by Rev. Doug Gray
When I was growing up, most mornings my Mom made me a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich. If someone were to make you the perfect peanut-butter and jelly sandwich, how would you describe it? What kind of bread, what kind of peanut-butter and what kind of jelly or jam?
[Take responses from the congregation.]
Of course, some of you may hate peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches, and to you I apologize for bringing up a painful subject. I liked them a lot actually, except I always felt that there was way too much peanut-butter and not enough jelly. I also felt like jelly was kind of thin and sweet, but not very fruity. I felt like the balance was all wrong. Sometimes I have a sense of that in my life too—like I have all the pieces for a great day, but the balance of “flavors” escapes me. One of the things that amazes me about today’s passages, is that they are both about balancing our lives so they are abundant.
First, life is not all peaches and cream. Actually, sometimes life can really stink. Paul writes, “we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” (2 Corinthians 4:7–9) I love that Paul doesn’t sugar-coat it—we can be afflicted, perplexed, persecuted and struck down. But I also love that Paul talks about God’s power being with us in the midst of all that—and so we are not crushed, not driven to despair, not forsaken, and not destroyed. The forces of death and frustration at work in our lives, only serve to make the life of Jesus in us more visible. For a couple of summers, I worked at a wilderness camp with fourth and fifth graders. We had some good times and did some crazy things, but through the whole summer, I felt spiritually dry as a bone. I felt like I was physically running on fumes most of the time. Imagine my surprise when we got to the end of camp and the kids were telling me how kind and funny and generous I was, that I was a good leader and more than one parent said that I made a huge impact on their son. Really, I felt flat all that summer, and all I could do was thank God, because whatever anyone else thought, I knew that it was God’s power at work in me, not just me. And I tried to give God the credit. If we think about our lives like a perfect peanut-butter and jelly sandwich, like the challenging times in our lives, the bread of a great sandwich is not all that appealing by itself, but it’s part of what holds our lives together, providing the platform for everything else. The challenges of our lives make it clear, this is more than us—God is working!
Second, we have to say something about why our lives are going. A few years ago, you might remember a show called “The Biggest Loser.” It was one of those reality shows where each week, someone has to leave the show. I was not a huge fan of the show. I thought sometimes the coaches were really mean and the “judges” were unkind. But one of the contestants in Season 14 was a friend of mine, named Lisa Rambo. Here she is with her husband, Tony, and their four kids ahead of production. In May of 2013, Lisa sent in a casting video, pitching why the producers should pick her to be on “Biggest Loser.” Among all the reasons for why her diet and exercise and lifestyle choices, Lisa said, “I believe doing simple things with great love…can change the world…I believe that our lives are meant to be anything but a half a glass of water. Our lives are meant to be full of deep relationships and rewarding experiences. Our lives are meant to overflow.”  In her blog, Lisa prayed, “Lord, I start by asking you to forgive me for my jealousies and insecurities. Keep my eyes focused on you and not on others. Help me not to worry about what others look like, have, or do. Help me to not compare myself to them but to place my trust in you. Thank you for valuing me. Please give me the strength I need to become all you have dreamed up, all you desire me to be. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”  So Lisa went on the show and she worked really hard and she made it to Week 5 of 12.  Although she didn’t make it to the Finale of Biggest Loser, wherever she goes, God goes with her. Here’s Lisa with her family the day after the “Biggest Loser” finale for Season 14. (Oh and by the way, in case you were thinking that didn’t make a difference in her life, here’s the before-and-after photos.) We have to say something about how God works in our lives, or people just won’t know. How will our kids or friends know that God is underneath our decisions if we don’t talk about it? I’m not saying be someone you’re not—I’m saying be who you are with God…when you are with other people. As we are making the perfect peanut-butter and jelly sandwich, this has got to be the peanut-butter, full of substance and staying power, and so we share how God is working in us.
Finally, thanks and grace lead to overflowing. That’s how our lives are meant to be! Paul writes, “Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God…” We can easily think that when we say thanks, it doesn’t really matter, when we show kindness, or live out grace, it doesn’t really make a difference. But Paul makes it clear that the grace Paul lives, touches the lives of more and more people, leading to more and more people thanking God! Like a stone thrown into a pool, so being thankful, or showing kindness, or living grace ripples out from us. And we just never know how it makes a difference. But it does! And the more we give thanks and show grace, the more we are blessed. It’s not why we do those things. We give thanks because we are blessed. We show kindness because God shows us mercy every day, and every day we experience grace, so of course we share it—there’s always more! More and more…abundance…overflowing! It’s the sweet, fruity jam that really makes the peanut-butter and jelly sandwich of our lives.
As a dad, I had the chance to make a lot of peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches for my kids. In fact, for many years, Cynthia was off to work before anyone was up, and I was making the kids’ lunches. And so I made what I like to call, “Daddy Deluxes” with enough jam to stand up to the bread and peanut butter. Which gets me thinking about our giving thanks, showing kindness, and living out grace. I wonder if perhaps giving thanks is an after-thought, kind of a garnish added to the plate of our life for color, but not really able to sustain or balance the rest of our lives. Giving thanks is a nice thing to do. Showing kindness is a nice thing to do, something that we can do occasionally to feel good. A garnish on our lives. But living out our grace—filling our lives with gratitude and kindness—that’s where the real life is. God doesn’t want to be a garnish, to add color to our plate, on the outside of the main course, looking in. God longs to be the desire of our hearts, the reason we get up in the morning, the focus of all our gratitude and the source of all our grace. What we really want is not just to have a life, but to have an abundant life, a life that overflows. What we really want is a life with enough sweetness to give our challenges meaning. What we really want is a life where giving thanks and showing kindness and living out our grace lead to more, more of God, more Jesus Christ, who promises not just abundant life today, but abundant life always.
1 Lisa Rambo, audition. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrHRS5NBoqY
3 Lisa Rambo, presentation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfyjLZxSk_4