Faithful Stewardship

Андрей Николаевич Миронов (A.N. Mironov), CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Synopsis: Like the dishonest manager, the Christian church has squandered the master’s wealth to enrich themselves instead of engaging in proper stewardship by helping those in need. We corrupt stewards deserve to be dismissed, so we need to act fast to make friends by using those hoarded riches to identify and help those in need.

Click here to listen to an audio of this sermon.

Scripture: Luke 16:1-13

I’d like to begin today’s sermon with a pertinent story from Reader’s Digest. A traveler, between flights at an airport, went to a lounge and bought a small package of cookies. Then she sat down and began reading a newspaper. Gradually, she became aware of a rustling noise. From behind her paper, she was flabbergasted to see a neatly dressed man helping himself to her cookies. Not wanting to make a scene, she leaned over and took a cookie herself.

A minute or two passed, and then came more rustling. He was helping himself to another cookie! After a while they came to the end of the package with one cookie left, but she was so angry, she didn’t dare allow herself to say anything. Then, as if to add insult to injury, the man broke the remaining cookie in two, pushed half across to her, ate the other half, and left.

Still fuming sometime later when her flight was announced, the woman opened her handbag to get her ticket. To her shock and embarrassment, there she found her package of unopened cookies!

This story illustrates perfectly the problem we have with sharing. Just as the traveler believed those cookies were hers, we are often of the mindset that what we have is “ours,” and we don’t want to share with others what is “ours.” But it isn’t really ours. It belongs to God, who so graciously shares everything with us, and expects us to do the same with the gifts he has given us.

That’s what today’s scripture reading is all about.

The Parable of the Unjust Steward is one of the most perplexing, if not the most perplexing, of the parables of Jesus. It has been approached in many different ways all generating a variety of meanings and messages, which has been quite an embarrassing and humbling experience for Christian scholars.

Although this parable is not found in Matthew or Mark, most scholars agree that this is an authentic parable of Jesus. Perhaps the writers of Matthew and Mark didn’t include it because it is too shocking and confusing. Shocking and confusing his audiences to make a point was one of Jesus’ specialties.

The wealthy master of a large estate finds out that his steward is squandering his wealth, so he fires the steward. Facing poverty, the steward quickly goes to work to save his own neck before anyone finds out that he’s been fired. He ingratiates himself to his master’s clients by reducing their debt.

But the most astonishing thing of all is that, instead of throwing this guy in jail, the master actually praises him for being so shrewd. So, this parable seems to glorify the actions of this corrupt steward, who looks out for himself at the expense of his master. Why is he made out to be a hero?

Some Christian commentators view the wealthy master as the bad guy, accusing the steward unjustly, and the steward as the hero who makes things right. But this parable is not a commentary on the cruelty of ancient slavery. The steward is guilty as charged. He not only mismanaging his master’s goods; he also embezzled them and cheated his master’s clients.

This parable can be best understood within its first-century Jewish context. Back in Jesus’ time, agriculture was big business, and Jesus’ audience would have understood how it worked. The master owned a lot of land, and his clients were tenant farmers, who paid a portion of their harvest in exchange for the use of the land.

The steward’s job would have involved land leasing, collecting produce, keeping records, receiving income, and paying out disbursements. He probably received a salary as well as commission and gratuities from grateful renters for doing them favors. He occupied a powerful position of authority, basically acting as the POA for the master.

Losing his job, the steward will face poverty, but far worse than that in eastern culture is losing face. He will be put to shame. His prospects were dim, and he knew it. When he falls into the ranks of the poor, he would be not be welcomed among other stewards. He also wouldn’t likely be hired in a similar capacity because news of his dismissal would spread, and he wouldn’t have the money to travel someplace far away.

He realized that he needed to make friends fast, so he acted on behalf of the master before anyone knew he had the authority to do so. Under Mosaic Law, it is illegal for a Jew to charge another Jew interest, but that made commercial transactions unprofitable. So, things like interest and managers’ fees were hidden in the bill, which typically showed only a single charge, usually stated in terms of commodities like oil or wheat.

Scholars believe the steward simply removed these hidden charges from the bill. First, he visited an olive tree farmer, who owed the master 100 jugs of oil. Since the olive oil business was very profitable, the steward’s commission and fees were high – a 50% cut – which he removed from the bill.

Next, he visited a wheat farmer. Wheat being not nearly as profitable as oil, the steward removed a smaller cut of 20% from his bill. We can conclude that he continued applying these discounts for many more farmers over the course of the rest of the day.

Some scholars surmise that the discounts could have equaled around $38,000.00. That’s a lot of money even today. So, we can begin to imagine just how wealthy the master was. The actions of the steward cost the master dearly, but he obviously valued the steward’s shrewdness more than the money he lost, which reveals his kind and generous nature.

When we keep in mind the importance of saving face in eastern culture, this parable makes more sense. Both the steward and the master wish to avoid shame. The steward will be loved because of his actions on behalf of the generous master, who has no choice but to play along with what the steward has done if he wants to save face.

We can imagine that the master’s tenet farmers were all rejoicing the master’s generosity across his entire land. Now, imagine if the master went back to them all and said, “Sorry, it was all a mistake. The steward had been fired and therefore the agreements he made with you are null and void.” The tenet farmers would become very angry and curse him for his stinginess.

Instead, the master decides to keep silent, accepting the praise he is being giving while allowing the steward to bask in the favor he has so shrewdly earned. Really, that was his best option. And the master was highly noble; he didn’t appear to be flustered by it. In fact, he was quite impressed.

Now, the clue to the main point of this parable can be found in verse 8, which reads, “for the children of this age are shrewder in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”

What does he mean?

The “children of the light” was what the Essenes called themselves. To them, everyone else was a “child of the darkness.” The Essenes made the people within their communities pledge to hate the children of the darkness and limit interactions with them.

The Essenes also required the members of their community to relinquish all their assets to the community. They called their money the “mammon of righteousness” and all other money the “wealth of unrighteousness.” Financial transactions were forbidden except for simple cash transactions.

Jesus along with many rabbis of the second temple period believed that people were more valuable than money. Financial resources should be put to work for social reform that benefits all. In the pursuit of God kingdom, money should be used to help people, a tool for assisting those in need, not hording it exclusively for oneself or for one’s own community of believers.

But the Essenes created a community of strong sectarian hatred which left no room for charity, a highly-prized Jewish value. In Jesus’ opinion, like the corrupt steward, the Essenes were wasting God’s gifts by hoarding money to enrich themselves. God, our benevolent and just master, would not be pleased.

But what if the Essenes changed their behavior, and started using their wealth to help anyone in need? Then, they’d be behaving properly. Then, the Lord would be pleased because that’s how He expects us to use the resources he has given us. To share His love and make friends.

Life is about investing in relationships.

In verse 10, Jesus says, “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much, and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.” In Judaism, the steward’s dishonest behavior demonstrates the behavior of those who fail to use the gifts God has given them to help those in need.

