Karma, Deception, and Grace

“Karma, Deception, and Grace”

August 05, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a                    John 6:24-36              Ephesians 4:1-16

Have you ever heard of Karma?  Most of us have.  It’s a popular idea even if the word is often misused.  In Hinduism and Buddhism, by definition, karma is “the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences.”  What that means is, karma is the thing that will punish an evildoer, by guiding them to an unpleasant reincarnation as a poor person, or as a slug, or some other unpleasant experience in proportion to the evil that they did in a previous life.  In popular usage, karma is (wrongly) thought of as “what goes around comes around” or why bad things will, eventually, happen to bad people.

But within Christianity, we don’t believe in karma.  Instead, we believe in a sovereign, all-knowing, all-seeing, God who promises justice and judgement.  In Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a, we rejoin King David’s story as David’s crimes are revealed and his punishment levied.

26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.

12:1 The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”

13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Last week we noted that God was undoubtedly disappointed by David’s failure, but we realize, as we read this week’s passage, that “disappointed” doesn’t go far enough.  Our scripture tells us that “the thing David had done displeased the Lord.”  Even David, when presented the facts of his own case simply disguised as a story about a prized lamb by the prophet Nathan, condemns himself and demands that no pity should be taken on such a person.  But in the next moment, David’s sin is revealed as Nathan proclaims, “You are the man.”  Murder by proxy is still murder.  Nathan doesn’t quibble about who “pulled the trigger” or whose hands killed Uriah, Nathan simply says, “You killed him,” and “You took his wife.”  Before announcing David’s sentence.  God declares, “the sword will never depart from your house” or, that violence will always be a part of David’s life, and that members of his own family will one day betray him, and sleep with his wives.  David’s punishment is truly, “what goes around comes around” but it isn’t karma, it’s justice handed out by an all-knowing God.

David, like many people throughout history, including many people in our present-day world, was deceived by money, sex, and power, and began to believe that he was above the law.  He was the king, he was rich and powerful, so he could get away with it.  But in the end, David remembers the truth, that nothing is done that God does not see, that no one is above the laws of God, and that, in the end, no one escapes justice.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that David’s story is a condemnation of rich people.  In John 6:24-35, we hear a familiar story about Jesus in which ordinary people, and a great many of them, suffer from the same kind of deception that David did.

24 Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

An entire crowd of people climbed into boats and went in search of Jesus, but Jesus knew that every one of them had been deceived.  All these people, rich and poor alike, had followed him, not because of Jesus’ miracles, and not because of his teaching, but because they thought that he would keep feeding them.  They weren’t following Jesus the savior of mankind, or even Jesus the great teacher, they were following a meal ticket.  They didn’t follow Jesus because he confronted them with their sinfulness, or because he could help them to get closer to God, or because he would help them to become better people, they followed Jesus because of what they thought that they could get out of him.  In this case, food.

This hasn’t changed.  There are a lot of people who come to church and are known to be good upstanding members of the community and longstanding church members who have been coming to church for entirely the wrong reasons.  They come to church because their parents did, or because that simply “what good people do,” or because it’s “good for business.”  But, just like the crowds that followed Jesus, all these people have been deceived.  They are following Jesus for what they can get out of him.

And Jesus sets them all straight saying: “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life.”  Jesus tells the people not to be deceived by food… or by anything that spoils.  Don’t be deceived by money, sex, or power, but neither should we be deceived by more common things like clothes, or cars, nice apartments, houses, prominent businesses, job titles, professional associations, or anything else that disappears like smoke after you die.  Instead, be concerned about things that last for eternity long after your life on earth is over.

Believe in the one that God has sent and make it your business to invite others to know him.  Only your life, and the lives of others, will endure into eternity, and only Jesus can give us the bread of life.

But if we are to keep our focus on God and not be deceived by “stuff,” then how should we live our lives?  And, once again, in his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul shares what a life lived for God might look like. (Ephesians 4:1-16)

4:1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it [Psalm 68:18] says:

“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Paul reminds the church that we have been called to follow Jesus, adopted into God’s family, and work alongside Jesus, on his mission, and are empowered by the Holy Spirit, and we ought to live our lives in such a way as to be worthy of that high calling.  We should be completely humble, patient, and loving and make every effort to remain in the unity of the Spirit through the peace that binds us together.  Jesus has poured out grace upon each one of us but in doing so he also gave us apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

But why?

