Old Testament Reading
Thus says the LORD: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the LORD. They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse– who can understand it? I the LORD test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ–whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.
He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.”Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”
Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
We live in a disposable world. Fast food, technology that goes out of date a few years after you spend a fortune on it. Toys that break, clothing fashions that change yearly. Commitments that are dropped as soon as things become difficult. We roll into church, our attention divided because we have plans for the afternoon. Going out for lunch, taking a nap, watching a football game. We work and run and drag our kids along with us. I do not understand a lot of today’s world. I don’t even understand some of the terminology! Chasing after what? We like quick fixes. We do not like pain.. And we like our stuff.
I love British television One of my favorite shows is Father Brown who is an kindly Anglican Priest who solves murder mysteries. On an recent episode, he was invited to a sort of carnival at a camp and when he met the lady who owned it, she told him that she just loved the church. She found the rituals and traditions so interesting. Father Brown told her that she would be very welcome at mass and her response was a very emotional, “I said I was interested. I’m not obsessed!”
I recently spoke at Celebrate Recovery about decluttering your heart and some of you may have been there so you will have heard some of this, but it doesn’t hurt me to hear it again. When I retired, I started going through all of the junk that I had accumulated over the years. I wanted to simplify. But letting go of all that stuff is hard! I am one generation away from the generation that experienced the depression so I grew up with the notion that you never knew when you might need something. My mom ironed Christmas wrapping paper to re-use. Tinsel was put on the Christmas tree carefully and removed carefully because like the wrapping paper, it could be re-used. We didn’t have paper towels, and my mom washed and saved aluminum foil. She didn’t finish high school and so when I was in high school, she took classes at night and got her diploma. My mother grew up in Canada so American History class was interesting. They had some very good discussions because as they went over a lesson, my mother would say “that’s now how I learned it” and so from talking to her, I learned early that history can depend on perspective.
So maybe we end up with clutter, not just our stuff, but our thoughts as well. We are bombarded with messages telling us how to look better, be more prosperous, get better sleep, look younger, get more done, upgrade our car, our home, our wardrobe, ourselves. All to be happy and blessed.But then we come up against the beatitudes and the message is flipped upside down and inside out.
We are interested in getting rid of the clutter in our homes and our hearts but we “are not obsessed!” I “borrowed” (with permission) an illustration from Tony Corso. Imagine if you bought and paid for a house from someone who was a hoarder. But you liked this property. You could see potential, and so you paid the price and took ownership. Assuming the previous owners were gone, the very first thing you would do after the papers were signed and before you moved in would be to clean out the house. You are not emotionally attached to anything left in the house. Bring a dumpster and clean out every room, attic, storage closets…everything. How weird would it be if the previous owner who ‘willingly turned the keys’ over to you stood out front telling you what you could and could not get rid of?Isn’t that like what we do with God?
We pray and ask Him into our hearts, to be Lord of our lives and then He starts the clean up process and we get stuck.The message I took from today is that all those things that we are running after, that we are buying plastic tubs to store stuff in. that we are even building buildings or paying to have stored, are not what will make us truly happy. We are living in what Jeremiah called an “uninhabited salt land.”
My mom kept and re-used things to save money. And I don’t believe that is a bad thing. But we hang on to a lot of unnecessary things and we tell ourselves we have good reasons. We do the same with our spiritual lives. Jesus wants us to let go of the earthly things we cling to because He wants to give us something better, something permanent.
We talk ourselves into believing we have good reasons. We even try to get the Holy Spirit to go ‘start on another room’ because we have stuff stored away and just are not ready to deal with it or we want to go through and decide what WE think is important. Not what Jesus says is important.We forget who the ‘new owner’ is and He is the one that decides what goes and what stays. It does not take long before the truth becomes obvious– we like the idea of God moving in. Just are not ready to actually do it on His terms. And that is what shuts down the effectiveness of the power of the gospel in our lives, because He gives us free will. He is either ‘Lord of All’ or someone else is, when it comes to your life, you can’t serve two masters.We are blind to all that needs to come out of our hearts. God is serious about de-cluttering our lives. What have we held back from God? What is in that box way back in the corner?