Jesus and the rabbis rejected Essene separatism and bigotry. They also rejected the Essene doctrine of double-predestination: the idea that God has already determined or predestined both the individuals who would be saved and those who would be eternally damned. Jesus emphasized God’s love for the outsider while their attitude was that everyone outside their circle could “go to hell.”

But there is hope for the Essenes and those like them. This parable also illuminates God’s grace. The parable is funny because the steward outwits the master, but all the people were blessed by his actions, and the master was praised for his noble generosity. The point is that God forgives us, and since God owns everything there is, our generous actions on his behalf doesn’t bankrupt Him at all. It glorifies Him.

Jesus praises the behavior of those who engaged in both business and charity with everyone, calling them the “children of this age.” They did not judge others in the way the Essenes did, separating people into sheep and goats according to their own beliefs, and then using their own judgments to justify treating them with contempt.

Followers of Jesus must reach outside their own communities and self-righteous prejudices. Jesus teaches us through this parable that it is through our non-sectarian interaction with others that we can be made aware of and meet needs, and it is through our non-sectarian generosity that we can win friends, extend God’s grace to others, and glorify Him.

What does this parable have to teach us today?

Well, it’s clear what Jesus is NOT saying. He’s not saying that it is okay to be a con artist or to manipulate events to benefit us at the expense of others. It’s never okay to behave like that even if it’s in the service of God’s Kingdom. Those who use this parable to justify underhanded methods are fooling themselves if they think the Lord approves of such behavior.

In this parable, Jesus compares side-by-side improper and proper use of the resources God has given us. Money is power, and it can be used for evil or for good. Unlike the Essenes, Jesus didn’t view money as something that defiles someone on contact, but he did acknowledge the fact that nothing has the potential to corrupt the heart more than money.

This is why Jesus said, in Matthew 19:24, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.”

Many people are of the mentality that they are “entitled” to do what they want with their resources because they “earned” them – so much so that they would rather let an unused asset rust in the garage rather than giving it away to some less fortunate stranger who could use it.

But that idea is a human one, not God’s. God is our master, and we are the managers on his land. As far as God is concerned, we aren’t “entitled” to anything because we didn’t “earn” anything. Everything we have is His property, which he shares with us. We are expected to share in return.

So, in order to be shrewd in this day and age, we need to be careful how we use money. Are we using it only to enrich ourselves, or are we using to make friends thereby cultivating love, which is the most valuable commodity in the Kingdom of God?

It’s also clear from this parable that Jesus rejected the creation of sectarian communities of wealth. Unfortunately, a lot of Christian churches have become just that. They use their financial resources mostly to help themselves, some of them convinced that this is justified because they are saved and everyone else is going to hell.

Rather than using money to attract people to the church, the Christian church in general has alienated people from the church. Rather than making friends, the Christian church in general has made lots of enemies – both externally and internally. The Christian Church deserves to be dismissed as God’s stewards because we have perpetuated suffering in the world instead of putting an end to it.

So, like the unfaithful steward, the Christian church needs to think fast about our future security. What are we going to do? How are we going to make friends and save face? To answer these questions right and save our necks, we need a completely different mindset from the one that got us into this mess.

In my opinion, we can start by remembering Jesus’ words, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” It is the same with the church. It was meant to serve people, not the other way around.

Life is not about accumulating wealth for ourselves and our small circle; it’s about using our wealth to bring the Kingdom of God to fruition by recognizing and meeting people’s needs. Because in God’s Kingdom, no one is hungry, no one is thirsty, and no one is homeless. There is no suffering or sadness. To use our resources to make this world a reality is what faithful stewardship is all about.

Let’s pray together:

Gracious and loving God, we understand that you call us to be the stewards of Your abundance, the caretakers of all you have entrusted to us. Help us always to use your gifts wisely and teach us to share them generously. May our faithful stewardship bear witness to the love of Christ in our lives. AMEN.

Resources

Inrig, Gary. The Parables: Understanding What Jesus Meant. Our Daily Bread Publishing, Kindle Edition, 1991.

Mueller, Deniray. “Sermon |What are Our Priorities? | Luke 16:1-13.” Saintjohnsworthington.org, 18 Sept. 2016, www.stjohnsworthington.org/priorities-luke-161-13/

“Sermon Illustrations: Stewardship.” thepastor’sworkshop.com, thepastorsworkshop.com/sermon-illustrations-2/sermon-illustrations-stewardship/

Young, Brad H. The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation. Baker Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2012.

Following Jesus Requires … What?

Photo by form PxHere

Synopsis: Christ is our real name. It is our eternal name. It is the name we should love the most. When we love our family, religious, gender, racial, or political name more, we separate ourselves from the Body of Christ.

Scripture: Luke 14:25-33

Click here to listen to an audio of this sermon.

Imagine that I suddenly became a very popular preacher and a huge crowd of people just walked into this church all wanting to become Christians and join this church. You’d all be thrilled, wouldn’t you?

Now, imagine if I would say to them, “Before you all decide to join us, you should know the membership requirements. You must hate your family, and your life, and be willing to face an agonizing death.”

You probably wouldn’t be too happy with me for that less-than-encouraging “welcome” speech. Most if not all of them would most likely turn around and walk right out the door. But that’s essentially the speech Jesus gave the crowd in our scripture reading for today.

A large crowd was following Jesus because was a very popular preacher. People held high expectations of him – mostly political ones. Maybe they wanted to fight in the revolt they thought he was starting. Maybe they wanted to be a member of the court they thought he would establish as king. Or maybe they were just groupies who wanted to get to know the famous guy.

Jesus knew that most of them were following him for all the wrong reasons. So, he decided to use his powerful way with words to smack them all upside the head.

I’m sure he got their attention. Hearing his words two thousand years ago, the crowd would have been like, “What? Wait a minute … didn’t the prophet Malachi write that the Messiah ‘will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents …?’ And reading them today, we might be like, “What? Didn’t Jesus tell us to love one another – even our enemies?”

The problem with us understanding this passage is with the word “hate.” If your favorite flavor of ice cream is chocolate, and someone buys you a vanilla ice cream cone, chances are you’ll eat it. You’d say, “Thanks!” and you’d enjoy it, but not as much as you would have enjoyed a chocolate ice cream cone.

But if you were from Biblical times, you might say, “I love chocolate, but I hate vanilla. Then, you’d start chowing down on the vanilla cone because it’s not that you despise vanilla. It’s just not your favorite. That’s how the word “hate” is used in the Bible.

For example, in Genesis chapter 29, there is the story of Jacob, Rachel, and LAY-ah. Jacob was in love with Rachel, but on his wedding night, Laban tricked him into sleeping with his eldest daughter, LAY-ah. Eventually, Rachel became Jacob’s second wife.

In verses 31, the Lord opened LAY-ah’s womb and left Rachel barren because “the Lord saw that LAY-ah was unloved.” After naming Jacob’s first son Reuben (“behold a son”), LAY-ah said in verse 32, “because the Lord has looked on my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.” After naming her second son Simeon (“listening”), LAY-ah said in verse 33, “because the LORD has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.”

