Monday, November 17, 2008

Audio from Sun, Nov 16

sermon from Sun, Nov. 16

On Hosea 6:4-6 and Matthew 6:19-21.

Like the rest of you, I was stunned two and a half weeks ago when the Phillies won the world championship. A sports team that has lost 10,100 games in its largely miserable 126 year existence managed to win another championship, its 2nd in those 126 years. It didn’t surprise the rest of the baseball world—after all, the Phillies are a very talented baseball team—but it did manage to surprise us fans who constantly expect the worst. There was not a time when I actually expected them to win until the last strike was thrown and then I finally believed it. Still, even afterwards, I could hardly believe it—I could hardly believe that my baseball team was the champions. In fact, it still sounds silly coming out of my mouth, sort of like that first few months after you’re married and you can’t quite get over the fact you’re a husband now or you’re a wife now.
Anyway, I was rather amazed at the way in which baseball and religion seemed to overlap through the whole World Series and the aftermath. In a tight baseball game, it seems like one of the favorite things the TV networks like to do is to find a fan in the stand who is praying (or at least who looks like they’re praying)—hunched over, hands folded under their chin, their eyes just barely open, looking like they’re asking for God’s help in striking that batter out or getting a base hit. But what really opened my eyes was the very religious rhetoric about the parade after they won the World Series. Grace and I were there, and what everyone said was true—it was a remarkable event. And so many of the things people said were things I wish were true of Christianity in America today. One news station said, “It just brought people together. Everyone was one today; it didn’t matter what race you were, how much money you made, what neighborhood you were from, everyone was one.” You heard stories on the news of people visiting the graves of departed family members to put up Phillies flags; and I think I mentioned to you that I heard the beautiful weather on parade day described as a blessing from God, a sign that God approved of the Phillies’ championship, and even described as a benediction putting a beautiful stamp on a wonderful season.
Now many preachers want to hunker down at a time like this and get defensive. After all, when it looks like 2 million people are going to a parade with religious overtones and most of them aren’t going to church with religious overtones, sometimes you want to ask why. But instead of getting defensive, I wanted to ask “why?” What is it that makes a whole city wear red? What is it that makes the entire Philadelphia and suburban area, an area of the world that is so busy all the time, spontaneously unanimously and suddenly have nothing better to do one afternoon than skip work and go down to a parade? What is it that makes people who never feel they have enough money go down and buy $25 T-shirts and $60 hooded sweatshirts and spend $800 or so on tickets to see a baseball game? What is it that makes a whole mass of people—2 million by most estimates—get down to the city to watch a few guys drive down the street on trucks, while many many more wait at train stations and are unable to get down there? What makes that happen? What explains people behaving like that?
Well, I think it’s stewardship. I think a whole lot of people had a whole lot invested in the Phillies this year. I know I did. I had partial season tickets and spent a lot of money which had been given to me as gifts on those tickets. And beyond the financial investment, I had a real heart-investment too. Everyone remembers where they were when the Phillies won the world series. I remember where I was when they played their first game of the year, way back on March 31. They were playing the Washington Nationals, who were terrible last year and turned out to be terrible again this year. Everyone was looking forward to them getting out to a great start against this bad team, and what happened? Well, they fell behind. Significantly behind, as in 6-2. Then they battled back to tie it up 6-6 and then brought in Tom Gordon in the 9th inning; he gave up 5 runs and they lost 11-6. And I remember where I was for that game—I was in Houghton, NY, working on my dissertation and there was freezing rain outside. And I thought, “Oh, not another year of this with this team. I can’t handle this.” Then the next day they went out and promptly lost 1-0. And I thought, oh boy. Another year where one game they pitch well but can’t hit, and then one game they hit well but can’t pitch. Finally, they won the 3rd game of the year and they were off and rolling.
Point being almost every night of my life for the last six months, the Phillies have been on the radar. I’ve watched lots of games, I’ve listened to almost all those that I haven’t watched, because baseball is such a great radio sport. Those that I haven’t listened to or watched, I’ve paid attention to, getting score updates, or at least running down to the computer first thing in the morning to see what happened if I couldn’t stay up to watch them on the West Coast. After a while, you sort of feel a relationship with the team, like they’re an old friend; the Phillies played 175 games this year, not counting spring training, and I paid attention to all 175 of them; that’s almost half a year even without counting all the off days.
This is what I mean when I talk about stewardship of the heart. I had a lot invested emotionally with the Phillies which is why I was so pleased that they won. And of course as we know it wasn’t just me, but a lot of people had a lot invested emotionally with the Phillies, and so millions of people were glad they won, from the very young to the very old. To say it more romantically, a lot of people gave their hearts away to the Phillies, and for once in their long gray history the Phillies did not disappoint them.
