What’s in Your Wallet?

What’s in Your Wallet?
February 26, 2020*

(Ash Wednesday)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

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

 

They seem to be everywhere.

 

It seems like you can’t turn on the television, regardless of which network you watch, without seeing one of those commercials from the Capital One credit card people.  Sometimes the spokesperson is Samuel L. Jackson and sometimes it’s Jennifer Garner (who always makes me think of her father in Maverick or The Rockford Files), but no matter who stars in them, they all end with the tag line, “What’s in your wallet?”

 

But, even though the message of Capital One has nothing at all to do with the church, as I read the scriptures for Ash Wednesday, I was reminded of their commercials because, in a lot of ways, that is exactly the question that Jesus, and the Apostle Paul are asking us.

 

We begin as Jesus challenges his followers to do good, not just for the sake of doing good, but to do good for the right reasons in Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.

 

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.

At its core, what Jesus is asking us is, “What’s in your wallet?”

Why are you doing the things that you do?  Are you doing good deeds so that your coworkers, your customers, your employers, or the people in town can see you doing good deeds?  Is your motivation for doing good deeds so that you can be well liked, recognized, or honored by someone else?  Do you give gifts to the church and to other charitable organizations for those same reasons?  Are you in church on Sunday morning because being seen in church is good for your image, or for your business, or for some other thing that primarily benefits you and your financial bottom line? 

Jesus knew that the people who were listening to him did all those things and just because our lives are separated from theirs by two thousand years, the motivations of people today aren’t that different.  But Jesus warns against doing those things or allowing your faith to be motivated in those ways.  Instead, we ought to be willing to do good, or to be obedient, or willing to things for the good of God’s kingdom, in total secrecy.  I don’t think that it’s necessary, or even always possible, to do things in secret all the time, but our willingness to do things in secret is a good measurement of whether we are doing them for the right reasons. 

Sure, it’s nice to get be recognized, or even to get your picture in the paper for giving a big gift, but would you have given the gift if you knew that those things wouldn’t happen?  Would you have your feelings hurt if no one recognized you for your gift, or for your hard work?  Our willingness to do things in secret is a gut check to recognize our real motivations.  Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Asking ourselves if we’re willing to do good for God without recognition, is a check to see what’s really in our wallets… and in our hearts.

And just to be certain that God’s real interest is in the condition of our hearts and is not just talking about money, we also should remember the words of the Apostle Paul as he wrote his second letter to the church in Corinth in 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10 where he says:

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’s first imperative is to beg the people of the church to be reconciled to, or to make things right with, God because Jesus, who was without sin, took our sin upon himself so that we could become the righteousness of God.  Paul also encourages them not to wait, but that now is the day of salvation.  And while we are encouraged to get our own lives in order, we are also called to be careful in the way that we live so that we don’t cause others to stumble or hinder anyone else from finding faith and rescue in Jesus.  Instead, because we are servants of God, we commend ourselves…

…wait, I want to explain what that means. 

To “commend ourselves” is not to pat ourselves on the back, and not to praise ourselves, which is the first dictionary definition, but the second dictionary definition means to present ourselves “as suitable for approval or acceptance.”  That means that, rather than saying that this list is why we are great, we are saying that this is a list of the things that have happened to us, and we are willing to offer them as illustrations of how we have lived our lives as an example to others.  Paul then lists many of the terrible things that have happened to him in his ministry in hopes that, after seeing his example, others would recognize, honor, appreciate, and accept his ministry as genuine.

In other words, Paul lived, so that his entire life was an example of God’s grace, power, and ministry.  And if I were to put that another way, I could say that Paul lived so no one ever had to ask what was in his wallet.  You could always see for yourself just by looking at how he lived his life.

Which brings us back to the same question we asked before: Why are you doing the things that you do?

Lent is a time for us to take a hard look at ourselves in the mirror and check our motivations.

Are your motivations for doing the things you do selfish?  Or righteous? 

Are you doing good because it’s good for you?  Or because it’s good for God?

What’s in your wallet?

 

 

 

 


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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.

Motives and Goals

Motives and Goals


April 07, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 43:16-21                      John 12:1-8                Philippians 3:4b-14

 

What are your goals?

We have all kinds of goals.  We have life goals, we have career goals, every year at charge conference time we set aside time to talk about church goals – and we’ve set some fairly ambitious one this year – and sometimes our only goal is to make it through the week until Friday or just to make it through the day that we’re having.

When we were kids, our goals were to be movie stars, or fire fighters, or to be like Evel Knievel, or Clint Eastwood.  As we got older, we started to think about what major field of study we wanted to pursue in college, or what trade school or other training that we wanted to have.  Still later, we thought about getting married and starting a family, buying a house, relocating because of a job, and all sorts of other things.  Some of our goals change as we grow, mature, and develop and others stay the same.  Without thinking about it, many of us have set goals to stay in love with our spouses and families, to stay in touch with the people that we care about, to save for retirement, to leave the planet a better place for our grandchildren, and maybe even leave a little something behind for our family members, and for the causes, that we care about when we die.