So, in this passage, as in other passages in the Bible that use the word “hate,” its meaning is really “to love less.” So, we can translate “Jacob hated LAY-ah but loved Rachel” to mean “Jacob loved Rachel more than LAY-ah.” We can confidently say that Jacob didn’t despise LAY-ah. If he did, we doubt she would have given birth to his six sons and one daughter.

Jesus is telling the crowd that anyone who loves their family more is not worthy to be his disciple. To understand the full impact of Jesus’ words, we need to understand the role of family in Jewish culture.

In Jesus’ time and culture and in many eastern cultures even to this day, the people exist as a collective unit. They don’t see themselves as individuals. They see themselves as part of an extended family, or clan, and their fate is entirely dependent on the fate of their clan. Their lives revolve around their clan. Their clan is essentially their lifeline.

In these cultures, to shame your family would cost you dearly. It could cause you to be disowned by your immediate family and expelled from your clan. You would then be cut off from any support, which would make life very difficult. It’s doubtful that another clan would even take you in because of the shame you carry with you.

We Americans are strongly individualistic – and capitalist. In our society, industry has taken over much of the support extended families once provided, so it’s not unusual for Americans to shame or even shun their families.

When we introduce ourselves, we typically use our first and last name, but next comes our occupation. In fact, the first question people typically ask us after we tell them our name is, “So – what do you do for a living?”

American identity tends to be wrapped around work more than the family name. Most people identify more with their occupations and businesses, so they don’t worry as much about shaming their families as shaming their employers or shareholders.

So, as Americans, if we’re having a hard time feeling the full impact of Jesus’ words here, imagine him saying, “He who comes to me and does not hate his paycheck, his pension, his profits, his investments, his 401K; yes, and even his retirement plans, is not fit to be my disciple.”

As a Jew, Jesus probably introduced himself by saying, “I am Jeshua bar Joseph of the tribe of Judah.” Whatever Jesus did was a reflection not only on him but also on his parents and on his entire tribe. His honor equaled their honor; his shame – their shame.

Jesus was of the tribe of Judah, and everyone knew that the Messiah was prophesied to come from the tribe of Judah. Everyone from that tribe, including some of the members of Jesus’ immediate family, expected Jesus to glorify them.

But it wasn’t Jesus’ mission to glorify the tribe of Judah. It was his mission to glorify God. Now, we can clearly see that Jesus didn’t despise his family, but that he did “hate” them in a biblical sense by not loving the name of Judah more than the name of Christ.

He expects the same level of commitment from his disciples.

The name of Christ is our real name. It is our eternal name. Our family name and other names we carry such as our religious name, gender name, racial or cultural name, and political name, stick to us for only as long as we walk the earth in this life, and in the context of eternity, that’s the blink of an eye.

If we love any of these worldly names more than the name of Christ, then we’re not following the Lord, and sooner or later, that truth will be made painfully obvious.

Jesus gives the example of a man who proposed to build a tower, but he never counted the cost, so his tower remained unfinished. Rather than bringing him glory, the unfinished tower brings him nothing but shame, a perpetual monument to wasted time and money.

That example was directed toward the people who were following him for fame and fortune. Those who follow the Lord to bring glory and honor to their own name end up ruined and ridiculed.

Jesus gives us another example of a king who goes to war against another king, without calculating whether he has the manpower to win. Because he was sorely outnumbered, he had to surrender, placing himself and his people entirely at the enemy’s mercy because of his foolishness.

That example was directed toward the people who were following him for political power. Those who follow the Lord for political power end up enslaved by our worst enemy, the human ego, and anyone who follow them marches right into slavery with them.

Our scripture reading ends with Jesus saying, “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Most people will interpret this verse literally, that we must give up all our material possession to be the Lord’s disciple. But given the context of the passage, I think he’s taking aim at something bigger than just our material “stuff.”

I think he’s taking aim at our psychological stuff. The names we cling to. Our identity baggage. We need to let go of these “possessions” to be joined with Christ.

What does this scripture reading have to say to us today? Well, we can certainly relate. Since the advent of the Christian church, families have been torn apart because someone chose to love the name of Christ more than their religious name.

In her book Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus, Lois Tverberg tells the story of enjoying a lovely dinner with Christian friends who lived in Jerusalem. They had invited another guest to dinner – a man who was active in their congregation and who looked obviously Jewish.

Lois said to the man, “So, what did your family say when you told them you had become a Christian?” An awkward silence followed, and her friend changed the subject. Later her friend explained that when he told his parents about his faith in Christ, his father “sat shiva” for seven days. This is the ritual Jewish people observe to mourn the death of a loved one. As far as his father was concerned, his son was dead.

The same religious name attachment happens within the Christian faith. I remember Tabatha telling me a story about her childhood. She started attending an after-school church youth group with a friend of hers. Soon, the minister was knocking on the door of her house and asking her parents to join their church.

Now, Tabatha’s parents never went to church, but this incident scared her father so much that he started faithfully taking Tabatha to church – but to the Catholic church – because as far as he was concerned, his family was Catholic, doggonit. God forbid his daughter become a Baptist.

When we love our religious name more than we love the name of Christ, we are not fit to be the Lord’s disciples. But there are many people out there today who do not have a religious name because they are not religious people. There’s no problem with them, right?

Well, I wish religious names were the only names people love more than the name of Christ, but people also love their racial name, and their gender name, and their sexual orientation name, and their political name, and I could go on and on and on.

It’s not that the Lord is excluding these people. Truly, every human being is the Christ wearing a human costume. But when we love other names more, we exclude ourselves. This wrong attitude separates us from the body of Christ. We separate ourselves from love, and that leads us into the enemy’s territory.

It’s a terrible consequence. Many families have been torn apart when a family member loves the name of Christ more than any other name the family holds dear. Any name more beloved than the name of Christ will destroy family unity. It takes the fabric of family unity and tears it into pieces.

At that point, love is gone and animosity takes its place.

Perhaps now, the meaning of Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:34-39 are clear: He said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Names tear the fabric of any unity into pieces. It not only tears into pieces the fabric of a family. It also tears the fabric of a community. The fabric of a nation. The fabric of a world. Jesus came to heal the illusion of separation these names create. He came to remind us of the true name we all share.

Certainly, names are not fundamentally bad. We need them to a certain extent to organize our lives as human beings. The problem is when we love them more than our true name. When we let them tell us who we are instead of letting God tell us who we are.

Jesus was headed for the cross. He was willing to pay a terrible price for the Name of Christ. He wanted the people following him to be fully aware that they would have to carry a cross too. At the top of Jesus’ cross, the soldiers nailed a name: King of the Jews. This was the name Jesus hated, this was the life Jesus hated, and he was willing to face an agonizing death to glorify his True Name.

