Success or Faithfulness

Sermon – November 2, 2014

21st Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

By Roland Legge

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

Matthew 23:1-12

Jesus has had it!  He is tired of these so called Rabbi’s who do not walk their talk.  They work so hard at keeping their outer appearance so pure that they have little energy or commitment left to live out the Love of God in the world.

“It is important to note that Jesus critiqued as a Jew and follower of Judaism — as a prophet — and so his critique is coming from within.  Jesus does not critique the teaching or the clothing of the Pharisees — their outward signs of piety.  Jesus upholds the Pharisees as good teachers, but poor models.  He observes how the meaning of some outward symbols of piety has taken on new and less noble meaning because the Pharisees are not “walking the talk.”

Yet these devotions were not all bad.  The Pharisees worked hard on their outward appearance partly in order to maintain the Jewish identity by wearing powerful symbols of the Jewish faith.  This probably helped the Jews to maintain their distinctiveness during a time when there was great pressure for them to merge with the powerful dogmas of the time.

Jesus was calling for a new community where each of us is set free to be our God given selves.  He believes that words and actions need to be in harmony.  He wants his disciples to walk their talk and help each other with their challenges. Jesus calls on his followers to be humble finding strength through vulnerability.

Sadly, many of us in North America and Western Europe also get caught up in how we look.  I expect that you have noticed the many commercials that keep telling us over and over again how happy we can be if we would just consume their product.  How happy we would be if we wore a certain brand of clothes, perfume, after shave or drove a certain type of car or had a particular credit card.  The list goes on and on.

Yes, Jesus wants us to be free. To bet set free from all the false gods of consumerism and power. Free from ways of living that come out of worshiping false gods such as lust, greed and self-delusion that can never truly bring hope, joy and meaning.

To be set free is also not to get caught up in our guilt.  A little guilt is okay if it spurs us on to new life but too much can make us powerless.  Thus I hope today’s sermon and service is helping to waken up within each of us who God wants us to be.

But this does not mean we are to do more.  It could mean that we are to do something different.  It could mean making a change in our life whether small or big. Yes, small changes can dramatically alter our attitude from hopelessness to hope.

But often before we move on, we first need to see where we are not living in harmony before we can begin to make that change. Can we answer these three questions: 1. Do our inner lives connect with our outer lives?  2. Do people see and experience the real us?  3. Which definition of success do we live by?

Sadly, many of us have a warped understanding of what it means to be successful. We too often think that success means to be married, have two children, make lots of money, and own a big house, two cars, a motor boat and a quad.

I believe that as a church and a society we need to redefine what success is. Here is what Mother Teresa says about success.

 “I don’t remember that the Lord ever spoke of success.  He spoke only of faithfulness in love.  This is the only success that really counts.”

(Aha Creative Resources for Preachers Oct/Nov/Dec 2002 Vol. 12 #1)

Also Molly Blythe Teichert tells the story of John Kamm a successful businessman in Hong Kong who learned that working for human rights is more important than making money. I quote:

“When people looked at John Kamm they saw a successful businessman, the president of Hong Kong’s American Chamber of Commerce and the vice president of a multinational corporation.  They saw a man who lived in a luxury apartment, drove a Mercedes, and employed two maids.  But God saw an advocate for freedom.

 

Shortly after the massacre in Tiananmen Square, the Chinese held a banquet to honor American businessmen working to help China attain most-favored-nation status.  As the host of the banquet was publicly thanking Kamm for his efforts, Kamm took the opportunity to ask for the release of political prisoner Yao Yongzhan.  The host of the banquet stormed off stage and Kamm was reprimanded for humiliating his host. Yet two weeks later, Yongzhan was released from prison.  Kamm decided to try again. He inquired with a local official about the possibility of releasing brothers Li Lin and Li Zhi.  He says that a week after their release, he and his wife had dinner with them in Hong Kong.

 

“They told me the day I got involved was the day their situation improved.  I wept.  That’s when I started to think that I could talk to the Chinese about freeing prisoners, and they would do it.”

 

Apart from any official human rights agency, John Kamm has helped to facilitate the release of more than 250 political prisoners in China – more than any other organization or government in the world.”

                Molly Blythe Teichert, Information from New York Times, “Kamm’s List” Aha pg. 26

 

I hope you noticed that Kamm had a passion for what he was doing.  I don’t believe that Kamm had his arm twisted to get him to do it.  I hope that we in our church communities can encourage each other to discover our passions.  We must get away from the old model of “twisting people’s arm until they do what the church board, Presbytery or Conference wants them to do.

What passions do you have?  Do you love to work, play and teach with children?  I certainly notice that among our church school teachers.  I notice how our musicians love musicI see how our gardeners and our volunteer custodians keep our church looking good.  I can often smell fresh coffee and food at church gatherings as many people share with us their passion to cook.  We have some fine artist in our communities. We have carpenters, teachers, nurses, doctors, homemakers and the list goes on.

To have a passions does not mean were going to enjoy every minute of what we do but we will have at least a sense of satisfaction that we were able to help out our church, community, family and thus God.   What ever we did will have a sense of rightness about it that no “arm twisting” could ever accomplish?

 

 

St. Julians Church Norwich England July 2011 (4)

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