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This message is from February 24, 2008

Scripture Reading:
Luke 14:7-11
Matthew 5:16

Award Ceremony

Wow. Oh, wow. This is so amazing. First of all, I would like to thank the members of the Academy. It is such an honor to be standing here today. There are so many people who made this moment possible. I wish I had the time to thank them all. I really do have to thank my 7th grade drama teacher, Mrs. Spencer. When I was friendless and filled with self-doubt, she asked me to play "Simpleton" in the school play. Thanks to Mrs. Spencer, I learned this important lesson: if people are laughing at you, you might as well get some school credit for it. Thanks to Ron Crosby for teaching me to drink coffee. Most of all, thanks to my wonderful family. I love you all very much.

Oh, wait. Sorry, wrong speech. The Academy Award ceremony is tonight and I must have grabbed the wrong paper.

You know, to be honest, I'm starting to suspect I will never win an Oscar. That's okay. It doesn't have to be an Oscar. I would settle for anything. I'd take a Golden Globe. I would. And it doesn't have to be for Best Actor or Best Screenplay or anything really big. I'm willing to compete in a very obscure category. You know, like Sound Editing. Do they have a category for Best Use of Smoked Salmon at a Catering Event?

On my 21st birthday, my dad gave me a trophy. The trophy had been his for many years. It was a symbol of his achievement as a salesman. On one side, it read, "Albert W. Huber -- Sales Award." For my 21st birthday, my dad took his trophy back to an engraver and added my name to the other side. Then he filled the cup with 21 silver dollars. And he gave it to me.

My dad is not really the sort of person who talks about his feelings. But I think he wanted to pass on a legacy. Because his son was entering the adult world, I think he wanted to give me his strength.

All this happened 23 years ago. It was the last time I received an award.

Now, I keep waiting to hear from someone with the Nobel organization. When the mail comes, I search each envelope for that Swedish postmark; but it never comes. I can't seen to get nominated for a Grammy Award or a Clio or a Pulitzer. Nothing. Right here in Portland, there are awards for craft brewing and interior design and all kinds of stuff. You'd think with all these possible awards out there, I would qualify for something.

But it just isn't happening. I have no real hope of winning a sales award, a ribbon at the state fair, nor a medal at the Olympic games.

Jesus told us not to expect a fuss.

He said, "let your light shine before other people that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." Even when we do the work of letting our light shine, the praise does not belong to us. The praise belongs to God.

This is a hard saying, but Jesus was relentless. He said, "Hey look, don't be so theatrical about your faith. You don't need thunderous eloquence in order to pray. And you don't need an audience in order to help other people. Don't worry about getting credit. Don't worry about where the spotlight falls. Let go of that stuff. Instead, find a quiet place to pray. And when you give, do it quietly and behind the scenes."

Jesus said, "When you come to the wedding feast, take the most humble seat in the house." Jesus is not inclined to hand out gold stars, platinum records or brass plaques.

Man, this is hard for us.

A sense of accomplishment is so important to us. Especially as Americans, we measure our worth according to our success. We want credit for what we do. We want a successful career. And we also want to be successful at home. We want a successful marriage. We want successful children. In every aspect of our lives, we want people to appreciate the work we are doing.

Then Jesus comes along and says, "Let your light shine. To God be the glory."

What kind of deal is that?

If God is stingy in doling out praise, then let us be more generous with one another. If you are grateful for someone, let them know. If someone has touched you, let them know. If you see the light shining in someone around you, please let them know.

Maybe we should start our own awards ceremony. Maybe we need to manufacture some little golden Quaker statues. Wouldn't that be great? Welcome to the annual West Hills Friends Quaky Awards! We could rent a red carpet for the evening, and maybe a searchlight to sweep the sky overhead. Everyone could get all dressed up. We could nominate people for best Snack Time and best Closing Prayer. Just think of all the great categories we could invent. We could have a "Best Farm Animal in a Christmas Pageant" or a "Best Use of Sock Puppet." What about a "Best Use of Spreadsheet During a Budget Presentation."

We could have some award for everyone.

In fact, we would probably need some award for everyone, wouldn't we? In some way, every person here contributes to the life of our meeting. Every one of us enriches our experience of Quaker community. We are all best at something.

We are the Body of Christ. Why would God call us together if we were all best at the same thing. We are strengthened by the diversity of our gifts.

So that is our first challenge. We need to find a way to honor the gifts that are different than ours. And we need to remember that some people are giving quietly and behind the scenes. That's how Jesus told us to give! How do we nominate those gifts that we don't even see?

Writing to the church in Rome, Paul asks, "Who are you to judge someone else's servant?" And that's the problem with you and I trying to hand out awards. We don't really know what is going on. We don't know the quiet and hidden ways that people are serving.

So what about this, instead: We let every person make an acceptance speech and in that speech, the person names for us the award they are accepting.

We could still have a big party. As people step to the microphone, maybe they will say, "This year, my award is for what I didn't say in Open Worship." Or maybe someone will say, "My award is for cleaning up all the dirty dishes I found in the kitchen." Or even, "This year, I was God's secret agent. Sorry, I can't give you any details. That information is classified." Even if the praise belongs to God, we can still have a party. We can still celebrate.

Remember the story of the prodigal son.

When the prodigal son returns home, the father throws a big party to celebrate. Only one person is unhappy. The older brother is left sulking in the corner. Here's how the story ends: "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!"

"'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.'"

Jesus told us not to expect a fuss. Jesus told us that the praise belongs to God.

But that's no reason to miss the party. To the faithful older brothers and sisters among us, God says, "You are always with me, and everything I have is yours."

If we want a party, it is ours for the asking. If we want recognition for the work that we do, it is ours for the asking. But instead of earning our reward, God offers it to us as a gift. Saying that praise belongs to God is just another way of saying that God is the guest of honor. And if God is the guest of honor, then everyone is invited.

Giving praise to God is just a sneaky way of including everyone in the party.

What about you? Do you need a party?

What stops you from asking?