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August 11, 2013
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 Luke 12:32-40
Those of us who grew up on Saturday morning cartoons can easily remember all the times that the Wile E. Coyote character appeared as Ralph E. Wolf, in this series he often tried to dress up as a sheep in order to get past Sam Sheepdog so that he could get one of the tasty sheep from the flock. Time after time, Ralph Wolf tries to dress up as a sheep and time after time Sam Sheepdog knows exactly what he is doing and stops him before any harm can be done. We all watched and we all laughed. But it wasn’t so funny during World War II or during the present military interventions in the Middle East when enemy insurgents wore the uniform of friendly forces and tried to mingle with U.S or other allied soldiers. In fact, often the results of these modernday, “wolves in sheep’s clothing” have often been disastrous. The thing is, in the church, this same thing happens. Sometimes the pretenders and phonies are relatively harmless, but other times the enemy slips his forces deep into the life of the church and does a great deal of damage. In scripture we often find that the people who are called out as fakes or phonies are church leaders, priests, rulers and even kings but the attitudes of church leaders can infect the people who are led by them. In Isaiah 1:1, 10-20, the prophet Isaiah said this, The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah! 11 “The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the Lord. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. 12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. 14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening.
Your hands are full of blood!
Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. 17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.
“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; 20 but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. God says that he doesn’t care about the offerings and sacrifices of the people. He calls them “meaningless” and “detestable.” God even says that the worship services and the festivals and feasts in his honor are a burden and he hates them. God even refuses to listen to their prayers. But why? Didn’t God ask, even command, that the people bring offerings and sacrifices? Isn’t God the one who started the feast days and the holy days? Why is it then that God doesn’t care about them and even hates them? Simple. Because the people who are bringing the offerings and celebrating the feasts are a bunch of phonies. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. Fakes and frauds. They’re doing all of the religious “stuff,” following all the rules, bringing offerings, making sacrifices and celebrating feast days, but they aren’t being the kind of people that God wants and expects them to be. God tells his people to stop doing evil and start doing good. Seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Care for the people who have no one to care for them. God says that being one of his followers, one of his people, is more than dressing up and going to church. It’s more than decorating the house and saying “Merry Christmas” to everyone you meet. Being a follower of God isn’t about blending in with church people or about following the rules, it’s about doing the things that God would do. It’s not about church attendance or putting money in the offering plate, it’s about having your heart in the right place. True obedience isn’t about following the rules; it’s about allowing your heart and life to be transformed into the form that God intended. The writer of the book of Hebrews (11:1-3, 8-16) has the same idea but he explains it by describing what real faith looks like… Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for. 2
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. The writer of Hebrews says that Abraham’s faith wasn’t about following the rules, it was about doing the things that God asked him to do. God said go, and Abraham went. God said go, and Isaac and Jacob went. Sarah was given a child well after she was too old, because she believed that through her, God could do the impossible. God says that we should not get too comfortable here because this is not our home. Our rewards are not money and power in this world but will be sent ahead for us to enjoy in the home that he is preparing for us. Jesus said the same thing in Luke 12:32-40…
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Jesus says that God has already given us his kingdom but has called us to do his work. Feed the poor, clothe the naked, care for those who cannot care for themselves. When we do the things that God has called us to do, only then do we make deposits in our heavenly account. Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Think about that. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Have you ever owned an individual stock from the stock market? When my brothers and I were younger, I was a freshman in college, my Grandfather passed away and left each of us shares in the Westinghouse Company, for which he had worked his entire life, while in the United States. I had never thought much about Westinghouse, other than it was the place where Grandpa worked, but after I owned just a few shares of stock, I noticed that I would look in the newspaper to see how the stock was doing and whenever the Westinghouse name appeared in print or on television I wanted to watch and see what it was about. It wasn’t much money, but where your treasure is, 3
there your heart will be also. A second example, when we were preparing to teach the Dave Ramsey “Financial Peace University” class at the Barnesville church, we knew that many in our region could not afford the cost even though they desperately needed it. We were considering how we might provide scholarships to reduce the cost and we were cautioned against it by the folks from the Dave Ramsey organization. After doing their program for years they have discovered that when people have little or no investment in the program, they are far more likely to quit without finishing. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Jesus says, be ready. Be dressed and ready for service and keep your lamps burning. Jesus is coming back and while he knows that it is tempting to sit back and think that he won’t be here for a while, we should never assume that his return isn’t soon. When your boss is out of town it might be easy to coast a little and then go crazy to try to get things done a day or two before his return, but Jesus says that his return will be unexpected and he wants us to be busy doing the things that he has left for us to do. Not because we are trying to impress him, but because we have fallen in love with his people and fallen in love with his kingdom. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. God says that loving him is not about the rules. God doesn’t want a church full of phonies who only look like church people on the outside. He doesn’t want a church full of people who wear the right clothes and do the right things and sing the right songs. Followers don’t just look like followers, followers follow. God doesn’t want phony followers. He wants a church full of people who do the things that he has asked us to do and who go to the places that he has asked us to go. True obedience isn’t about following the rules; it’s about allowing your heart and life to be transformed into the form that God intended. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at http://www.scribd.com/Pastor John Partridge. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.
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