Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Unlovables - Leviticus 19:1-2, 15:19 and Matthew 22:34-46

Leviticus 19 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. 
15 You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer[a] among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood[b] of your neighbor: I am the Lord.
17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Matthew 22:34-46

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

            I love my wife. 

            That is probably not news to anyone who knows me.  I am blessed with a great marriage to a great woman.  We’ve been married for 39 years.  We met 41 years ago.

            I love my son.  I loved my father.  I’ve always been thankful that I was in the middle of three generations of men who loved each other and got along together so well. 

            I love my grandson.  Baptizing him today will be (was) a great moment in my life.

            I love my daughter in law, my nephew, my best friend from high school.  I love my church members.  I love my professors from college and seminary.

            I love these folks because it is easy to love them – and because it is the command of Christ to love them.  Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

            It is one of the easier commandments we are given.

            Well – most of the time.

            Actually – SOME of the time. 

            I had trouble loving a kid named Tommy.  I don’t remember his last name, but he lived down the street from me and he used to beat me up and bully me.  I never took it personally, because he beat up and bullied everyone in the neighborhood.  Nobody loved Tommy.  Why should we?

            I never liked Algebra, and I always thought my teacher was mean.  She was really mean.  No love for her!

            In college I worked for a seafood restaurant as a cook.  My boss would pay me below the minimum wage and would tamper with my time cards.  I had no love for her at all. 

            It’s not like loving my grandson.

            Some people are easy to love.

Others – they are the unloveable.

In fact it is easier to love a total stranger than some of the people we know.

Every person here has at least one unlovable person in his or her life.  Probably more than one – a lot more than one.

These unlovable may be someone who picked on you or called you names or disrespected you in some way – and I’m not just talking about childhood experiences.  This happens to all children, but it also happens to us as adults.  A child can be called “fatso” by a classmate, and an adult can be called “idiot” by a co-worker.  We never out grow the pain such experiences can cause us.

These unlovable may be people who are members of your own family.  Maybe there was a big family fight.  Or maybe it was just an insult that seemed to take on a life of its own.

And so when Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves, he is not giving us an easy mandate.  He is giving us one of the most difficult challenges of our lives. 

When Jesus gives us this mandate, he is not saying anything new.  He is quoting a passage from the Old Testament book of Leviticus.

17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin … You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

            There is nothing easy here.

            Many of us have to work with people we despise.  Outwardly, we show kindness and respect.  We don’t insult them or degrade them.  It is close to love.  We might think, “close enough.”

            But no – this is not good enough.  The Old Testament lesson says we are not to hate in our heart.  It goes onto say that we are not to hold a grudge against them.

            These are secret and private thoughts that no one would know – except for us – and for God.

            And yet we are told not to hold a grudge or to have hate in our heart.

            But wait a minute.  What’s the big deal.  No one would know that we hate that unlovable person.  No one would know that we hold a grudge.  These things do not even hurt the unlovable person.  So what is the big deal?

            The person who is hurt is the person who holds the grudge.  The one who hates in his or her heart is the person who is damaged.  The unlovable person?  They are not hurt by your grudge.  They don’t care.  In fact, if they do care at all, they probably like the fact that you have become bitter.  That’s the way those unlovable people are.

            Meanwhile, we are left with the corrosive bitterness that eats away at our soul.

But how?

How can we love the unlovable?

Maybe if we could get them to change?  No – it doesn’t work that way.  The reason the unlovable are so very, very unlovable is because they never change.

Maybe if we ignore them – just stay out their way?  Well, that works sometimes.  There are some toxic people you just need to avoid.  Violent people, bullies, you name it.  But for the most part, however, that’s not the way the world works. 

You can’t avoid all of the unlovable people in your life.  You find them at school, work, places you need to be. 

So what do you do with these unlovable people?

Let’s take a moment here.

Close your eyes for a moment.

Now I know that a few of you close your eyes at the beginning of every sermon – but the rest of you, feel free to close your eyes right now.

And when I say close your eyes I mean it – don’t make me come down there with a blindfold.

