July 25, 2014

The Homily

loser“I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick,  but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with judgment” (Ezekiel 34:16, NASB).

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12: 9, 10, NASB).

This morning in churches all across America, preachers will be telling their listeners just how great their lives can be. They will be told that God wants to bless them in every area of their lives, that God has only their best interests in mind. Prayers will be offered imploring the Lord to make us “the head, and not the tail.” Anyone with any needs will be told God is here to meet those needs with abundance.

These preachers are not preaching the Gospel of Jesus.

This morning there will be many who will teach “biblical principals” that will help you be better parents, have better and more fulfilling marriages, increase your finances, even have better sex. These principals will be given as bullet points, referring to verses of Scripture that these teachers say show that God wants all of these things in our lives.

These teachers are not teaching the Gospel of Jesus.

I hate to be the bearer of reality, but not everything in this life is going to go your way. Even more to the point, God does not have your best interests in mind. God has his own best interests in his mind. And at times, his interests make our lives miserable. You want an example? Look at Job. God wanted to prove to the Accuser that Job would still praise God even if all of his “blessings” were taken away. God’s glory was on display, not Job’s comfort or prosperity. Do you want another example? How about Mary? God chose this young, engaged-but-not-yet-married girl to bring his Son into the world. How did that “bless” Mary? Her life was forever changed from what she had most likely envisioned.

The Gospel of Jesus does not guarantee us to become winners. As a matter of fact, Jesus championed losers. In his parables, he presented God as one who is constantly seeking after what has been lost. A lost coin. Lost sheep. A lost son. Jesus came, he said, to seek and to save the lost, not the found, not the blessed. Not the winners.

As a matter of fact, Jesus said the greatest loss we could ever experience would be if we sought to save our lives, to become winners. Luke tucks an interesting verse into Jesus’ teaching on his second return: Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. Winners become losers, and losers become winners. The 1970s Christian band Daniel Amos said it this way in their song Losers And Winners:

Now, clubs and cliques, they choose and pick

And they make their interviews

Screen the undesirables

And turn down clowns and fools

But Jesus died for sinners

Losers and winners

Yes, it’s proven by His love for me and you

St. Paul tells us that God’s power is perfectly seen in our weakness. And that when I am weak is when I am truly strong. So I will rejoice in my sicknesses, in my distress, in my despair. I will rejoice when things are not going my way, when my life is turned upside-down by unforeseen circumstances. When I realize I am a loser, then I can take comfort in knowing Jesus has come to seek and to save me. This is the Gospel of Jesus.

This morning, remember that God is focused on his glory. And as hard as that may be to understand, and even harder to accept (for we are a very selfish lot), we are to be focused on God’s glory as well.

Let us pray.

Comments

  1. Seneca Griggs says:

    “God does not have your best interests in mind. God has his own best interests in his mind.”
    *
    Exactly! It’s not about our glory, it’s about His.

    • But God’s best interests are our best interests, though we don’t know it and resist it.

      For example, God commands us to worship him not because he needs our worship or is self-centered and egomaniacal, like a petty tyrant, but because worshiping him is what is best for us, since it frees us from being bent in on ourselves. That such focus on him may be painful to us is not his primary concern; freeing us from sin is his purpose, and felt pain takes a back seat as he progressively sanctifies us.

      The fact that he intends to bind up the broken and heal the sick shows that he does have our best interests in mind, though not in the way that the pop preachers may have in mind this Sunday morning; he is bringing us through the radical surgery of death to save and sanctify us, Jesus’ death. His glory is on a cross.

      • And while in one sense God has interests and may be magnified when we glorify him, in another sense he has no interests because he has nothing to gain or lose whether we glorify him or not, whether we acknowledge him or not.

        To paraphrase the words quoted from Capon a few weeks ago, Jesus has been dead from the beginning, from the foundation of the world,dead to sin, dead to gain and loss, dead to our tawdry motivations and desires.

        This is the Lamb who was slain, and this is his Cross, to be dead and fully alive altogether at the same time, and to hold us to himself in his death and life.

      • +1

      • Robert, your words are exactly right, imho. Of course the God of love has our best interests in mind. This is not in conflict with His agenda; it forms the heart of His agenda. He desires not to reign over us as much as to reign through us. In fact, I don’t think we can overstate the incredible depth of love and bounty that He designs for us. The problem is, as Jeff points out, that we normally define our “good” in material and worldly terms. Prosperity teaching, like most heresies, is a half-truth. The truth is that God does indeed will our prosperity. The error is when this prosperity is defined by the values and standards of this culture.

        • Yes,”the error is when prosperity is defined by the values and standards of this culture.”

          But we should not let the values and standards of this culture determine what we mean by “glory,” either; God’s glory is not like the glory sought by human beings, and to pose the issue in either/or terms between our best interests and God’s glory is to give occasion to the sort of misunderstanding expressed by Justin in his comment below, and to put an unnecessary stumbling block in the way of those who misunderstand what is being said.

