When "me" becomes "we", greater things can happen.
We’re launching into this series we’re calling, We. We, by the way, is juxtaposed to another word that ends with E; it’s the word me. It’s a word we don’t have a hard time thinking about. “Me” is where we begin. That is where every one of us begins. It is where our journey always starts. Yet, I’d like to propose the beautiful thing about our faith. We might be in a place where we might even say, “We’re not on a faith journey. We’re on a journey and we’re figuring out If faith is a part of it.” We might be in that place. We might be in a place where we’ve been on this faith journey for a number of years, perhaps even decades. Wherever we might be on that spectrum, I can assure you that every single one of us has a unique story. There is not one of us in this house who does not have a unique story. Our dynamics are unique even though the circumstances in which we were raised were unique, the environments, culture, pain points, and struggles. What’s also unique and amazing is that Jesus doesn’t change who He is. He does meet us all exactly where we are.
Jesus meets each one of us in the middle of our own circumstances, challenges, and issues. That is His promise. It is what He does, and He loves to do it. I’d like to suggest that a lot of times, and I like to say that it’s a guarantee. Inevitably, faith in Jesus will challenge us to move from a ‘me’ oriented way of life to a ‘we’ mindset. Jesus meets us where we are, it might be over a number of months, years, or weeks. It might be hours or days, we don’t know exactly how He works this out in our lives. But we know one thing. We know that Jesus loves to take our personal issues and struggles and meet us right there. He has grace, love, and mercy for us. He will invite us to shift out of a mindset that is solely about ‘me,’ to a mindset that’s about ‘we.’ A ‘we’ who’s willing to commit to a local church. A community that calls on His name. One that partners with other people and does not seek to live life out as a lone ranger. This is the theme we’re going to explore here. We will look at different angles today and over the next two weeks.
This morning, you may have noticed we’re calling this theme and message we’re going to sit with, ‘we are bigger than me.’ What does that mean? It speaks to the reality that we can do far more together than we could ever do alone. We are bigger than me. It speaks to the truth, that together we can do far more good than any one of us can do on our own. This idea is not simply something that we experienced in a faith community. We see this play out in every other sector of life. We know this to be true. Inherently we see this in our work environments. When a work environment has each member for something greater than themselves, that is a work environment that we look forward to working in. But a work environment in which we feel like we have to guard ourselves or protect and defend ourselves because everyone else is out for ‘me,’ is a work environment we struggle through. We know we have seen a group of people, a team, how beautiful it is when a team is able to work synergistically.
We see it in the Olympics when teams come together. There’s something majestic about a group of people looking like a single unit. That is what it means to be synergized. It looks like one unit but upon closer inspection, we discover there are many moving pieces all working together congruently. We see that and it strikes us. It brings something of awe to us. In this part of the country, we also have experiences. The world has been impacted by it. But in technology, we see this play out as well. We see it play out in the sense that there have been certain innovations that have occurred that have changed the way we interact with information and each other. We know that no matter how much one person is elevated to be revered as the one who has just one more idea or is credited for having an amazing cultural impact that many of us respect and like, we know it was hundreds, if not thousands, of people coming together. Innovating and creating technology that pushes up against the barrier of limitation, and ended up making a mark on history.
If you wouldn’t mind indulging me just for a second. I personally love sports. I know not everyone may. But at this particular point in our year, there’s one sport, in particular, I’m very excited about. There’s one team that I cannot wait for June 1st to come. It was in 2014. The Golden State Warriors ownership ended up letting go of a very successful coach. A coach that the players had come to deeply admire and respect. The fan base rallied around and they let them go because their goal wasn’t a measurable success. They wanted the top. They wanted the number one price. They thought they needed to make this shift at a coaching level. So they let this man go and they brought in another man named Steve Kerr. It’s become folklore at least within the team dynamics and in sports. We know that Steve Kerr in the summer of 2014 was racking his mind in terms of how he was going to step into this environment. It wasn’t altogether hostile but it wasn’t exactly friendly either. How was he going to meet the demands and desires of the ownership and at the same time, be able to rally a team together?
Steve Kerr came up with a slogan. He created a video that demonstrated the capacity of each individual player, their talent, and their skill set. He observed the makeup of the team and says he had this moment where he realized, this is going to be our philosophy. This is how we’re going to catapult ourselves up to the very top and we’re going to win it all. He sat in this first team meeting with the group. He’s sitting with these men and professional basketball players and shows them this video highlighting each player including the bench players and the reserves. In the end, he has this talk with them. He said, “This is going to be our philosophy. This will be how we will win. We have strength in numbers. It’s no longer about who will take the last shot. It’s about who is open to take the last shot. It’s no longer about who will start and who will come off the bench and who will not. No, every single one of us is going to make a sacrifice. Our strength is not on any one individual player, it’s in the ability to work together. Our strength is in the depth and numbers of our team.”