I want you to picture in your mind the person in your life who is unlovable.

It may be a family member.

It may be a neighbor,

An elder in the church,

A teacher, boss or coworker.

Now while your eyes are still closed picture in your mind what it is that makes that person unlovable.

It may be that this person intentionally hurt you.

It may be that this person has no moral compass and is just as despicable as can be.

            Got that image?

            Keep you eyes closed - You have this person in your mind and you have a clear thought as to why this person is unlovable.

            Now picture one more thing in your mind.

            That unlovable person – was created in the image of God.  That person you find unlovable for good reason, is – for good reason - loved by God.

Open your eyes – not just physically, but spiritually open eyes to the fact that God loves the very people you find to be so difficult to love.

What are we to do with these unlovable people? 
The only thing you can do – as Christians – is to love them, because God loves them.

And if you truly love God, we should be able to love all of his children.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Most Dangerous Time In Worship - Deuteronomy 26:1-10

Deuteronomy 26:1-10New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

26 When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lordyour God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that theLord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God,you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God.

In the worship service, there is a moment each week when we face grave danger.




Most of us probably don’t think that there is a dangerous time in the worship service, but take my word for it, it’s there! We think worship is danger-free because we do not live in a dictatorship where Christians are persecuted. But don’t be fooled. There is one moment in the worship service that is filled with danger and hazards!

No, it’s not the Children’s Devotional! – although there have been times when we did find it somewhat unpredictably hazardous.

 And no, it’s not during the hymns when we might find ourselves next to someone who sings loudly but can’t carry a tune.

Nor is it during the sermon when you are afraid you might fall asleep – and start snoring.

The time of danger? It’s the offering.

In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, we read about a very ancient order of worship. Like any experience of worship, there is an opportunity for an offering – a sacrifice.

In our reading from Deuteronomy, the people of God are about to enter the land God has promised to them. It has been a long time in coming – some 40 years to be exact. And now, after a generation has come and gone, the people are about to enter the land. And Moses speaks to them and gives them some instructions for worship.

He says, “When you have entered the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the first fruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the LORD your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name and say to the priest in office at the time, "I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come to the land the LORD swore to our forefathers to give us." The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the LORD your God.”  And that, my friends, is the crucial moment. The danger filled moment. It was at that moment that person worshiping God could come to his or her senses.

“Wait a minute. What am I doing giving God my first fruits? I’ll be back later when I have second or third fruits.”

Or it is at this moment that a person might say, “Wait, I think I’ll keep that nice yellow banana. For my offering today - Here’s a slightly bruised one instead.”

The poor would love to have this ripe banana.

God would want me to have this yellow banana. 

It is here that a person might even rethink the offering completely. “Give me back my basket. God gave me this to enjoy, I think He wants me to keep it all to myself. I’m not about to share my first fruits. I’m not about to share anything God has given me!”

The offering is a dangerous time in the worship service, because it is here that one might forget where our hearts need to be.
It is here that you might forget - that everything you put in this basket, and everything you keep - both come from the generosity of God himself.

Our Old Testament lesson for today comes from the book of Deuteronomy, toward the end of the book. But near the beginning, there is a wonderful passage.

In chapter six, verses 10 through 12, Moses gives some instructions on what to do when the people finally enter the Promised Land. He tells them, “When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—

a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build,

houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide,

wells you did not dig,

and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant

then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”

It is so easy to forget.

It is easy to forget that all we have to present to the offering comes from God in the first place.

It is easy to forget that the homes we live in – God provided.

And the food we enjoy – God provided.

None of these comes from our hands as much as from God’s handiwork.

The offering is a dangerous time in the worship service, because it is here at this moment that you are being asked what kind of commitment you have to God who committed so much to you.

You see the danger?

You’re being given a test – where is your heart? How committed are you to God? What do you really value?

Jesus spoke a great deal about money. He talked a lot about it because he understood that money has such a driving force in our lives.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “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 where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

I don’t know about you but my heart always goes where I put my money.

Actually, I take that back. I do know about you!

