ery year, the Stewardship committee asks me to preach about
giving. When you put it that way, I like to talk about it even less
than you like to hear about it. In fact, a couple years ago there was
an ad in the Christian Century that said "New York Cathedral, Senior
Minister position. We will double your salary and you won't have to
raise money ever again." I thought, Man that is Chuck Rush, that is
screaming Chuck Rush.
But on another level, I've started thinking about this more broadly
and I know that many of you do to because we talk about it. All of us
here do pretty well. It is a luxury to be able to think about how we
are going to live and what kind of impact we are going to make.
Our text has the profound words, Jesus Christ was full of grace and
truth and dwelt among us. Usually this is a text that we only read on
Christmas Eve and never preach on. I want to look at it today from
another angle. Theologically, the affirmation that Jesus was full of
grace and truth means that if you want to see what human life looks
like when it is full of transcendent purpose, look at the life of
Jesus. If you want to know that God intends for our fulfillment, it is
not different from what we know in the Christ. Jesus was fully in the
Let's come at it from the other direction. If you think about it
for a moment, you have a deep desire to get into that state when you
are in the groove. It is a transcendent experience that stays with you
for a long time. What is it to be in the groove?
Let me move from the banal to the sublime. Hack golfer's, and I
would certainly qualify for that fraternity, have an experience from
time to time, where they show up to play, and for some reason their
normal cruddy game stays in the car. The next thing you know they are
hitting beautiful shot after beautiful shot. Even when they hit an
errant ball, somehow it takes a strange bounce right towards the pin,
and they score well. This goes on for about 9 or 11 holes and then the
wheels fall off and they come totally apart. If you ask them what
happened, they will almost invariably say something like "I woke up".
By the way, if you want to know what keeps these sad sacks coming back
to course, laying out huge money to play, it is the possibility of
getting back into that groove. Today might be the day.
For all of us boys and increasingly for our girls too, it is an
experience that we have had or been near when we were young and in our
athletic prime. If you ask our girls lacrosse team from last spring,
the team that was #1 in the state of New Jersey, they can tell you
about being in the groove. One of them was describing a play, one they
had worked on conceptually a few times. As it was unfolding, she was
cutting toward the wing in a great circle. Without any speech, she
just knew that the center forward that was cradling the ball saw her.
She cut around a couple of defenders, but she knew the pass was
coming. She kept her eyes focused on the defenders in front of the
goal, looking for an opening. At the last minute looking up, the lane
cleared and she could see her teammate just barely, passing the ball to
her. Just as she caught it, she let it go down an opening between the
defenders she had spotted. It went right between two defenders, just
over the shoulder of the goalie. The grandstand went wild. That is
being in the groove.
Being in the groove in the clutch is one of the main things that
makes Michael Jordan, Michael Jordan, Scotty Pippen, Scotty Pippen. It
is true that they are remarkably disciplined and that they train
relentlessly, and they practice until it is just right. But something
happens to them when the game is on the line. When all the fans are
tightening up with anxiety,
Michael gets in the zone.
He seems to stop thinking about himself and he just
merges with the game.
New moves come out of the bag. He passes the ball where no one is and
someone appears. Shots go down more often. The whole team comes
together around him. He is the "go to" man. You want the ball in his
hands, not just because he can score, but because you know
something is going to happen.
I think it was Joe Namath who said that sometimes in situations
where it was 4
and long, where there was a lot on the line, he said he would look down
the line at Don Maynard, start the play, and he could see down the
field the whole play unfold before it unfolded and he just knew that
they were going to complete a clutch throw for big yardage. You live
for that. That is a day you don't forget. You will spend a great deal
of time, trying to get back to that place, being in the groove. It is
a strange thing, but it is a transcendent experience. It's you but
you've locked into something that is bigger than you, a part of
yourself that doesn't operate in the daily work-a-day world really,
something that can't be dissected into parts.
It is like you have tapped into the power of the whole that pulls
the parts together. For just a moment, it all comes together.
It's a relational experience. It is personal but not just
individual. You are part of some bigger relationship. Change gears.
