“Beyond Mere Survival”

Cathy Harris – PFM – March 29, 2020 – Isaiah 40:28-31, Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

 

Hi Friends!

I’d like to welcome you to Plainfield Friends Meeting and our online worship service for

March 29.  Although we are unable to worship together in person, we can still gather together to pray, read scripture, and worship God in new and fresh ways. 

At Plainfield Friends, the last Sunday of each month is “birthday Sunday” – so to all of you who have March birthdays, we wish for you God’s blessings, joy, and peace – Happy Birthday!

 

Isaiah 40:28-31

Do you not know?    Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,  and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;  they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011

 

“Beyond Mere Survival”

Cathy Harris – PFM – March 29, 2020 – Isaiah 40:28-31, Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

 

Tom and I enjoy watching the TV reality show called – “Survivor”.  CBS is currently running their 40th season of Survivor – and all of the participants this season are previous winners from the past 20 years.  They usually have two shows per year, which means it’s been on TV for about 20 years!

I did NOT watch Survivor when it first came on.  Tom did, but I didn’t. 

I’m not much for watching reality TV shows, and Survivor’s first season was during the summer – a time when our children were out of school and going to church camp and playing with friends.  Summer is also a time I enjoy being outdoors, gardening, swimming, or taking a walk.

But during that first season or two that he watched it, I heard snippets while cleaning the kitchen or walking in and out of the family room.  Eventually, it piqued my interest – and I got hooked!

The idea of the show – is that the program’s producers choose a number of people to go live on a remote island, and the one individual who lives – survives – on the island the full 39 days wins a million dollars. 

The folks who are chosen as participants are initially divided up into two teams.

Those two teams then compete against one another during a variety of challenges that range from seeing which team can eat the most bugs the fastest to running a variety of relays or solving puzzles. 

Each team has to work together to attempt to win. The team that wins gets to keep all of their teammates on the island and they gain immunity until the next competition takes place.  The team that loses must vote one of its members off the island. 

As the number of participants dwindles as people are voted off the island, the two teams merge into one team, and then it’s “every man and woman for themselves”. 

As I have watched the show, I am reminded that there is much in our culture and in our human nature that tends to encourage us to live “every man and woman for themselves”.  We live in a very individualistic society where we are encouraged to climb the ladder of success on our own strength and ability. 

Competition comes in a variety of forms.  We might be in competition for the same thing that someone else wants – first place in a race, the same job, or – a million dollars for being the “sole survivor” on an island for 39 days. 

 

And children – naturally – compete for their parents’ attention – or – for the best grades. 

Don’t get me wrong – in many ways there is nothing wrong with a little healthy competition or a good challenge that makes us try our personal best or helps us push ourselves a little more.

There is a problem, however, when competition goes beyond simply wanting to do our personal best. How do we look at winning?  Is it at the expense of someone else? 

 

If we do win or get things done our way, what is our attitude to those who lost? 

“You snooze – you lose”? 

Little kids tend to say “Ha, ha! You lost!” and rub it in to drive home the point. 

But – there’s a difference between looking out for ourselves and looking out for one another.

And – there’s a difference between insisting on our own way – without listening to others’ points of view – and – laboring with love to show others a different or alternate path. 

 

John Woolman – a Quaker who lived around the mid-1700’s – believed slavery was wrong – so – he began talking with the folks in his Meeting – his Church – to explain and help them understand why slavery was wrong.  He talked with folks and explained how God had spoken to him about the equality of all people. 

The people in his Quaker Meeting didn’t just say, “Okay, you’re right, I’ll give up my slaves.” 

They probably asked some tough questions –

how would this affect them financially?

How would they get the help they needed on their farms and in their homes?

Should they free their slaves?

 

John Woolman worked a long time with his Meeting about this, and they prayed and worked together to discern God’s will and direction.  Woolman already felt HE knew the answer, but he had to wait for the others to catch up with him.  He talked with them and worked with them until they came to the same sense of clearness and they could go forward together. 