Why do we need those people?  Do we need them so that we can delegate the work of the church to them?

Clearly, Paul says, no.  Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are not employees.

Instead, Paul says that all these were called by God and sent by Jesus to equip the church for the works of service that he has called them to do.  And we are to do these works of service to build up the body of Christ until such a time that we all become mature.  And Paul says that we will be mature when we no longer act like children, no longer get tossed back and forth by our culture, no longer deceived by money, sex, power, and the craftiness of deceitful schemes.  The body of Christ, Paul says, is held together by every supporting ligament, it grows, it builds itself up in love, and every single part of the body of Christ does the work that God has called us to do.

Every single part, every single person, every single believer, has work to do.

Every one of us must be out on the field.

There are no spectators.

Maturity doesn’t come because we belong to the church and it doesn’t come simply because we stuck around for a few decades.

The way that we learn not to be deceived like David, or like the crowd that followed Jesus, the way what we become mature, is to listen and to learn from scripture.  To listen and learn from the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers that God has called so that all of us are equipped to do the work that God has called us to do.

And we must persist, we must keep on doing that work until we, eventually, become mature.

 

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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.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Vision: Fantasy or Reality?

“Vision: Fantasy or Reality?”

March 20, 2016

(Palm Sunday)

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture:

Luke 19:28-40                  

John 12:12-16

 

Do you remember the games that you played when you were a little kid?

In particular, do you remember playing “pretend?”

When we played pretend, reality didn’t matter.  We could be anything we wanted.  Even though we were only six years old, we could be doctors, or firefighters, or superheroes, or anything else.  But we always knew that we were just playing a game and that we weren’t really superheroes.

As adults, we know that there are people whose brains sometimes don’t work the way that they should and they get their “pretend” or their fantasy world mixed up with the real world.  When this happens there are several mental illnesses that might be involved including paranoia, delusional behavior, psychotic behavior and others.  But, at the same time, most all of us play a lesser version of these same delusions and in doing so we appear to be perfectly normal.

What happens to most people occurs when they deal with what is called “cognitive dissonance.”  Cognitive dissonance can be a good thing because it is one of the principle mechanisms through which we learn.  Cognitive dissonance happens whenever we learn something new that disagrees with what we thought that we knew.  For example, if we thought that the Earth’s moon was just a short distance, say a few thousand miles, from the International Space Station, and then we learn that it is, in fact, more than three hundred thousand miles away, so far that all of the planets in the solar system would fit between the earth and the moon, our brain becomes remarkably uncomfortable.  That discomfort, which is caused my hearing new information, is called cognitive dissonance. The brain, like the rest of us, dislikes being uncomfortable and must do something to ease its discomfort.  The only two choices that the brain has are to ignore the new facts and “pretend” that the old idea is correct or, to reject the old information and establish new neural pathways to remember that the new facts are true.

This is how we learn.

This is also how we sift through new information to sort out truth from fables, fantasies, and wild Internet gossip.  We reject what we believe to be false and remember what we believe to be true.

But as adults, we often find that new information, even if it’s true, to be so uncomfortable that we choose instead to continue to believe false information even though we have been shown genuine facts that prove otherwise.

Otherwise sane adults do it all the time.

For an example of what I am talking about, you don’t have to look any further than the people you know who are talking about their favorite presidential candidate.  The same stories could be told about every single one of them.  The people that like a particular candidate, once they have chosen that person as their favorite, are likely to remember everything that makes them look good, and totally ignore genuine facts that make them look bad.  I have seen entire articles written in recent weeks that describe how people believe that real, documented events, never happened simply because their favorite candidate, or their campaign, said that it never happened.

This is the adult version of playing pretend.  Honestly, it borders on being delusional, but this is the power of cognitive dissonance.  We deliberately blind ourselves to the facts, because they make us uncomfortable.

So, as long-winded as that was, what does it have to do with Palm Sunday?

And the answer is, everything.  Let’s begin by reading Luke 19:28-40.

28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”

34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”

35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

This passage begins by establishing that Jesus knows the truth.  More importantly, Jesus demonstrates that he knows things that ordinary mortals cannot, and should not, possibly know.  Jesus knew what was happening in a place far outside of his vision and he knew what would happen in the future.  Jesus knew that a colt would be in the village before they went there.  He knew that someone was likely to stop his friends from taking it, and he knew precisely what answer would satisfy them.  And so, as I said, we have begun by establishing from the beginning, that Jesus knew the truth and understood reality better than anyone on the face of the earth.