Steve Kerr jokingly said in the interview, “Had I known they were going to put that everywhere on billboards, shirts, and hats, I would have trademarked it.” Gosh, that was supposed to be a private conversation. But it became a rally. We saw it. It’s hard to believe that was only three years ago. It was more than a slogan; it united a team and catapulted them to something that hadn’t happened in 40 years. It’s amazing. It’s about to happen again, I think, but we see this everywhere. We see this in hospitals with patients on the surgery table. No person in that room has too small of a role. Every single person needs to know exactly what they’re doing. They need to do it, not for themselves but for the patient. We know that every single one working together is what ensures or at least gives the highest possibility for that procedure to succeed. We see it in every other area of life. If this is the case in every other area of life, then it is certainly true when it comes to our faith.
Jesus invites us to consider what it might look like for us to commit ourselves to a local expression of His grace, mercy, and love. The church, not the universal, the local. Each one of us decided we happen to find ourselves in this one. It doesn’t have to be this one. I’d like to suggest that Jesus will always ask and move us to a place of saying this is my home. My journey is something I will see to live out as our journey together because we are bigger than ‘me.’ We are able to do far greater good together than we could ever do on our own. I understand this, but on the other hand, it may strike some of us as a threat. It might threaten our sense of individuality, creativity, uniqueness, or ability to be different than others. We might be concerned about that. Others of us might have deeper concerns around the reality that we have been a part of a faith community in our past and have not experienced something that was healthy, loving, and gracious.
We have experienced pain. We’ve been wounded. To hear this theme and this word might echo within the chambers of our soul something of resistance because that wound is loud. Maybe it hasn’t healed altogether. It prevents and obstructs us from ever really going to a place of trusting, jumping in, and being a part of something bigger than ourselves. What we see throughout human history is that God is gracious and loving enough to meet us exactly where we are. Because of His love and grace for us, He will move us through a place where healing will occur relationally. Where we will find not just acceptance in Him, but in each other as we call on Him. This is the beauty of what He longs to do in our community and in any community that calls on His name. I think the early church modeled this very well. When we read the book of Acts, we see an account of the first century church working this out in real-time.
It’s messy and not always clean-cut. But it’s beautiful because where God is involved, you see something greater than each individual person. The account we’re going to look at is found in Acts four. Before we jump into it, I want to set the table in terms of the context. What happens in this account is there are two men named Peter and John. They were both part of the original 12 disciples of Jesus. After Jesus died on the cross, resurrected, and came back, He asked them to speak about Him. They did that. They started speaking about Him in the temple in Jerusalem. Peter and John would make their way into the temple court and speak about Jesus. We’re told that one of these mornings as they were making their way into the temple courts, they saw a man outside the courts on the wall. He was begging, sitting down, and unable to move. He was lame. He was asking, “Alms for the poor. Alms for the poor.”
We’re told that Peter, in this one instance, ends up walking by him and this man addresses Peter and asks for money. Peter looks at him intently and says this phrase that some of us may be more familiar with than others. He says that to the man, “Silver and gold I do not have. But what I do have, I will give you.” Then he looks at him and says, “So now, I tell you to rise in the name of Jesus Christ.” Peter walks over to the man and hands him his arm. He picks him up and the scriptures don’t qualify it. They don’t overtly explain it. They just say it as a matter of fact, as Peter is helping this man up, something happens within the man’s knees and ankles, they become strengthened and all of a sudden a man who could not walk is now able to walk. A miracle happens. No explanation. It just does. If we can imagine what it’s like to recover from an ailment, we might be touching on the tip of the iceberg of what it might be like to recover from a lifelong incapacity to move.
This man was ecstatic. He didn’t keep this quiet. He entered the temple courts, overjoyed. So overjoyed that people started to recognize him as the man who was begging outside the temple courts. The scriptures say he was over 40 years old, there was no mistaking it. People start asking, “Are you him?” He says, “This is me. I’m walking now.” “How did that happen?” He pointed to Peter and John. “They’re the ones,” he gave them credit. People start crowding Peter and John. They start looking at Peter in a certain way, as something special. They looked at him as the miracle worker. As a sign of maturity, Peter ends up feeling very uncomfortable with this. He stops the crowd and says, “Listen, no, no, just so we understand each other. I wasn’t the one. Don’t look at me that way. I’m just like you. I wasn’t the one who healed this man. I want to tell you who did, His name is Jesus. He happened to use my words to heal this man. But it was Jesus who healed this man. Since we’re on the topic of Jesus,” and he goes on and speaks of Jesus the Messiah.
