21 Because for me, living serves Christ and dying is even better. 22 If I continue to live in this world, I get results from my work. 23 But I don’t know what I prefer. I’m torn between the two because I want to leave this life and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 However, it’s more important for me to stay in this world for your sake. 25 I’m sure of this: I will stay alive and remain with all of you to help your progress and the joy of your faith, 26 and to increase your pride in Christ Jesus through my presence when I visit you again.
27 Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel. Do this, whether I come and see you or I’m absent and hear about you. Do this so that you stand firm, united in one spirit and mind as you struggle together to remain faithful to the gospel. 28 That way, you won’t be afraid of anything your enemies do. Your faithfulness and courage are a sign of their coming destruction and your salvation, which is from God.29 God has generously granted you the privilege, not only of believing in Christ but also of suffering for Christ’s sake. 30 You are having the same struggle that you saw me face and now hear that I’m still facing (Philippians 1:21-30, Common English Bible).
One day, while I was working for the FDIC, my boss stepped into my office and requested that I join her in the server room. Unlike today, when a computer server can fit just about anywhere, we had a special room that housed all the servers for our location. It was highly secure. Only employees in my department were allowed access to the room, including my boss’ supervisors.
Once in the room, there was a table set up with eight chairs around the table. Over the next few minutes, several of my co-workers, as well as a few who were subordinate to me, came into the room. Everyone came in and sat down at the table. My boss then sat down. Everyone, it would seem, but me knew what was going on. She looked me square in the eye and said, “From time to time, I designate a fun day for employees of the department who have completed an important project or done something else of note.” I had just finished my first programming package since I came on board. She continued, “On these fun days, we play Trivial Pursuit. My boss knows we do this, but if we want it to continue, it must remain top secret.” Sherry had a flair for the dramatic, but she was quite serious. If I wanted to be included, I had to agree to keep the game a secret. I did. We spent an entire workday, with the exception of lunch, you couldn’t have food or drink in the server room, playing Trivial Pursuit. She even treated us to lunch that day.
Once I was in on the department secret, I quickly learned that the “Boss’ Fun Day” was what motivated some of my co-workers. I had one co-worker who would come into work early or stay late just so she could finish a project early and be invited to play Trivial Pursuit. She was quite possibly the most cut-throat game player I have ever known and for me to say that is really something because I can be pretty competitive when playing most any game.
Trivial Pursuit, according to the online user provided encyclopedia, Wikipedia, “… is a board game in which winning is determined by a player’s ability to answer general knowledge and popular culture questions… Dozens of question sets have been released for the game. The question cards are organized into themes; for instance, in the standard Genus question set, questions in green deal with science and nature. Some question sets have been designed for younger players and others for a specific time period [including full games on the 1960s, 70s, and 80s] or as promotional tie-ins (such as Star Wars, Saturday Night Live, and The Lord of the Rings movies).
In the end, however, other than occupying a large block of time, some games last six hours or more, in pursuit of entertainment, Trivial Pursuit does little of real value. Sure, you might learn something of some level of importance but in the end, does it really matter who knows that HTML stands for Hyper Text Markup Language or that a group of rhinoceros is called a crash
It got me to thinking about what other trivial pursuits we might have. As I was considering this, I got to thinking the biggest way we pursue the trivial is in the ways we waste time. And, if we are honest with ourselves and each other, just about all of us waste some amount of time. I think one way can be with the amount of time we spend on the internet, so where did I go for my research for this message, the internet. According to the Huffington Post, the thirteen most common ways we Americans waste time is:
- By learning something useless (What? I might need to know that the next time I play Trivial Pursuit).
- Spend countless hours on YouTube (Ouch, I that during the evacuation).
- Never turn the television off (Yes, there are people who literally NEVER turn off the TV, even if they aren’t home).
- Reading all the junk emails in your inbox (how do they all get my email address anyway?).
- Getting lost. (Huffington suggests getting a GPS but that didn’t work for me recently).
- Standing and waiting in line (Who hasn’t done this one).
- Excessively posting on social media (oops, Preacher done quit preaching and went to meddling).
- Go to the gym and do nothing (wait, what?).
- Take a good long nap (Well, I guess it’s my turn again, ouch).
- Lose something and then waste hours trying to find it (the remote control springs to mind).
- Watch the news incessantly (they just repeat themselves over and over again).
- Talk to Telemarketers (Don’t they have anything better to do? Don’t you?).
- By thinking of ways you can waste time (quite possibly the ultimate trivial pursuit).
I, like most people, have wasted more than my fair share of time in pursuit of the trivial. So, imagine, if you can, the thoughts that went through my head when I was preparing for ordination and I learned the questions I would be asked by the bishop as I stood in front of the annual conference before I would be ordained. These are historic questions asked of every United Methodist preacher throughout history as he or she stood for ordination. I won’t bore you with the whole list. Others might prove valuable at some other point but for today I will mention only two, number 17 and number 19. They say:
Are you determined to employ all your time in the work of God?
Will you observe the following directions? a) Be diligent. Never be unemployed. Never be triflingly employed. Never trifle away time; neither spend any more time at any one place than is strictly necessary. b) Be punctual. Do everything exactly at the time. And do not mend our rules, but keep them; not for wrath, but for conscience’ sake.
Well, it seems pretty obvious to me that I am in trouble with Mr. Wesley. This is some pretty tough stuff. It can be difficult to follow and yet Wesley worked hard to live his life that way. He wasn’t going to waste a lot of time sleeping in. In fact, it is said, he got up every morning at 4:00 AM and prayed for two hours before beginning his day. If he were going to have a particularly busy day he would pray for three hours.