But goals are not always noble.  Sometimes people’s goals are simply to get rich, to be more powerful, to be like the prodigal son and spend themselves in the pleasures of the world and “wild living.”  Those goals and motives can be dangerous for the people that have them as well as for the people around them.  It’s easy to be hurt by someone whose motivation has nothing to do with compassion and everything to do with getting ahead, climbing the ladder of success, and “looking out for number one.”  And we’ve all probably lost count of the number of Hollywood stars and starlets, politicians, rock stars, and others who overdosed, or otherwise flamed out because of the excesses that they pursued.

So, what goals should we set?  Is there such a thing as a spiritual goal?  Sure, there is. 

And so, we begin this morning in Isaiah 43:16-21, where God begins by reminding the people of his resume so that they will remember his character, his heart, compassion, and love for his people.

16 This is what the Lord says—
    he who made a way through the sea,
    a path through the mighty waters,
17 who drew out the chariots and horses,
    the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
    extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
18 “Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.
20 The wild animals honor me,
    the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
21     the people I formed for myself
    that they may proclaim my praise.

These first few verses are simply God reminding the people of Israel who he is and what he has done for them, but once he reminds them of where they once were, God tells them that they need to lay aside the past so that they can be prepared to accept the future.  God declares that even though the people were familiar with thirst after living in the desert wilderness for forty years, God is the god who creates streams in the desert and provides water for his people to drink.  God makes it clear that his motives are simply the love and compassion that he has for his people.

And then in John 12:1-8, we hear a story that is familiar, but if we pay attention, we can see that everything in it revolves around the motives of the characters in it:

12:1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

There is a stark contrast between the motives of Mary and the motives of Judas in this story.  I spoke more extensively about their motives this past Monday at the Lenten luncheon at Vine Street United Methodist Church, in my message “Extravagant Motives,” but for today I just want to point out that although Judas was the one to protest, Mary probably shocked everyone in the room when she poured out what, in the twenty-first century United States, would be about $55,000 worth of perfume onto Jesus’ feet.  Judas, of course, only wanted his piece of the pie.  He complained about how many poor people they could feed with that kind of money, but what he really wanted was to dip his hand into the money bag and get some of that for himself.  Judas’ motivation was “looking out for number one.”  But Mary is held up as a role model for all of us who would follow Jesus because her only motivation was her love for Jesus and her desire to honor him.

And then in his letter to the church in Philippi (Philippians 3:4b-14), the Apostle Paul writes in a way that is similar to what we heard in Isaiah.  Paul begins by discussing his credentials or his resume, and then proceeds to throw it all away and start over.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Paul says that he has every reason to be proud of who he is.  He was born into the right family, knew all the right people, followed all the right religious and doctrinal requirements, rigorously followed all the laws of God as dictated by the strict rules of the Pharisees, and, as far as anyone can testify, he lived, in every way, in compliance with God’s law.

But that wasn’t enough.

Paul declares that his motives and his goals are at the core of what he is doing.  From the very beginning, even as a Pharisee, Paul has always been motivated by a desire to honor God and do what was right and that motivation didn’t change after he met Jesus.  While his goals changed because of his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus, his motives remained the same. 

But, once Paul met Jesus, everything on his resume, and all of the things that he once thought to be important, he now considers to be a loss to him, these things that were once important are now useless, in fact, the Greek word that Paul uses for “garbage” (sku-ba-lon) was rarely used in the ancient world and seems only to be used for effect and shock value much as we might use the profane word for poop, but this was the word that was used for the vilest of stinking, excrement filled, cast-off garbage in the downhill garbage pit of the city where the sewers emptied out which was also the place where the remains of sacrificial animals and butcher store leftovers were thrown.  Compared to the immense value of Jesus Christ, Paul says that everything that he once held to be valuable was now left behind as something that was utterly disgusting and despicable.

Paul knew that everything that he once held dear, was totally unable to save him and only through faith in Jesus Christ, and the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ, was able to offer him anything of value.  With that in mind, Paul’s new goal was to become more and more like Jesus.  He freely admitted that he wasn’t there yet, he was still far from perfect, but his goal was to press on, straining toward what was ahead and leaving behind everything that was past so that he could reach the prize that was only to be found in Jesus Christ.

Paul was like most of the people in the twenty first century world around us.  He had tried getting ahead, climbing the ladder of success, and “looking out for number one.”  Paul had been born in to the right family, knew all the right people, followed all the laws, played by the strict rules of the Pharisees, and lived, in every way, in compliance with God’s law.  But none of that was enough. 

None of that was enough.

Once he met Jesus, he considered all of his accomplishments to be of no more value than the piles of crap and rotting carcasses in the garbage dump.

Once Paul met him on the road to Damascus, the only thing that made any sense was the goal of becoming like Jesus.  And that one goal drove absolutely everything that Paul did for the rest of his entire life. 

What did you say were your goals again?