Sometimes it can happen in nature. Sometimes in nature you can get
into the groove, when you feel yourself part of the cosmos, anchored,
connected in a way that flows through you in a relationship bigger than
yourself. I assume that is what drives people to want to climb Mt.
Everest. It is a physical challenge that requires your maximum effort,
great planning and good fortune. And when it all comes together, the
team is standing on top of a magnificent peak, looking down on the
clouds, an ethereal horizon, exhausted, victorious. You've seen the
pictures, I've seen the pictures, but I'm sure they don't do it
justice. You have to be there and feel how connected you feel at that
moment, not only with the rest of your team that have made it happen
but with, the mountain, the sky, Mother Earth, the Cosmos. You can see
it in these people's faces. They radiate. They beam. They have
tapped into the
as Rudolph Otto used to say, the sense of anchor in which your personal
identity makes a deep contact with the awesome wonder of the Earth, the
Cosmos. It is a transcendent moment, personal but relational. It is
bigger than us.
In the movie,
The Deer Hunter,
Robert DeNiro plays the part of a steel worker in Pennsylvania, an
ordinary guy. Every year, a bunch of these steel working guys go to the
mountains to hunt deer. That is just what guys do in Pennsylvania.
Most of the guys just get drunk and fool around like guys do. Because
of a whole lot of reasons, personal and more, DeNiro is focused. On
the day of the hunt, he spots a huge buck. It is the kind of deer that
hunters live for, to be able to bag once in their life. It is one
thing to see a 15 point buck in a photo, quite a sacred moment in the
wild. The deer is majestic in beauty. And he is wily too. He stays
just far enough of the hunter that the hunter can't get a bead on him.
DeNiro is relentless in the chase and focused. He is in great shape,
up over the rocks, running down the rugged mountainside. He won't let
the deer go. Suddenly, the buck is below him. He has a clear shot.
The gun is up. The deer is in his sights. The snow is falling. He's
exhausted. Through the scope, he sees the buck turn in all his
majesty, and look straight at him. In that moment, he makes a
connection; he makes an unspoken contact with the animal. He pulls
back for a second and looks through the scope again. The buck is still
staring at him. He turns the gun aside and fires the shot off in the
distance. He stands up and looks down at the buck. The buck is still
staring back. The buck turns slowly and walks away, doesn't run. He
walks. It is a sacred moment, a transcendent moment. He made a
connection and for just a second he was in the groove I'm talking
about. He can't even talk about it to the knuckleheads that are
drinking beer back at the cabin. They most certainly wouldn't
understand what he was talking about. But in the midst of nature, he
made a deep contact. It is a moment that you come back to time and
again in your life.
We want to make that kind of contact.
When it happens, it is like we are being lifted out of ourselves.
Correct that. We are still in our selves, very deeply in ourselves but
it is more than us. We have tapped into the whole that pulls together
We get connected. Do you remember looking into the face of your first
child, really looking into that face? For us Dad's, it is usually not
quite as blissful a moment as it is for Mom's. Usually, when it
happens to us, baby has been crying bloody murder for what seems like
hours, we've gotten the hand off. It is the middle of the night.
Suddenly, inexplicably the baby stops crying and stares into your
For Mom, it is a particularly sacred and grounded time. She has just
finished nursing. Baby is happy, euphoric and you can see it in their
little expression. They are just looking up, eyes wide open in wonder,
trying to focus, as if to say -who is this wonderful woman that gives
this nectar milk?' And you look and they seem to be trying to focus, to
really see you. And you are looking back and suddenly you realize that
are really looking back,
that you are seeing in a way that you don't usually see, that you are
really making a contact. And you realize that most of your life, you
are touching other people but you are not making contact like this. It
is important to make a good contact; in fact it is the most important
thing you could do. It is a gift really, a fundamental gift to be in
this moment. It is a blessing, such a blessing that all sorts of
failures, frustrations, and disappointments from the past
have just been trumped.
You are blessed to be part of this wonderful mystery of living. And in
a moment like that you realize that what is really important, what is
fundamental, are relationships. It's making contact; it's being in the
Forget the stupid car that broke down that afternoon that made you
go apoplectic and scream at everyone because you got behind. That is
not important! Forget the goofed up airline schedules and the traffic
that turned your 5-hour flight into a 9-hour ordeal. That is not
important. It is not important that you have to drive a Subaru and
your friends all drive Saab's. Or let's put it in Summit terms, if you
drive a Beamer and all your friends drive a Land Rover. That is
especially not important. What is really real, is relationships.
