Who Owns Your Success?

“Who Owns Your Success?”

November 19, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Deuteronomy 8:7-18             2 Corinthians 9:6-15                         Luke 17:11-19

 

 

Have you ever owned your own home?

 

The process for applying for a mortgage is intimidating but the feeling of home ownership is a pretty good one.  But unless you’ve owned your home for a long time, and made a lot of payments to the bank, we are reminded, at least once a month when our payment is due, that the real owner of our home is the bank.

 

When we have been employees, no matter how much we love our jobs and take pride in our work, and care for the facilities as if they were our very own, we are constantly reminded that they belong to someone else.

 

If you buy a new car, you have to have insurance, but if you wreck the car, the majority of the insurance money will go to the bank that owns most of the car.

 

In an episode of The Big Bang Theory (Application Deterioration), several of the characters, Sheldon, Leonard, Raj, and Howard, come up with an idea that is patentable and could make them millions of dollars.  But when they go to their employer’s legal office to ask about pursuing a patent, they get that same sort of stunning reminder.  The patent attorney declares that they

 

“Just need you to review and sign this document acknowledging that you understand the university will own 75% of the patent.

Howard: 75%?

Sheldon: That’s outrageous. This is our idea based on our research. How can you possibly justify owning a majority share?

Patent Attorney: It’s university policy.

 

Leonard: Hold on, hold on. So the three of us do all the work and only end up with 25%?

Patent Attorney: Dr. Hofstadter, this university has been paying your salaries for over ten years. Did you think we do that out of the goodness of our hearts?

Leonard: Well, until you just said that mean thing, kinda.

 

Three of the four men are reminded that because their research and knowledge grow out of work that their employer has already paid for, 75 percent of any profits belong to the employer.  Even worse, since Howard is already an employee of the Federal government, he isn’t entitled to anything at all.

 

All of these types of stories remind us that we often fool ourselves into believing that we own things that rightly belong to someone else.  We are also prone to take too much credit for work that we did as a group, or pass along too much blame to others for mistakes that we made for ourselves.  And in Deuteronomy 8:7-18, Joshua reminds the people of Israel that they must be careful not to take credit for the work that was done by someone else.

 

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; 8a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

 

Joshua emphasizes that God has already given them much, and is about to give them even more.  Their blessings will be wonderful and the land will be abundantly good to them in many ways.  But they must be careful to remember that God has given all these things to them as a gift.  Joshua warns that it is all too easy to forget the giver and allow our pride to fool ourselves into believing that we did it, that “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.”  But that, Joshua says, is a lie because it is God who gives us the ability to produce, wealth.  Ultimately, it is God who has given us everything that we have, and it is God to whom we should be grateful.

 

In 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, the Apostle Paul goes a step further.  He reminds the people of God that not only should we be grateful for what we have been given, our thankfulness should be demonstrated through our generosity.


Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:

“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever.”

10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

 

Paul has several points that are neatly sewn together.  First, if our mission is to grow the church, then we must be generous in what we plant.  When we garden, we plant seed in proportion to the harvest that we expect in the fall, and our ministry is no different.  If our goal is to bring many people to faith in Jesus Christ, then we must plant seeds toward that end with the same generous abundance as the harvest for which we pray.  But, at the same time, our trust must remain in God as we remember that the God who provides seeds to plant and bread to eat, is the same God who will lead us toward bountiful harvests of both rescued souls and personal righteousness.  We cannot be stingy with the things that God has given to us, we must use them for our mission and ministry, and we must share what we have been given with those in need.

 

And of course, as we consider our success and the gifts that we have been given, we would be foolish to skip over the words of Jesus found in Luke 17:11-19, where we hear this:

 

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

 

Ten men begged for pity, for compassion, for help, and for healing.  They begged that the lives that had been stolen from them by their incurable disease might be given back to them.  And Jesus cures them all of an incurable disease.  And yet, of the ten, only one, and he a foreigner who would have commonly been hated and mocked, only this one man returns to Jesus to gives thanks for the invaluable gift that he had been given.

