Investing, Fraud, and Weakness
July 26, 2020*
By Pastor John Partridge
Genesis 29:15-28 Romans 8:26-39 Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Have you ever been ripped off?
Have you ever gotten home before you figured out that someone gave you the wrong change?
Have you paid for something that turned out to be a lot less than what was advertised?
But what if you spent seven years of your life investing in your future, and suddenly discovered that your broker had taken your money? Or of you bought a house and, after you took out a mortgage, and the closing was signed, they gave you the keys to different house? Or, the car dealer gave you an uglier car than the one you paid for? You get the idea. This fraudulent tactic has been used so often over the years that it has a name, bait and switch, and is specifically illegal in most states.
And this only gives us a taste of the anger and betrayal that Jacob must have felt when his uncle, a beloved family member, robbed him of seven years of his life. We read that story of love and betrayal in Genesis 29:15-28.
After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month, 15 Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”
16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. 18 Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”
19 Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.
21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.”
22 So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23 But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. 24 And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant.
25 When morning came, there was Leah! So, Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”
26 Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. 27 Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”
28 And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. 29 Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. 30 Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.
Jacob invested seven years of his life working, and waiting, for the love of his life. He loved Rachael so much that seven years of his life seemed to fly past. Can you imagine? Most people today can barely imagine an engagement that lasts for more than six months. I’ve known a few people who waited a year or two so that they could wait in line for the specific venue that they wanted for their perfect storybook wedding, but can you imagine waiting, and investing seven years’ worth of your labor, for the woman of your dreams? And then, on the day after your wedding, discovering that the woman you married, isn’t the woman that you wanted? And to make matters worse, even though you finally get the one you want, you end up working another seven years to pay for the wedding.
Jacob had to have been beside himself with fury, anger, and frustration. Sure, Laban tried to explain it all away by saying that it was customary to marry the eldest daughter first. But regardless, this still must be one of the most well-known cases of bait and switch in the history of fraud and bad deals. Not surprisingly, after this moment, despite being his father-in-law, Laban is no longer a beloved member of Jacob’s extended family. After this, Jacob begins to plan his departure as well as how he will take as much of Laban’s wealth with him as he can when he leaves.
Clearly, this is a story about fraud, betrayal, and bad investing (although, in the end, Jacob did get to marry the woman of his dreams). But it serves as a contrast to the investments that we make in the kingdom of God. In Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 Jesus tells several parables that all connect to the value of faith, and the value of investing in God’s kingdom, along with a warning or two.
31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.
“Yes,” they replied.
52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
Jesus explains that joining the kingdom can be thought of in a transactional sense. We are buying into the philosophy, understanding, habits, and values of the people of God and when we buy in, we spend ourselves, we spend our time and effort in new ways and in new places that are, or at least should be, less focused on self, and focused instead on the good of the kingdom. But that investment brings returns. Jesus compares it to planting a mustard seed, which is tiny and not much bigger than a grain of table salt. But that tiny seed grows into a plant that can be the size of a tree. If you’ve ever baked bread, you know that it doesn’t take much yeast to bake a lot of bread. But while only a little bit of yeast is needed for many pounds of flour and other ingredients, those ingredients won’t make bread without it. Some treasure, Jesus says, is so valuable, that even if we sell all that we possess to buy it, we still come out far ahead of where we were before. Imagine selling everything you had to buy a million-dollar home, because you knew that there was a hundred-million-dollar treasure buried underneath. That’s the picture that Jesus paints for us as we struggle to understand the value of our membership and participation in the kingdom of God.
But there’s a warning in this message as well. Jesus says that just as fishermen sort through their catch to save the good and valuable fish, and throw back the worthless ones, this same sort of thing will happen in God’s kingdom. At the end of time, the people of the earth will be sorted. The good and valuable people will be saved, and the worthless and evil ones will be thrown into the fire.
But, while that all makes sense on one level, on another level when we hear stories about judgement we begin to worry that we’re going to spend our entire lives trying to get things right, and trying to invest in the right things, and trying to follow the teachings of Jesus, and still get it wrong and end up on the wrong side of the judgement. But our fears on that account are unfounded because that’s not the way that it works. As long as we are genuine in our faith, and are trying our best and are not just selfishly ignoring God’s instructions whenever it is inconvenient, then God will not only walk with us on our journey, but will help us to make better decisions and support us when our human strength fails. This is how Paul explains it in Romans 8:26-39:
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
When we feel beaten down, emotionally, and physically worn out, destroyed, drained, and helpless, Paul reminds us that a part of the package that came with our investment in the kingdom of God is that we are never alone. We are never alone with our grief, never alone with our pain, or our fear, our suffering, our struggles, or our weakness. When we struggle, or when we are weak, worn down, and exhausted, whenever we reach the end of ourselves, the Spirit of God is there to help us. Even when we are distraught, confused, and in such emotional turmoil that we can’t even express ourselves in words, our groans, our weeping, and our tears, are translated by the Spirit and lifted to God as prayers for us and those we love. We may not have the words, but God hears our cries, and understands.
But not only does God understand our pain, God is constantly working for the good of his people. God has not only called us to follow him, but he is shaping us, and molding us, into the image of his Son, Jesus so that we might become like him. No matter what enemy, beast, bully, person, pandemic, power, or politician stand against us, God is on our side. And if God is on your side, there is nothing else that you need to worry about. No matter what accusations might be thrown against us, God is the final judge. It is God who, through his Son, Jesus Christ, redeemed the world, and it is Jesus who speaks to God on our behalf. No one, no trouble, no hardship, no persecution, famine, poverty, danger, or violence can ever separate us from the love of Jesus Christ. No one.
No matter what we face, because we stand with God, we are conquerors through him, and through his love for us.
Our bargain with God is not the fraudulent kind of bait and switch deal that Laban made with Jacob.
We needn’t worry that we will spend decades investing in our eternal future only to have God betray us and pull the rug out from under us.
Jesus’ parables help us to understand that even if we choose to see our relationship in a transactional sense, and it is far more than that, that transaction is an incredible bargain. What we get, in exchange for “buying in” to the philosophy, understanding, habits, and values of the people of God, is far more that we could ever ask, or imagine. Our return on investment, if you will, is many hundreds, thousands, or millions of times greater than anything we could ever do, or spend, in return.
God is always for us.
God is always with us.
God is always working toward what is best for us.
God is always shaping us to become more than we are, and more like Jesus.
And because we are justified by God, through his son Jesus Christ, we have no fear of fraud or bait and switch and no fear of God’s judgment. We need not even fear our own weakness.
Because of our investment in the kingdom of God, we are more than conquerors.
And nothing in all of creation, can separate us from the love of God, in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Have a great week everybody.
You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/NOnfHIyrLBc
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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.