Lisa Nichols Hickman: It’s not about you. But it is.

How do we steward an institution's energy – not just its money – for good?

One Sunday afternoon, the Reverend Mike Slaughter was relaxing on the sofa, reading the Sunday paper when an advertisement for a BMW sedan caught his eye.

And then he turned the page.

There was a story of violence in the Sudan caused by the circumstances of civil war. He turned the words over in his head, Sedan, Sudan.  Sedan, Sudan.

I wonder if Slaughter laughed when he realized the difference is the letter ‘U’?

In the Christian tradition we are caught in a real paradox.

On the one hand, “It’s not about you.”  That is the beauty of the first sentence of “The Purpose Driven Life” that resonated so deeply with millions of Christians.  God’s story is bigger than us: bigger than our wants, our desires, our worst selves, bigger than even our best selves. And yet – the working out of the kingdom depends on you.  It hinges on you.  Do you see the paradoxical tension there?  Not about you.  It is about you.

The very first word God speaks to a human being in the Bible is you.  God says to Adam and Eve, “YOU are free to eat from any tree in the garden . . . but you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” 

With that first word, God bridges the gap between humanity and God.  A divine conversation begins. 

With the whole sentence, God gives humanity freedom to explore and to make choices. 

With the whole story . . . well we know how this one turns out. 

We see the tension represented so clearly here. It is not about you, Adam and Eve. You are just one small piece of a huge plan for creation.  And yet, It is about you, Adam and Eve. Your choices matter.  Your choices have the power to create or destroy. 

Frederick Buechner says of this “You”, “It is possible that the whole miracle of Creation is to bridge the immeasurable distance between Creator and Creature with that one small word, and every time human beings use it to bridge the immeasurable distances between one another, something of that miracle happens again.” (“Wishful Thinking”)

Romans 12:1 pleads, “Therefore, I urge you, in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices.”  The paradox begins again: You matter.  This is about you.

And then in Romans 12:2 . . . “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is -- God’s good, pleasing and perfect will.”  The paradox is complete: You matter, when you live into God’s will.  This is not about you.

When Mike Slaughter realized the difference is you, he offered his life as a living sacrifice, yielding the energy of heart and mind to God’s good, pleasing and perfect will.

The mission of Ginghamsburg is a story of stewardship.  But though the church raised $317,000 in its first offering for Sudan, this story is not primarily about the stewardship of money. Their story is more about the stewardship of energy.  If congregational energy goes toward petty differences, then the church will be about small things.   But if congregational energy goes toward a unified vision, then imagine can be accomplished. 

This transformation of where we direct our energy, comes by living into Romans 12:1-2: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

That mind can be renewed on a Sunday afternoon by shifting thinking from a BMW sedan to the Sudan.  Energy can be revitalized at the table after worship: Is the conversation about the pastor?  Or the pastures in Afghanistan where opium fields are being transformed into orchards of saffron?  Is conversation among church members about how long the church service is?  Or what local needs this church might service? 

The transformation of personal energy happens in moments like this: A high school student on a mission trip, instead of complaining about what he didn’t like, says ‘That was different than I would choose, but I am so glad I got to experience that in my lifetime  and learn something new.’

How about for YOU?

Lisa Nichols Hickman is pastor of New Wilmington Presbyterian Church in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.