Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Message and the Mission

Brrr, it has been a cold one this weekend. But the sanctuary was filled with warm hearted souls who braved the cold to be here for our first Sunday in 2010. Pastor Shannon greeted us with enthusiasm and took time to cover a few key announcements before inaugurating the worship service with his customary greeting, "The Lord be with you." He also indicated that the new series he is entering into this next few weeks will be lessons on money.

There will be no Sunday School or confirmation next week.

Darlene's introit was a spirited rendition of All Creatures of Our God and King, thoroughly appreciated. Chuck then led us in several hymns and songs as we joined in worship. After the offering, Ryan gave the Scripture reading from Isa 60:1-6 and Ephesians 3:1-12 and our sermon followed.

The Message and the Mission
Brad began by having Brooke project a new blue Mustang GT Coupe on the screen. "How do you like my new ride? It's got a little bling bling, doesn't it? 550 horsepower... 0-60 in a blinding 3.5 seconds, top speed 205 mph. Just what a pastor needs to unwind on a gentle Sunday afternoon." Tongue was firmly planted in cheek here as he described more details about this hot $175,000 car and warmed to his theme, our American "umption for consumption."

Brad pointed out that 2005 was the first year Americans spent more than they make since the bottom of the Great Depression. In addition, despite our propensity for debt, we receive more than 3 billion credit card offers a year. Purportedly more people declared bankruptcy than graduated from college.

In short, the desire to acquire is wreaking havoc on our souls, which is why Jesus so frequently addresses this issue. 16 of His 38 parables deal with possessions and money. And the quantity of Bible verses dealing with finances is quite extensive. There are perhaps 500 verses dealing with prayer and 500 verses on the subject of faith, but over a thousand verses on money.

This week Brad focused on the parable in Luke 12 regarding a successful entrepreneur.

The Parable of the Rich Fool
13Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me."
14Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" 15Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."

16And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'

18"Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." '

20"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'

21"This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."

It's a familiar passage, but as usual Pastor Brad extracted new insights from it. The context is set out in verse one where Luke tells us that many thousands had gathered. This section opens with someone in the crowd shouting to Jesus to intervene in a matter regarding an inheritance. Brad quipped, "Where there's a will there's a relative."

Jesus went on to say be on your guard against greed. Life does not consist of the abundance of possessions we accumulate. He doesn't say possessions are bad in and of themselves, but Jesus indicates that you won't find life in them. Greed is not bad because of what a thing costs, but because of what it costs you. He then goes on to tell the story of a certain rich man who had awesome success in his business endeavors. (Brad told this story with his characteristically entertaining modernization to give it a present day relevance.)

The parable ends with God saying, "You fool!" But what was his fatal flaw. There were other wealthy people in Scripture whom God did not denounce. Men like Solomon and Abraham were favored with wealth. And was it bad to build bigger barns since his yields were more than he could properly store? Brad said no, this was not it.

The failure, Brad noted, was that the man had lived without thinking about God. Jesus did not criticize the wealth, but rather the absence of thought for God.

Brad highlighted three areas where we tend to use wealth incorrectly: to validate our self-worth, for a sense of security, and for satisfaction.

Many there are who validate themselves with bling, whether by having the latest iPod, or most fashionable car. They buy into the notion that unless I have this or that, I'm a nobody. If I'm going to be a somebody, I gotta have this. Money and things become a method for keeping score regarding our accomplishments.

How do we properly value ourselves then? Our value was affirmed at the Cross where God sent His son to die for you and me. Each of us is worth the death and blood of the Son of God. God established our value forever at Calvary on Good Friday. More money will never increase our worth.

Nor does money equate with security. In the end we all die. No amount of money can keep us from this ultimate fate.

Brad told a pair of pointed stories to illustrate this thought. Our security is in heaven. Thieves can steal our stuff, moths can eat our garments, but our giving has eternal value. The problem with this man in the parable is that he never stopped to ask, "How much can my wealth be leveraged to help others?"

The third shortcoming of wealth is that it really doesn't satisfy our souls. The Rolling Stones' "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" has been a theme in this country for more than four decades. Are affluent people really more satisfied? Look at Howard Hughes, the successful financier and businessman who lived many years as a recluse, paranoid about germs and disease, with needle marks in his arms and legs from addictions, rotting teeth, living in a self-made prison. Despite his wealth he never even had a proper will and died like a man in poverty.

Brad recalled for us the plane crash that killed JFK Jr., citing that it was probably caused by spacial disorientation where you can't tell whether you are climbing or plunging while in flight. Spacial disorientation is a confusion of the brain where you think you know where you are but you're not.

So it is with us that money and "things" can cause us to get spacial disorientation so we're flying upside down. Jesus' parable is intended to help us get right side up so we gain not only a sense of self-worth, but also our sense of security and satisfaction. Life does not consist of the abundance of possessions. Sometimes, we just need a little time and space to get re-calibrated.

After the message we shared in the celebration of Communion, proclaiming Jesus as our Lord, our self-worth, our security and our satisfaction.

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