February 26, 2017
By John Partridge*
Isaiah 49:8-16a Matthew 6:24-34 1 Corinthians 4:1-5
During the American Civil War, as General John Sedgwick’s troops were preparing for battle, they were being harassed by Confederate snipers. General Sedgwick argued with his men that there was no need to duck because, as he put it, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” Seconds later, General Sedgwick was shot in the head and killed by one of those snipers.
If you’ve ever watched some of the television shows about military snipers or Hollywood movies like “Shooter” filmed in 2007 with Mark Wahlberg, or if you’ve ever done any shooting of your own, you will know that there are a number of factors that can come into play if you want to hit your target. Wind, gravity, bullet spin, even the curvature of the earth can be a factor, but one thing that is absolutely essential in hitting your target is where you are aiming. If you aren’t aiming at the target, then your chances of hitting go down tremendously.
I say these things because, outside of shooting with guns, there is a principle that applies here that can also be applied in other places. The principle that I refer to is this: You hit what you aim at. Or also the contrary, you can’t hit what you’re not aiming at. We begin this morning in Isaiah 49:8-16a, where we hear these words from God that speak about the coming messiah and about God’s love for his people.
8 This is what the Lord says:
“In the time of my favor I will answer you,
and in the day of salvation I will help you;
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people,
to restore the land
and to reassign its desolate inheritances,
9 to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’
and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’
“They will feed beside the roads
and find pasture on every barren hill.
10 They will neither hunger nor thirst,
nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them.
He who has compassion on them will guide them
and lead them beside springs of water.
11 I will turn all my mountains into roads,
and my highways will be raised up.
12 See, they will come from afar—
some from the north, some from the west,
some from the region of Aswan.”
13 Shout for joy, you heavens;
rejoice, you earth;
burst into song, you mountains!
For the Lord comforts his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.
14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
the Lord has forgotten me.”
15 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.
God swears that he will keep watch over his people, that he will not give them away to anyone else, that he will make a covenant contract with them, and will restore them to the land that he had given to them. In the end, God swears that he will never forget his people, so strong is his love for them, that it is more likely that a nursing mother would forget her baby, than it would be for God to forget his people.
But the warning that comes from God’s words in Isaiah is that the necessity of this promise comes out of the tendency of human beings to forget their promises and break their contracts. God goes to great lengths to declare his love for his people and to remind the world how he always remembers and never breaks his promises, simply because Israel has regularly, and repeatedly, throughout history, broken its promises to God.
And then, as we move into the more modern era, in Matthew 6:24-34, we hear Jesus say this:
24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Jesus reminds us that we are still prone to the same forgetfulness as the people of Israel. We still try to split our allegiances, to cover our bases, and play both sides against the middle. God knows that money is important, but so is food, and so is mathematics, but all of these are just tools for us to use. The danger for us is in allowing any tool to become so dominant, that it becomes more important to us than God. Jesus encourages us to trust God completely, to trust him with our money, to trust him with our well-being, to trust him with our health, and allow him to give us the things that he knows that we need.
Where we most often go wrong is in aiming for the wrong things. If we truly want to have a relationship with God and if we truly want God to hold the most important place in our lives, then that is what we ought to be aiming for. But when we take our eye off the ball, when we shift our aim, and we make the accumulation of money, or power, or sex, or pleasure, or something else to be the target, then our aim has drifted and we’re no longer aiming for God. But what many of us will try to argue is that what we really want is God and money, or God and success, but what Jesus is very clear about is that we cannot aim at two things at the same time. You are either aiming for God and a relationship with him… or you aren’t. If you’re aiming for “God and” then you are no longer aiming for God at all.
In 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, the Apostle Paul offers this description of how we might think of ourselves:
4:1 This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.
Paul says that we are servants of Jesus Christ and people who are entrusted with the truth that has been revealed in scripture. Because of the trust that God has placed in us, we must be faithful to him in return. In the end, when Jesus returns to earth to judge humanity, he will shine light into the darkness and he will reveal the motives of every human heart.
On the one hand we have God, who has declared that his love for his people will never end and that he is constantly thinking of our well-being. God has entrusted us with the great riches of the mysteries of God and the Good News of Jesus Christ and we will be judged by the motives of our hearts. But on the other hand are the fickle and ever changing hearts of humanity. We are constantly adrift, constantly tossed this way and that by the people around us, by our culture, and by our circumstances. We are constantly tempted to put our trust in places that are not trustworthy. We are constantly tempted to aim at the wrong things.
But God won’t share first place.
You just can’t aim at two things at once.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.