Thankfully, chances are that we won’t have to face the kind of agonizing physical death Jesus faced, but we must be willing to face a psychological death. Depending on how much we love our other names, it might be agonizing. We can see the agony in the eyes of those who are desperately clinging to their beloved names and defending them at all costs.

We can have compassion for them in their suffering but also gratitude that we are saved from this torment. We have the peace of the Lord because we are willing for the glory of our True Name to nail all our other names at the top of our cross and die to those names.

Let’s pray together:

Lord, we love the name of Christ more than any other name, and we are willing to die to any other name. Give us the courage to stand for the name of Christ in these times and compassion for those who are suffering. AMEN.

Resources

Brown, Jeannine K. “Commentary on Luke 14:25-33.” Workingpreacher.org, 5 Sept. 2010, www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-23-3/commentary-on-luke-1425-33

Deffinbaugh, Bob. “49. How to Hate Your Wife (Luke 14:25-35).” Bible.org, 24 Jun. 2004, bible.org/seriespage/49-how-hate-your-wife-luke-1425-35

McLarty, Phillip W. “Sermon| Luke 14:25-33| How Much Are You Willing to Give?” Sermonwriter.com, sermonwriter.com/sermons/luke-1425-33-how-much-are-you-willing-to-give-mclarty/

Leininger, David E. “The Danger of Discipleship.” Sermonwriter.com. sermonwriter.com/sermons/luke-1425-33-the-danger-of-discipleship-leininger/

How Do We View Our Heavenly Father?

https://openclipart.org/detail/271571/human-characteristics-mercy

Synopsis: In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus showcases three mistaken viewpoints that we can hold about our Heavenly Father and how these bad attitudes cause trouble for us and the entire Family of God.

Scripture: Luke 15: 11-32

Click here to listen to an audio of this sermon.

In writing sermons lately, I noticed that the Parable of the Prodigal Son kept coming to mind. I remembered that I once preached a sermon about this parable called “the Father’s Heart,” so I looked into my sermon archives, and I found it in a folder labeled April 3, 2016. That was a long time ago. I figured Spirit was calling me to revisit this parable.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is my favorite parable. I love it because the three characters in the parable, the father, the prodigal son, and the older son, are so rich. You can focus an entire sermon on either of them.

In my sermon back in 2016, I focused on the father and how through his character, Jesus revealed to his audience what our Heavenly Father is truly like. Our Father’s heart is filled with nothing but compassion and unconditional love for his children. 

For today’s sermon, I’d like to focus on the two sons, how they view their father, and how these viewpoints caused trouble for them and the rest of the family. But first, let’s review the context of this parable.

Jesus told parables for a specific reason: to make a point. If we ignore the context in which they are told, we can easily miss the point. In the context of this parable, Jesus tells three parables in response to the grumblings of the Pharisees that he “welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Who are these “sinners” coming to listen to Jesus? They are identified in verse 1 as “tax collectors and other sinners.” It’s interesting how tax collectors are grouped with sinners. We don’t like paying taxes in today’s world either, but most of us don’t consider tax collectors “sinners” for simply doing their jobs. In Jesus’ time, however, it was a bit more complicated.

The Jews despised tax collectors. There were several reasons for this. Tax collectors were fellow Jews collecting taxes for the Roman oppressors, so they were considered traitors. Even worse, they often collected more taxes than was owed and pocketed the extra. That scheme made them very wealthy, which the lower-class Jews resented since it was their stolen hard-earned money that made the tax collectors so wealthy.

The Pharisees’ term “other sinners” referred to ordinary non-religious Jews. Religious Jews called them “am h’aretz,” which can be translated as “the people of the land.” Because these non-religious Jews didn’t observe Torah Law, pious Jews like the Pharisees considered them unclean and therefore unworthy of their company.

The Pharisees were people who studied and dutifully observed Torah law, and while the am h’aretz were not “pious” in their observance of Torah Law, they were obviously spiritual people. They wanted to know more about their Heavenly Father; otherwise, they would not have come to listen to Jesus speak.

The parable begins with the younger son asking his father to give him his share of the estate. Many people don’t realize the audacity of this request.  In essence, he’s saying, “You’re not dying fast enough for me dad, so give me my inheritance … now.” Imagine the pain you’d feel if the child you nurtured from birth and dearly love said this to you.

To Jesus’ audience, this would have been a shocking offense – so appalling that many listeners would probably have considered it unforgivable. But the father grants his son’s request, making himself completely vulnerable. His future security is now divided in half. Three days later, half of his security says, “See ya!”

We read that the younger son “gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country.” He probably sold anything he couldn’t take with him – all his fixed assets. The son is making it clear that he intends to sever all ties to his father.

Jesus’ audience would have interpreted the “distant country” as the land of the gentiles. So, the son was not only leaving his father – but also his father’s god – to dwell in a land of pagan values and morals. There, we read that he “squandered his property in dissolute living.”

Bad choices lead to bad consequences, and the ones the young man suffers are pretty rough. Eventually, he runs out of money, and to make matters worse, a famine begins. A local man hires him to feed pigs, a totally degrading job especially for a proud Jew.

Food was so scarce that his employer wouldn’t even let him to eat the pig’s food. I know that seems cruel, but in a famine, a pig is more valuable because it is a source of food.

The Pharisees would have loved for Jesus’ story to end leaving the disobedient son in the pigpen, but Jesus, our great redeemer, couldn’t just leave him there, unredeemed.

So, the young man comes to his senses. He realizes that even his father’s hired men have food to spare, and here he is, starving to death. He probably thought, “How can I go back to my father after what I have done?”

Visions of an angry father danced around in his head: a father angry over his son’s insolence, angry over having to sell all he owned while he still lived, angry over half of his security walking away with his son, angry over the shame of having a son who chose a life of debauchery.

If he were his father, he’d sure feel that way, he figures. He concludes that his father will never accept him back as a son because he has broken the father-son relationship beyond repair. He believes there is no way that his father could ever forgive him for what he has done, so he assumes that his father will accept him back but as nothing more than a hired hand.

He finds out that he doesn’t know his father at all.

Instead of a father repulsed by the sight of him, he discovers a father running toward him, as if he had been searching for him a long time. Instead of an angry and judgmental father, he discovers a father full of compassion and forgiveness.

Unable to comprehend such unconditional love and forgiveness, the son begins his well-rehearsed speech. He doesn’t get to finish his speech because his father interrupts him by ordering his servants to dress him with garments and jewelry that reflect his status – not as a hired hand, but as a son.

To celebrate the return of his son, the father throws a party. The older son hears all the commotion and finds out what’s going on from one of the servants. He then becomes angry and refuses to join the celebration.

So, we have these two sons in this parable: the prodigal son and the older son.

We can probably figure out who they symbolize. The prodigal son is the am h’aretz, the people of the land. They haven’t followed Torah law as meticulously as the Pharisees. Some may have been trying their best to follow as many of them as they could. Others may have not tried at all. Like the prodigal son, they were living lives of debauchery. I’m sure all of them felt not worthy enough to be called children of God.