Wesley lived out these rules most all of his adult life. I wouldn’t be surprised, since studying his mother, if he didn’t get these habits from her. It is just the kind of thing Susannah Wesley would have taught her children. Wesley is asking of us, really both clergy and laity, to live and work and do the same. When we are living and working for the Kingdom, in no way are we pursuing the trivial.
Paul is asking the same of us in this morning’s lesson. I love the last part of the passage for this morning. Let me share it with you again, this time from the Keith paraphrased version… The most important thing is for you live together in a way that reflects your relationship with Christ and the Gospel. You should do this regardless of whether I am with you or not. Stand together. Stand firm. Be united as one both in spirit and in action. If you can do that, you will come to know nothing your enemies do will really matter and that there is no reason to fear them. Your faithfulness and your belief show in your actions and your actions a tangible demonstration of your salvation. God has given to us generously. May we also be about God’s work, using that which God has given us to carry out that work. Your faith is alive and working for Christ’s sake.
On August 26th an event we neither asked for nor wanted occurred when Hurricane Harvey made landfall near Rockport. Much of the time when hurricanes happen, as most all of us know, wind and storm surge are the big fears. Sure, flooding can happen. I don’t think it is possible to live on the Gulf Coast and not know that flooding during a hurricane is a real possibility. That being said, we have also seen things happen, here and elsewhere, that demonstrates my point. Hurricane Katrina was devastating to New Orleans. The hurricane, however, was not the real problem. When levies started to breach, water started to rise throughout the city a bad problem was made much worse for all involved.
For us, Hurricane Harvey became a problem because it refused to go away. Most hurricanes blow in, they do their damage and they leave. Not Harvey. Harvey was that friend or relative who comes for a visit and they won’t leave no matter how much you hint or otherwise try to persuade. The result was, like Katrina, rising water, lots of rising water.
Many of our neighbors from here to Beaumont and beyond might easily feel that every drop of that rain fell on them. There is a lot of devastation around us. As I have traveled around our communities, I have told Cindy, when I would speak to her at night, so many of these communities looked like war zones, not neighborhoods where people lived and children played.
That is the bad news. The good news started coming a few days later when Sherri called me while I was in Lufkin. “Keith, we want to open the Family Life Center and distribute cleaning supplies and other things needed by people impacted by the storm. Do you think that might be possible?”
I never hesitated. “Do it I said. Make it happen. If there is anything I can do to help, let me know.” Even though I couldn’t be here, Sherri took me up on that offer. A day or two later she called me, “We need flood buckets, lots and lots of flood buckets.” I started making calls and flood buckets started coming in. We had to go get some because such is the demand all around us, but Sherri and Jerry, Cajun Bob and Darlene, and so many others made things happen for the Sweeny community. From virtually nothing to what is in the Family Life Center today is pretty amazing. But, it is even more amazing to ponder is the amount of supplies that have gone out during all this. At one point we estimated that somewhere between 1500-1800 flood buckets came in and went out. And, we still have more. That also doesn’t count the other supplies that have come and gone. Who knows how many gallons of bleach, peroxide, and vinegar have gone through our doors over the past month.
All of that happened because of your faithfulness. For so many of us, Harvey was little more than an inconvenience. It would have been easy to say, “Nope, it didn’t affect me,” and then move on with our lives. But, you didn’t do that. You rolled up your sleeves and went to work. You went to work for the sake of your neighbors and you went to work for the sake of the Gospel.
In some ways, when all this started, I was feeling a lot like Paul in our lesson. He says, “Do this, whether I come and see you or I’m absent and hear about you.” When I have talked to our district superintendent, I have told him, I had nothing to do with all that is happening. This was you. I wasn’t even here.
During these last few weeks, you have stood together. You have been of one spirit and one mind. You have worked together for the sake of the Gospel and the sake of your neighbors. Such is what Paul says in our lesson. Such is what Jesus said was the most important commandment.
You have helped people load up their cars and trucks. You have unloaded truckloads of supplies. You have packaged everything from cotton balls to flood buckets to facemasks and so much more. You have made trips to get supplies. You have mucked out homes, ripped out sheetrock, sprayed for mold on studs and carried out lots of stuff that was good stuff six weeks ago and nothing more than garbage now. You have listened to people who came for supplies but really needed most to have someone listen to their stories. You have worked some pretty long hours. You have worked hard. And, you have made a difference. Even if you have been unable to be up here or out working in the community, many of you have bought and donated supplies or given cash contributions. You too have made a difference.
At least to me, the big difference between trivial pursuits and living the Gospel is what makes a difference for God and for the people around us. With what you have done, you have made a difference for both. As your pastor, I just want to say thank you. What you have done is not trivial. What you have done is real. It is tangible. It has touched people’s hearts and lives. People have received God’s blessing.
I am preparing for Charge Conference that is coming October 11. I have been thinking a great deal about what we have done over the past year and there has been a lot of work done for the Gospel. Harvey, for obvious reasons, has been the biggest but by no means has it been the only thing. None of what we have done has been trivial. What we have done has made a difference in the lives of people in our community and in the lives of people in the world. It has been a tangible demonstration of love and that is never trivial.
Trivial Pursuit is a game. And, like most games, there really isn’t much there of any real consequence. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. What we do in Harvey recovery and in other ministries lives out our love of God and love of neighbor. What we do demonstrates for the world how we are of one mind and one spirit as we live out the Gospel and share the Gospel with the world. And those things, my friends, are never trivial pursuits.