People start being open and receptive to this message. He uses this opportunity to speak about Jesus. Do people start asking how we can become a part of this movement of God? Everyone is ecstatic. There’s energy in the temple. Everyone is very happy, receptive, and open, except for the temple leaders. They see this as a threat to their power, ability, and authority. So they arrest Peter and John, afraid to harm them physically because if they do, the crowd will go ballistic. As Peter and John are arrested and sequestered aside, we see that they plot together and ask them for the stuff. In Acts 4:17, we’re told, “In order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in His name.” They called and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. The temple leaders plot together, “what shall we do? We can’t harm them. We’re going to intimidate them.” So they come out to get Peter and John. We know what’s going on. Listen, stop talking about Jesus. We’re not messing around. It’s making us uncomfortable. It’s causing a ruckus. It’s not good. So we forbid you from mentioning His name, or speaking or teaching in it. Peter and James, confronted with men who not only have religious power, but also political power, aren’t as amiable as they would like.
They go back home. We’re told in Acts 4:23 that when they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and elders had said to them. This is worth noting because they didn’t isolate. They didn’t deny what happened. They didn’t pretend as if it was no big deal that would go away. It’s a big deal because the man who came back to his friends to tell them what just happened is a man who was fiercely independent. A grown man, a fisherman by trade, who when Jesus met him, didn’t follow anybody. He did what he wanted to do. Over time, in relationship with Jesus, Jesus turned and softened him. On the other side of a failure Peter had, Jesus tenderly restored him. The first thing he did to Peter, instead of pushing Peter away and casting him out, He brought him in. He said, “Peter, now, will you carry out my role for you in this community? Will you make it about we?” This in itself was a huge deal. Peter and John went back and told their friends what the chief priests and elders had said to them. Their reaction and the community’s reaction are otherworldly.
We get a sense of the scriptures. I ask us to see ourselves in this response. Look at what they do. When they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and they said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven in the earth in the sea, and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father, David, your servant, sent by the Holy Spirit,” and then they quote, Psalm two, “Why did the Gentiles rage that is all the nations and the people’s plot in vain. The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against His anointed.” They did something worth us paying attention to. They hear the news of what happened to two members of their community, Peter and John. Over 2000 years ago in Jerusalem, in this small, small place in the world. They see this not as their own contained situation, they turn it and connect it to something bigger that God is doing. They take their private community struggle of two members. They connected God of the world, heavens, earth, sea, and everything in it. Will you hear us?
They quote, Psalm two because they don’t see their situation as disconnected from what God is doing in their world. They see it intimately tied together. They respond with a high degree of confidence that their story is not only their story, but it’s also connected to God’s story for humanity. We see this. They have a picture of what it is like to be connected to what God is doing. They have connected themselves to Jesus. In verse 27, we’re told, “Truly in the city that were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel is to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” What does that mean? Basically, they’re saying, “We know Jesus had to die on the cross, it was no accident, it was all part of your plan. We know He had to do it through the political system, and the different systems that were already in place in our society. We know you were fully aware of this. But we also know that’s not the end of the story.” In verse 29, “Lord, look upon their threats and grants of your service to continue to speak the Word, your Word, with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant, Jesus.” We have become convinced that you’re on the move through this man, Jesus. We have not just become convinced of it, we’re joining in what you’re doing through Jesus. We are an expression of what you’re doing through Jesus. We ask you, God, will you help us carry out what you are doing through Jesus? This is much bigger than Peter and John.
We’re told in verse 31 that when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken. It’s not what normally happens at prayer gatherings. It doesn’t happen every day. we are told something happens and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continue to speak the Word of God with boldness. There was undeniable evidence of God moving in their midst. Their concern for the mission that God was on, gave them the courage to ask for boldness. They entered this time in prayer together, having been intimidated and threatened, and stepped out with courage, passion, and boldness. They step in afraid. They step out confident.
If God was on the move in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago, through this small community of faith, we would be mistaken if we thought that that is where God’s movements stopped. We’d be more accurate to describe it as the starting point of God’s movement. When Jesus spoke to the disciples, he said, “I want you to speak about me in Judea, in Samaria, and in the outer reaches of the world.” The great news about that is that San Francisco is included in the outer reaches of the world. We are connected to what God is doing because God is on a mission through this man named Jesus. He is moving through any community that calls on His name. Our story becomes a part of His story. We start to discover when we do this, we are bigger than me. Together, we are able to do far greater good than we could ever do alone. This is not something disconnected from us. We might be looking at this and this account might mean nothing to us. We do not see ourselves in this story. In the moments we have remaining, I’d like to consider what it would look like for us to consider ourselves in this account.