But there they are, gathered around to hear Jesus. Like the prodigal son, they had come to their senses. They want to return home, but they don’t expect much. They are humble and contrite, and they are warmly received by the Messiah, the Son of God. And through his parable, they learn that they didn’t know their father at all.

The older son is the Pharisees. The older son expected his father to impose some form of punishment on his younger brother. And he felt entitled to some kind of reward for his allegiance to his own father. What did he expect? A longevity payment?

The father, instead of becoming enraged by the older son’s selfishness and disrespect, tries to reason with him: “My son, how can I give you more than everything, and how can I not rejoice and be glad that my son has returned?”

The older son refers to his prodigal brother as “this son of yours” instead of as “my brother.” Obviously, he hates his brother. Why would he hate his brother for coming home? Well, the father welcomed his prodigal brother back with open arms, restored his status as a son, and threw a party for him. What does that say about the older son’s perceived superior status?

What does this parable have to say to us today? I think it says, “Beware of how we view our Heavenly Father.” There are a few different viewpoints revealed in this parable.

At first, the prodigal son viewed his father as someone he could use to satisfy his selfish desires. He knew his father owed him an inheritance, so he demanded it. Then, he walked away with half of the family’s assets, assets that were supposed to be used to support the entire family. He wasted them on pleasures and treasures for himself.

Many Christians view God this way. They believe, “God owes me, so I’m going to demand whatever I want and expect to get it whether it’s His Will or not, and I don’t care who it hurts.” It doesn’t matter if this attitude is preached from a pulpit in a church. It is an attempt to spiritualize greed, and greed hurts the entire family of God.

Like the prodigal son, they will learn that their pursuit of pleasures and treasures does nothing for them but to leave them in a state of spiritual bankruptcy.

After the prodigal son realized he had sinned, he viewed his father as angry and vengeful. Many view God this way also. Like the am h’aretz, some fall away from God because they can’t follow the rules well enough to feel worthy. And some fall away because they’ve done some really bad things – things for which they think they can never be forgiven.

Hopefully, like the prodigal son, they will come to their senses, find the courage to return home, and find out the truth about our Heavenly Father’s compassion and unconditional love.

The older son viewed his father like an employer. Listen to what he said, “‘…For all these years, I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command. He resents his father so much that he feels like nothing more than a slave who follows orders. It’s obvious that he doesn’t really love his father. He just wants to get paid.

He’s the son who is more like a hired hand – but by his own choice because of his bad attitude.

Many Christians with a legalistic faith view God in this way. To them, God is just the CEO of a major corporation, and we’re all just jockeying for positions on the corporate ladder. They don’t know God any better than the prodigals. In fact, their attitude might just be landing them in a place even farther away from God.

Notice that in the parable, the older son never comes to his senses. In the story, Jesus just leaves him there sulking, standing outside looking in, just as the Pharisees were on that day – sulking, because Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

We can say that there is a fourth view of the father that isn’t really portrayed in the parable. But imagine how the prodigal son felt after his father so warmly welcomed him home? Can you imagine the enormity of gratitude the prodigal son felt, and the sincere desire to serve his father because the prodigal son loved him with a pure heart, and he loved his father with a pure heart because his father loved him that way first. As we read in the apostle John’s first epistle, chapter 4, verses 19-21: “We love because he first loved us.”

The prodigal son’s father taught him to feel worthy not because of anything he has done but because of who he is: his beloved child.

How we view our Heavenly Father matters a great deal. When Jesus prayed to God, he used the word “Abba,” which is Aramaic for “father,” but it’s a more intimate term – like our English word, “daddy.”

So, in this parable, Jesus taught us that it is a mistake to view God like a genie in a bottle. God doesn’t give us everything we want. He does give us everything we need to grow in the direction He wants us to grow. If He doesn’t give us something we want, then receiving it will somehow interfere with our soul’s plan.

It is a mistake to view God like an angry, vengeful judge. God is does not judge us or condemn us. He gave us Free Will, so why would he condemn us for using it? We are free to make our own choices and experience their consequences. That is how we learn to master life, and that’s how God designed it.

It is a mistake to view God like an employer. If we have truly accepted Christ into our hearts, then we have Christ to define sin for us. Only those who haven’t accepted the Christ need sin defined because apart from Him, we can’t figure out what sin really is. So, the mind of me deals with that like it deals with everything else it doesn’t know. It pretends to know.

So just like the Pharisees and their “traditions of the elders,” the mind of me makes up sins and ignores real sin. Then it resents God when it doesn’t get the reward it thinks it deserves for “following orders” while violators go unpunished. They stand outside sulking, while their brothers and sisters enjoy the peace, love, and joy that is our inheritance.

The correct perception of God is like a doting daddy. Our Heavenly Father has unlimited compassion and love for us. No matter what we do, God will never stop loving us. In fact, all he wants to do is shower us with presents – with unlimited blessings. That’s why he gave us everything – this entire Creation – to enjoy and share with our brothers and sisters.

God wants us to enjoy life like we would a grand party. In order to do that, we must learn what we need to learn. What is it that we need to learn? We need to learn to love God above all else, to cherish all of life, and to love our brothers and sisters the same way God loves us.

So let us be mindful of how we view our Father so that we can experience the love, peace, and joy God wants for us and set an example for those who are standing outside so that they may choose to view God correctly and join the party.

Let’s pray together: Lord, we are willing to embrace a proper view of Our Heavenly Father. Reveal to us any ways in which our perspective is in error so that we can experience the love, peace, and joy that is our inheritance and help our lost brothers and sisters. AMEN. 

Free Means Free

Attributed to Valentin de Boulogne, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Synopsis: Using the law for the wrong purpose is hazardous to our spiritual health because it nullifies the gospel. Just as the “Judaizers” of Paul’s day required people to follow Torah law before coming to Christ, many Christians undermine both faith and grace by requiring works of those who wish to come to Christ.

Click here to listen to an audio of this sermon.

Scripture reading: Galatians 3: 23-29.

How many of you have ever used something for a purpose other than for that which it was intended? Like using a fork to clean your teeth instead of a toothpick? Or using a knife to open a can instead of a can opener? And how many of you got hurt as a result?

Often, using things for other than their intended purpose can be hazardous to our health. There is a word for using things in ways they were not intended to be used. The word is “abuse.” In our scripture reading for today, Paul discusses the abuse of the law, and how it is hazardous to our spiritual health.

The term “Judaizers” refers to the Jewish Christians who taught that salvation was a mixture of grace through the work of Jesus Christ and human effort through obeying Torah. They believed Gentiles had to become Jewish like them before they could come to Christ. Paul first deals with this false doctrine in Acts chapter 15 when some Judaizers opposed him and Barnabas at the Jerusalem Council, and he strongly condemns it in his letter to the Galatians.

In Galatians 2:21, Paul writes, “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose.” In a nutshell, Paul is stating that anyone who claims salvation isn’t by faith alone is declaring the Lord’s work pointless and God’s grace invalid.