Contact. That is what is important. What is important is making a
connection, a deep connection with someone else. That is a gift.
You want to get back to that place. You want to get back to that
feeling of being connected. It doesn't happen all that often in groups
but when it does, it is really special.
I think that is one of the strange things about crisis.
You certainly don't want tragedy to come your way, but in a really
strange way people are never so alive as they are in crisis. Crisis
seems to allow people to drop the normal distancing games that they
play, and get involved in a connected relationship with others in a way
that is special. That has been one of the moving things about the
terrible earthquakes that we have seen on television in the past
several months. In the midst of that huge and devastating crisis,
whole towns rallied together, and pitched in a hand, working through
the night pulling out piles of debris, calling down below to check for
survivors. Incredible adrenaline,
profound stamina in hope, and
solidarity - everybody working together, pulling their weight,
doing their part.
Occasionally, they would find some kid that had been trapped for 48
hours and all of them would pull the kid out together and what a moment
of celebration they shared. What a great thing. They were together as
one, working for a purpose that was bigger than themselves. That
doesn't happen often. We want to get back to that place. Because it
is all about relationships.
And we know that this is true in our vocations. I was reading an
article in the
New York Times Magazine
from last week (Sunday, October 10, 1999) about a computer programmer
named Joe Clark. Many of you know that name well. Clark developed the
internet company Netscape and then went on to found the internet health
care company Healtheon that brings Doctors, HMO's, and pharmacies
together on-line. At 45 Clark was just a professor. 15 years later he
is worth something like 345 million dollars.
His career was very exciting to read about. It wasn't the ideas
for his companies. He just took a look at what was needed in the
marketplace and put it to work. And it isn't the fantastic money,
although he does have his own jet now, and I don't think he is giving
any of that money back. But he doesn't seem to be fixated on money.
And it wasn't the power. Clark doesn't even stay around to run his
companies for all that long because he realizes that he is not very
gifted as a CEO.
I have a strong suspicion that if Clark was able to tell you what
it is that energizes him and gets him going, it is
putting together an A-1 team
of software developers. Once he became identified as something of a
sure bet innovator, everyone wanted to work with him. I don't care
what your vocation is, who wouldn't want to work on a shared project
with the top 100 people in your field. If you can put together a team
of excellent people, if you can design a way that they can begin to
work cooperatively and competitively. If you can bring out the group
synergy in the midst of excellent talent, then it all just starts to
come together. And years later you look back and say that was the
It doesn't hurt to have the perq's of success: recognition,
security, material wealth. But those all fade with time. And when we
are wistful and looking back years later,
what you want to get back to is the camaraderie, the people, the
that all came together, and you were part of something vital and
important. And it may not have been successful at all, you may have
just shared misery together... but the thing is, you were together.
Jesus brought our focus back to this point in so many different
ways. He was full of grace and truth. It is about nurturing and
developing relationships, contact, a deep sharing. Jesus was a person
that was in right relationship: with God, with other people, with the
wider world in which we live. He modeled for us what balance really
People came to him and asked him the same questions that we would
ask about in managing their practical lives. What do I do with my
money? What do I handle power? What is the proper scope of my
authority? How much should I defer to the established order? How do I
forgive people when they hurt or disappoint me?
Jesus never gave direct, formulaic answers because the way that he
approached the whole issue was not half a teaspoon, mix and stir - it
was about finding the groove and staying in it. He kept turning our
focus to what is real, to the relationship. He turned these questions
back to us and asked us "With your money, your power, your authority,
your judgment and forgiveness, what does it mean for you to serve
others? How do you nurture other people? How does the Spirit of God
flow through you? How do you get in the groove and stay in the
Ultimately, the question of giving is the question of living. I
leave you with one question to ponder this week: When have you felt
the most alive? When have you felt the most alive? This week,
sometime when you have a few quiet moments, I want to you to go back to