If this was true in Jerusalem in the Middle East, where none of us would have ever known about this small incident, can it actually mean that our incidents aren’t small and they are connected to something bigger? Can it actually mean that God is equally interested to move through our community in a city such as ours? So beautiful that impacts more than just the city wall, the city limits? What happens in the city actually impacts the culture at large. In fact, it impacts the world. Could it be that God is asking us to make the shift to recognize He is up to something far greater than our own private lives?
If this is true, what does this community model to us? It models that the size of a mission. I put this in very personal terms, but it means that the size of my mission determines my need for a ‘we’ mindset. The size of my mission will determine my need for a ‘we’ mindset. Every one of us starts with a pain point. It is something we’re trying to overcome. It’s something we’re trying to heal from. It’s something we’re trying to endure. That is very true. It is the beginning point. He desires that. Perhaps we may even think, “I don’t even know what my mission is.” I’ll tell you what, something is driving us. Something is motivating us. There’s something within us that is compelling us to move forward one step at a time. We may not have clarity on it, but there is something that is driving our decisions. It’s been coined that every one of us has a mission, whether we know it or not. But the size of that mission will determine our needs. I grant to you that if the size of my mission is contained to my personal private life, that there is very little need for a ‘we.’ We can do that alone.
Some of us have been very good at doing it alone. I can’t help but think of the woman at the well. It’s an account found in John four in which Jesus meets a woman at high noon at the local well. It’s the hottest part of the day and this woman goes to this well because she’s ostracized from the rest of the community. She’s marginalized. She’s not part of the community anymore. She thirsts still and needs water. She goes to the well at noon, Jesus meets her there. Jesus meets her right where she’s at and asks her for a cup of water. She pushes back and says, “Wait a minute, first of all, you’re a man. Secondly, you’re Jewish. I’m Samarian, we’re like oil and water, you and I.” Jesus breaks through the barriers. He says to her, “Yes, this is true. If you drink this physical water, you will thirst again, but if you drink the water that I give to you, you will no longer thirst.” He meets her right where she is, in need. Up to this point, it’s all about Him and her. She says what any of us would say when we connect the dots. She says, “If that’s the case, give me that water every day. I want that water. This is going to make me thirsty, but yours isn’t. Okay, I’m ready. Give me the water.”
The first thing Jesus does is He says, “Okay, go get your husband. In order for you to receive the healing touch that I have for you, we have to talk about your relationships. We have to talk about the people in your life. We have to talk about how you’ve walked this out. I’m not looking to expose you. I’m not looking at dragging through the coals. No, I’m looking to heal. So go and bring your husband.” What begins as a conversation between a woman who has been ostracized, marginalized, and rejected by her community ends with a woman running back into her community, telling everybody who has rejected her about this man named Jesus. The crowd is so moved by what has occurred within her that they say, “If that is true for you, then we want to see Him for ourselves.” What began as a private confidential conversation becomes a community event. God will ask us and say, “I will meet your need.” He will and He is so gracious He will do it. He asks us, “You who have been forgiven, will you forgive?” It’s almost as if He will deposit names into us. You have received grace, will you give grace to others? You have received mercy, will you be merciful?
Now that you understand that I’m embracing you, I’m not rejecting you, will you now adopt my mission for you? It’s a little bit bigger than you. It’s a little bit bigger. It encompasses your family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. It encompasses the city, the Bay Area, and this country. Why don’t we just discuss this generation? Can you see my heart is what God asks us? The minute we start to grapple and grip, be gripped by His mission, not just for us, then what we start to discover is we need each other. We start to recognize we can do far greater than we could ever do alone. This is the community model. It’s the same model that you know. It also models that my impact is directly connected to my willingness to move from me to ‘we.’ My impact, mark in this world, our mark, is directly connected to our willingness, not our gift set, not our skills, not our passions or our dreams. Those are valid, but it is our willingness to say, “It’s no longer just about me. It’s about ‘we.’” What does this look like? How does this play out in everyday life?
