Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The person with the most possessions at the end wins, right?


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Do not worship idols as some of them did.  How terrible a judgment fell on those unfortunate people whose bodies lined the desert from the Red Sea to the Jordan!  What did they do?  They did something we all know very well.  Every December Santa Claus receives more letters than our heavenly Father receives prayers.  Santa Claus doesn't care what we do with our lives; our heavenly Father does.  Santa Claus stands for the influence of Mammon.  Christmas gets the worst of it, but every Mother's Day merchants make an average of $17 for every mother in the country.  Commencement brings in about $10 per graduate.  We Dads are lower on the totem pole.  Merchants only net about $7 per Dad on Father's' Day, so money can be used to make people happy, but it can also disappoint.  It cannot buy character, honor, freedom, or friendship.  Neither is God a respecter of persons.  Possessions can tempt one to throw his life away pursuing vanity.  The Israelites pursued vanity, so God overthrew them in the wilderness.

The God you came to meet here today is a God who overthrows people, but He is also the God who lifts the beggar from the dunghill.  To Him you really matter.  The idol that the Israelites made was a representation of a calf.  It made the Lord furious, not because it was made of gold, not because of its shape, but because the people who made it were the ones He had just commanded not to do that.  When you examine the conversations that took place during its building you will see that the calf was a symbol of Mammon - of the good food they had as slaves in Egypt, of the security of knowing where you would be from day to day.  Did we ever build anything like that?  During the late 1950s a giant "population clock" in the lobby of the Department of Commerce flashed a white light every 11 seconds marking another birth, adding another unit to the population of the United States.  Next to the clock was a sign that said, "More people mean more markets."  See how much you mean to Mr. Mammon!  You aren't a person to him, you're a market.  He tells you that happiness is just around the corner, but every time you turn the corner, there's another corner.

Idolatry is still an option in the New Testament.  Now there is a difference.  We have seen how God fulfilled the promise to Abraham to bless all the nations.  Jesus fulfilled it when He came to Israel, was rejected by them, died, and rose again.  Paul was reminding the Corinthians that Baptism has been our Red Sea, and that the Lord's Supper is our manna and our supernatural Rock.  We have had even more blessings than ancient Israel.  We have seen the Messiah.  Although we were dead in trespasses and sins, Jesus lifted us from the dunghill and set us with the princes of His people.  We are subjects of the King of Kings, but the flesh cannot wait to sneak back into the dunghill, to indulge itself in the vanities of Mammon.  Jesus calls us to the sublime, and the flesh runs to the ridiculous.  Not a day goes by when we aren't tempted to throw our lives away.

We are all born of the flesh, with a natural desire to indulge it.  This built-in sin is the cannonball to which we are chained.  We may begin with the best of intentions, but by the end of the day we are joining our voices with Solomon's saying This also was vanity and a striving after wind.  If we worked hard for earthly treasure, then we spent the day in vain.  If we goofed off, we still spent the day in vain.  If we did our duty, could we tell ourselves why?  For real peace of mind we need more than just Quaker State Motor Oil.  As we find ourselves getting older, we seem to be getting nowhere.  Sometimes we even conclude that there is nowhere to go.
God knows the whole story.  He knows how you threw your life away, how you landed on the dunghill.  He sent His Son to pick you up, wash you off, and set you among the righteous.  Solomon was only right when he said There is nothing new under the sun because he lived long before Jesus.  Had he made that statement today he would be erring.  In Jesus the God who thundered on Mt. Sinai brought mercy and comfort to us all.  Jesus died and rose from death to life.  Yes, even on the holidays when God's people were celebrating the old miracles God was making new ones.  Jesus rose from the dead.  That was new.  The Holy Spirit came to the disciples.  That was new.  Once Jesus atoned for the sins of the world, nothing would ever be the same again.  Mammon attracts us because we tend to think of death as reigning over all in the end, but Jesus has defeated death. Yet God's love does more than just attract us.  It lifts us when we couldn't lift ourselves, so the Incarnate Son got into the dunghill with us to retrieve us, and as He set us with the princes, He gave us a share of the Holy Spirit.

In the Bible, when Peter received the Holy Spirit he didn't want to go fishing any more.  He went outside to preach the Gospel, converting 3,000 people.  When you were baptized, God gave the same Holy Spirit to you.  He has done that since the time of the patriarchs.  Without the Holy Spirit our lives would be under the devil's control, but by the Holy Spirit Jesus sets us free.  The patriarchs are probably better models for us than the apostles because they weren't preachers.  They stayed with the vocation they had employed all along, as nomadic herdsmen, but within that vocation the Spirit will guide you, increase your charity, devotion, and courage.  It does not matter whether you offer that within the institutional church or without.  Both places are filled with those who need God's love.  Both are places to do kingdom work.  You cannot look very far around you without seeing the dunghill.  By grace Jesus has lifted you out.  By the Holy Spirit you can be His instrument to lift out someone else.   AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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