Choose What is Better

“Choose What is Better”

July 17, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 10:38-42                   Colossians 1:15-23                     Amos 8:1-12

 

Which would you choose, three quarters or a $1 bill?

There’s a joke about a local barber that liked to make fun of one of the neighborhood kids.  “That kid is so stupid,” he would say.  And later, as the boy walked by, the barber would get the attention of everyone in his shop, call to the boy and offer him a choice, a choice between three shiny new quarters or a crisp new $1 bill. Just as the barber had predicted, the boy chose the three quarters and walked away while everyone laughed at him.  The next day one of the customers saw the boy on the street and asked him, “Why did you choose the three quarters instead of the dollar bill?”  At which the boy smiled and said, “Because I can get three quarters from that guy two or three times every week, but as soon as I pick the dollar bill, the game is over.”

Our lives are full of choices.  We make thousands of choices every day whether we realize it or not.

Get up or stay in bed?  Paper or plastic? Democrat or Republican? Television, radio, or internet?  Ford, Chevy, or an import?  Union or non-union?  Soup or Salad?  Exercise or dessert?  Pain or pleasure? Regular or high-test?

But every day we also get to choose between things like spending time with God or spending that time watching television.  Should we spend time reading scripture, or spend it reading the latest pulp fiction novel?

Having choices is nothing new, and in Amos 8:1-12, God outlines his grievances against Israel, many of which were because of the poor choices that God’s people had made.

This is what the Sovereign Lord showed me: a basket of ripe fruit.“What do you see, Amos?” he asked.

“A basket of ripe fruit,” I answered.

Then the Lord said to me, “The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.

“In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “the songs in the temple will turn to wailing. Many, many bodies—flung everywhere! Silence!”

Hear this, you who trample the needy
and do away with the poor of the land,

saying,

“When will the New Moon be over
that we may sell grain,
and the Sabbath be ended
that we may market wheat?”—
skimping on the measure,
boosting the price
and cheating with dishonest scales,
buying the poor with silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
selling even the sweepings with the wheat.

The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.

“Will not the land tremble for this,
and all who live in it mourn?
The whole land will rise like the Nile;
it will be stirred up and then sink
like the river of Egypt.

“In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord,

“I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight.
10 I will turn your religious festivals into mourning
and all your singing into weeping.
I will make all of you wear sackcloth
and shave your heads.
I will make that time like mourning for an only son
and the end of it like a bitter day.

11 “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
“when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.
12 People will stagger from sea to sea
and wander from north to east,
searching for the word of the Lord,
but they will not find it.

God’s principle accusation against the people of Israel is that they are abusing the poor saying that they “trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land.”  They observe the Sabbath and other holy days, but only grudgingly, and they wait impatiently for them to be over so that they can start selling things and making money again.  And when they do reopen, they cheat on the measurement, overcharge their customers, use rigged scales, and cheat any way they can think of including selling the stuff that they swept up off the floor.  They go out of their way to rip off the poor, even buying their slavery when their debt is no more than the cost of a pair of sandals.

Every day we have choices to make.  In the time of Amos, the people chose poorly.

And God says, “I will never forget anything they have done.”

For their love of money, and their offenses committed against the poor, God says that he will rise up and overwhelm them like the Nile floods the land every spring.  Destruction and agony will come to Israel because they only cared for themselves.  And worse, God will bring about a spiritual famine in which people will seek God, seek God’s words, and search out wisdom, but no one will be able to find it.

But there is another way.

In Colossians 1:15-23, Paul reminds us of how our relationship with God has changed.

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Paul reminds us that there was a time when each of us was an enemy of God because of the things that we did.  But now our lives have been turned around, we are forgiven for the ways that we disobeyed and offended God, and our relationship with God has been repaired because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Jesus intends to present us to God as perfect and holy… if we continue in faith and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.