Good or bad, faithful Christian or inquiring visitor, profoundly wise or rather simple – your heart goes where you put your money.

If the earthly ministry of Jesus had taken place today rather than 2000 years ago, Jesus would not have said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Instead Jesus would have put it this way --- “Show Me your checkbook, your Mastercard statement, your online banking account, and your receipts, and I’ll show you where your heart is.

Do you have a heart for the work of God?

Do you have a heart for the poor?

Do you have a heart for Haiti or other world missions?

Do you have a heart for the youth of our church?

We say we do, but that moment in the offering tells the reality.
Where is your heart?

         When the time for the offering comes, is this all you are willing to part with?

Copyright 2014, The Rev. Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Rejoice in the Lord Always! Philippians 4:4-11

Rejoice[c] in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.[d] Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved,[e] whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about[f] these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
10 I rejoice[g] in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it.[h] 11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.

I love what Paul says here in Philippians.  “Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I say rejoice!”

Joy is an important part of being a Christian.

Our Old Testament lesson says, “Shout for Joy!”

Our first hymn says, “Rejoice Ye Pure In Heart.”

In a few minutes we will sing another hymn which will say, “Rejoice give thanks and sing!”

Smile, God loves you!

Don’t worry!  Be happy!

But what if you are not in a good mood?  What if you don’t feel like smiling or signing praises to God?

You ever come to church in a bad mood?

Maybe it is something small.  Your back hearts on Sunday morning from all of the yard work you did on Saturday.  Or you are upset with your spouse or someone in your family.  Or breakfast just didn’t go very well?’

Or it is something that is not small at all.

You have cancer, and you are so tired of the radiation or chemo therapy.

You don’t have a job – or you have a job, but you aren’t sure you will have one next week. 

Your bills are way too high, and your salary is way too low.

Your son or your granddaughter spent the weekend in jail.

And yet, here is Paul saying, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I say rejoice!”

Man!  If you are in a bad mood or if you are filled with sorrow, it sometimes seems like the last thing you need is for someone to come to you bubbling over with joy telling you to rejoice!

Who does Paul think he is to tell us to rejoice?

But wait a minute here! 

At the beginning of his letter he says, “I am in chains for the Lord,” and he meant that literally.  Paul is in prison.

Paul is going through a difficult time.

But Paul had often gone through difficult times.

            In another one of his letters, in II Corinthians, chapter 11, Paul reflects on his life.  He says, “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.

“Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  
“Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 
“I have been constantly on the move.
“I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.
“I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”

Paul has had a difficult life.  And yet, he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.”

How can you feel joy in worship, or in life in general, when things are not going your way?

First, “Don’t be anxious.”

Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice,” and he follows that with the mandate, “Don’t be anxious for anything.”

But Paul didn’t live in 21st Century America – we are anxious about EVERYTHING.

Years ago, my son went to his first day of Kindergarten.  His Mom was excited, I was excited.  My son was a bit reserved.  He didn’t seem to be anxious, just reserved.  I thought perhaps he was simply trying to act cool. 

When he got home, I asked him, “How was your first day of Kindergarten?”

“Terrible,” he said.  “It was the second worst day of my entire life.”

I suppose I should have started by asking what made Kindergarten so bad, but first, I really needed to satisfy my curiousity.  “Son,” I asked, “What was the first worst day of your entire life?”

My 5 year old son plopped onto the sofa and said with despair, “The first day of college.”

A lot of things we are anxious about are things that are nothing – it is as if we look for things to worry about.

I think that a lot of people in the corporate world are so anxious about being sued; they go overboard to warn us about the dangers of their products.

In every McDonalds, there is a sign somewhere that says, “Warning, coffee may be hot.”  I think most customers WANT their coffee hot, but years ago someone spilled some McDonalds coffee in his lap, got badly burned and was actually in the hospital for 8 days where she had to receive skin grafts for the 3rd degree burns that covered 16% of her body.  (Leibeck v. McDonalds, 1994).  They were terrible burns and this poor woman really suffered, and she successfully sued McDonalds.  So now, McDonalds has anxiety about that and has put up warning signs about the hot coffee is hot.