If Woolman had pushed ahead without his Meeting’s support, it would have been his project alone, but by working through it together, the Meeting took ownership and joined him in this work – and they released Woolman to begin working with other Friends Meetings to convince them to free their slaves, and to live out their belief in the equality of all people.

Rather than operating from a “sole survivor” position – his way or the highway, John Woolman operated from the perspective/position to “leave no person behind”.

As part of a Christian community of faith, we enter a place where God calls us to go beyond mere individual survival – or survival of the fittest – or survival of the person with the strongest personality.  God doesn’t want just one person or one alliance to survive. 

To be a part of the church is to be a people with values and views that are different from the world. We are called to live a life of a higher calling.  It’s beyond being a survivor. 

Jesus calls us to be a community – to be individuals – who seek to invite others to join us on the journey. 

It’s not running ahead of our neighbor – not buying up all the toilet paper so our neighbors don’t have enough – it’s not buying up all the bread, milk and groceries so that some are left without anything. 

 

I know in these uncertain times that it is difficult to not panic and to not buy everything up.  Personally, when I go to the store, I have been trying to buy a few things to have on hand – without hoarding food – trying to find that balance.  It’s actually shocking to go to a grocery store and see nearly empty or completely empty shelves and nearly empty freezers and nearly empty coolers.

I went to the grocery Friday morning, and one of the things I wanted was a box of saltine crackers. The shelves were empty, but there was an employee getting ready to restock all the different types of crackers.  I asked if I could have a box of saltine crackers.  She asked how many I wanted.  I told her – just one.  I want to make sure other people could buy some, too. 

We are called to treat other with love and kindness along the way – and to not write off the feelings, thoughts or pain of others who are in a different place from ourselves.  We are called to help those who do not have enough.

This kind of life is beyond mere survival – it is abundant life – and it’s not always easy, and it’s not without bumps along the way – but it is definitely worth seeking and working towards.

 

We might think of abundant life as full of goodness and good things, but I think true “abundant life” embraces life’s difficulties as well as the joys and celebrations.  This type of abundant life has the potential to give way to a deeper and more genuine sense of community and a mutual caring for one another. 

This life within a community of faith – this abundant life – might mean laboring with love on some tough issues or require us to be sensitive and tender to one another’s goals and hopes and disappointments. 

Life in a community of faith means we have the opportunity – and privilege – of helping one another.  It also means sharing our joys along the way as well as helping each other with our problems.  It also includes holding each other accountable to one another and to God, and being willing to ask tough questions when needed.

 

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 – “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other.” 

 

When my son was in middle school, he decided to join the cross country team.  The season had already started, and the coach announced that they had room for a couple of more runners – which – I think – really meant that they would take anyone they could get! 

Chris told the coach that he was interested in running.

The coach told him he would need to get a physical before he could start practicing or competing in the meets.  So, we got him into the doctor, got the physical done, and that evening was their first cross country meet. 

The coach told me Chris could run if he wanted to – even though he hadn’t been able to practice with the team yet – but for him just to run as far as he wanted – and he didn’t have to finish.  It would be a good practice for him. 

 

Well, Chris did decide to run.

He dressed in his uniform and took off at the starting line when they fired the starting gun.

I had never been to a cross country meet before, so I joined the group of parents, and as the race began, I noticed that the parents ran to various check points in the race – so I joined them.  Chris was in last place, but he kept going. 

But what I saw next amazed me. 

The kids from Maxwell Middle School who had already finished the race came back to where the slower runners were – and some of them cheered the other runners on and some of the runners who had finished the race “ran them in” to the finish line. 

Here were people cheering Chris on and running alongside of him to encourage him and to help him make it to the finish line.

Everyone was encouraged to do their personal best – and of course the runners wanted to win individually and as a team – but of overarching importance was that no one was unimportant – they cheered each other on, and if they could cheer and run the other in, then, even if they lost the meet, everyone had won. 

 

As Chris kept running, he built up his endurance and ran faster.  The coach encouraged the kids to have fun and compete against themselves – to improve their own time. I saw this with another student as well – Jesse started running a couple of weeks after Chris, and the team treated him the same way. 