Some of us have our stories. Many of us have our story of how this might play out. All I can do is share my story. My story begins with my father’s story. My dad was and still is a painter by trade. He was a laborer. Growing up, our family came to a point where he decided they needed a little bit more income. He sought different ways of creating different revenue streams. He ended up getting connected to a small group of businessmen. One of them said, “You know what, why don’t we venture out and create this little small business?” Together they did. My father ends up starting to work hard not just throughout the day, but in the evenings as well. He would work with this man he got to know rather well. This man ends up using this opportunity to share his faith with my father. My dad and our family didn’t grow up going to church. It wasn’t a thing we did. Our church was football. It was in the ’80s. The church was good. I remember him walking through this. I never really met this man, I only heard about him. He would share his faith with my dad. My dad wasn’t necessarily open at first, but he respected this man. This man not just spoke about Jesus, he tried to live his faith out in a way that my father could observe it. Over a period of months and years, he started talking about the fact that he has this gathering he goes to where he prays with other guys, and they talk about life together. He has this community that he’s involved in. He ended up moving up north to Sacramento, but they are still connected. They still discuss and share his faith.
There was one period in which my father watched him walk through a rather tragic season in his life. He was married with three sons. One month there was this period in which his wife was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. In three months, she passed away. My father watched this man walk through that. He watched as he started hearing about a group of people gathering and praying for him. He started seeing how people gathered around, helped take care of his sons, and meals were being dropped off. My dad would start hearing about the way people took on the burden of the family together. He witnessed and watched more than the community who watched this man.
It was between six months to a year later that my dad ended up asking him, “Listen, I want to ask you something. It’s a little personal. How is it possible that the loss of your wife didn’t just completely break you, man?” This man ends up saying to my father, “I’ve told you about Jesus before. I can tell you now that His community, the community that I’m a part of, carried and sustained me. My faith gives me confidence that my children will be okay. My wife will be someone I will see once again. God has a plan for us that is good.” He noticed my dad was rocked by that. He says, “When I lived in Bay Area, I used to go to this church. I really recommend it. It’s called Cornerstone. It’s in San Francisco. It’s springtime and they have this presentation, why don’t you go check it out? It’s pretty good.” My dad and mom came. They sat upstairs, in the balcony. They saw what happened on the stage and they were so impacted by it, my dad decided, “I’m going to go back.” So my mom and dad came back the next week and the week after that, and the week after that. I started noticing I was the only one on the couch watching the games. I asked them, “Dad, what’s up? What are you doing?” He says, “Well, son, I like the music and I really liked the pastor. You should come.” The business partner of my father had no idea the kid who was a rebellious teenager asking his dad needed to see a man model what it was like to admit weakness and come out stronger for it.
I saw my father who I had known my entire life start to become tender. A shift started to occur within him. I thought, “Man if this is the case if this is what’s happening, I need to check that out.” And here we are. It’s 2017. Any good that God has ever done through my life or through the life of my father, I’ll tell you what, that business partner may not know it, but he is intimately connected with it. In his moment of deepest need, of tragedy, crisis, and loss, he refused to let it become ‘all about me.’ He had cultivated a life of being involved with others. It was about ‘we’ and the community rallied around him. Unbeknownst to him, there was somebody watching. Because of that, his impact is yet to end. It is catapulted. It’s an amazing thing what happens to us. Together, we can do far greater than we could ever do alone. If that’s the case, then we all see in this community that God loves to empower. He loves to empower us when we shift out of a ‘me’ mindset into one that says it’s all about ‘we.’ It’s about what you’re doing through us. This is the reality, God loves to empower us.
What I find remarkable is Peter and John didn’t say, “Can you pray for me?” The community said, “Your burden is our burden. Your mission is the mission of Jesus, and so is ours. Our mission is what God’s mission is. It’s us together.” They model when one suffers all suffer, when one rejoices, all rejoice. When one succeeds, all succeed. When one is hurt, all are hurting. Together they circled up and prayed to God for each other. They modeled what it was like and God showed up. What would it look like if we decided each individually to say, “You know what, I’m going to seek to live this personal faith out with others. I’m going to cultivate friendships. I’m going to get involved in a small group. I’m going to get involved in this community. I’m going to invite others in and I’m going to be a part of others and it’s going to be about we.” What a great thing God could do at this point in human history. I wonder what son, daughter, niece, nephew, co-worker, or family member is because life is going to be completely altered for good because each of us said I’m moving out of me. I’m joining up with others. This is my home. God, it’s about we, we’re going to do through us. I’d love to pray and ask for His blessing.
God, thank you. Thank you for your grace that meets us right where we are. Thank you for your love that longs the ministry to the deepest needs of our soul. Thank you that you never leave us alone. Thank you that you invite us to be part of your family. The local church is an expression of your grace and we would do greater things together than we could ever do alone because we joined in your mission. You’re on the move in this city. You’re on the move in our family, friendships, jobs, and neighborhoods. Do the great thing you want to do, Lord, in Jesus’ name, amen.