On my wife’s hair dryer there is a tag that reads, “Warning, do not use hair dryer while in the bathtub.”

I read this on an iron – “Caution, do not iron clothes while wearing them.”

We are bombarded with warnings about food and drugs that cause cancer in laboratory mice.  I actually read on a box of rat poison – RAT POISON:  “Warning, this product has been found to cause cancer in laboratory mice.”

Some things are not worth being anxious about.

Some things, however, are worth the worry. 

Harry S Truman ran for reelection and campaigned against Dewey in 1948.  On November 2nd, Truman voted, went to a small hotel, took a bath and went to bed.  Thomas E. Dewey stayed awake all night long. 

Both men believed in what they were doing and both believed he was the best candidate for the president.  But Truman knew he had done all he could do, and went to bed and slept.

            Years ago, I had a parishioner who had to have his leg amputated.  Mr. Sanders was always in a good mood.  Whenever you asked him how he was doing, he would say, “Ohhh, I am sooo happy.”

            But on the night before his surgery, I went to visit him, knowing he would not be happy.  He had followed every instruction the doctor had given him.  He had struggled for months to keep his leg.  Now he was about to lose it.  His life was about to change.

            I went into the hospital room, and Mr. Sanders looked at me and said, “I’m still happy.”

            “Are you sure,” I asked.  “You are facing a major event in your life.”

            “I’ve done everything I could do.  Now there is no choice.  Tomorrow I will wake up without my right leg.  But I’m happy that I have good doctors, good therapists, a good church, and a good family – and starting tomorrow everyone is going to be there for me and help me learn how to live without my leg.”

            “Happy” was probably not the best choice of words, but when Mr. Sanders used it, what he probably meant was that he was at peace.  He was free of anxiety.

            He was about to do something he didn’t want to do, but he knew he could face reality without fear.

            How do you get to that point?  How do you free yourself from anxiety?

            Well, Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice… Do not be anxious about anything, but pray…”

I had an Associate Pastor once who was fresh out of seminary.  Great guy.  Fantastic minister.  But being fresh out of seminary, he didn’t have the confidence he should have had.  And he developed a rash around his abdomen.  He went to the doctor.  The doctor said it wasn’t an allergy.  It wasn’t eczema.  It seemed to be some sort of stress related symptom. 

The doctor asked, “Are you under a lot of stress at work.”

“Oh yes,” my colleague said.

“What do you do for a living,” the doctor asked.

“I’m a Presbyterian minister.”

The doctor paused for a moment and then asked, “Have you ever tried… prayer?”

My friend loves to tell that story on himself.


What do you do when you can’t rejoice?  What do you do when you are anxious?


You don’t have to be in a good, happy mood to come to worship.  Sometimes you come to worship because you are not happy, you are not rejoicing.

You come to pray, because you need to be in a better spiritual place in your life.

One commentator said that anxiety and prayer are more opposed to one another than fire and water. I like the way a church sign said it, "If your knees are knocking, kneel on them." [i]

Another way of dealing with life when you don’t feel like rejoicing, is to include in your prayers not only petitions to God that the Lord would change your situation, but to lift up prayers of thanks to God.

Now don’t misunderstand.

Paul is not giving a shallow, “Look on the bright side of life,” approach to life’s problems.

Paul is in prison, and he knows the harsh reality of his life.  He is in chains.  But the Philippian Church has sent him a gift, and Paul writes them a thank you note.  The New Testament letter to the Phillipians is a thank you note. 

Paul does not ignore the harsh reality of his life in prison, but he balances it with a gratitude for the things for which he is thankful.

I remember being with a parishioner for several hours.  We were in a hospital waiting room.  Her daughter was having surgery, and she had no other family, and I stayed with the mother.  We chatted away and she told me all about herself, and finally she said, “I’ve told you all about me, but I don’t know that much about you.  Are your parents still living?”

I told her my parents had both died.  Mom had died of emphysema and my Dad had died from the same disease years later.

