Sermon text: Can a Nerd Just Do It?
As a teenager, I was not just a nerd. I was an uber-nerd.
At my high school, there were jocks and there were nerds. Jocks were cool. Nerds, not so much. I was a reader and a musician.
I was not an athlete. There was no sport I did not stink at. Basketball was the most popular sport at my school. I was this tall. Soccer? I couldn't get on the field. Football Don't make me laugh. Track & Field or Cross Country? If I got an urge to run, I would lie down and read a book until it went away.
You've heard the athletic slogan from all the ads: "Just Do It." My slogan was, "I don't think so."
Jocks were cool. Nerds were not. I was a nerd.
And I can argue that I was an uber-nerd. As a teen-aged boy, I decided to memorize the book of Philippians. And I did it. I memorized the entire Epistle to the Philippians. Not many jocks do that.
Now, I didn't keep it up. I don't know the whole thing anymore. But there is a section I still know by heart, because that's the kind of nerd I am. It is part of the second reading we heard today:
"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus,
who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself and became obedient to death,
even death on a cross!
Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father."
They say this was an early Christian hymn or poem that Paul stuck in his letter. It tells the whole Jesus story in just a few lines. It's the unexpected news that God bends down right to us. As the Great Thanksgiving puts it in words I also know by heart: Jesus came "to share our human nature and live and die as one of us."
I learned this passage by heart in my classic nerd years. It was almost 50 years ago. I can still recite these words, and they have given me comfort and hope over the years.
There is an old story about a little girl being tucked into bed one night. Her mom turned off the light and went to the bedroom door. The little girl said, "Don't leave, Mommy! It's dark and I'm scared." Her mom gave the little girl a hug and said, "Don't be scared, honey. God is in here with you!"
The little girl's lower lip trembled. She said, "But I want somebody in here with SKIN on 'em!"
Paul writes that God has skin on him. God bent down, and became a baby, and then a boy, and then a man. That's the meaning of these powerful words from his letter to the Philippians I memorized back in my uber-nerd days.
But now I realize I missed something. I focused on the part about Jesus. Yet there's the part about what we are supposed to do about it. Paul starts by writing, "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus," or, in another translation, "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus." Jesus was all about service.
The night before he died, he stripped down to a towel and washed the feet of his disciples like he was a slave. And then he said, "As I have served you, you must serve one another." So Jesus says it, and Paul echoes it: if we are going to be Christians, we will empty ourselves of being in first place, and serve those around us with a little humility. And this doesn't fit very well in our culture, which is all about "Me first!"
Now, in our Gospel reading today, Jesus tells about a father who says to his two kids, "Go out and work in the vineyard." The first one says, "I will not," but changes his mind and goes. The other one says, "I will," but fails to go. So, Jesus says, who did the will of the father?
My wife and I know our daughter is one of these kids. All her life, if we would tell Marie to do something, almost every time, she would say, "No!" "Time to brush your teeth, Marie." "No!" "Let's go for a walk, Marie." "No!" "Can I brush your hair, Marie?" "No!"
But if we just waited a few minutes, she'd come around and do it. Every time! She says no, but then she does it.
As a Christian, too often I've said, "Yes," but failed to do what the Father wants me to do. Maybe it's true of you, as well, I don't know. I think it would be better if I was more like Marie. Sure, I might say "No" at first, but the important thing is coming around and actually doing it. Serving. Caring. Helping.
As I've been saying, I'm a nerd, not an athlete. I never put on my sneakers and went out to win a game. "Just do it" was not my motto. But maybe if I can be true to my Christian faith, I can just do it after all. Serving. Caring. Helping.
Nerd or not...just do it.