Doing What Counts

Doing What Counts

March 02, 2022*

Ash Wednesday

By Pastor John Partridge

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17                     Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21             2 Corinthians 5:20 – 6:10

Old Testament Reading: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 

2:1 Blow the trumpet in Zion sound the alarm on my holy hill.

Let all who live in the land tremble,for the day of the Lord is coming.
It is close at hand— a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness.
Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes,
such as never was in ancient times nor ever will be in ages to come.

12 “Even now,” declares the Lord,“return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

13 Rend your heartand not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God.

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion,declare a holy fast,
    call a sacred assembly.
16 Gather the people, consecrate the assembly;
bring together the elders, gather the children,
    those nursing at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber.
17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the portico and the altar.
Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord.
    Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”

_____________________

In our scripture reading from Joel, we heard God’s prophet cry out to the people to fast, pray, weep, and “Return to the Lord” because, obviously, the people of Israel had wandered from God and were doing things that they shouldn’t have been doing.  But what is it that they should have been doing?  If God is keeping score, then what should we be doing?  What should we not be doing?  And, how do we make our time, and our actions, count?  To begin, let’s start in Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, where Jesus gives us some great examples of all of these.  Jesus said…

6:1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus says, ‘Don’t do things for show.’  Actions that count aren’t hypocritical.  The followers of Jesus should never do things just because those things make us look good.  Getting your picture in the paper, and ten seconds of fame on the television news, with one of those oversized checks because you gave a lot of money to the poor is great, but in God’s eyes that doesn’t count because, at least at some level, you did that for yourself and not for God. 

If you’re going to fast, or give up something for Lent, that’s great, but don’t go on social media and tell all your friends that you’re doing it… or it doesn’t count.  If you’re going to do things to benefit others, or do things to build your relationship with God, then do them, but don’t do them, and make a big deal about doing them, just so you can look good to the people around you.  When you do that, then looking good to the people around you is your reward because in God’s eyes, it doesn’t count.

The bank account into which you want to make deposits is a heavenly one and not an earthly one and so the deposits we want to be making are deposits that build up God’s kingdom and not deposits that grow your earthly reputation.  In 2 Corinthians 5:20 – 6:10, the Apostle Paul puts it this way:

20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be a sin offeringfor us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

6:1 As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you,
    and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Paul says that we are called to represent ourselves the way that ambassadors for another country would.  We should be aware that everything that we do reflects our king and his kingdom and so everything that we do should draw us closer to God and strengthen our relationship with him.  Paul says that we should “put no stumbling block in anyone’s path,” so that people won’t turn away from God, or stop listening to the message of Jesus Christ, because of the things that we said and did.

Instead, the things that we should be known for are things like endurance, courage, faithfulness, hard work, suffering, purity, understanding, patience, kindness, and sincere love.  When people think of us, they should remember truthful speech, the power of God, righteousness, persistence, joy

Generosity, and an unusual yet consistent combination of actions and attitudes that point to God, and give credit to God, while avoiding credit for ourselves.

If you join the Army to get rich, you made a mistake.  People join the military for a lot of reasons, but they describe it as “serving” our country for a reason.  For all the things that you might get out of your service, getting rich definitely isn’t one of them.  And as we enter the season of Lent, we are reminded that following Jesus is quite similar.  If you’re following Jesus to get rich, or to get famous, or to be popular, or to grow your business, or most anything that can benefit yourself, then you’re doing it wrong.

Our calling is not to do things that benefit us.

Our calling is to do things for others so that we can be a benefit to God and his kingdom.

That is how we do things that count.


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, 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 or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com.  All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

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