 

These words of Jesus remind us all that our lives are a gift.  As we celebrate our nation’s Thanksgiving holiday, let us never forget that our success doesn’t belong to us.  Our lives do not belong to us.  Our possessions do not belong to us.  All that we have has been given to us as a gift from God.

 

Let us give thanks to God, and may we always be generous with what we have been given so that our harvest, both for the Kingdom of God, and for our own righteousness, might be equally generous.

 

 

 

 

 

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* 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.

 

Called Over the Top

crazy

Be Outrageous. Be stupid.

Jesus said so.

Your friends are supposed to think that you’re crazy.

Seriously.

If you were here, I mentioned this on Sunday, but it’s worth saying again.  In Matthew (5:38-48) Jesus makes a series of statements that often begin with “You have heard it said, but…” in which he tells his listeners that the conventional wisdom, the ordinary assumptions of daily life, were just plain wrong.  Everyone assumed that the best defense against violence was to fight back, taking an eye for an eye, but Jesus says that the only way to reduce violence is to refuse to participate in it, to “turn the other cheek.”

Most of us have heard that before, but that was just the beginning.  He also says that” if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”  This is extraordinary.  In our litigious, twenty-first century society most of us make two errors in reading this.  First, we incorrectly assume that Jesus means for us to give a shirt to someone who won a lawsuit, but that isn’t it at all.  Jesus said, “If anyone wants to sue you…” so his instruction is to do an end run around the legal system, call it a loss, and just give it to them.  Our second mistake comes from our relative wealth and our expectation of the same on the Biblical story.   But Jesus was talking to people who lived in an entirely different world, most of them probably only owned one coat.  And so, Jesus’ instruction to “hand over your coat” is not only one of generosity, but one that is over-the-top, crazy, and disturbingly generous.  This is generosity that expensive and costly, and not just giving that is comfortable and comes from our excess.

Jesus continues, saying “If anyone forces you to walk one mile, go with them two.”  And, while this seems relatively straightforward, most of us still don’t understand the root of his comment.  As I understand the history of it, under Roman occupation, one of the standing rules that the occupied nation lived under, was that if any Roman soldier asked, any citizen had to accompany them for one mile and carry their pack, or whatever else they demanded you to carry.  So remembering that most people really resented the presence of the Roman soldiers in the first place, Jesus is saying that you need treat your enemies and the people you despise, and here it is again, with… disturbing generosity.

Why should we do all this?

Jesus answered that by saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  We are called to behave in these strange, unfamiliar, and unpopular ways because these are the things that God does.  This is how God behaves.  And if we have any desire to be associated with him, to be called “children of God” then we probably ought to act like God does.

But going this far still wasn’t enough.  Jesus pounds the point several more times to make sure that we really begin to understand just how crazy we’re supposed to be.  Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”  That’s pretty plain, but if you need a modern translation, here it is.

It doesn’t impress anyone that your love is “just as good” as the tax collectors, or that you are “just as loving” as everyone else.  Being “just like everyone else” means that you are no different than everyone else and that your faith is no better than their lack of faith.  The followers of Jesus Christ have been called to be different; we are called to a higher standard.  Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

So get out there.  Go out into your neighborhoods, and your places of business.  Be willing to take a loss.  Go out into the world and be extravagantly, disturbingly, generous even when it is costly to you.  Be so generous that people think you’re crazy.  Be nice.  But be so nice that everyone thinks that you must be crazy… or stupid… or both.  Be friendly and outgoing.  Be loving.  But your friendliness and your love should be so over the top that it gets people talking about you.

Be outrageous.

Be stupid.

Your friends are supposed to think that you’re crazy.

Remember our goal isn’t to blend in; our goal is to stand out.

Our goal isn’t to be “just like everyone else,” our goal… is to be perfect.

 

 

 

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