Reward, Rejection, and Role Models

Reward, Rejection, and Role Models


March 17, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18                      Luke 13:31-35                        Philippians 3:17 – 4:1

 

Have you ever made a plan for your life?

You know what I mean.  At some point many of us have sat down with a parent, school guidance counselor, or career counselor, faculty advisor, or mentor and mapped out how to get from where we were, to where we wanted to be.  If you want to be a nurse or a doctor, the classes that you take and the experiences that you need, are very different from those needed to become and engineer or a tool and die machinist.  Some of us sat down with a military recruiter and discussed our skills and education, and what training options were open to us.  In some cases, in both our civilian and military careers, there were rewards that were promised for reaching our goals or at various points along the way. 

But in real life, the path from here to there is never as easy as it looks when you sit down to plan.  We fail required classes, lose time because of circumstances that are beyond our control, school takes longer, and costs more than we planned, and recruiters are known to be less than truthful or to omit important information.  Through it all, reaching the promised goals and rewards that we had in mind at the beginning, can be a lot harder, cost more, and take a lot longer than we probably imagined when we started.  And on top that, along the way we sometimes face detours brought on by marriage, divorce, children, tragedy, unemployment, disaster, and other things.  We might even decide to change our career destinations and goals along the way, causing us to take several steps backward and start a part of the plan over again.

Life is like that.

It’s complicated.  And our spiritual life is no different. 

So how do we get from here to there?  From where we are, to where we want to be?

And for that, let’s begin with the story of Abram, who would later become Abraham, a man who, for three for four thousand years, the followers of God have lifted up as a hero of the faith and a role model for our spiritual lives.  And, as we look, we discover that even for Abraham, the path from here to there was anything but a straight line.  We begin this morning as we read a story from Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 as God repeats a great promise to Abram.

15:1 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
    I am your shield,
    your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so, a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

God reminds Abram of his promise to give him a great reward, and Abram’s response is very much along the lines of, “What can you possibly give me that I care about?”  Even if God blesses Abram with land, and animals, and riches, what good is it if he has no children to inherit it when he dies?  And God specifies that he intends for Abram’s descendants to be as countless as the stars in the night sky. 

And Abram believed.

But even in his belief, Abram had doubts, and he asked God how he might know… for certain… that God would do as he had promised.  And in reply, God follows a formula that was well-known in the ancient world.  It was the formula for the execution of a covenant (a binding contract on steroids).  This sort of covenant was often made between parties of differing strength such as a dominant military power and a much weaker nation.  And God was making this same sort of binding agreement with Abram to reassure him that God intended to keep his promise.

Abraham would receive the reward that God had promised and the covenant that was established between them would continue to bless his descendants for thousands of years.  But not everyone was interested in keeping the covenant, maintaining their part of the contract, or being faithful in the way that Abraham was faithful.  Despite their power, position, and authority, some of Israel’s leaders were renegades that refused and rejected their covenant with God and Jesus points to those types of renegades as we remember the story contained in Luke 13:31-35.

31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

The differences that we see in this passage are sharp and the are intended to be so.  Jesus is warned that Herod wanted him dead and Jesus responds by saying that he would continue to do what God had called him to do until he reached his goal of entering Jerusalem.  But Jesus continues by reminding the Pharisees that it was the leaders and the people of Jerusalem that had already established a reputation for killing God’s prophets and stoning the people that God had sent.  This is exactly what is happening again.  God had repeatedly wanted to gather the children of Israel together to comfort them and protect them, but they weren’t interested. 

The people did not want what God had to offer.

They had rejected the covenant.

And Jesus says that the house that they had inherited, God’s house, was an empty house.  The people of Israel would not see the blessings of God until they recognized the messiah that God sent to them.

But what does that mean for us?  If Abram or Abraham was a role model of faith, and if the leaders of Israel were examples of what not to do and how not to live, then what teaching, or what advice, can we follow to prevent us from rejecting God’s blessing?

And in answer to that question, we read Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi (Philippians 3:17 – 4:1) where we hear these words:

17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

Paul’s answer is simplified and boiled down about as far as you can get.  Just as you have looked up to us, find other role models that live like we do and watch how they live.  That’s simple.  Find good quality role models that look like Paul and his friends and watch how they live.  But Paul also warns that there are a lot of people out there, and we can probably assume that he also meant that there are a lot of leaders out there, that live as the enemies of the cross of Jesus Christ.  Notice that he did not say that they represented themselves as the enemies of Jesus, but that the proof was to be found in how they lived.  Just as the leaders of the people of Israel, including the leaders of the church, had rejected Jesus and turned their backs on the covenant that they had with God, in the same way we know that sometimes the leaders of the church in the present day wear the label of Jesus Christ and claim the name of Jesus Christ, but live as enemies of Jesus.  The people that we are to follow, and after whose lives we are to pattern ours, are the people who look like, and who live like Paul, the disciples, and Jesus.  The enemies of the cross of Christ have their minds set on earthly things like food, alcohol, drugs, sex, money, power, pleasure, and the things of earth.  But the followers of Jesus know that their true citizenship is in heaven and as a result, they live lives that reflect the values of that nation and not the values of the nations of earth.

