Sunday, February 27, 2011

Eight Epiphany
Isaiah 49:8-16a
Psalm 131
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Matthew 6:24-34

O Israel, hope in Jehovah from this time forth and for evermore.

I worked in retail before I was married, first as a clerk and then as management. For awhile the company I worked for was upgrading and renovating. They updated the merchandise, redesigned the displays and replaced the old furniture in many of their stories. A team of people were assigned to the store and they completed the work in a matter of weeks, then they moved on to another store. I was involved in some of the renovating, and it was a part of my job that I really enjoyed.

I was single, with no life beyond my job, so I didnít mind working the extra hours necessary to continue in my position while also helping at the renovations. For a period of about three weeks I worked the equivalent of two full time jobs. I was easily putting 75-80 hours a week, not including my commuting time which was more than an hour each direction. I didnít take a day off in those three weeks, and I guess the strain was beginning to show because the manager of my regular store told me one day, ďGo home, take a day off. I donít want you working either place tomorrow.Ē I went home and rested, and was able to get back on the job with renewed energy and enthusiasm.

I enjoyed doing the work, especially the renovations, and I have long wished I could have become a full time member of that crew. But, I was committed to a job and I had to give my time and energy there. After that three week period, I only went to the other store occasionally, and when that store was finished, I didnít follow the team to the next one. I had to give my time and energy to the place where I belonged.

It felt good to be needed. I appreciated the encouragement I received from the renovation team and from my manager. I appreciated the money I got for working two full time jobs. But I learned that I could not be my best at two jobs. I had to focus on one so that I would be healthy and focused. I was torn because I liked the work I was doing, but I knew that I was not doing anything as well as I should have been. I couldnít serve two masters.

In todayís Gospel lesson, Jesus speaks in rather extreme terms by saying that you have to either hate one and love the other. I didnít feel that way. I had reason to like both jobs. I was a little tired, sure, but I was happy during that period. When we read this story, I think we have a difficult time accepting that we canít love two seemingly opposite and opposing things. I know many people who love their jobs and also love God. I know plenty of people who are committed to their faith but also committed to the work they do. What could Jesus possibly mean by this passage?

He continues on by saying that we should not worry about our lives. Perhaps thatís the key to understanding what He means by these two masters. What is our focus? Do we continue to work because we love our job? Or are we working for something else? As I said, I appreciated the huge paycheck I received those three weeks. Perhaps I did enjoy my job, but I have to admit that knowing I was going to receive overtime for those hours got me out of bed and onto the road for that hour long commute on my day off.

We serve that master that meets our needs, but we do not always understand which master is the right one. We work those long hours, take those extra shifts, fill our schedules so that we will be successful in our work. We may love it. We may be doing the work that God has gifted us to do and we may really enjoy it. We may even praise God for the opportunities. But when that job because the focus of our life, when the work we do becomes what we trust to keep us safe and fed and warm and clothed, then we have lost touch with the reality of faith. Even if we acknowledge our God in worship and prayer, we are not loving Him when we depend on ourselves and our work for our daily bread.

This is where it gets hard. We know that God isnít walking door to door with baskets full of fish and bread to give to all the Christians in the world. We eat with the money we earn at the jobs we do. Yet, it is easy to fall into the false assumption that God helps those that help themselves. When we believe this, we rely upon ourselves and our own strength, loving what we have and do rather than what God has already given and done for us.

Jesus is extreme in this passage, but the point is well made: when we love our work, we forget about God. When we trust the things we do and our own abilities, we do not trust that God will provide. When we put in two full time jobs to make a few extra dollars, we do not look to God for our daily bread. We put the wrong provider first.

Jesus says, ďDo not worry.Ē Iím a worrier. I admit it. I have to honestly say that the next year is going to be stressful as I try to find a way to send two children to college. I have been wondering if I need to find a job, at least something part time, for those extra few dollars we may need to pay all our bills. It just may be something I will do, but Jesus reminds me not to worry about it. This is a time for trusting God, for letting go of my own worries, fears and reliance of the wrong master.

The lessons seem to lend to a message about humility. The Psalmist sings, ďJehovah, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty; neither do I exercise myself in great matters, Or in things too wonderful for me.Ē We may prayerfully seek Godís will in our lives, but when we choose to take matters into our own hands, we are actually putting ourselves above God. We are reminded to keep our hearts humble, to bow our heads and to listen to Godís Word in our life. He has already taken care of all our problems, we just have to learn how to follow.

In Isaiah, the Lord says that on the day of salvation He helped us. How often do we look at our lot in life and wonder where God is in the midst of it. When we suffer financial difficulty or health problems or broken relationships we wonder why God has abandoned us. Iím sure thatís how the people in Isaiahís day must have felt. Where is God? What is He doing? Why hasnít He saved us? Our worries and fears get in the way of trusting that God has done and is doing what needs to be done. We turn to our own strengths and expectations rather than believing in Godís faithfulness.

But God reminds His people, ďCan a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, these may forget, yet will not I forget thee.Ē Unfortunately, we do not always stay in a position to be helped. We love the wrong master. We turn from Godís grace. We fail to trust in Godís faithfulness. We are called to be humble, but we tend to be proud.

Paul writes, ďHere, moreover, it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.Ē How can we be faithful: by doing what we think is good, right and true? Or should we be humble before God, relying on His faithfulness? We donít have to be perfect, talented or successful. Our wealth, health and energy is given so that it might be used for Godís glory. We will suffer. We will fail. We will miss opportunities. We will not fully understand the expectation of God. But we can go forth in faith, anyway. Paul knew that he wasnít perfect. He knew that he might fail to be everything God intended for him to be. But he relied on Godís faithfulness, His love and mercy and grace. He didnít even judge himself, knowing that the only true judge is God Himself.

And so, let us pray with the psalmist, ďSurely I have stilled and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child with his mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.Ē Be humble and do not worry. This is a hard request to make, but if we worry, we keep our eyes and our hearts focused on the wrong savior. We worry because we think we can find a way out of our problems. We become haughty and concerned only with our point of view, unable and unwilling to see that God might just have something better waiting for us. His answer is not necessarily that big paycheck or that job we enjoy, but it is a way that shines His light in the world.

He has already taken care of it. His time of favor has already come. He has already saved us. Sing for joy all you people. God has not forsaken you. He cannot forget you. You are engraved on the palm of His hand. Wounds, perhaps? Nail holes are the sign to remind us that God has already dealt with our failure. His day of salvation came on the cross of Christ and because of Christ we are always remembered.

Which master should we serve? Our own worries, ideas, understand, hopes, dreams, work? Or should we serve the One who has given us everything we need to live. Jesus says, ďBut seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.Ē Be humble. Let God be your Master. Take upon yourself the work He has called for you to do: as a steward of His mysteries. Be trustworthy. Be confident in Godís grace. Be thankful. Be loved. For God has not, and will not, abandon you. You are His and He is faithful. ďO Israel, hope in Jehovah from this time forth and for evermore.Ē

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