July 31, 2016
By John Partridge*
Scripture: Luke 12:13-21 Colossians 3:1-11 Hosea 11:1-11
With just a few exceptions for people who belong to the Public Employees Union or retired from the railroads, most of us are a part of the Social Security system. We are either working and paying into it, or we are retired and receiving checks from it. But precisely because so many of us have a vested interest, and because this is an election year, we often hear public conversations arguing about the word, “entitlement.” It is used by politicians in two very different ways, and that difference is, in part, a source of the arguments. Much like pensions, Social Security is a system that we pay into. While we are working, every week, seven and a half percent of our earnings are “invested” and our employers pay in an additional seven and a half percent. Because we paid into the system, we feel that we are “entitled” to some return on our investment, and that seems reasonable. Likewise, those folks that retired from a career in the federal government, or retired from the military, feel “entitled” to collect the pensions that they earned. The difficulty arises when politicians discuss the federal budget and included these sorts of “entitlements” in the same breath as other systems for which those collecting did not contribute.
I’m going to stop the analogy at this point because today’s message is not about Social Security.
It is, however, connected to how we react to our understanding of this word, “entitlement.”
To what things are we entitled?
To what things are others entitled? And what are we are entitled to give them?
As political as that sounds, I can assure you, once again, that today’s message is not political… but it may accidently overflow into the way that you think about some of our political issues.
We begin this morning in the book of Hosea. Hosea was a prophet in Israel during, or after, the lifetime of Amos, about 800 years before the birth of Jesus. Much of what God has to say in Hosea relates to Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. In Hosea 11:1-11, we read this:
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
2 But the more they were called, the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images.
3 It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize it was I who healed them.
4 I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.
5 “Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them
because they refuse to repent?
6 A sword will flash in their cities; it will devour their false prophets
and put an end to their plans.
7 My people are determined to turn from me. Even though they call me God Most High,
I will by no means exalt them.
8 “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboyim?
My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.
9 I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again.
For I am God, and not a man— the Holy One among you.
I will not come against their cities.
10 They will follow the Lord; he will roar like a lion.
When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west.
11 They will come from Egypt, trembling like sparrows,
from Assyria, fluttering like doves.
I will settle them in their homes,” declares the Lord.
God says that he has loved Israel like his own son but that Israel has been “determine to turn” away from him.
God lists all of the things that he has done for Israel. He has healed them, led them with kindness, loved them, fed them, and cared for them in many other ways, but Israel has consistently abandoned God. They have loved God in name only; they have praised him with their lips but denied him with their actions. Because they have turned their backs on him, God will no longer bless them. So bad was their betrayal, God has considered destroying Israel like he did Admah, Zeboyim, Sodom, and Gomorrah. But because of his love for his people, instead of destroying them, God intends to bring about a chain of events that will remind them that he is God so that they will return home once again.
This entire story brings us to see entitlement from several perspectives. First, over the years Israel came to feel entitled to God’s love and blessing simply because they were Jews, and therefore a part of God’s Chosen People, and also because they lived in Israel. But they forgot that the covenant between God and his Chosen People was a contract that required something from them. Second, because of that same covenant, God is essentially asking, “Am I not entitled to your love and obedience? Do I not deserve it? Have I not earned it?” The answer to all of these must be, “Yes.” God may have done these things for his people because he loved them, but even so something is owed to him because of the extravagance of his gifts.
And then, if we move forward to Luke 12:13-21, we find Jesus being asked to arbitrate a dispute in which one brother feels that he is entitled to more of his father’s inheritance than he has received.
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
The man in the story is upset because his brother, who was likely the oldest son, refused to divide his father’s inheritance with him. We know that it was customary for a father’s estate to be divided among his children, or at least among his sons, with a double share going to the oldest son, who also became responsible for all of the estate’s debts, women, children, and other dependents. But while it might have been customary, it wasn’t required and it isn’t difficult to imagine a number of situations in which it simply wouldn’t have been practical to do so. The simplest situation that comes to mind would simply be that the estate wasn’t worth that much and the oldest son needed all of the money to care for the obligations that he inherited with the money (such as taking care of their mother).
But the man who calls out to Jesus feels entitled to his share.
In response to his request, Jesus tells a story about a man who loved money so much that be wanted to keep it all for himself instead of sharing it with others… or sharing it with God. By telling this story, Jesus is accusing the man (the one who wanted a share of the inheritance) of being greedy. From Jesus’ criticism we can probably assume that he wasn’t poor but only wanted the money because he wanted more money.
In both stories, money becomes a trap for human beings when they begin to love money more than they love the people around them, or more than they love God. It is a dangerous trap because in both cases the people in question would say that they loved God, and more than likely they would have truly believed that they loved God, but in reality they had crossed a line. Somewhere along the line they had crossed a line from trusting God for their wellbeing, and trusting God enough to follow his instructions, teaching, and commandments, into a place where they gave lip service to God but gave their time, talent, skills, abilities and real obedience to making money. Somewhere along the line, loving God, and loving others, had taken second place to loving money. Trusting God had taken a backseat to trusting money.
But as the followers of Jesus Christ, we have been called to follow a different path.
In Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae, he says this (Colossians 3:1-11):
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Because we have been given eternal life through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our calling is to set our hearts on things that are better, higher, and more important than the earthly things that used to consume us. What we have been given is of unspeakable, incalculable, value. Because we have received that indescribable gift, we are called to get rid of the things that used to drag us down, anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, and lies.
We are called to live as if we believe.
The danger for God’s people, and their salvation, lies in entitlement. We cross a line when we feel entitled to things that God has not promised us. We are not entitled to wealth, or health, or success. We are not entitled to simplicity or an easy life. We are not entitled to God’s blessings. We have crossed a line when we put these things ahead of God, or trust them more than we trust God.
But we are entitled to trust. No matter what happens we know that we can trust God. We are entitled to love. No matter what happens we can know that God loves us and wants what is best for us.
But that entitlement cuts both ways.
Because of God’s covenant with us, through Jesus Christ, because of the extravagance of his gifts to us, God is entitled to something as well. Something is owed to him and that something is our love and our obedience.
We aren’t called to offer him lip service and just say that we love God.
We are called to make God first in everything that we do and to live every moment of our lives behaving as if he is.
We are called to love our neighbors and care about their welfare just as much as we care about our own.
Every word from our lips, every action that we take, should be a reflection of the love, compassion, mercy, and grace of Jesus Christ.
He’s earned it.
He’s entitled to it.
Prayer: O God, may we be so filled with your love and with your Spirit, that the people around us would truly believe that we *act* like Jesus.
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