The Cost of (Dis)Obedience

“The Cost of (Dis)Obedience”

September 04, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 14:25-33                   Philemon 1-21                            Jeremiah 18:1-11

 

Did you happen to hear anything about Colin Kaepernick this week?

You would almost have to be a hermit not to.

This week, the internet blew up when Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand during the National Anthem.  As usual, everyone immediately chose sides.  One side said that he was a traitor to his nation and the other called him a hero for calling attention to the important problem of racial injustice.  But, as I have often said, the truth is really somewhere in the middle.  The truth is that our Constitution guarantees everyone, including Colin Kaepernick, the right to free speech, even when that speech isn’t very popular.  The truth is that the veterans that many people claimed to be disrespected by his refusal to stand, served, fought, shed blood, and died to protect his right to do what he did.  On the other hand, the truth is that our nation really does have a problem with racial injustice and, as long and as hard as we’ve been working at it, some of those problems haven’t really gotten much better in several decades.

But as we consider these things, we must also recognize that sometimes there is a time and a place for exercising our rights.  We have a right to free speech, but it is likely unwise for someone to make a speech about Black Lives Matter at a Ku Klux Klan rally.  We might have the right to keep and bear arms, but there are certain neighborhoods where walking down the street carrying a rifle is probably unwise.  Wisdom tells us that sometimes just because we have the right to do something, and just because we can do something, doesn’t necessarily mean that we should do that particular thing.

Recent reports say that the San Francisco 49ers football organization, because of this particular incident, as well as a laundry list of other problems, will most likely terminate their contract with Colin Kaepernick.  Likewise, the companies that pay Mr. Kaepernick to endorse their products are considering their options.  It seems likely, that such a talented young man, armed with a multimillion dollar salary, and given such a significant presence on the public stage, could likely have found a better way to accomplish his goals.  As an example, one commentator pointed to LeBron James who grew up in challenging environment and who knows a thing or two about racial injustice.  But instead of making one grand gesture that would alienate his fans, and people all over the country, instead chose to use his wealth to offer full scholarships to college to 2,300 kids who are growing up in neighborhoods similar to his and who, most likely, suffer from the kinds of racial injustice that  Colin Kaepernick was protesting.  Assuming that each of these scholarships covers a four year degree program, this amounts to over $87 million dollars of Mr. James’ personal wealth.

Which of these actions, do you suppose, will the have the most positive impact?

But what does this have to do with scripture?

Simply put, actions have consequences.

Ask anyone who has found themselves on the wrong side of the law, or even a high school kid with a detention slip in their hand, and they will probably agree that there is a cost to disobedience.

But we also look no further than to the flag draped coffins that return home from battlefields halfway around the world to remember that there is sometimes also a cost to obedience.

Finding our way between what we can do and what we should do, and counting the cost of our decisions, is a daily act that requires wisdom, prayer and discernment.

We begin this morning by reading from Jeremiah 18:1-11, where God once again threatens the destruction of his own people.  But in this case, their reaction is more than a little surprising.

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.

11 “Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’ 12 But they will reply, ‘It’s no use. We will continue with our own plans; we will all follow the stubbornness of our evil hearts.’”

God calls to Jeremiah and sends him to the potter’s house to witness an ordinary event that becomes one of scripture’s most spectacular visual aids.  God says that the pot he is making is going bad, and so he intends to simply destroy it and start over.  But although God sends Jeremiah to relay this proclamation of doom to the people of Israel, and even though they still have a chance to turn from their wickedness, God knows that they will not.  The reaction of the people, upon hearing of God’s condemnation, is simply, “Okay, go ahead.  We’re just too stubborn to change.”  And so, in the end, Israel is condemned not only for their sin, but for stubbornly refusing to change.

Actions have consequences.

And then in the book of Philemon we see the same principle illustrated in an entirely different direction.

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

Onesimus was an escaped slave that belonged to Philemon.  By law, he could have been killed for fleeing his master but, having met Paul, he came to faith in Jesus Christ and became a new person.  He was changed mentally as well as spiritually and became convicted that in order to do what was right, he had to return to his master and face the consequences of his actions even though that might result in beatings, torture, or death.  Paul, having grown quite fond of Onesimus, writes a glowing letter of recommendation to Philemon in the hope that he will not only be merciful, but that he will release Onesimus from his slavery entirely.

Onesimus was an escaped slave but had become a new creation in Jesus Christ.

Philemon was a slave owner but also a believer in Jesus Christ and owed a debt to Paul for the introduction.

We don’t know for sure the result of their reunion but we know this:

Actions have consequences.

And then in Luke 14:25-33, Jesus lays out a hard truth about the wisdom of making choices.

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Jesus points out that whenever we make important and potentially expensive choices, we are wise to consider how much those choices are going to cost.  Colin Kaepernick’s actions will likely be costly and we don’t know whether or not he considered the possibilities before he acted.  The actions of the nation of Israel were costly, and when they were given a chance to change their mind, they were doomed by their stubbornness.  Philemon became convinced and convicted that he had to do what was right no matter the cost.  And Jesus warns us to consider the enormous cost of following him.

Finding our way between what we can do and what we should do, and counting the cost of our decisions, is a daily act that requires wisdom, prayer and discernment.

In order to follow Jesus we must put him first, and put absolutely everything else, and everyone else, after him.

If we can’t do that, Jesus says, then we really aren’t his disciples at all.

This is a hard truth but…

…actions have consequences.

What will you choose?

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online athttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

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