At the first two meets that Jesse ran, he finished at least 8-10 minutes after all of the other runners from both teams.  The people who were clocking the race were waiting and getting fidgety.  Some of the people from the other team thought the meet was over, but I saw the kids who had already finished on Maxwell’s team running back to where Jesse was, and they ran with him and cheered him on with words of encouragement. 

When Jesse crossed the finish line, you should have heard the cheers.  Some people wondered what all the excitement was.  From the cheering – by parents and kids – you would have thought that Jesse had won the race.  But folks knew that Jesse was a beginning runner and they knew what it took for him to be out there running with the team – and he, like Chris – was one of the youngest on the team. 

 

Maybe there are other sports and teams that function like that – I hope so! – but the sense of community and support on that cross country team – was that the runners didn’t want to leave their teammates in the dust.  Oh – they ran all out and tried to win by doing their personal best, but they went back and helped the others finish and to do their best, too.

 

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 – “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up the other …”

 

Jesus calls us to live – “Beyond Mere Survival” – and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Sometimes it’s not easy.  Different folks have different opinions and we are all at different places on our spiritual journey.  The important thing is that we don’t leave part of the team struggling behind.  If there’s only one survivor – or if there’s only one side or alliance wins, then the whole community of faith loses out. 

But if our work and ministry are done as labors of love, if we are willing to listen with our heads as well as our hearts, if we are willing to ask tough questions when needed, and if we continue to try to seek God’s leading and discernment – then we can move forward – together. 

 

Hebrews 12:1-2a – “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus – the pioneer and perfector of our faith.”

 

Galatians 5:22-26; 6:9-10 – “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. There is no law against such things.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying another another … So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.  So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”

 

Just like John Woolman didn’t run ahead of his congregation to start working against slavery  – he talked with them and they worked through things together – so they had a sense of clarity as they moved forward. 

And just like those cross country runners ran back and encouraged their teammates – running alongside them, so God is with us (you) – whether you’re the one leading or struggling – God is there to encourage and to guide and to love us.

“So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”

 

Prayer by Richard Foster–from his book “Prayers from the Heart”

“A Prayer for Quiet”

I have, O Lord, a noisy heart.

And entering outward silence does not stop the inner clamor.

In fact, it seems only to make it worse.

When I am full of activity, the internal noise is only a distant rumble;

but when I get still, the rumble amplifies itself.

And it is not like the majestic sound of a symphony rising to a grand crescendo;

Rather it is the deafening din of clashing pots and clanging pans.

What a racket!

Worst of all, I feel helpless to hush the interior pandemonium.

Dear Lord Jesus, once you spoke peace to the wind and the waves.

Speak your shalom over my heart.

I wait silently … patiently.

I receive into the very core of my being your loving command, “Peace, be still.”

Amen.

 

 

Hymn:  Leaning On the Everlasting Arms

What a fellowship, what a joy divine

Leaning on the everlasting arms

What a blessedness, what a peace is mine

Leaning on the everlasting arms

 

   Leaning, leaning

   Safe and secure from all alarms

   Leaning, leaning

   Leaning on the everlasting arms

 

O how sweet to walk in the pilgrim way

Leaning on the everlasting arms

O how bright the path grows from day to day

Leaning on the everlasting arms

 

What have I to dread, what have I to fear

Leaning on the everlasting arms

I have blessed peace with my Lord so near

Leaning on the everlasting arms

2 thoughts on “Beyond Mere Survival

  1. Thank you so much Cathy. I can relate to the verse from Ecclesiastics about twos. Thursday I decided to stay at Rocco’s house instead of bouncing off the walls of my house by myself. Being a people person, having someone else by my side helps me cope and/or forget the virus situation. Thank you and keep up the good work. You are very dear to our church.

  2. Suzie Mathis says:

    Hi Cathy,
    I somehow missed the email from last week so I just now read last Sunday’s sermon. It is wonderful and inspiring, as are all your sermons! Thank you so much:)!

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