Life is Not a Show

Life is Not a Show

February 17, 2021*

(Ash Wednesday)

By Pastor John Partridge

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

In William Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It,” the character, Jacques, declares that all the world is a stage.   The first few lines of this soliloquy begin like this:

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts…

But despite Shakespeare’s insistence that the world is just a stage, our life is not a show that is lived for the benefit of other people.  In Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, Jesus cautions us this way:

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 is clear that although we might, as Shakespeare suggested, live our lives on a stage viewed by others, the only spectator that matters is God.  As we live our lives, we do not donate food to impress the people at the food pantry, or put money in the offering plate to impress people, or pray out loud so that people will think that we are religious, or holy, or somehow better than anyone else.  This isn’t an act.  Our lives are real, and our actions have eternal consequences.  Our goal should never be to look good, or to impress people, or to inflate our own ego, but always, and only to do the will of God.  Our goal is to be obedient and faithful and that’s all.

In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, he amplifies this message of faithful living by saying this in 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10:

5:20 We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for 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 no matter what happens, our one, singular goal, is to get our hearts right with God, and to return to a right relationship with God.  That, my friends, is the entire reason that we set aside this season of Lent.  It is a time for us to reflect upon our lives and our actions.  It is a time for us to consider how we have been doing and consider the health of our relationship with God. 

Have we been as obedient as we could have been?

Are we as faithful as we could be?

Are there ways in which we can do better?

Are we doing things that make it harder for others to believe that we are following Jesus?

Or that make it harder for them to believe in Jesus?

Let us consider where we have fallen short and where we can do better.

And let us commit ourselves to using this season of Lent, to draw closer to God, to live in such a way that we look more like Jesus, to be more obedient, and to be more faithful.  Not so that we will look better to the people around us, but so that the people around us will see Jesus more clearly and be drawn closer to him because of the change that they see in us.

 All the world may be a stage…

            …but our lives are not an act.

Let us live lives that carry us into an eternity with God, and which draw as many others as possible along with us

_______

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 heart and 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?’”


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/ULPY2qwgoek

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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.

Trading Treasure for Soup

Trading Treasure for Soup

July 12, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 25:19-34                Romans 8:1-11           Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

 

In the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack is on his way to the market to sell the family cow, and on the way, he is persuaded to trade the cow for a handful of magic beans instead.  If this were not a fairy tale, anyone who hears the story would be shocked at his foolishness and could easily understand that he has just doomed his entire family to starvation.  But the story is memorable because of his foolishness.  In the real world, even a child would have understood the seriousness of the situation and no one would ever agree to trade an entire cow for a handful of beans.

Or would they?

On May 24, 1626, Peter Minuit purchased the island of Manhattan for the equivalent of $24 worth of beads and trinkets.  But both sides thought the other was stupid.  The Dutch couldn’t imagine that the Indians would sell the land for so little, and the Indians, who believed that land belonged to everyone, couldn’t imagine that the Dutch would give them stuff for something that couldn’t be owned.

On April 30, 1803, The Louisiana Purchase Treaty was signed in Paris.  With that signing, the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France at a price of $15 million, or approximately four cents an acre.  I’m sure that seemed like a lot of money in 1803, but it doesn’t seem like much today when there are individual buildings, even private residences, that sell for that much.

Likewise, the United States Secretary of State William Seward was widely mocked for what the headlines called “Seward’s Folly” when he purchased Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million, on March 30, 1867.  But today, between the oil fields on the North Slope and the incredible natural beauty of Alaska, by today’s standards I don’t think you could find anyone who doesn’t think we got a pretty good deal.

All those stories end up turning out pretty good for the folks who are buying.  Even Jack wins in the end when he brings home the goose that laid golden eggs.  But most of us know that in real life, foolishness doesn’t always turn out well.  And scripture tells us that the people of the ancient world had learned that lesson just the same as we have.  One of the places where they learned it, and retold it to one another, and to us, is in the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25:19-34 where we hear this story:

19 This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac.

Abraham became the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram [northwest Mesopotamia] and sister of Laban the Aramean.

21 Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So, she went to inquire of the Lord.

23 The Lord said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
    and the older will serve the younger.”

24 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. [which means hairy] 26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.[which means “grasps the heel” or culturally it meant “he deceives”] Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.

27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom [which means red].)

31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

32 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”

33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So, he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.

34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.

So, Esau despised his birthright.

Esau, like many people, was short-sighted.  He wanted what he wanted for today.  His birthright, this inheritance of two-thirds of his father’s wealth, as well as eventually becoming the caretaker of all his father’s dependents, was too far away.  Planning for a future that was decades away was too difficult, too intangible, too fuzzy, too nebulous.  Today he was hungry.  What did he care about an inheritance he wouldn’t get, and responsibilities that he didn’t really want, that he wouldn’t even see for twenty or thirty years?

We see many of our friends and family members do similar things.  Students sometimes have difficulty focusing on today’s test for a grade that they won’t see for fifteen weeks, or on classes they don’t like that are needed for a diploma they won’t see for two or three years. We know people who choose to make payments on expensive cars instead of driving cheaper ones and save for their retirement.  People who choose to live above their means and live well, rather than live modestly and prepare for their future.  And there are whole industries to help people cash out of long-term settlements so that they can spend next year’s money today.  And all of us have struggled with eating what’s good for us, and getting enough exercise, for a healthy future when the goodies on the menu look so tasty and tempting.  It’s hard to give up what we want today in exchange for something that we can’t have for two, three, or even four decades in the future.

And so, Esau sells his inheritance to his brother Jacob for a bowl of soup.

In our daily lives, we make decisions like that every day.  Of all people, farmers probably live with that reality more than most.  Planting is a lot of work, and the results won’t be seen for many months.  Likewise, during the winter, farmers must busy themselves maintain, repairing, and replacing machines, tools, and other equipment that won’t be needed until the spring, because in the spring, they will have many other things that need to be done.  Jesus knew that and he uses that understanding as the basis for the parable that he taught in Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.

13:1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

 18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Jesus knows that the harvest is months away.  He knows that it’s hard work.  He knows that many of the seeds that are planted either won’t grow or won’t produce.  He knows that all that failure makes it even harder to focus on the future.  But he reminds us that despite all the failures, there will be successes.  And the seeds that grow, the successes that are seen, will more than make up for the seeds that fail.  Even though much of our effort will seem wasted, and even though we may not see the results for a long time, our successes will make all the effort worthwhile.

And not only does that speak to us about our work as evangelists and sharers of the Good News of Jesus Christ, it also speaks to us about the way that we live our lives.  In Romans 8:1-11, Paul reminds us that while there are great rewards for following Jesus, because some of those rewards do not come to us in our present lives, it can be all too easy to lose our focus and think too much about the present.

8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

Much like our retirement savings, or planting seeds in the spring for the fall harvest, we must keep our focus on the future and live today as if the future matters.  Yes, there is and exchange being made.  We are making a deposit on a future that we cannot see.  But we are not buying a handful of magic beans.  Instead, Paul says, we live according to the Spirit so that we do the things that God wants us to do rather than live only according to the things that we think feel good.  There are many tempting goodies on the menu that aren’t healthy for us or for our future.  It is important, for our health, for our retirement, and for our eternity, to stay focused on the things that are really important, even when those things are so far in the future that they are hard to see.

The last thing we want to do, is to sell our inheritance in exchange for a bowl of soup.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/2Bsf-OzlAtM

Did you enjoy reading this?

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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.