She asked me if I had any brothers and sisters.

I said I’d had two sisters, but one died during surgery and the other died as a child.

The parishioner looked at me and said, “My word, you have lived such a tragic life.”


Not at all.

I had never thought that I’d had a tragic life.

My Dad lived a long life and he knew he was about to die and as he was waiting for death, he told me, “I’ve lived a great life.”

What a wonderful gift to hear a loved one say that before death.

When my mother died, my first reaction was one of thankfulness.  Her death had not been an easy one, but had been very painful.  When she died I was so thankful that for her pain was now over and that she had entered the joy of God’s peace.

My oldest sister died while receiving a transplant.  It hadn’t succeeded because she had emergency, experimental surgery 10 years earlier.  Doctors did not know until the transplant that the experimental surgery would prevent them from being able to succeed at the transplant.  But the experimental surgery had given her ten years she would not have had otherwise.  What a great gift.  She was able to see her children graduate from college, get married, and she met all but one of her grandchildren.

Few things can be harder on a family than having one of the children die.  And while my family grieved deeply and for a long time, we were always grateful and thankful that this child had been adopted by our family and that we were able to provide her with a happy home during her short life.

Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice… Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thankfulness, present your requests to God.”

So what happens then?  Are you able to finally rejoice because God hears your prayers and does what you want him to do?

Not always.

In fact, not often.

I told you that I had two sisters.  One died as a child.  She had a brain tumor and she was sick for a long, long time.  Our oldest sister had such faith.  She prayed that God would heal that child.  And believed.  She knew without doubt that God would heal our sister.

My oldest sister got married and our younger sister was unable to go to the wedding.  But the wedding reception was held at our home, and during the reception the child was brought downstairs to say goodbye right before our oldest sister left for her honeymoon. 

My oldest sister knew that the child would soon be healed.  She had such faith.  She’d prayed so often and so hard.

That night, the child went into a coma and never recovered consciousness.  She died ten days later.

My sister completely rejected God.  How could a loving God let a child die? 

She prayed so hard.  She had believed.  God had let her down.

For over a year, she refused to pray or to believe in God.  She became bitter.  But the day came when she felt overwhelmed by the peace of God.  It was the moment she held her newborn, first infant child in her own arms.

My oldest sister never received what she desired, which was for our sister to be healed and to live.  She received something better – a peace that was beyond her ability to understand.  It was a peace that helped face the death of a sister.  It was a peace that helped her raise two children of her own.  It was a peace that helped her face a decade long illness of her own.

A peace that enabled her to rejoice even in sorrow.

When we pray, we should not think we are sitting on the lap of Santa Claus giving a list of things we want.  Prayer is not a way of directing God to do our will as if he was some sort of “cosmic bellhop who is neither very bright nor very efficient.”[ii]  When we pray, we seek to find a way to rejoice once again.

And so we come to worship – whether we are in a good mood, or a bad mood.  We come to worship, in search of God and of his peace.

Copyright 2014, Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh

[i] George Antonakos, Associate Pastor, Central Presbyterian Church of Baltimore, Maryland, “A Prescription for Anxiety.”

[ii] "This doctrine of the material efficacy of prayer reduces the Creator to a cosmic bellhop of a not very bright or reliable kind." -- Herbert J. Muller

Sunday, October 05, 2014

What Do You Value? Philippians 3:4-14

New Testament Lesson                                                           Philippians 3:4b-14

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ,[a] the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ[b] and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal;[c] but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved,[d] I do not consider that I have made it my own;[e] but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly[f] call of God in Christ Jesus.