So as we wind up our sermon series on stewardship today, let me remind you that God has given you many gifts, and we have talked about many of them: your spiritual gifts, your time, your families, your finances, your church. And we have asked how you are managing those gifts…how do you give away your spiritual gifts on behalf of the world and on behalf of the God who gave them to you? How do you give away your time? How do you manage your relationships? How do you give away your money? But it ultimately boils down to this question—how do you give away your heart? When push comes to shove, what are you most invested in in your life?
These two questions are the questions addressed in these two texts this morning. In the first passage, Hosea is a prophet of God and here he shares God’s message with God’s people: “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears.” What a powerful image—your heart-stewardship is failing. When push comes to shove, you do not really love me. Your love comes and goes—the thing about the morning mist and the dew is that it’s consistently inconsistent. It’s always just around the corner, it’s always coming back, but it’s only actually there for a little bit of time. The prophet compares this to Israel’s love for God—yes, you can be counted on to show up every so often, but there is nothing that lasts in it.
And so, Hosea has some incredibly harsh words: “therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets; I killed you with the words of my mouth; my judgments flashed like lightning upon you.” There are consequences, says God, to this sort of stewardship of the heart. Essentially, when the deep desire of your heart is for something besides God, God will give that deep desire to you—even though it is not the best for you.
And Hosea closes this section by saying, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice; and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” When Hosea is talking about sacrifice and burnt-offerings, he is talking about weekly worship. He’s saying, I don’t want you to show up every so often, whether it’s once a week for worship and sacrifice, or whether it’s once a day like the morning mist and the morning dew. I want your hearts always to be focused rightly; I want your heart to always be mine; I want you to be invested in me and what I’m doing in the world; I want you to be a steward of your heart all the time.
So we leave this passage from hosea this morning and we are left with a strong challenge: steward your hearts. All the times. Not like the mist, not like the dew, but always. Strong challenge. So we are left with an important question: how do we do that? Did you ever try to make yourself fall in love? How’d that work? Can’t do it, can you. Did you ever wake up in the middle of the night and worry about something? Maybe it’s just me. I worry about things sometimes. And you know what makes it worse—I begin to feel like I shouldn’t be worrying—and then I worry about worrying. Then I worry that I’m worrying about worrying. Or to take a more serious example, if you know a teen with an eating disorder, then you know that you can’t make them feel better about themselves. Tell them they’re thin and they can’t see it; tell them they’re beautiful and they can’t choose to feel beautiful.
Now, I just say this to say that we don’t really have direct control over what our heart is doing. We can’t make ourselves feel a certain way about ourselves or about anything. So how in good conscience can God demand our hearts? How do we give our hearts to him? How do we positively predispose ourselves to God’s actions every minute when we don’t usually have control over what our hearts do?
To see this, look at what Jesus says. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Just because we cannot directly control how our hearts feel does not mean that we have no control over them. It just means we cannot directly control them. I’ve used this illustration before, but it’s kind of like you’re putting together a piece of furniture and you have to use a screw to attach two pieces together. And you think, “Man, I’d really like to use this screw but I can’t do it. No matter how hard I push with my finger, no matter how hard I try to turn this screw with my hand, I just can’t do it!” Well of course you can’t turn a screw with your hand; it requires a tool. Use the right tool—a screwdriver—and you can certainly do what you need to do. You can’t accomplish the task directly, but you can accomplish the task indirectly, with the help of a tool.
In the same way, we cannot change our hearts directly. But we can with the help of a tool. This is what Jesus is saying: where your treasure is, your heart will be. Become a good steward of the other gifts you have, and you will learn to be a good steward of your heart as well. Learn to manage your time, your money, your spiritual gifts, your family rightly, and you will learn to love God rightly too. This is the paradox which we live with as Christians. On one hand, we say that what God really wants from us is to love him and to love other people. He doesn’t care so much that we do everything perfectly, that we never make a mistake, so long as we mean well, so long as we intend the right thing. And that’s true! 100% true. God does care about the intentions of our hearts—he wants us to love him completely, that’s what stewardship of our hearts means. But we only can become truly good stewards of our hearts as we become good stewards of the rest of our lives as well. Put another way, God cares about our intentions more than our actions. He wants us to have good intentions. But we only can be sure we truly have good intentions if we’re following His way. And it becomes a cycle—we follow His way, and so our hearts are changed to look more like Him. The more our hearts are changed to be like his, the more we follow in his way, which changes our hearts still more. The more we follow Him, the more we love him, the more we love him, the more we follow him; the more we follow him, the more we love him.
And so at the end of this series on stewardship, it’s my urging that you would give your heart to God. And how will you know you have given your heart to God? You will know because you’ve given him the rest of you too—your time, your spiritual gifts, your finances, your family, your whole life. All things come from him—and all we give back was his to start.