Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
Hebrews 4:1-13 (14-16)
For we who have believed do enter into that rest, even as he has said, ĎAs I swore in my wrath, they will not enter into my restí; although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.
God created the world in six days, and then He rested. He did not rest because He was tired, but because His work was done. The gift of the Sabbath, given from God to mankind, is a moment in time when we can stop and rest, knowing our work is done. But it seems like our work is never done. We take time on the weekends from whatever job pays our bills, but then we must mow the lawn or do the laundry. We have to go grocery shopping or change the oil in the car. We need to do our work at church, preparing the things for worship, singing in the choir or teaching Sunday School. The rest of Sunday is spent doing the work that didnít get done on Saturday. By Monday morning, we begin again without ever really finishing.
So many of our commitments are good things; we volunteer at church or in our neighborhoods, giving ourselves sacrificially to other people. At times, however, these responsibilities become burdens. We no longer want to do these tasks, but rather we ďhave toĒ do them. We grumble and moan when we need to attend yet another meeting. Our work is never done, and we get very tired of it all. Too often, we fear that if we donít do everything that comes our way, we will disappoint our Father. We think we are righteous by what we do, so we feel we need to do more and more to be right with God. We never enter His rest.
Moms never get any rest. She has her hands full of the usual paraphernalia that moms carry - diaper bag, purse, carrier and baby. She also carries a phone. Each item has its place on her shoulder or under her arm. She is burdened with so much baggage and yet she somehow manages to take care of all her tasks. Moms just seem to gain a few hands during those early days of childhood; they become Octopus Mom. But there are times when even a mom needs help.
Doors provide a difficult obstacle, particularly when the need to be pulled open. At times it is necessary to put down the burdens we carry to be able to get through the door. It really is a joy when there is when we have someone who will help us by opening the door, although we sometimes think we have to do all it all ourselves, as if we are Supermom defeating the door with our own strength. Unfortunately, that attitude appears in other aspects of life. Even as Christians, we tend to carry our own pain, unwilling to burden our family or friends. We try to be SuperChristians, defeating the greatest evil with our own power.
Last week we heard about the rich young man who met Jesus and wanted to know what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus questioned him and the young man ecstatically declared that he had kept the Law for his entire life. Then Jesus told him to sell everything he had, give it to the poor and follow Him. The young man was greatly distressed at this answer. Perhaps he was looking for Jesus to tell him how great he was for having followed the Law so diligently. He wanted to receive praise for his goodness and encouragement to continue to live the life he was living. However, Jesus challenged him to give everything to God, including his very life.
It is hard for moms to enter into a building or a car, carrying so many things. Yet, when we put down our burdens, we find it much easier to accomplish the task. In this story, Jesus references a gate called ďthe eye of the needle,Ē which was a tiny gate that led into Jerusalem. It was convenient to the trading routes, but was so small that a fully loaded camel could not fit through. It was not impossible - but the merchant needed to unload the camel, lead him through, and then reload the things onto his back.
Jesus invites us to unburden ourselves of everything that keeps us from walking through the gate. For the rich young man, it was his wealth. Our burdens are our own, but none are so great for God to carry. We just need to give everything to Him, the good things as well as the pain. We need to give Him our families, our wealth, our bodies, and most of all our hearts. Jesus tells His disciples in the following verses that because they have given up their very lives for Him, they will receive blessings far greater than they left behind. The same is true for us, we will be blessed for our submission. Our treasure will be in heaven.
The young man was heartbroken because he had collected a lot of things. How do you get rid of everything you own? I often ask this question when I see stories of those people who have chosen to live in tiny houses. My art supplies would never fit into such a small space, let alone my whole life. As a matter of fact, my husband and I did not downsize when we bought our latest house, as many do when they reach the age of the (nearly) empty nest. We bought a larger house so that Iíd have room to work. This is the first house weíve had since we were married that doesnít have furniture pushed against every wall. There is room to move, a place for the cats to run, storage space for my junk. I canít imagine every getting rid of everything to move into a house that is just two hundred square feet.