We live in a time and a culture that is far removed from that of Abraham and from that of Jesus and Paul, but the lessons that we learn from them remain the same.  God wants to bless his people and, as he always has, God continues to keep his promises.  But God will not bless those who reject him and turn their backs on him.  And so, if we want to receive the blessings of God, then we must search for, and choose, role models who live their lives like Paul, the disciples, apostles, and Jesus.  Stand firm in your faith.  Do not sell-out to the desires and lusts of the human body.  Do not set your mind on earthly things but remember that heaven is our home.  And the citizenship of our hearts must be revealed to the world through our lives and our actions every day.

It all boils down to this:

You are a child of God.

Act like it.

 

 

 

 


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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.

Compassion Theater

“Compassion Theater”
November 08, 2015
(Veterans’ Sunday)
By John Partridge

Scripture:  Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17               Hebrews 9:24-28                     Mark 12:38-44

How many of you have taken a vacation in the last ten years?

How many of you have flown on an airplane, either for vacation or for business in the last few years?

If you haven’t travelled much lately you might not have noticed, but if you went anywhere near the airport since 9-11 you will have noticed that things are very different than they used to be.

While there used to be security at the airport, since September 11th, 2001 there have been huge changes in the amount, the types, and the locations of security. You now enter security earlier, they check a lot more things, a lot more thoroughly, and they prohibit travelers from taking a lot more things with them. But for all of the expense, and all of the hassle, a lot of people have begun to refer to the entire process as “Security Theater.” The reason it has earned such a nickname is that for all the additional trouble, the process hasn’t really caught, or stopped, any more terrorists than the old system and, in fact, the people in charge of our security have been arrested for crimes many times more often than they arrest anyone else. No other country in the world made the changes we did, and their security is generally better. Worse, by some estimates, the new enhanced security is even less safe, and less effective than it was before they made us take off our shoes and took away our fingernail clippers. Security Theater is very much what the nickname implies. It’s a great show, with marvelous acting. It makes you feel like you are safer, but doesn’t really do much else.

But the same thing happens in a lot of churches. People put on a good show, but don’t really do much else. To better understand what I mean, let’s return to the story of Ruth. Here, after Ruth and Naomi have returned from Moab, to Israel, they struggle, as widows, to survive on the kindness of others but try to find stability and hope for the future. (Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17)

3:1 One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for. 2 Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. 3 Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”

5 “I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered. 6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do.

4:13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

16 Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Ruth’s devotion to her mother-in-law, Naomi, was not fake. Her actions were not an act. Because Ruth is not a native of Israel she knows that she doesn’t always understand the language, the culture, or the way people think. But she trusts Naomi with her life and when Naomi comes up with a plan, she agrees to do whatever Naomi tells her to do. Because of her trust, faith and obedience, Ruth and Boaz are married, find the stability and hope that both women were seeking, and Ruth becomes, eventually, the grandmother of King David.

That isn’t theater. That’s the real deal. Ruth’s trust and devotion are real.

But in Mark 12:38-44, Jesus warns his followers about a completely different kind of person.

38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Jesus wanted his disciples to watch some of the church leaders because they were participating in “Compassion Theater.” Instead of being ‘real’ like Ruth, instead of truly having faith, trust, and obedience to the words of God, these men do all that they can to put on a good show so that they look good, despite the fact that, in reality, they are more despicable than many unbelievers. These were men who were more than willing to foreclose on poor widows and steal their houses, but still offered loud and long prayers in public places where everyone could see them.

In total contrast to these men, Jesus points out a poor widow, whose total net worth amounted to two copper coins. This was all the money that she had in the world, and she was willing to give it to God and trust him with her future. Others, rich people, came to give offerings, once again, in public, and gave large amounts of money… because they could. For them, even though the gifts were large, they weren’t costly. They were rich and could easily afford to give large gifts and never miss the money. Their giving was fake and all for show. Their giving never required them to sacrifice anything. But that poor widow was completely real, and gave an offering that represented the sacrifice of all that she had.

So where does that leave us?

What message should we take away from all of this?

Before we get to that, let’s read one more passage of scripture. In Hebrews 9:24-28, we remember the gift that Jesus gave to every one of us.

24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Jesus, the Son of God, the creator of the universe, came to earth to give a gift to the people that he loved. He had everything. He created the universe. The cattle on a thousand hills, and all that exists, belongs to him. And yet, the gift that he gave required sacrifice. Jesus, in order to truly give a gift of love, sacrificed himself.

And so the message we need to digest is to be careful that we do not participate in “Compassion Theater.” We should not give to the poor just because we want others to think that we care. We should not make a show of our faith in public just so people look at us and think that we’re good. Instead, our goal is to be as real as possible, to live a life of trust, faith and obedience to God instead of worrying about how good our charity or church attendance make us look.

We are impressed by the gifts that our veterans have given to us, not because they were drafted or because they volunteered, but because their gifts were costly. They spent years of their lives in service to our country, they spent time away from their families and friends, and they risked their very lives for our protection. Ruth’s gift to Naomi was real trust and devotion that risked everything. Jesus was impressed by the poor widow because her gift represented a significant sacrifice. Jesus could make all of his followers rich, but since he is the creator of everything, that wouldn’t be all that impressive. But we are astounded by Jesus’ gift to us because it represented real sacrifice, even for the King of kings.

As we give gifts to God, whether those gifts are financial or not, we need to ask ourselves if we are doing them to look good, or if we are truly doing them to honor God.

Real gifts, gifts that have meaning, are gifts that cost us something.