This reminds me of a sad story Tabatha told me about something that happened in her childhood. She gave her old bike to a good friend as a gift. When Tabatha’s mother found out about it, she marched over to her friend’s house and demanded payment for the bike. This alienated her friend, destroyed their friendship, and broke Tabatha’s heart.

I can imagine that is how God feels.

Let’s take a look at the context around our passage. In the first half of chapter 3, Paul explains to the Galatians that Mosaic law could not pronounce a blessing, only a curse, because the law must be followed perfectly, which is something we humans can’t do.

He reminds them that Abraham was justified (or declared righteous) on the basis of his faith, not his works, and it was because of his righteousness that God made a covenant with him recorded in Genesis 12:1-3. In that covenant, God promised Abraham a land, many descendants, and that the entire world would be blessed through him.

Paul reminds his readers that the Mosaic covenant was given through Moses, but God gave the Abrahamic Covenant directly to Abraham 430 years earlier. Therefore, Mosaic law did not replace God’s covenant with Abraham. So then, what was the purpose of Mosaic Law? Why did God add this covenant to his original covenant with Abraham?

And that takes us to our scripture reading for today. Paul explains that we were confined under the law. It kept us under restraint. It was our custodian until Christ came that we may be justified by faith. A custodian is a guardian or protector, but how can it be when Paul also says it’s a curse?

Well, think about how we all feel about rules – especially while growing up. We curse them, but our parents put them in place to guide and protect us. The rules confined us for our own good until we were wise enough to follow them willingly. Until then, we didn’t follow them perfectly, did we? No, we probably tested those rules quite a bit.

I’m reminded of an event that took place while the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness. In Numbers chapter 21, we read that the Israelites were being bitten by snakes. They believed God sent the snakes because they spoke out against Him and Moses saying, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Many Israelites were dying from the snake bites, so God told Moses to create a bronze snake so that anyone who is bitten could look at it and live. Imagine if you were dying from a snake bite, and someone tells you to look at a bronze snake on a pole to be healed. You might think it’s a cruel joke. Some of the Israelites might have thought that too, but to look at it was an act of faith, not works.

Israelites who were bitten by a snake knew they were bitten. They also knew they were dying, so they actively sought healing because they didn’t want to die. That’s how it is when we know there’s something physically wrong with us. We have ways of knowing, such as symptoms and medical technology like x-rays and scans. Once our illness is confirmed, we then seek healing.

When someone is suffering from mental illness, it’s more difficult to identify. There aren’t any physical symptoms or medical technologies to make it obvious. A person is diagnosed with mental illness when their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are out of the range of “normal.” But what is “normal?” We have a book called the “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” to define what’s “normal.”

When someone is spiritually ill, how can that be identified – especially when most people are spiritually ill – more or less? When most people are walking around spiritually ill, and very few are spiritually healthy, the ill ones point at the healthy ones and say, “Something’s wrong with them.”

Many people have been bitten and poisoned by the “snake,” the Mind of Me, but if they don’t know it, they won’t seek healing. If we don’t think we need something, we won’t accept it – even if it’s free. If you say to me, “Here’s a free toaster oven.” I’d say, “No thanks, I don’t need one, but maybe someone else could use it.”

So … Mosaic law is like “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Spiritual Disorders.” It reveals what we can’t do when we’ve been bitten by the snake, and its poison is causing spiritual illness within us. This way, we can be made aware of our need for healing and then actively seek it out.

The less we understand about a form of illness, the more likely we are to judge and condemn those who suffer from it. We understand the body the most, so we have a lot of compassion for people who have illnesses like cancer. We understand the mind much less, so there has been a lot of stigma around mental illness, but thankfully, that is changing.

We understand the least about the spirit, so we judge and condemn people. But, judging and condemning others is just another symptom of a spiritual disorder. In Matthew 7, the Lord said, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For the judgment you give will be the judgment you get, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”

If we’re measuring others’ righteousness using the law, then we must also be measuring our own. God did not give us the law for that purpose. We don’t expect those suffering from mental illness to read the manual, identify their abnormal thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and then say, “OK – I’ll stop doing those things.” We know they can’t do that because they are suffering from mental illness.

That’s the point of the book! We understand that the manual is a diagnostic tool, not the cure. The same is true of Mosaic law, but all those who require works for salvation are trying to make the law the cure.

The cure for spiritual illness was accomplished through God’s own Son being lifted up on the cross so that all who would look upon Him in FAITH would be healed. This is how God made good on his third promise to Abraham – that all the world would be blessed through him.

This is the “new covenant” that the prophet Jeremiah foretells in chapter 31: 33-34 where we read, “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days [of Moses], says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Jesus, at the last supper, suggested that his work fulfilled God’s promise of a new covenant. In Luke 20:20, we read, “And likewise [he took] the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Through Jesus – both a son of Abraham and the Son of God – the entire world has been healed.

The law is no longer needed once we have been spiritually healed by looking to the Lord with faith. Once we know who we are, we no longer need the custodian of the law. We no longer need it because through the Holy Spirit, the law is within us, written on our hearts, and soon, my friends, we will live in a world where all shall know the Lord, from the least to the greatest.

How can we apply Paul’s message to the Galatians today? Well, we must acknowledge that free means free. We are saved by faith in Christ alone through God’s grace. Salvation is simply having faith in the Truth that God has only one child whom He loves dearly. That Child is the Christ, and we are all part of Him. There is nothing we can do to change that.

God can’t have any favorites because he has only one child. Those who believe that God loves them more than another clearly don’t know who they are.

Some modern Christian churches explicitly deny the idea of salvation by faith alone. The Hebrew Roots Movement holds beliefs that are identical to those of the Judaizers of Paul’s day, and some churches believe certain sacraments, such as baptism, are required for salvation. Other churches implicitly deny the idea of salvation by faith alone by requiring adherents to follow their rules and traditions.

Why do people nullify the gospel? Because there is something within us that doesn’t know the meaning of free. It believes that everything must be earned, particularly our worth and the right to live. It doesn’t like freedom either. It likes control. And it really hates equality because it loves superiority.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a direct assault on the Mind of Me, so it created a false gospel. Simply by adding works, it effectively undermines faith. It discourages people from discovering their True Nature by keeping them too busy following rules and traditions that don’t change their hearts.

It also effectively undermines grace, making salvation no longer so easy because it’s no longer free. The Mind of Me can now control people because it gets to decide what is required to earn salvation. It can choose whatever beliefs and deeds it favors, particularly those that manipulate people into giving it what it wants. To sell its requirements, it promotes and practices them in public, but what it does in private is a different story.

Jesus had a serious problem with people who abused Mosaic Law. He called them “hypocrites.” In Matthew chapter 23:4, Jesus says, “They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.” And in verse 23, “… Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in.”