         With the arrival of my grandson, I have been revising my will. 
This has led me to think about what will happen to all the ‘STUFF’ my wife and I have collected over the years.
We’re not talking cheap stuff, we’re talking wonderful treasures.
Well – at least they are wonderful to me.
For example, on my wall above my desk at home there is a framed certificate.  It is an award that I won in a fishing contest in 1962 when I was just a little boy.  It is the award for both the largest fish AND the most fish caught in that contest.
I value that certificate.
I look at it and I remember how my Dad and I were at a lake with hundreds of other fathers and sons.  I was so ready and eager to start fishing that I was the first one to throw my line into the water.
Looking back, I remember so very clearly how as soon as that line hit the water I caught a fish!
Now it was a small fish and I was just about to throw it back but my Dad reminded me that there was a prize not only for the biggest fish – but also for the most fish.
So I kept that fish, threw in my line, eager for the next catch.
But there was no next catch.
That was the only fish caught that day.
And so today I have that certificate hanging over my desk – the largest fish and the most fish caught in that contest.
I can’t throw that away!
But I know that someday my son or grandson will gather at my house after my wife and I have been buried, they will look at treasures like that certificate and toss it into the trash can.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld is convinced that our homes are nothing more than what he calls “Garbage Processing Centers.”  Everything you buy and bring into your home is destined for the land fill.  For example, you buy the latest machine that dries out fruit so you can store it in your pantry.  You bring it into your home and put it on your table.  Then it makes its way to the kitchen cabinet.  Once in the kitchen cabinet, it begins to get in the way so you move it to the closet.  Once in the closet it moves further and further back until you cannot find it until you do your Spring Cleaning, which you really do only every ten years.  You find it and you wonder why you ever bought it, so you throw it away.  Or, if you are kind, you give it to Goodwill so they can sell it to someone else who will eventually give it back to Goodwill or eventually just throw it away.

Our homes are full of treasurers, but all of these treasurers are eventually on their way to the junk yard and the land fill.

Paul is writing to the Philippians and in his letter he talks about his treasures.
         He is at the end of his life, and he is pondering his last will and testament.  He is reflecting back on his life and pondering what has been important, and what was not important.
What is the most valuable possession you own?
         Looking back on your life, what is it that you value most?

         If you went on a treasure hunt in your home, what would you find? 
         Years ago, I read in one of Ann Landers' columns an interesting story about a woman who had married a tightwad.   This man married a real skinflint and she could never get any thing out him -- not even an extra quarter.  He controlled every little bit of money in the household.  And he would take his money and put 20% of all of the money he earned, and save it. 
         But he would save it by putting it under his mattress, because he did not trust banks.
         Whenever the woman would ask for money from her husband, he would refuse, and would insist that the money was going to come in handy in their old age.
         When the man was 60 years old, he was diagnosed as having cancer. Toward the end, he made his wife promise, in the presence of his brothers, that she would take the money he had stashed under the mattress and put it into his coffin so he could buy his way into heaven if he had to.
         They all knew he was a little odd, but this was clearly a crazy request.  But sure enough, the wife made the promise.
         Then, when the man died, the first thing she did was to take the money to the bank and deposit it in a new account.
         But she found a way to honor her promise.
         The first check she wrote was for the full amount -- $752,457.99. 
She made it payable to cash, so that anyone could cash it, and then -- right before the burial -- she very quietly put it in her dead husband's casket.  Let's see him cash that check. 
         She had the best of both worlds – honoring her husband’s request, and yet also having the ability to spend the money in that account. 
         We all value the strangest things.  We go through life being told, "You can't take it with you," but this man sure tried.

         It is said that about 200 years ago, the tomb of the great conqueror Charlemagne was opened.  The sight the workmen saw was startling.  There was his body in a sitting position, clothed in the most elaborate of kingly garments, with a scepter in his bony hand. On his knee lay the Holy Scriptures, with a cold, lifeless finger pointing to Mark 8:36: "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and loose his own soul?"
         What do you value?  That is an important question, because if you go through life and begin to value the wrong things, you lose meaning to your life.  You lose your very soul.

         Paul's life, on the other hand, is in perfect balance and harmony, because he knows what he should value. He knows what he needs to be committed to.
         Not the money.
         Not the fine home.
         Not the car.
         Not the smart phone.
         Not the clothing.
         Paul said, "Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
         For Paul, nothing was more important than Christ.
         Most of us think of Christ as important to our lives.  But for most of us, Christ is NOT the most important aspect of our lives.
         But for Paul, he said everything else in life was without value at all – just worthless - compared to knowing and following Christ.