Why would Jesus tell us “to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” (Luke 13:24) That tells me that some of this is not going to be easy. And maybe this is not true for you but it sure is true for me. It is not a one and done deal. I have a lot of closets and tubs and just stuff that has been put away for so long, I don’t even remember it’s there. But Jesus…
in Luke 13:34 we are told that Jesus longs to gather His children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. We are to love God with ALL our heart. When I refuse to repent or turn from an area in my life (sin in my heart) I am basically telling God I love that sin more than I love Him. Now it has become an idol. Jesus won’t be ‘one of my idols.
We have lots of company in that. John 6:66 says “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” (vs 66) The road got too narrow and not as comfortable in that flesh nature. That may be where some of us walk away from our recovery. Things get real, real fast. But then we read what Peter says about that. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”
If I am walking with Jesus, that is a good thing. I am walking in peace with the Prince of Peace. Walking with Him means I am not leading. Obeying Jesus…is not a ‘work’ that saves me. It is the fruit of my love for Him.Remember the story in John 5 of the man lying near the pool who had been paralized for years? Jesus asked him “Do you want to be made well?” He did not ask him if he believed Jesus could make him well. For that matter, Jesus could have just made him well without saying anything. But he asked him. Do you want to be made well? And Jesus is asking us the same question today. And being well means we have to let go of some stuff. But it isn’t all giving stuff up. Jesus is going to give us much better things! We “get” to have fruit. Fruit of the spirit! We get to have joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. I used to think that was a kind of “to-do list of things I was supposed to work at having. So, the question, do you want to be made well was an odd question, but it was a legitimate question.
There is another. Acts 3, where a man – “lame from his mother’s womb was carried, and never could get to the pool. Maybe you have tried this Jesus thing before and all you got out of it was sitting in a pew but still essentially lame. Still cluttered up with stuff. Trying to declutter your heart and your life on your own. 1 John 2:6 says “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” Jesus is our road map, the way, truth, and the life.We assume because the man was there, near the pool, that of course he wanted to be healed! But how many of us come to church every Sunday and listen to a sermon, sing a few hymns, pray for some folks, leave our tithe and then go home and live the rest of the week completely unchanged, still running after the world? That perspective thing is interesting. What we assume about ourselves, about others, and even about Jesus, often comes out of the heart and in Jeremiah, we are told that the heart is deceitful. Our hearts can fool us.
If you have seen the movie The Princess Bride maybe you remember the part where they take Wesley who has been tortured, to Miracle Max and Miracle Max tells them he is not dead, only mostly dead. Mostly dead means he is slightly alive. Who wants to be mostly dead? Who wants to be slightly alive? “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17)
So here is why Jesus poses that thought provoking question “Do you want to be made well?” We are told in John 3:19- that ‘light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil…and would not come to the light”. If I am not ‘willing to come to the light’, I cannot be made well. If we are not being honest, if we are hanging on to our denial…we can’t move forward. If I plant a fruit tree and keep it in the dark, it will never produce fruit.What have we been “loving more” that has kept us from experiencing the power of God’s abundant life and the truth that sets a person truly free?
The Pharisees loved the praise of men more…The rich ruler loved his wealth more….What have you been ‘loving more’ and holding onto for so long? Is it pride? Anger maybe, or resentment or bitterness towards someone who damaged you? What hurt, habit, or hang up is cluttering up your life? What have you been keeping in a drawer for years? Changed jobs, changed addresses, still lugging that thing around with you.Would you truly like to ‘take up your bed and walk’ as Jesus walked? You can. But you DO need to choose. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” – (Luke 5:31) Repentance means to change direction. It has TWO parts. Stop doing one thing and do something else.
Oh, one last note about our friend by the healing pool who responded to Jesus and took up his own bed and walked once again. We read where ‘Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” John 5:14He did not tell him to ‘sin less’ or ‘try harder’. He told him to “go and sin no more.” Walk like Jesus walked. If I will truly love Him with ALL my heart, I can. Because it will be Him doing it…in me and through me. In you and through you!
There is a C.S. Lewis quote that says. “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes to rebuild that house. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but he is building a palace.”
We just have to come to the light and leave the darkness behind. Stop hanging on to the clutter. Start walking with Jesus. Let the new owner have all of our hearts. Be doers and not just hearers of the Word. If we trust God with ALL of our stuff, all of our hearts and lives, then instead of living in an uninhabited salt land, we will be like the tree planted by the water and we will continue to bear fruit. And our fruit is how we are known. By others and by our Savior.Not just on Sunday, not just the stuff we have piled up in our homes and our lives, but in our hearts because that is where Jesus does His best work.