dream like that?
You don’t get to be general counsel and executive vice president of McDonald’s Corp. by being average. Shelby Yastrow is probably one of the best lawyers in the U.S. And yet even in his prestigious position, he still has fear–dreams about being unprepared in a meeting. There are many successful people in this world who are motivated by fear.
Or maybe you are motivated by the admiration and respect of others. I laughed when I read about a typo in a Chinese fortune cookie which resulted in a fortune that read like this, You will gain admiration from your pears. Not from your peers, but from your pears.
I don’t think we’re so desperate for respect that we even need our fruits and vegetables to notice us. But many of us conform our lives, our priorities, our lifestyles, our personalities around some ideal that we think will gain the respect and admiration of our peers. This is one of the important motivators for many people—to win the respect of their peers.
Money, fear, respect of one’s peers—there are many motivators in life. But I would like to suggest to you that the greatest motivator in this world is love. As Rollo May wrote many years ago, Will follows from caring. Let me repeat that. Will follows from caring. There is nothing in this world that can motivate like love.
You doubt that? Let me ask you a question. If one of your children were critically ill and needed an extremely expensive operation in order to survive, how much would you be willing to spend? Would you be willing to take all of the money out of your bank account? Of course. Would you be willing to sell your house? Your cars? Without a moment’s hesitation. Would you be willing to take a second job? A third job? Would you be willing to humble yourself and take a job late at night washing dishes at the local truck stop? How far would you go? You would do whatever it takes.
What do you imagine motivated St. Paul? Our lesson from the Epistle for the day is one of the most interesting passages in 1st Corinthians 9. Early in the chapter St. Paul talks about compensating pastors. He is very careful to point out that the pastor ought to be adequately compensated for his work. I hasten to say that because I don’t want to give you any ideas.
St. Paul makes a point of saying that the pastor ought to be compensated. However, St. Paul also notes that he himself never accepted any payment for his missionary work. He was a tent maker by profession. That was his way of making a living. He never accepted any money for the preaching of the gospel. He was proud of that. He even boasted of it. It allowed him to say truthfully and dramatically, I’m not doing this for the money.
What did motivate him if it wasn’t money? Prestige? Hardly. St. Paul was reviled even within the church. There were many of the redeemed who wouldn’t walk across the street to speak to St. Paul. That was inside the church. He was actually imprisoned and beaten by those outside of the church.
It wasn’t prestige that motivated him. It certainly wasn’t any sense of power or any of the other things that generally motivate people. What was it that motivated St. Paul? It was love. Love for God. Love for other people. Love for the Gospel. And that love motivated him to preach the good news of Jesus Christ, even to those who rejected him, slandered him, beat him, and threw him in prison. As he wrote, I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
What is it that motivates you? There is only one motivation that matters in the Christian faith: Love. St Paul says at the end of 1st Corinthians: Do all things in the spirit of love. That is the only motivation. That is what motivated Paul. That is what motivated Sister Emmanuel to go into the City of Garbage. Love for Jesus and love for people. Do you love Christ? Do your work, your priorities, your lifestyle and your relationships reflect that love? Many of you have enjoyed Cadbury Chocolates, especially
Cadbury Easter Eggs over the years. You might be interested to know the history of the family who started this famous line of candies.
The Cadburys were devout Christians who built their company around Jesus’ golden rule: So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12). They began their chocolate-making empire in the 1800s in Victorian England when most factories were dangerous, grueling places to work. The Cadburys chose to build their factory to make it as safe and comfortable for the workers as possible. Around the factory, they built a workers’ village with houses, vegetable plots, a sports field. The Cadburys even set up a workers’ retirement plan, something that was unheard of for factory workers of that time. John Cadbury was a social activist who led campaigns against slavery and child labor. He manufactured the first commercial cocoa drink as a substitute for alcohol.
The Cadburys were Quaker Christians, which means that they opposed war. Yet they also felt a patriotic duty to support their country. So, in World War II, George Cadbury reactivated the Friends’ Ambulance Unit to support the British troops in battle. The Cadburys could have been like the typical wealthy class of their time. They could have oppressed their workers and forced them to work in horrible conditions. They could have spent all their wealth on luxuries and status symbols. What motivated them to work for justice and equality for others? Multiple generations of Cadburys built their businesses around their Christian principles and service to others.
So it was with St. Paul. No one had to ask why the apostle Paul preached with such passion or lived with such courage. His whole life was focused on loving God and loving people. Most of us can prove we are alive by the fact we are breathing and moving around. But to live with absolute passion, to be compelled by love, as Paul was, to stand up to any obstacle, to break through any barrier, to sacrifice everything for the sake of knowing God and sharing God with others—and to find absolute joy in doing it—that’s really living! There is a man who lived with joy and died with no regrets because he gave everything he had in the service of love.
What about you? What kind of difference could you make in this world if love for God and love for other people and all of God’s creation became your motivating force? If love became the why for everything you do?
Where do we start—For us to answer God’s call to follow Jesus and love God, neighbor and self….we need public time gathered around word and sacrament; we need to be in a community of believers; we need private prayer and meditation; we need to be out in the world sharing God’s love in word and deed with God’s suffering people. We are called to a life of prayer and service, of living within God’s community so that we will be strengthened and empowered to love, serve, heal and save the world. We are called to come apart from the world and spend time in the presence of God so that we may be sent back out into God’s world, proclaiming God’s love, healing God’s people, being genuinely active doing what we have been called to do…..And as we do these things, we will find new courage and conviction and joy in everything we do.
The joy of life comes from the ways in which we live together and that the pain of life comes from the many ways we fail to do that well.
that the world will never cease to return
hatred for love and violence for peace.
Still we pray for the courage and confidence
to walk in love and peace
for the sake of those who have never known love or peace,
for the sake of our own treacherous hearts….AMEN+