         Sometimes it takes a crisis in our lives for us to think about what is important -- really important -- in our lives.
         Fred Craddock tells a story about friends of his who were missionaries to China many years ago.  At one point all missionaries were being forced out of the country.  Fred Craddock's friends were told they had 24 hours to leave.  Each adult missionary would be allowed to take with them 400 pounds of luggage, but nothing more.

         So the missionaries began to ask themselves, what is it that we value? What are those things that are most important to us? 
         The typewritter?  No.  Too heavy and too easily replaced.
         The vase that has been in the family for generations?  Yes.  Pack that.
         The family photos?  Sure.
         The candlesticks the church had given them in honor of their work?  Hard to say. They mean a lot, but they are so heavy.  Set them aside, we'll decide later.
         Finally, they had their luggage.  Each adult missionary had packed 400 pounds each. They had measured and re-measured and they had left no room for error.
         They got to the boat docks and they were being checked out by the authorities when one of the Chinese officials said, "Did we not explain this to you?  The 400 pounds includes your children."
         So much for the candlesticks, the vase that belonged to Great grandmother, and many of the other items they thought they had valued. 
         In the moment of the crisis it had become clear what they really valued most.
         We live in an age that seems to treasure all of the wrong things.
         We put great value on the home, but not so much on the family within the home.
         We take time for golf, but not for Christ.
         We want to be served by others, but we've forgotten how to be servants of God.
         We really don't know what we value most.
         There is a point in the Gospels when people are ready to make a commitment to Christ, but Christ turns them away.
         Why?  Because to be committed to Christ is an all or nothing experience.
         You can't make half a commitment to Christ.
         It is all or nothing.  Because God's commitment to us, was all and total.
         In Luke's Gospel, (Luke 9:57-62), Jesus encounters a man who says, "I will follow you wherever you go."
         Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."
         "He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."  Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God."  Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family."  Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."
         I think we all treasure Christ, otherwise we would not be here today.  But are we still on a treasure hunt looking for something better?
         We have a commitment to Christ.
         But how deep is our commitment?
         We cannot follow Christ with half of our heart.
         We cannot be half way committed to him.
         Christ himself rejected such followers, telling them that it was better for them not to follow at all, if they could not follow all of the way.

         What do you value?
         If you do not value Christ above all things,
         if you have not committed yourself to Christ above all things,
         then you have no commitment to Christ at all.  Your life is out of balance.

         It is an easy thing to treasure Christ.
         It is a difficult thing to treasure him above all other things in our lives.
         How can that be possible?

         Tom Long is a friend of mine who served a church in Georgia as a pastor.  A man came into his office he hadn't seen in years.  A high school buddy he'd lost track of.
         Tom greeted his friend with open arms. The laughed and talked about old times.  They talked about this. They talked about that.  And finally, they talked about IT.
         Tom's friend said, “You know I'd heard you'd become a minister, so I thought I'd look you up.  I really need to talk to someone about my life.  I don't seem to value anything.  Nothing is important to me.  And that bothers me.  I've been thinking about it, and I've come to the conclusion that my problem is that I'm not committed to anything.”
         Tom told me that he had just written a stewardship sermon, and he was tempted to preach it to his friend right then and there.  “You better believe your life won't count for anything, so you'd better get your life in order and find something to be committed to.”
         But then, it dawned on Tom that this might not be the right approach.  He looked at his friend and said, “I hear you saying you don't believe you are committed to anything.  I'm wondering if what you're really feeling is, 'no one is committed to you.'”
         Paul was not committed to anything, until he learned how committed Christ was to him.
         Paul is in the midst of a crisis.  He is in prison. He is writing a letter to the Philippians and he says, “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ  and be found in him.”
         Christ is fully committed to us.
         Therefore we need to be -- we are able to be -- fully committed to him.
         We treasure our smart phone, we treasure our car, and we treasure our home.
         But in the end, what we should treasure most is Christ – above all other things in life.

Copyright 2014
Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.