Sermon: Finding Your Why

“Finding Our Why: Finding Your Why”
Rev. Leah Lyman Waldron
Park Avenue Congregational Church, UCC
February 25, 2018

1 Corinthians 12:4-7
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

John 12:46

I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who trusts in me should not remain in the darkness.

Today’s “sermon” will look a little different, because we are going to turn it into a conversation. As we continue the “Finding Our Why” sermon series, today we’re going to explore our individual Whys for being a part of Park Avenue. If this is your first time at Park Ave or you’re visiting from somewhere else, feel free to substitute your home church or your previous faith community – it will work just as well.

If you were here last week, you’ll remember that your “why” is the reason you do what you do. When you’ve identified your “why,” you feel a sense of purpose, of drive, of direction, of believing in something. You’re energized and you can overcome all kinds of obstacles because you are so deeply moved and motivated by this primal reason, this passion, this “why.” A “why” isn’t about making money or having status or going along with the crowd or doing it because you’ve always done it. (If you need a mental image, in honor of spring training starting this week, just picture Dustin Pedroia’s face. His “why” leaks out of his pores.
Does that sound a little foreign – like you’re pretty sure that level of feeling is reserved for sports fanatics, zealots and radicals, and maybe it’s just not very “you”?
If so, I have news for you. The vast majority of Americans no longer attend church regularly – nearly 80% are doing something else on weekends. So just by being here this morning – just by showing up here instead of sleeping in or going to brunch – you are being radical. You may not have thought of this way, but being involved in a church community these days makes a significant counter-cultural statement. And I am willing to bet that each and every one of us has a pretty powerful “why” behind this habit we have that goes against the grain of our society.
I want to invite you to do something a little different, a little vulnerable this morning. We’re going to pair up with someone we don’t know super well – in other words, not your spouse or your best friend. 
Once you have your partner, we’re going to sit in silence for a minute or two, and think about one or two moments when you have felt filled up by being part of PACC (or your own faith community), moments when you have felt deeply glad, truly grateful, nourished, joyful, moved by something you experienced in this community. The key is that these moments need to be specific, particular, detailed. Talking about how you enjoy the Holiday Fair every year – or even that you love how everyone comes together for it – is not going to get you to your “why.” Try starting off by saying to yourself “I remember this one particular moment…” and see what floats to the top for you, what moment of deep emotion and fulfillment jumps out at you. [If you’re reading this at home, you can do it, too!]
Silent reflection
Now I invite you to share this moment or two with your partner, using as much detail and emotion as you can. In other words, what, specifically, about that moment made it so meaningful for you? We’ll take turns, and when it’s your turn to listen, your job is to do just that – to simply listen without responding or commenting. You can take notes in your bulletin if you want to help the other person remember what they’ve said. If you feel like you didn’t hear much about your partner’s feelings in their story, when they’ve finished you can prompt them by saying, “Tell me what that felt like for you.” We’ll take 2 or 3 minutes per person and I’ll let you know when it’s time to switch.
[This works best when you have another person to share with, so if you’re reading this at home, feel free to email or call me or another PACC friend to share. Otherwise you can jot down your impressions on a piece of paper.]
How did that feel? Awkward? Alright?
Congratulations! You’ve got the raw material; now we’re going to craft our “why” statements. As we discovered at the Lenten Study Series on Wednesday night, it takes a few tries to get the hang of it, so we’ll do some together.
A good why statement has two parts: to ________, so that __________. The first part is what fills up your tank – the reason you’re here – and the second part is the difference that first part makes in your life, or in the world. Don’t try to analyze your “why” without any context – root your “why” in your story. A sign of a good “why” statement are juicy, meaty words specific to your story – not just a platitude that any churchgoer could plausibly say. Like our 1 Corinthians passage reminds us, we each have our own gifts to share and reasons to be part of this community, and our “why” is much more powerful if it’s specific to us.
I’ve asked Christine Rochon if I could use hers from Wednesday night as an example. The first Why statement she came up with was “To hear God’s message so that I can be a better person.” Not bad for a first crack at it! I think many of us can identify with it. It’s a little broad, though. I suspected there was something heftier there, so I asked her to share one of her stories, one of her particular moments of feeling filled up and connected to God here at PACC.
She said that she often feels the sermons are aimed right at her, and she told of one particular sermon Pastor Jill, our interim pastor, had preached about uninvited guests and the blessings they bring with them. It just so happened that Christine had asked a friend to come by later that day and that friend had, without asking, told Christine she was bringing an extra five people with her. “I don’t have food for these people, or room in my house…what was she thinking!” 
Zing. Pastor Jill’s sermon went straight to Christine’s heart, and suddenly she felt like it would all be alright.
After hearing that story and those feelings, we came up with another draft, which Christine will continue to marinate on and decide how to make her own. It was along the lines of: “To hear God speak directly to my heart, so that I can live out of peace instead of fear.” 
Mmmmm. Now that’s juicy, that’s rich! Don’t you just feel “ahhhh” hearing that – relief? It’s personal, it’s got emotion. She could easily swap peace for abundance, or fear for anxiety, but the fundamental emotional connection is there. Hearing God speak to you and swapping your fear or anxiety for peace? Yes. That is a reason to skip brunch on a Sunday morning.
Let’s try some other “why” statements – to _________ so that __________. In other words, what brings you here, and what difference does that make?

Who would be willing to share their story, their moment, and have us take a crack at your Why statement together? 
Four parishioners shared specific stories of feeling deeply moved to be part of PACC.
Great work, and thank you for sharing and being vulnerable with one another. I want to encourage you to take your bulletin home and draft a “why” statement out of the story and the emotions you shared this morning. If you get stuck, if yours feels a little too broad or general, give me a call or shoot me an email and we’ll work on it together. You might be tempted to put it off to the side and never work on it again, or think “I shouldn’t bother Leah with this – she’s too busy,” but this stuff is crucial. This is what fuels our community – when you get clear on your individual “whys,” you’re excited, energized to participate and you see your being a part of this community as the life-giving, sometimes life-saving action it is – for you and for others. Just think of a whole team of Dustin Pedroias – our passion bleeds through first, and it’s what gets us through stresses, low periods, and losing streaks.
In our Lenten study series, we’ve danced around the fact that evangelism is a pretty uncomfortable topic. Not one of us wants to pry, convert, coerce, or convince. But we’ve also agreed that the world is hungry for the Whys we came up with on Wednesday night, for the Whys you came up with this morning – for connection, peace, hope, joy. So as we continue in our Lenten journey to find our collective Why, marinate on your Why, on the energy and sense of deep fulfillment you get from it, and on how we might get that same clarity of purpose and identity from a group Why so that we can offer that fulfillment to others desperately seeking the treasures we already possess.
Our Gospel message this morning was one version of Jesus’ personal Why statement – to bring light into the world, so that everyone who trusts in Jesus can find light in their darkness. Let’s help shine that light.