Having established that, we then meet the Pharisees who urge Jesus to compel his disciples, and the people along the road, to shut up.  The Pharisees have heard all the same stories about Jesus that the crowd has heard.  We know that the Pharisees have been personally present many times when Jesus taught and even when he performed miracles.  They personally interviewed people who had been miraculously healed.

They absolutely knew the facts…

…And then chose to completely ignore them because the truth made them uncomfortable.

Before we go on, let’s also read this same story as it was recorded by the Apostle John. (John 12:12-16)

12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,

“Hosanna!” [Hosanna means “Save Us!”]

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the king of Israel!”

14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:

15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”

16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.

In the world of the New Testament, Rome was the super power.  The Roman army kept the peace and the Pharisees and the Sadducees had a deal to share political and religious power with the Roman government.  But a big part of that deal was an understanding that the Pharisees and the Sadducees would help the Romans to keep the peace.

And now, suddenly, Jesus enters the city riding on a colt just as the prophets had promised the king of Israel one day would.  And as Jesus enters the city, crowds of people are shouting “Hosanna.”  There were crowds of people crying out for Jesus to save them, and by doing so they were essentially declaring that Jesus was their Savior, and quite possibly, their future king.

So again, remember that the Pharisees had the same information that everyone else had, and much of what they knew they had witnessed firsthand.  Based on this information, the disciples, the crowd, and the Pharisees each crafted a version of reality that made them comfortable.  The disciples, to varying degrees, as well as the people in the crowd, believed that Jesus was the conquering, messiah king who would rise up, overthrow the Roman occupation, and set his people free.  Based on exactly the same information, the Pharisees believed that Jesus was going to upset the applecart, cause a riot, anger the Roman soldiers, force them to beat down a growing insurrection by force and, at the same time, find someone other than the Pharisees and the Sadducees with whom to share power.  Based on these preconceptions, the reality crafted by the Pharisees, was that Jesus was not the Messiah, not the king, but was dangerous radical who would upset the status quo and needed to be quieted… by whatever means necessary.

All of them were wrong.

With the exception of Jesus, everyone there believed a fantasy.  They all looked at the same set of facts and each of them sees what they want to see.  Each of them created a version of reality that made them comfortable.  They were all, in varying degrees, playing pretend.  Each of them, in their own way, were completely delusional… and they didn’t even know it.

Jesus alone understood the truth.

Although John reminds us that the disciples would eventually, after the resurrection, understand the truth, Jesus alone sees reality as it truly is.

Jesus understands that he is indeed Israel’s Messiah, the creator of the universe, the King of kings, and Lord of lords.  Jesus understands that this moment, proclaimed by God and the prophets, was so important that if the crowd refused to recognize him, the rocks along the side of the road would be compelled to do it for them.  But Jesus also understood that although it was not yet time for him to come into the city as a conquering king, the time had come for him to be the Lamb of God, the sacrifice for the forgiveness of the sins of his people.

And so today, on this Palm Sunday, as we remember the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, let us also remember how easily we can ignore the facts and create false realities for ourselves.  Sometimes as we read stories about who Jesus is, or about what Jesus did, or about the things that Jesus taught us to do, these things make us uncomfortable.  They don’t fit with our version of reality.  And so we have to choose whether or not we will accept Jesus’ reality.  We have to choose whether or not we really want to believe because, if we do, we might just have to change how we live.

Cognitive dissonance makes us uncomfortable and so we have a choice to make.

Our choice is to believe the truth, to learn from it, to change our neural pathways and therefore to change who we are, what we believe, and how we act, or, we can choose to ignore the facts, play pretend, and create our own version of reality that allows us to be comfortable… and wrong.

We have two choices.  We can choose to believe a fantasy, or we can choose to believe reality.

There are two realities that you can choose.

  • The reality of Jesus, the Son of God, the creator of the universe, Savior, redeemer, the sacrifice and forgiveness of sins, the King of kings, Lord of lords, and author of all that is?

Or

  • the reality that you create for your own comfort.

Which reality will you choose?

 

 

* 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 at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.