Donít get me wrong: I do know how to purge. We took truckloads of things to Goodwill and to our church to sell when we moved to this house. They could have filled a store with the amount of old clothes, toys, and household items we gave away. I eventually went through all my craft and art supplies and donated boxes to camps and other arts organizations. I gave sets of dishes to my children. I threw a lot of old papers into the recycling bin. I even purged my bookshelves.
I also purchased a china cabinet so I could finally display the dishes I inherited from my mother. I found room on the walls to display some of my art. I continue to purchase books (even though I do most of my reading on an e-reader.) I still buy stuff. I buy fun little souvenirs every time I go on vacation. They are pointless, nothing more than dust-catchers, but they make me smile when I remember the trip. So, while I do know what it is like to rid myself of too much stuff, I still like having it around. Could I sell it all live in a two-hundred square foot house for Jesusí sake?
I must confess that I have been buying tickets for the lottery with the huge jackpot. Who couldnít find a way to use hundreds of millions of dollars? I have promised to donate vast sums to charities I support, planned buildings to build, and thought about how I could gift some of the money to people I love. I doubt I will win, but it is fun to dream, isnít it? Iíve been joking for months that I want to call Chip and Joanna Gaines to remodel my house when I have the money.
It seems silly to have dreams like that; after all with so much money I could buy or build any house I wanted. I could even buy George Straitís home! Thereís a show on television called ďMy Lottery Dream Home.Ē I have not watched, but the commercials show the host pointing out the spectacular features we could have if we bought a home with lottery winnings: marble stairs, gold plated fixtures, a private theater. Would I even want to keep this humble home if I could use my money to buy something bigger and better? Besides, I would probably want to move to a gated neighborhood with more protection. Others will want my stuff as much as I do.
It seems the more we have, the more we want. Isnít that what Solomon is saying in the passage from Ecclesiastes? This reading is a little uncomfortable for us who love our stuff. The writer writes, ďHe who loves silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he who loves abundance, with increase: this also is vanity.Ē When we have a little, we always want more. You canít eat just one potato chip. It is hard to collect just one porcelain figurine. I donít have just one pair of sneakers, I have a pair in every color so that I can match my shoes to my clothes. I also have socks to match. I canít go to the kitty store without buying our babies more toys, even though there are so many in the house they canít possibly play with them all.
The writer of Ecclesiastes goes on to talk about the vanity of collecting stuff; after all, we canít take it with us. We labor for everything we have. We not only chase after that next piece to our collection, but we labor to earn the money to purchase and we labor to keep the dust from it. We even labor at holding on to it against those who want to take it from us. Our focus is on our stuff and we lose sight of other things. A man pays more attention to his car than his girlfriend. The woman is more concerned about which pair of shoes to wear. Children donít like to share because they donít want a sibling to ruin their toy. We lose sight of the joy because we are too worried about what will happen to our stuff.
As the writer says, ďAs he came out of his motherís womb, naked shall he go again as he came, and shall take nothing for his labor, which he may carry away in his hand.Ē There is a joke about a man who was near death. He had spent his life working hard for his possessions and he prayed that he might take some of it with him to heaven. An angel heard him, and though the angel told him that he could not take anything, the man implored the angel to ask God. After a time, the angel reappeared and told him he was allowed to take one suitcase. He died and went to heaven. At the pearly gates, St. Peter stopped him and said that he couldnít bring the suitcase. He retold the story of the angelís visit and after St. Peter checks it out, he returns and says, ďOk, but I have to see what is in there.Ē St. Peter opens the suitcase to find bricks of pure gold stacked neatly inside. He said, ďPavement? Why did you bring pavement?Ē We love our things, but we have to remember the value of it in terms of our eternal destiny. We donít need to take gold to heaven because the sidewalks are paved with it. Everything in eternity will be better than anything we have on earth.