Let us, together, press on toward the goal of Jesus Christ.  Let us forget what is behind us, and strain toward what is ahead.  Let us press on toward the goal, to win the prize, for which God has called us heavenward in Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

 


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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.

Extravagant Motives

Extravagant Motives

Monday Lenten Luncheon

Vine Street UMC

April 01, 2019

 

If you watch any of the crime dramas on television, and I mean any of the crime dramas, anything from Perry Mason, to Murder She Wrote, to NCIS Los Angeles or Evening Shade, one of the things that you often hear about is “motive.”  Characters often ask, as real law enforcement officers do, “What motive did that person have?”  What reason did they have for committing a crime, what motivation would they have for doing such a thing?  But crimes aren’t the only thing that requires motivation.  Some days we spend more time on the couch than we probably should, simply because we can’t seem to find the motivation to do anything different.  We put off filling out our tax forms until the deadline unless we think we’re getting money back, we procrastinate cleaning the house until it annoys us or until we know that we have guests coming over.  Just about everything we do has motive assigned to it.  We go to work because we need to make some money because we like to have a warm place to live and food to eat.  We eat cookies, because, hey, this isn’t hard, we eat cookies because they taste good.

But sometimes we need to look at what motivates our spiritual lives as well.  That’s a big part of the story that we hear in John 12:1-8, as Jesus shares a meal at his friend Lazarus’ house:

12:1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Jesus arrives in Bethany and stops in the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha.  John, and probably everyone else, notices that Lazarus is the guy that used to be dead.  It’s almost funny, but you must admit, even today that’s the sort of thing that people would talk about.  “Look, Fred!  That’s the guy I told you about.  He’s the one that woke up at the cemetery and climbed out of the casket, three days after the funeral!”

But anyway, between Jesus and Lazarus, this was probably a prominent and well discussed (gossiped) event.  But during the dinner, Mary comes into the room, walks over to where Jesus was reclining (remember that it was traditional at that time to eat in a reclining position, much like sitting in a beach lounger), broke open a bottle of expensive perfume, and poured it over Jesus’s feet.  As you can imagine, the entire house was filled with the smell.  Just imagine if you poured out an entire bottle of Chanel No. 5.  A little dab smells nice, but a whole bottle would almost certainly be overpowering.

There are many ways to interpret what Mary did, and why she did it.  It can be interpreted as symbolic of burial as well as an anointing and consecration to royal service.  But I don’t want to dwell on what it meant today, instead I want to point out that Jesus highlights Mary’s motives as a stark contrast to Judas’ protests about the expense.  Jesus says, “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”  Essentially, Jesus is saying, I think, honoring God, at the right time, and for the right motives, is an important value.  There was a limited time to honor Jesus while he was on earth, and Mary chose to do so while he was living rather than save that expensive perfume for his burial.

Chale No. 5But let’s also look at the motivations of Judas.  John calls him a thief whose greed caused him to want that money in his purse, and I think we should take his word for that, but even if he wasn’t, most of us would have been shocked at the extravagance of what Mary did, and I’m certain that many others, besides, Judas, were just as shocked.  Scripture tells us that the perfume that she poured out was worth 300 denarii, or since a day’s wage was one denarius, that’s about a year’s wages for an average laborer.  If we do that same math if modern American economics, we discover that in 2015, the average wage for an average American worker, was $56,516.  Can you imagine how you would feel if you watched someone pour fifty or sixty thousand dollars’ worth of Chanel No. 5 onto the floor?  Even though we may not be thieves, I think that many of us, despite our love for Jesus, would be just as shocked as Judas was.

It’s a difficult thing to compare these two attitudes, the extravagance of Mary and the greed of Judas.  But the comparison comes down to the motives of these two people.  Mary was motivated by her love for Jesus and her desire to honor him in the best way that she could.  Judas’ motives were to honor himself and to put some of that money in his own pocket.

And, as we think about these two people, and as we reflect on their motives, it reminds us that we often need to reflect on our own motives in much the same way.  Honoring God is an important value, but when do we cross a line from honoring God to honoring ourselves?

When we build church buildings, and I admit Christ Church is an enormous and incredibly beautiful building, are we building them to honor God or to honor ourselves?  Do we want to impress people with the awesomeness of God, or are we trying to impress them that we are the ones who attend church in that awesome building?  And what about us personally?  Are we getting dressed up on Sunday morning to honor God in his house or to impress other people?  Do we attend church to worship God, or are we there to “see and be seen,” to network with other local business people, and to make sure that the people in our community see us going to church because it’s good for business or good for our reputation?  Are we putting money in the offering plate because of our love for God or because we’re trying to impress someone?  But, at the same time, if our motivation is that we are truly trying to honor God, are we being extravagant enough?

As we move through this season of Lent and come ever closer to the resurrection and the celebration of Easter, let us look deep inside of our selves and consider our own motives.  Just who am I trying to impress?  Does my life honor God?  Does my giving honor God?  And do I honor God with…

…extravagance?

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Vine Street 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.