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Trading Gold for Beans
August 28, 2022*
By Pastor John Partridge
Jeremiah 2:4-13 Luke 14:1, 7-14 Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
In the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, the hero, a young boy named Jack is sent to the market, by his mother, to sell their cow that has stopped giving milk. On the way to town, Jack is convinced to sell the family cow, not for gold, but for three magical beans. On the surface, at least in the story, Jack has made a terrible bargain and has been fleeced and bamboozled by the bean dealer. But again, in the story, it turns out that the beans really are magical and offer Jack a pathway to his adventure in the kingdom of the Giant and his golden goose.
But what happens in reality? How often do hucksters and scoundrels convince our elderly to buy the modern equivalent of magic beans and rob them of their retirement funds? How often do unscrupulous investment advisors line their pockets at the expense of unwise or overly trusting investors? Or how often do we see internet pop-up ads selling products that just seem too good to be true? It seems that too often, trusting people are hoodwinked into selling their gold in exchange for piles of worthless beans that aren’t even magical.
And curiously, that is what is at the root of God’s accusation against his people that we find in Jeremiah 2:4-13. God says that his people have walked away from him and abandoned the gold that he had in exchange for worthless piles of beans. Jeremiah said…
4 Hear the word of the Lord, you descendants of Jacob, all you clans of Israel.
5 This is what the Lord says:
“What fault did your ancestors find in me, that they strayed so far from me?
They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.
6 They did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord, who brought us up out of Egypt
and led us through the barren wilderness, through a land of deserts and ravines,
a land of drought and utter darkness, a land where no one travels and no one lives?’
7 I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce.
But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable.
8 The priests did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord?’
Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me.
The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols.
9 “Therefore I bring charges against you again,” declares the Lord.
“And I will bring charges against your children’s children.
10 Cross over to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and observe closely;
see if there has ever been anything like this:
11 Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.)
But my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols.
12 Be appalled at this, you heavens, and shudder with great horror,” declares the Lord.
13 “My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me, the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.
God wonders why his people started to drift. The ancestors of Israel began to stray from God, followed worthless idols and never thought to ask what happened to the God and to the faith that led them across deserts and through the Red Sea. God gave them an incredible inheritance that they could enjoy and pass on their children, but the people defiled the land and ruined it. The priests never stopped to ask what happened to God, the theologians and the church leaders either didn’t know God at all or actively rebelled against him and the prophets of Israel sold out to what was popular and prophesied for Baal instead.
God tells his people that they are free to look anywhere they want and try to find another country that has abandoned their gods and they won’t find any even though the gods of other countries are no more than stone statues. God is appalled and heaven in horrified. God’s people have traded rivers of life-giving water for broken, leaking, clay pools of foul, stagnant, green water.
They traded piles of gold for a handful of ordinary beans.
In a similar lesson found in Luke 14:1, 7-14, Jesus shares a story that tells us how we tell the difference between gold and beans as we go about the busyness of our daily lives. Luke says…
14:1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.
7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Our lives are filled with opportunities to collect wealth for ourselves. Some of those opportunities allow us to store up gold, and others cause us to expend our time and our energy and end the day with little more than a handful of beans. Jesus says that you do not gain from what you take, you gain from what you are given, and by what you give. Throwing a party and inviting a house full of influential friends, who will, later, invite you back, gains you nothing. Money, power, and influence will evaporate before your casket closes. But offering a banquet to the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and for those who are unable to care for themselves, that deposits gold into your account in God’s heavenly treasury.
Similarly, the writer of Hebrews offers us a list of things that we do in life that earn us gold rather than beans. In Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, he says:
13:1 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. 3 Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
4 Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. 5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”
6 So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?”
7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
Without specifically calling out bankers, or businesspeople, or farmers, or anyone else who work to earn an income, the writer of Hebrews tell us that some activities are better, in the eyes of God, than others. Loving the people around you, and not just family members, is a good thing. Inviting strangers into your home because they need a place to stay, is a good thing. Caring for people who are in prison and people who are mistreated, as if you were suffering alongside of them, is a good thing. Honoring your marriage and staying true to that one person to whom you are married, is a good thing and so is insulating yourself from greed and envy simply by being content with what you already have.
And one of the best reasons we have, to be content with what we have, is that what we have… is a God who loves us, cares for us, and will never leave us or abandon us. What we have is a loving God who is constantly beside us to give us strength, encouragement, patience, and comfort so that we can rest in his care and not worry about what our bosses, our bullies, or anyone else can do to us.
We are also encouraged to remember the pastors and people of our past who taught us the word of God and modeled the Christian life for us. Think about how their lives influenced others, how their faithfulness was a blessing to others, and how their every day lives made the lives of others easier, better, more fulfilling, and sometimes even made the difference in their survival. Let us remember those people, imitate their faith, and thereby live a life that is pleasing to God and to Jesus Christ. Don’t just give the occasional gift of cash, give sacrificially, not of cash, but give sacrificially of your praise to God. Live your life in such a way that you do good for the people around you and share what you have with others rather than hoarding it all for yourself. God knows that sometimes your giving is a sacrifice, but it is with these sacrifices that God is pleased.
Our culture constantly bombards us with offers to trade our gold for a handful of completely unremarkable, non-magical, ordinary beans. Our culture worships money, power, greed, influence, sex, the accumulation of possessions, politics, and all sorts of other idols. We are tempted to run for the front of the line, to grab the best seats, and inflate our own importance. But in God’s equation, we gain not by what we take, but by what we give. We gain when we care for those who have no one to care for them. We gain when we share what we have with those who have less than we do, or who have none of what we have. We gain when we do good for people who may never be able to do good to us in return and give to those who cannot afford to repay us.
Our culture urges us to keep what we have and to build bigger barns, and bigger houses, to store even more of our abundance. But God says that we store up real treasure when we swim against the current of our culture, when we love one another, when we welcome the stranger, care for those in prison, soothe the wounds of the mistreated, remain faithful to our spouses, and insulate ourselves from greed and envy by remaining content with what we have.
Our culture surrounds us with voices that shout louder every day and encourage us to get with the program and trade our gold for worthless beans.
Don’t fall for it.
There are no magic beans.
There is no beanstalk and no giant.
There is no golden goose.
But there is a loving God who is waiting to reward us with the gold that we have stored up for ourselves in the vaults, storehouses, and the treasury of heaven.
Don’t let our culture steal your eternity.
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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. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com . All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.