Doing Our Best Is Best – November 6

A sermon based on Colossians 3: 12-17 (23-24)
given at Mount Vernon, OH on November 6, 2022
by Rev. Scott Elliott

Nine years ago, Stewardship Sunday occurred on my second week as the minister of this church. I told a now thirty-year-old story from a Paul Harvey radio broadcast. Here it is again:

“The Butterball Turkey Company set up a hotline to answer consumer questions about preparing holiday turkeys. One woman called in to inquire about cooking a turkey that had been in her freezer for twenty-three years! The operator told her it might be safe if the freezer had been kept at 0 degrees the entire time. But the operator warned the woman that, even if it were safe, the flavor had probably deteriorated, and she would not recommend eating it. The caller replied “That’s what we thought. We’ll just give it to the church.” 1

Nine years ago, I followed up that story with what won’t surprise most of you– some puns. I noted the story provided me two opportunities. One was to try and go COLD TURKEY and pass up the opportunity for a FOWL sounding pun. The other option was to TALK TURKEY about stewardship which is what we did in 2013. Nine years later, I’m going to talk turkey about stewardship again.

I chose our reading today because the author of Colossians instructs Jesus followers to center everything we do in Christ. The middle of the reading instructs that “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” That’s verse 17. A few verses later we can hear that this means to do our best. This is how verse 23 puts it “Whatever your task put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord, and not for your masters.” While I do not agree with all that the author of Colossians writes, I do believe living with Christ as the center of our life means doing our best in everything.

I also believe that gibes with Jesus’ own teachings. Everything he taught was meant to lead his followers to do their best to live the very best life they can. And that necessarily includes living so that others can have their best lives. Jesus’ commandments to love our neighbors and do to others what we want done to us are all tied up in that. The best life is to work for well-being of all, for peace on earth good will to all.

As Jesus followers we are supposed to do our best to get well-being going for everyone. We all have different contexts and handicaps and gifts, so each person being their best is measured by their own efforts and intentions, not by who does this or that better in a contest like fashion. Giving a decades old tasteless turkey to a faith community is ordinarily not the best act a person can do for others. But it might be a person’s best if they had nothing else to eat and wanted to share the last source of food in their possession with others who had no food.

That’s a long shot idea to most of us for whom food is not a scarcity. But I am pretty sure most of us would eat a tasteless turkey to survive– I would hope too that most of us would share it with others to help them survive. That would be doing our best to live our best in a context of food scarcity and extreme poverty with food at hand to share. But the woman in the Paul Harvey story did not appear to do her best. Her best likely would have been to buy a new good turkey to give to the church or another non-profit that helped feed those in need. For most of us that would be our best too. This time of year, when we talk turkey about stewardship it’s really about trying to get our heads and hearts around doing, as our lesson puts it, “everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” It’s not about outdoing other members with our offerings of time, talent or treasure. It’s about doing our very best to offer our very own best to God. It’s not about giving ‘til it hurts. It’s about giving our best for our well-being and others’ well-being.

A few months back Pastor Mearle (who is a very learned and experienced national expert on church fund raising) blessed our Finance Committee with a frank discussion about stewardship. You’ve heard or read some of this before, but it bears repeating, we discussed how people in church families like ours tacitly agree to provide five basic actions as often as they can in the life of the church; and that we all depend on everyone doing their best to provide those actions as often as they are able; not when it feels convenient, but as often as we can, as best we can. The first action is to offer prayer– to communicate with the Divine. The second action Is to bring our presence into the community. We need to make genuine efforts to attend worship and events and meetings regularly. The third action is to offer a sincere and serious response to the blessings God have given us. That is, we need to generously offer our time, our talent and our treasures to God, not everything we have, but the very best we can offer. The fourth action is related to the third action in that we need to do our best to actually follow through and provide the offerings not just with money in the plate but with acts of service to the church and participation in church (this means doing our best to be at worship and to volunteer to help).

The fifth and final action is what we discussed last week, to tell others about the church and Christianity as we know it. We need to do our best to invite people to worship and events and activities– I know that can be hard to do but at least once a month we should all ask someone to come here. If just those of us here today did that, each year there’d be like three or four or five hundred or so people invited to the opportunity to be part of the transformative work we do with Christ inside and outside this building. Covid may not be completely over, but as most of us are returning to other everyday things. Shouldn’t we also be fully returning to church? It would be good for the church of course, but it is also good for us.

We need to get back into the habit of doing all of the five basic actions Mearle’s discussion in finance led us to consider and discuss the past few months. It’s time to “full on” do our best for church again. Any “old frozen turkey hold back COVID way” needs to be tossed aside if our health allows. Our best efforts to serve God and the church make our own spiritual lives better. None of this means we overdo it with too big a commitment to handle financially or otherwise. It’s not about over doing it. It means doing our best. This sermon and our stewardship campaign are not meant as demands. They are reminders we are to do our best for God all the time–the lesson is we should want to do that. Hopefully we can get our minds to do that joyfully. As Paul puts it in Second Corinthians, “Each . . . gives as [we] have made up [our] mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (9:7). Way back in 2013 I pointed out during my first stewardship sermon here that the woman who offered God a no-good turkey– and all the rest of us who fail from time to time– need to respond to God with cheerful generous giving, not halfhearted or cast away giving.

God has, of course, been generous in giving to us. There are many, many gifts God has blessed us with. Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of modern life we forget how really blessed we are. Our very breath is a gift, and so are all the wonders of creation that surround us, our loved ones, our memories of loved one and the skills and talents we have. Every day we get up we are blessed! Not one of us is without the sunrise promise of a day filled with gifts and wealth of much more value than material things. The Creator has seen fit to provide many, many blessings– over and over again. And the cool thing is we can ALL add to the blessings, multiple the gifts God’s given us and others. We can use our material wealth to help for sure–and we are certainly called to do that when we can– but we can also use our talents and time too.

Stewardship in its broadest sense applies to all the blessings God’s provided. It tends to be heard as applying to money, but really it applies to all the resources God has entrusted us with, material and otherwise. Most people kind of cringe when they hear “stewardship campaign” at church. It tends to be translated as something like “the church’s month to get me to give my money.” But that is not what stewardship is about, it is not even close to the definition of the term in the theological dictionary which defines it as:
“The responsibility given to humans in creation for managing the resources of the earth. In the church, Christian stewardship involves the whole of life since all life comes from God and is to be lived for God’s glory.” 2

That ties in about as nicely as it can to our Colossians lesson that “whatever [we] do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him . . .Whatever []our task put []ourselves into it, as done for the Lord . . . ”
May we all be more prayerful; present at church; provide offerings; serve the church; and start inviting folks to church. May we ALL do all of that cheerfully. AMEN.

1. I got this Paul Harvey story and quote out of 1001 Quotes, Illustrations, and Humorous Stories, Grand Rapids, Baker Books, (2008), 376.
2. McKim, Donald, Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 270.