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“What’s in it for me?” That’s a question that most of us never let slip past our lips because it sounds so arrogant and selfish. And often, it is! “What’s in it for me?” is a way of asking why I should care, act or even pay attention.
But in fact, at least beneath the surface, we all ask that question in a variety of situations, and it’s not always wrong to ask it. For example, sometimes it’s good to ask (at least to ourselves) the question of what’s in it for me when:
- Somebody is trying to sell me something – is this thing or this service that’s being offered to me something that will actually benefit me, or is this just somebody trying to separate me from my money? What’s in it for me?
- Considering a new job or a promotion – usually, it’s not just about the money. Will this new opportunity be exciting or interesting? Will it help me grow as a professional? Will it help me learn new skills? What’s in it for me?
- Evaluating whether a relationship is good and healthy – relationships, we all know, involve giving and sharing. And they should. But some relationships become one way relationships. And sometimes, asking “what’s in it for me” is a good way of evaluating whether a relationship has become abusive.
So it’s not always bad to ask “what’s in it for me.” The problem happens when that’s the ONLY question we ask, or when that question becomes so important that other questions don’t matter, and maybe even don’t get asked.
This seems to be the issue that Jesus encountered when he returned home to Nazareth and began to teach in his hometown synagogue. Although Luke hasn’t clued us in on what Jesus had been up to just before he arrived home, apparently Jesus had spent some time in other places like Capernaum and done some pretty amazing things.
And so as Jesus sat and taught, there clearly was some conversation in which folks said (in one way or another), “You know Jesus, we’ve heard you’ve done some pretty cool stuff in other places. But you’re home now. So – what’s in it for us?!”
And then Jesus starts to remind them of guys like Elijah and Elisha – two of the most famous and revered prophets of Israel. And Jesus points out that the importance of these two prophets was what God did through them – even if it wasn’t for people in Israel.
Implicit in this exchange is Jesus’ call to ask not just “what’s in it FOR us” but what is God doing THROUGH us? Indeed, if the folks in Nazareth were willing to entertain that question, they might see things in some really new ways. What has God done through us? He’s raised up Jesus – and we helped raise him! What has God done through us? He’s sent out from us somebody who’s making the power and presence of God known throughout Galilee. What has God done through us? God has involved us in his plan, and shown us that we’re not just a town that’s the butt of other people’s jokes!
But it seems, at least on that day and among that group, that people we’re too hung up on the question of “what’s in it for me?” They didn’t want to consider the other questions. And they got mad and drove Jesus out of town.
But the question that Jesus asked that day is still a question Jesus is asking, and asking us, both as individuals and as a congregation. In spite of the fact that there are many Christians in our world today who still seem to ask “what’s in it for me” as a follower of Jesus, Jesus asks us instead to consider the question: “What has God done THROUGH me?” and “What has God done THROUGH us?”
What has God done through us this past year? That’s a particularly good question to consider as you look at our annual report this year. There are some really great things in our Annual Report which show us what God has done for us this year (giving us the ability to adapt through Covid should not be overlooked!)
And yet, when I look through the report, it’s even more important to notice how God has worked though us for others. You’ll find many more examples, but to me, some of the most important ways that God has worked through us include:
- Working through our developing technology to spiritually connect people to the message of Jesus through a time of great disconnection – and that especially includes people even I don’t know and may never meet because many of the people we’ve reached are folks who (like those other people in Galilee) are people I’m probably never going to get a chance to meet… but through us, Jesus was heard and experienced by others who we were never able to connect with before…
- Providing help to people outside of our congregation – and that includes not just money to organizations, but making quilts, going on a mission trip and gathering food, clothing, backpacks and lots of other things. Over this time, we’ve been a drop off point for Gaithersburg HELP, so not only don’t we know exactly who’s getting the food, sometimes we don’t even know who’s donating the food! But week after week, what we’re doing is making a tangible difference in the lives of others in our community, and it’s an example of what God is doing not for us but through us…
- Offering safe spaces for folks to meet (like the dozens of people in the NA groups who meet here every week); again, like others in Galilee, we don’t usually know who gets helped or even how, but knowing that God is working through us to help others is really the point…
In the end, what the folks in the Nazareth synagogue really wanted that day, in asking “what’s in it for us,” was to see, feel and experience the power and presence of God in their lives. Yet the irony is, if they had asked, “how has God worked through us?” they probably would have seen how God had done just that.
And so Jesus’ challenge for us each day is not to get too caught up in asking what’s in it for me. Instead, Jesus calls us always to ask, “What has God done through us?” and “What is God doing through us right now?”