The message of Ecclesiastes isnít all bad news. The writer goes on to say, ďBehold, that which I have seen to be good and proper is for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy good in all his labor, in which he labors under the sun, all the days of his life which God has given him; for this is his portion.Ē God wants us to enjoy our life on this earth, not to the point that our possessions are our focus, but in thanksgiving for the God who has made all good things possible. ďEvery man also to whom God has given riches and wealth, and has given him power to eat of it, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labor - this is the gift of God.Ē We are called to a life in which God is our focus. Our stuff is meaningless in terms of eternal destiny, but they are blessings to be enjoyed.
The key here is to remember the priorities of life. The Ecclesiastes passage for today ends, ďFor he shall not often reflect on the days of his life; because God occupies him with the joy of his heart.Ē We donít need to worry about today or about our stuff because our hearts are filled with real joy in knowing that our God is gracious.
We chase after righteousness and we chase after stuff, but God offers us something even better: rest. We exhaust ourselves with the work, even though everything we accomplish in this life will be left behind. God says, ďYou donít have to exhaust yourself over all this; put me first and you'll have enough. You will have even more in the Promised Land. Rest in me, for in Me is the true blessing.Ē
Some people, even Christians, never really experience the rest that comes with faith in Christ. This is not a rest that means we do nothing with our lives. God calls us to work. He calls us to produce. He calls us to be witnesses and to serve others. He calls us to be good stewards of all we have been given. He calls us to enjoy the blessings that He has given us. He might even call us to rid ourselves of everything to follow Him completely. This is a call to trust that God is faithful to His promises and the blessings of this world are simply a foretaste of that which is to come in Heaven.
One thing the rich young man, and many others, lack is complete trust in God and the joy of knowing that God is the center of our blessedness.
Our salvation is never dependent upon our works. God created the world and on the seventh day He rested because His work was finished and it was good. The Sabbath was given to man so he could celebrate the finished work of God with joy. In Christ the Sabbath is no longer one day a week: it is Today, every moment we rest in the salvation won for us at the cross. Though Godís work was complete from the beginning, it is in the work of Jesus Christ that we receive the true rest of God. In Christ, our work is no longer a burden, but a joy. Our righteousness is founded in His love and His work on the cross, not in a schedule filled with commitments. Today, when you hear His voice, know that the work is complete and rest in Him, then your thoughts, words and actions will truly glorify Him. Donít try to find your rest in an hour of worship once a week; find it in Jesus.
The psalmist asks how a young man can be pure. Each verse in todayís Psalm refers to something different: the spoken Word of God, the obligations of faith, the promise, the teachings, the rules, the judgment, the rituals and the authority each have a place in our life and as we are obedient in all ways we will find a life blessed by God's graciousness. None of that will earn us eternal life in Heaven, but it will help us to live a life that glorifies God in this world as we wait for the promise He has won for us.
The answer to the psalmistís question is to obey Godís divine spoken Word. We can look for Him in our religious obligations. We must keep His promise close to our heart so that we wonít turn from Him and do what is wrong. We can seek Godís teaching on how to live properly and according to His rules. We can accept Godís judgment when we do wrong and rejoice through our worship practices. We can, and must, focus on Godís authority over our life and there we will find rest.
I hope that if the time ever came for me to choose between God and the world that I will make the right decision. I hope I can walk away from everything: the obligations to which I have committed and the stuff I have collected. I know, however, that Jesus loves me even when I fail. He understands the draw of the world and the bobbles that it promises. He sees my heart and He sees the flicker of faith that is at the center of my being, the faith that He has given by His grace.
Day by day, Today even, I find I can let go more and more as He fills me with Himself. One day I will have to give it all up; one day I'll die and stand at those pearly gates. I donít have any pavement to take with me, but I hope that I wonít feel the need to beg God to let me take a few of my favorite things. I hope that my little faith will be enough to keep my focus on the Lord now so that I wonít worry day by day what will happen because the joy in my heart is from God. For now, I pray that God will help me remember that the meaningless dust-catchers I will have to give up in this world will be replaced with so much more: eternal rest and joy and peace, not because I have earned it by my works, but because He promised it through Jesus Christ.
A WORD FOR TODAY
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