This abuse has certainly affected the Christian church. Richard Rohr, an American Franciscan priest and writer on spirituality, summed it up quite nicely saying, “We worshipped Jesus instead of following him on his same path. We made Jesus into a mere religion instead of a journey toward unison with God and everything else. This shift made us into a religion of ‘belonging and believing’ instead of a religion of transformation.”

Thanks be to God that we know all about the Mind of Me, so we don’t fall for its tricks. Free means free. That is what we need to communicate to people. Because like Tabatha’s friend, many of God’s own children have been alienated from Him because others have demanded payment for His Gift.

God wants nothing from us because God needs nothing from us. I mean, what could Almighty God, who created the heavens and the earth, who is quite literally All There Is, possibly need from us? God wants nothing from us, but he does want something for us. He wants for us to have an abundant life free from suffering, and to have that, all WE need is FAITH in who we are.

It is not until we can fully accept who we are that we can accept salvation as a gift given freely by our loving Father. He gave us this gift not to make us feel obligated but so that we can enjoy the peace, love, and joy that is our inheritance.

Isn’t our Heavenly Father wonderful? What can we do in response to such magnanimous love? We can say, “Thank you, Father!” We can be grateful, but God doesn’t need gratitude from us. Gratitude is another thing for us. Faith opens the door of our heart to receive God’s greatest gift, and gratitude keeps that door open so that we can receive more gifts. Our Heavenly Father is a doting father; it is His greatest joy to shower us with gifts.

We can also love God in return. We can love God where God can be found – within that Spark you see glowing out of the eyes of others. In the flesh, there are differences, certainly. We, however, are able to acknowledge and respect differences without attaching them to worthiness before Our God because we know that when it comes to our essential nature, we are One in Christ.

So let us be God’s ambassadors, bringing all those estranged from Him back into a relationship with Him. Let us tell everyone the truth that they are beloved of God no matter who they are or what they have done and that they need only to look to the Christ in faith to be healed. No payment required.

In this way, we give God the Father’s Day gift he’s always wanted.

Let’s pray together: Lord, we are grateful to you for teaching us the proper use of the law. Give us the courage to lead others to You, to unity with the Father and All That Is, and to love them as you love us. AMEN.

Resources

Deffinbaugh, Bob. “9. The Contribution of the Mosaic Covenant (Galatians 3:19-29).” Bible.org, 28 Jun 2004, bible.org/seriespage/9-contribution-mosaic-covenant-galatians-319-29.

“What is the Abrahamic Covenant?” gotquestions.org, www.gotquestions.org/Abrahamic-covenant.html

“Who were the Judaizers?” gotquestions.org, www.gotquestions.org/Judaizers.html

The Choice

Jean II Restout, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Synopsis: The choice between life in the Spirit and life in the flesh is not one to be taken lightly. It’s a choice between having a life of peace and joy and not having a life at all due to the suffering caused by self-indulgence and self-righteousness. Do we choose a life of peace and joy or one of suffering and misery?

Scripture Reading: Romans 8:1-17

Click here to listen to an audio of this sermon.

Our statement of faith begins, “We are not alone; we live with God in our hearts.” We say it, but we might also wonder, “What does it really mean, and how do we demonstrate this faith in our daily lives?”

Our scripture reading for today from Paul’s letter to the Romans is part of a chapter that is considered the most systematic treatment of the doctrine of the spiritual life in the entire New Testament. I believe it is here that we can find the answer. But first let’s back up a couple of chapters for some context.

In chapter six, Paul writes about libertine faith. This is the kind of faith Christians who don’t want to change have. They talk about grace, but they don’t strive for righteousness. Paul rejects this type of faith, explaining that if we are alive in Christ, then we are dead to sin. I believe that means the more we identify with the Spirit instead of the flesh, the more we will experience freedom from sin and the suffering it causes.

Both Jewish and gentile Christians suffered from this type of faith. They basically said, “Hot dog! I’m saved by grace, so I can do whatever I want!” Surprisingly, the Jewish Christians were in some ways worse than the gentile Christians. In his first letter to the Corinthians 5:1-8, Paul scolds the Jewish Christians for engaging in a form of sexual immorality that not even the pagans would tolerate.

There are many Christians today who suffer from this type of faith. They believe they are saved because they claim faith in Christ, but they are not experiencing their salvation. They are still enslaved by the Mind of Me. They are still suffering from their addictions to pleasures and treasures – still striving for these “status symbols” that they think make them worthy.

In chapter seven, Paul writes about legalist faith. This type of faith is the opposite of libertine faith. People with this type of faith want to bury themselves and others in rules. Many of the Pharisees of Jesus’ time had this kind of faith. Paul rejects this faith also, explaining that anyone who tries to follow the law without a change of heart is bound to fail. And the attempt itself is a sin because of the reliance on one’s own power instead of God’s.

There are many Christians today who suffer from this type of faith also. They belong to sects that are very strict, lots of rules and regulations. Devotees have no choice but to follow them if they don’t want to be expelled. But Jesus didn’t say, “Come to me, all you who are weak and heavy laden, and I will place even more burdens on you until your spirit is totally crushed because I am hard and arrogant in heart.”

No, he said in Matthew 11: 28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

When we have true faith in Christ, we know that we are worthy by virtue of who we are, not what we do. We are God’s children. We can’t earn our inheritance any more than a child can earn his or her parents’ inheritance. It is ours simply by virtue of being a son or daughter. It is freely given in love. How insolent would it be for us to say, “No thanks dad. I don’t want your gift. I’d rather earn it myself.”

Yet that is exactly what those with a legalist faith are saying to God. Paul, a very devout Pharisee, suffered from a legalist faith. He writes about his struggle in verses 21-25: “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am!”

Both the libertine and legalist types of faith do not work. Both are self-deceptions that keep us slaves to sin. Many of the people in the Roman church might have felt the same frustration Paul expressed. But then Paul ends the chapter with the solution: “Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Chapter 8, in which our scripture reading lies, begins with Paul explaining the nature of God’s provision for our deliverance. We can escape the suffering sin causes and live in a way that fulfills the law of God because we are not alone. God is with us. And more than being beside us, God is actually within us as the Christ – His Perfect Image. We are saved through his power alone. But how?

Paul explains in verses 2-4 that the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death by sending his son in the flesh to deal with and condemn sin so that God’s law could be fulfilled in us. What does that mean? Well, I don’t believe it means God sent His Son to pay for our sins. I do believe it means that God had to send His Son in the flesh because the problem existed in the flesh.

Here is an analogy to think about. In science, a complete circuit is an uninterrupted path for electrons to flow from an energy source, through a device, and back to its source. If that path is broken, then the flow of electrons stops, and the device can no longer receive power.

Often, the path is broken through a short circuit. What’s a short circuit? Well, energy likes to follow along a path of least resistance. When it finds a shorter path to follow, it will follow that one instead of the intended one, causing all connected devices to stop receiving power. To fix a short circuit, the damaged wire needs to be identified, cut out, and replaced with a new wire.

