There is an old story about a conversation between Margaret and the Butterball Turkey representative. In the wee hours of Thanksgiving, Margaret placed a frantic call into the Butterball Turkey customer service hotline’s toll-free hotline. For decades, the Butterball Turkey Corporation has been operating an emergency hotline for people who may have trouble with their Thanksgiving preparation.
Margaret sounded like she was out of breath and on the verge of tears when the gentle voice of the representative answered the phone. “Butterball, how can we help?”
“Oh my goodness,” Margaret shouted on the other line. “I am so relieved you answered the phone. “
“Yes, what can we do to help?” inquired the voice on the other end.
“I want to know how long I should let the turkey thaw before I need to put it in the oven.”
“Well, mam,” the expert voice proceeded with instructions. “It will determine how long the turkey has been in the freezer. Did you buy it earlier this week, or is it mostly thawed out?”
“Hmm,” Margaret was hesitant to answer. “It’s been in the freezer longer than a week.”
“Well, how long would you say?”
“It’s been in the freezer for at least fifteen years? I just discovered it in the back and figured we should bake that ole’ sucker.”
There was a silence on the other end, momentarily. “Mam, I am not sure you’d want to eat that turkey. It likely has freezer burn and probably has lost its flavor. "
“Yes, yes, you are probably right,” conceded Margaret. “I bought a turkey from the grocery store yesterday, but I figured I should use this one first.”
“I think you will enjoy the fresh turkey much more than the turkey that has been in the freezer for so long.”
“Thanks for the excellent advice. I will drop by the church this weekend and donate the old turkey.”
This story has always struck me, particularly the “generosity” of Margaret. It seems like the church has been relegated as the “dumping ground” for unwanted things. When I was practicing pastoral ministry, I would often receive phone calls from well-meaning members asking if the church “needed” a “gently” used item that had served its purpose in their home.
Why do we think it’s okay to give our junk to the church, or other organizations, instead of giving our best?
My wife is currently involved with a project furnishing a house for a refugee family from Afghanistan who will arrive in the United States in a few weeks. (Concierge Minister has agreed to pay for the three twins and one queen mattress.) I have been inspired by the time and energy she has donated to ensure this family has everything they need when they arrive. As two immigrants, who also moved to America as children, and remember the hardship our parents experienced in a new country.
As a child, I still remember doing the majority of my clothes shopping at the local Salvation Army. I wasn’t embarrassed because I didn’t yet know that this was not the place everyone did their primary shopping.
I remember once, going through a plastic bin, finding a brand new pack of white tube socks – still in its packaging. I was so excited.
Then during that same shopping trip, I scored a necktie that still had the receipt attached. I couldn't believe my luck! Since then, I’ve made it a habit to donate new items (as well as used), hoping that it will relieve some child, as it did for me so many years ago.
I am reminded by a peculiar verse in 2 Kings 25:17, where God gives specific instructions on building the temple. “Each of the pillars was about twenty-seven feet high. The bronze top of one pillar was about four and a half feet high and had bronze latticework and pomegranate-shaped ornaments all around it. The second pillar with its latticework was like it” (NET).
Think about that image for a moment. When God gives design instructions for the temple, he puts great effort into ensuring that it is beautiful and spares no cost in the design. The pomegranates were to be placed on top of the pillars that were twenty-seven feet in the air. Nobody was ever going to see this intricate art once it was erected. And, yet, God wanted them displayed for his pleasure because he deserves the best.
Whenever we do anything in God’s name, we should do our best. I am not just talking about money or goods, but even our time and effort.
Several years ago, I attended a church conference at Granger Community Church in Indiana. Granger was known for their flashy worship services and highly intricate video productions. During the weekend, I bumped into a friend who was finishing up his MFA in film. He was one of the most talented filmmakers I knew. During the program, the Granger staff featured a short film that was exceptionally produced. It was mind-blowing; the cinematography, music score, and art direction were world-class.
My friend leaned over to me and commented, “I can’t believe these guys are wasting their talent on the Church.”
This rebuke stung because I felt that if anyone deserves our best (time, talent, money, effort), it is God and his Cause.
As we begin this year, I want to invite you to think about giving your best in the name of God. The Movement doesn’t need your fifteen-year-old Butterball turkey; it requires your fresh commitment.
Not a sermon, just a (long) thought.