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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Thursday, November 23, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

Dressed For Action

Dressed for Action
 
                                                                 Luke 12:32-40
 
A trip to Pennsylvania several years back was a good one. We went to visit one of Joe’s brothers. It is often good and maybe necessary to step out of a role or situation in life and get a fresh perspective. We stayed in a quiet, wooded mountain place, and often we felt the peace and hush of our surroundings. The setting certainly quieted the hectic pace Joe and I had gotten into. We were dealing with sick family members and some difficult situations our kids faced, and we were emotionally depleted.   One night while we were there we stood on a mountain top and watched a rainstorm roll toward us over the mountains. In the beauty and grandeur of that sight it was easier to let go of the troubles we had brought with us, and tune ourselves into the healing of a very caring God. 
 
But there was something else in those mountains of Pennsylvania. Around many bends, over countless streams and rivers, just beyond a massive traffic backup was a giant flea market. Our sister-in-law was working at that flea market, selling candles and her hand painted ceramics. Joe and I wandered around, found Pam and after buying the obligatory purchases that supported her endeavors, found a booth that had lined macramé purses. I had no intention of buying anything further and had put a great deal of effort into convincing Joe not to buy a violin for our daughter, something she would not have time to learn to play or might not even want to play. But something about those purses beckoned me. I firmly believe we do not have to carry around half the stuff we think we need, so my small purse was quite adequate for my driver’s license, credit cards, insurance cards, comb, checkbook, money and pen. I was pondering our carrying habits when my eye caught a purse that spoke my name, a simply “have to have it” message filtering through my brain. For $15 I could not pass it up. After the purchase and after we got back to the house, I began the job of changing purses. All the stuff I had in my old, small purse fit easily into the new, bigger one. There was still room for cell phone, palm pilot, keys, extra pens, hand lotion, more money and some pamphlets and brochures. Then, after sticking a paperback book in it, I realized why I had chosen a smaller purse before. The more a purse can hold, the heavier it gets and the faster it wears out.
 
We choose other types of containers to carry with us. Many of you guys carry a bigger wallet or find clothes with more pockets to carry more stuff in. Joe’s wallet bulges so much he has a hard time getting it out of his back pocket to pay for something. I do not think he will ever be pickpocketed and he might be making such loud and annoyingly frustrated gestures to get me to offer to pay the bill. What we care about determines what type of purse or wallet or bag we carry. If our concern is for wealth, we buy big enough symbolic purses to hold it all. We find a bigger bank, more stocks, increased property, more expensive objects and the insurance and security to hold it all. If we are not careful, the purse of wealth and accumulation begins to wear a hold in our souls. A tragic turn of events in life and a strap breaks, coins slip through the worn out places and our wealth is gone.
 
Another type of big purse we carry is that which contains our health. We build our bodies, maintain good diets, try to slim our waists, jog six miles a day, work out at the gym for a couple hours a day, and begin to see how the hard work is paying off. But it always seems that the more we start feeling better, the more we have to do to maintain ourselves. So we add an extra mile, eat one less donut, skip a few meals, take more diet pills. The purse begins to wear thin, an illness comes along, and things go downhill as we struggle to hold the unraveling purse together.
 
But there is a good kind of purse we can carry. The more we carry the lighter it becomes. The sturdier it gets. It is a purse of faith, strong, reliable, satisfying, able to carry a lot of goodness. But even with this kind of purse we can begin to fill it with the wrong stuff. A purse of faith that begins to be filled with legalism, judgment, doubt, fear, holier-than-thou thinking, I-think-I-know-bests, text proofing the Bible, and narrow thinking begins to wear the purse thin, is often weighted down, and develops holes where faith can seep out and diminish. Being Christian becomes more burdensome and wearying when our sense of God is over-shadowed by these faith diseases.
 
A strong faith is one that chooses the right purse to begin with, Jesus Christ, then allows the Spirit to help us determine what goes into that purse. When we begin to fill it with prayer and the openness to Spirit-led new possibilities, the purse actually becomes lighter. As the garbage of unrighteous faith is filtered out, we become more receptive to the new things God is able to teach us through Jesus Christ. A strong faith means letting go of the burdens of our lives enough to trust that God intends for us to have the things that are really necessary for life and the things that come from being a part of the kingdom prepared for us. We do not know at what hour we will encounter the fullness of God’s time in our lives or in the fulfillment of creation. But we can live as if that time is already here. Unfortunately, it is so easy to fill our faith purses with distractions and things that actually erode our belief. 
 
An extreme example of creating unbelief is the example of patriotism that Philip Yancey notes in his book, Rumors of Another World: What on Earth Are We Missing?  He notes how the communist Soviet Union attempted to discredit belief in God, so that people would be taught to place all faith in the government. During the reign of Stalin, kindergarten teachers would instruct the children to close their eyes and pray to God for a bag of candy. Of course, no candy appeared. Then the teachers would urge the children to pray to Stalin. As they did so, the teachers placed a bag of candy on each student’s desk. The teacher would conclude the lesson by telling the students that prayer never gets you anything. Rather, the lesson is to always trust the nation’s leaders to provide for your needs. 
 
Hopefully we don’t encounter such drastic methods that wear away our faith, but there are those who mislead, sometimes unwittingly. We have examples in the letters of Paul and in the Gospels themselves. The best counter against being misled and staying strong in our faith is to know what it is we believe and base what we hear on that core belief. Our core belief is that Jesus Christ is the son of God, not just a good man and teacher. Second, god loves us so much that Jesus was allowed to suffer and die, so that he could be raised again for our sins, for our faith, for our existence. Third, our core belief is that Jesus, (not the Bible read without the Spirit) shows us the way of life toward God, and that we have access to God in spite of our shortcomings, that we are forgiven time and times again and that we are to love and serve one another in the same spirit that God loves and serves us. That is the core belief we must return to time and time again as a church and as individuals when we get sidetracked by theological and ethical differences of opinions, when we get wound up in issues and when we begin to experience the seeds of doubt, fear, and worry take root, when our purses of faith begin to wear out. 
 
Our task as Christians if to run with Jesus, not have Jesus run with us. (There is a difference) A strong faith has us ask, “What am I doing for God? What am I doing to demonstrate the love of God for all of us? How am I running in step with Jesus?” God’s expectations, not ours, comes foremost. If our wicks are trimmed and our lamps lit, if we are carrying a good faith purse, if we are seeking God’s expectations, then we will be viewed as doing our jobs as people of faith. If we are vigilant and expecting Christ’s return and acting accordingly, we will be doing our job. If we are using our talents and gifts wisely, we will be doing our job. If we are attentive to the “least of these my brother and sisters,” will be doing our job. If we walk humbly in His way, we will be blessed and all else will not matter.
 
Do we have enough grit to stand outside ourselves, look at whether we are fulfilling God’s expectations or our own, and humble ourselves enough to let go of our needs and let God fill what we truly need? Are we ready to empty the junk that is in our purse of faith and replace that junk with items that do not wear out? Are we willing to let go of the troubles we cling to, the desires we refuse to give up, or the false gods of success and achievement we latch to our sides? Are we willing to keep exploring what it means to be a Christian and what God expects of us?

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