We are the Circuit of Life, and this body/mind is a device. The development of the Mind of Me caused a short circuit. Our energy began flowing in another direction – along the path of least resistance. God sent His Son, a master electrician, to deal with it. Taking on the flesh, he identified the Mind of Me as the faulty wire. Then he willingly and lovingly removed it with his crucifixion and replaced it with his resurrection. We now have the Power of God, the Holy Spirit, flowing through us once again.

It is only when we are connected to God’s power that we are able to function properly and fulfill God’s law. If we are short-circuited, we just can’t do it. We have free will, so God allowed the path of least resistance to remain so that we have a choice. So … do we choose to be a fully-powered, functioning part of the circuitry of Life – or to be defunct?

Imagine that you need to go on a long road trip, and you have a choice between two drivers. The first one is an expert driver. He knows exactly the path you need to follow to get you to your destination as painlessly and efficiently as possible. And all along the way, he’ll give you very wise advice, keep you on the right track, and comfort and reassure you that all will be well.

The second one has no idea how to drive; he only pretends to know. And he has no clue where you’re going; he only pretends to know. And all along the way, he’ll give you crappy advice, get distracted by all kinds of “shiny things,” leave you lost in some awful places, and fill you with fear and dread. But it won’t be his fault. He’ll consistently blame either you or others for the mess you’re in.

The choice between these two drivers is the choice between life in the Spirit and life in the flesh. So which driver would you choose for that long road trip? Seems like a no brainer, right? Yet most people pick the totally incompetent one.

All you have to do is look out into the world today to see evidence of that. In Luke 13: 23-24, we read, “Someone asked him, ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ He said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.’”

Those who try to enter but are not able are the people who think they are saved but can’t figure out why their life is still a mess. It’s a mess because their driver is not the Lord, and that’s why the Lord doesn’t know them.

Those who live according to the flesh suffer from an insatiable striving for pleasures and treasures. Do not envy people who go on exotic vacations or eat fancy meals or buy expensive things. They will never be satisfied no matter how many exotic vacations, fancy meals, or expensive things they buy.

That’s because how much they are “worth” by society’s definition doesn’t make them truly worthy. Deep in their souls, they know this, but they can’t stop listening to their incompetent driver, who says, “Check out this shiny thing. Buy this one, and I promise you’ll feel better.”

Those who live according to the flesh also suffer from an insatiable desire to be better than everyone else. Do not envy people who claim to be better than everyone else because they live according to “God’s Word.”

They inwardly place on themselves the same demands they place on others – heavy burdens that they themselves will never be able to live up to. Deep in their souls, they know it, but they can’t stop listening to their incompetent driver, who says, “Check out that sinner. Judge her, and I promise you’ll feel better.”

Do not envy these libertines and legalists because they are dying inside. They are experiencing painful alienation from God. Their souls are shackled and languishing in the Mind of Me’s prison, causing them to have a very twisted view God, themselves, the world, and life in general.

As Paul writes in verses 12-13, “So then, brothers and sisters, we are obligated, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

I love that Paul uses the word “obligated.” So many people choose that incompetent driver because they feel obligated. They believe that incompetent driver is providing them with some kind of valuable service. Think of it this way: If you’ve ever traveled overseas, and your car is stopped at a stop light, someone may very well wash your windshield for you. And you will feel obligated to pay for that service.

But did you really need your windshield washed? Probably not, but opened your wallet or purse and paid for it anyway because you were tricked into feeling obligated. And that is the plain truth when it comes to any feelings of obligation we might have for the “service” the incompetent driver provides – service that is not only unnecessary but also truly stinks.

If we should feel obligated to anyone, we should feel obligated to the Lord who truly and lovingly served us. Yet, the Lord doesn’t trick us into feeling obligated (some churches do that), but the Lord gives us a choice. We can choose not to live by the Spirit, but if we make that choice, we won’t have a life. The Lord loves us so much that he did all he did so that we could have not just a life, but an abundant life.

As the Lord told his disciples in Matthew 16:24-26, “If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?”

Thanks be to God that we have made a different choice. We have true faith in Christ, which is our only hope of release from slavery to sin. We know that we are worthy by virtue of who we are, not what we have or what we do. Once we know that we can’t un-know it, so we can’t go back self-indulgence or self-righteousness. That is why there is no condemnation.

We can consider ourselves Sons of God because by our choice to be led by the Spirit, we join with the Christ. We cry “Abba, Father!” because we acknowledge who we are. We gratefully receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, knowing that it is only though this gift, our Father’s gracious gift, that we can escape the slavery and death of the Mind of Me and truly live.

So, what does it mean to truly believe that we live with God in our hearts? Well, it doesn’t mean we’ll be perfect; it simply means that we are truly striving for righteousness. We are extremely wary of self-indulgence and self-righteousness because we know it’s a trap. We may briefly follow the path of least resistance – it’s only natural – but the suffering on that path returns us to our senses rather quickly.

We may engage in a little self-indulgence from time-to-time, but we don’t use pleasures and treasures as a yardstick of our worth. We use God’s judgment of our worth, and He said, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” We have nothing to prove.

And because we know we have nothing to prove, self-righteousness is almost non-existent in us Sons of God. Only people who believe they have something to prove are self-righteous, and if we ever think we have something to prove, then it’s a sure sign that we have forgotten who we are.

Many self-righteous people will judge us, and the Mind of Me will tempt you to judge them in return. But doing that only makes the Mind of Me feel better. Trust me, very soon after it persuades you to judge someone, it will turn around and judge you for being so judgmental. Yes. it gets a double-high at your expense. It’s not worth it!

We must be willing to let the Mind of Me suffer from our refusal to do its bidding because the more we let it suffer, the more it loses its power over us. It’s like letting a toddler throw a tantrum without giving into his or her demands. Eventually, the tantrums stop because he or she finally learns who is in charge.

That is what it means to suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. Imagine how much the Lord caused suffering for the Mind of Me! We know from the story of his temptations in the wilderness that he refused to do its bidding. He made the Mind of Me suffer so terribly that he became its master. That allowed his true Christ identity to take the driver’s seat in his life and save the world! That is the power of God within one glorified human being – one human being joined with Christ.

When we’re tempted to give up hope for humanity, let us just imagine the power of many human beings joined with Christ. Jesus was the first fruit in a multitude to come, and everyone in this room is part of that multitude.

So, let us make the choice live by the Spirit, to suffer with him, so that we may be glorified with him and joined with Christ as he comes now to establish the Kingdom of God – a world filled with love, peace, and joy.

Let’s pray together: Lord, we choose to live by the Spirit, to suffer with you so that we may be glorified with you. Give us the strength to resist the temptation to follow the path of least resistance so that we may be part of the abundant harvest to come that will transform this world into God’s Kingdom. AMEN.

Resources

Deffinbaugh, Bob. 32. “The Eleventh Commandment (John 13:31-38).” Bible.org 20 Aug. 2014 bible.org/seriespage/32-eleventh-commandment-john-1331-38