Every day we have choices to make.  And even though we have chosen to come to faith in Jesus Christ, our choices today still make a difference.  We have chosen to follow Jesus, but our daily choices can still be choices to do things that can move us away from God and can destroy our relationship with him.

And so, as we move forward, we must remember the words of Jesus in Luke 10:38-42.

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Martha gets a bad rap for being bothered by her sister’s behavior.  Jesus comes to her house with twenty of thirty guests.  People are packed into the room and overflowing into the next so that they can hear Jesus teach.  And, being a good host, Martha is in the kitchen with her friends and neighbors and whatever help that she can get, trying to make food, and fetch water from the well, and find bedrolls, and whatever else she can think of to make Jesus and his friends comfortable.  But while she is slaving away, she discovers that he own sister, Mary, her absolute best friend and right hand helper, is nowhere to be found.  Instead of helping, Mary is sitting on her behind, listening to Jesus.  But when Martha complains, Jesus explains that Mary had a choice between working in the kitchen and sitting in the living room.  Both of these things were important and either choice was a good and worthwhile choice.  But by listening to Jesus, Mary has chosen what is better.

That little kid knew that even though the men in the barbershop would laugh at him, taking three quarters was a better choice because he could sucker the barber for three more quarters every few days.

The people of Israel chose money and wealth over compassion, mercy, and obedience to God.

Jesus had a choice, and he chose to die in our place so that we could be rescued from death.

Mary had a choice between two options that were both good and important, but knew that listening to Jesus was the better choice.

Every day our lives are filled with choices.  Choices to spend time with God, read scripture, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to love mercy, to pray for others, to love our neighbors, and many other things.

Let us always remember that Jesus has called us to…

…choose what is better.

 

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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 athttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Why Study Poverty?

urban-povertyWe all think we know what poverty is.

Almost all of us are wrong.

In August, Trinity Church will host Dr. Ken Price as he presents a one day seminar called Bridges Out of Poverty.  I’m certain that many people think that this is unnecessary and until a few years ago, I was one of them.

We all think that we know what poverty is, what it means to be poor, and many of us think that we have to solution to how poor people can get back on their feet again.  We think that poor people just need to work harder, or sign up for this or that government program, or get more education, or stop making foolish choices.

These thoughts are almost always wrong.

Poverty is much more complicated.  In fact, there are a great many forces that (unintentionally) work together to trap people in poverty and prevent very logical solutions from being successful.  These forces also prevent those people who are most in need from working harder, getting education, or doing many of the things that ought to lift them up to the next level.

As a church, both locally and nationally, we try to provide assistance to the poor but very often our best efforts are unsuccessful and we struggle to understand why.  We thought that we did all the right things, but the people didn’t come, or the help that we offered didn’t work when we thought that it should.

More often than not, the failure isn’t one of planning, or effort, or budgets but a much more fundamental failure to understand the complexity of the problem.  Moreover, these failures are not unique to the church but the same mistakes are often made by school systems, businesses, local, state and federal governments, and many others.

In order to be good stewards of our gifts, talents, abilities, time and money we should do our best to understand the problem before we set out to fix it.  And that is exactly why I invited Dr. Price to come here and why we are offering the Bridges Out of Poverty seminar.  This seminar was originally designed to teach school teachers so that they could better understand the students (and their families) that lived in poverty but it quickly grew beyond that.  It is regularly taught in businesses, social service agencies, charitable organizations, churches and other groups that work with, or seek to help, people in poverty.

I hope that you will join me, and Dr. Ken Price, on Saturday August 27th as we learn the hidden “rules” that govern the lives of the poor, why the poor can’t get the services that you take for granted, and many other ways in which our own culture and basic assumptions set us up for failure when we try to help.  This seminar is not free.  Participants will each get a course book, and we will be serving lunch, but if you would like to attend and the cost is a problem for you, please talk to me.  I don’t want anyone to miss this because they can’t afford it.

I look forward to seeing you there.