          It is not either our best interests or God’s glory; it is both/and. People like Justin need to hear that, not the stark ultimatum of either/or as expressed in Jeff’s post.

          • Yes,”the error is when prosperity is defined by the values and standards of this culture.”

            But we should not let the values and standards of this culture determine what we mean by “glory,” either;

            I agree with all of Jeff’s major points in the post, but….. why let Joel and friends set the definitions for “glory”, “blessing”, or even “prosperity” ?? Mary was indeed blessed, whether Joel would say so or not. We are not well served to just give up a biblical vocabulary because some horribly abuse it.

            Robert’s point is on target as well: if GOD is love, how can HE NOT , always, have our best interest in mind ?? HIS picture of love may be hard to take, but to think that he gives our well being not a thought is just not true.

  2. Jeff,
    Thank you for this post. It is a good word that needs to be said in a culture too focused on ‘your best life now’. But one statement did strike me as a little strange:
    “How did that bless Mary?” that kind of surprised me, especially for someone who just joined the Catholic church. Mary gave birth to the Savior of the world. Even with all the challenges that came with, that was a blessing and she knew it.
    Luke 1:46-49 46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me– holy is his name.

    • “Blessed” as in what so many preachers call blessed. It did not fit in her plans for her life. For the rest of her life she was talked about as a woman who got pregnant out of wedlock. She had to flee to a foreign country to protect her child. Then she watched as the authorities mailed him to a cross. None of this would make for her best life now…

      • Jeff,
        I agree with you that it doesn’t fit the prosperity gospel preachers ideas of blessed, but she was still blessed. Blessed that Joseph obeyed and stayed with her so she had loving support no matter what others said. Blessed in the sense that she was warned to go to that foreign country rather than watching her new born die. Blessed in that she saw her son resurrected and glorified. Blessed in that she was there on the day of Pentecost and was filled with the Holy Spirit. Hardships? Certainly! But nothing compared to the glories she got to take part in.

        • Daisey former Missionary and Carmelite says:

          Hi Jon, please, if I may, let me try to clarify what I hear Jeff as saying.

          First, Jeff makes this statement a few times, letting it stand out on its own as being a main point in his message: “These preachers are not preaching the Gospel of Jesus.”

          He then puts in front of us what he is seeing as contrary to what is preached in many churches… “I hate to be the bearer of reality, but not everything in this life is going to go your way. Even more to the point, God does not have your best interests in mind. God has his own best interests in his mind. And at times, his interests make our lives miserable.”

          Ultimately, everything God does, God Wills to occur, God allows to happen, is for the Praise of His Glory. We and all of creation are here for His Glory. This we need to keep before us when life hurts, doesn’t make sense, goes ever so contrary to what we would believe is good for us, when life brings disaster. These things happen to saints and sinners. Keep in mind the Beatitudes in which Jesus turned the worlds way of thinking upside down….. When bad things happen, when people are subjected to injustice, when our interior life seems to be falling apart,…etc., as human beings we don’t see these things as blessings – they certainly don’t fall in line with our wants and preferences – we wouldn’t say things things are going exactly as we want.
          This is where we are called to exercise our Faith in our Loving and Merciful God. Our belief that through all our thwarted plans for our lives God will bring out Good for His Glory and for our ultimate benefit. This doesn’t mean God doesn’t bless us. His ways are above our ways – He ways will not always make sense to our finite minds.

          Of course Mary was blessed, just are we, too, are blessed. But imagine yourself getting this incredible news, by an Angel nonetheless, that you are to bear Gods Son; you are to be His mother….that you have been chosen above all the other women who were, are, or could be, to be so chosen for such a high honor…… In our worldly mindset, persons chosen for great honor get treated accordingly. The red carpet gets put out for them to walk on. The best of food and living quarters are provided. There are servants and protectors. Crowds of people shout for joy upon seeing such a person. Did Mary get any such thing…..not even close. Her Life’s reality after receiving such an honor became difficult and frightening at times beyond imagining; life became hard and confusing. The world didn’t offer her a palace with a comfortable bed but a stable that smelled, was cold, and a prickly straw bed. She was told a sword would pierce her heart.

          Many Christian circles teach that God doesn’t want you to suffer, that he wants you to have the best life you can imagine. That God’s love and blessings equals = means good things for you when in reality God’s love for us can often be disguised within painful trying situations that are not going our way. As such, Preachers sending such a message are not preaching the Gospel of Jesus.

  3. It’s not healthy to accept the theology that is in the beginning of the book of Job. Or the theology of Job’s friends in the middle of that book It seems better to look at it as many different theologies, and to realize that those and our theologies are not true pictures of the living God. That seems like a better theme of that entire book. “Good, better, best. Never let it rest. “Til your good is better and your better is best”. This doesn’t disagree with your points about us as selfish, and turning the Gospel into something it is not. It should make us focus on what is good, better, and best. It saddens me to know that grad students at Kansas State mapped the seven deadly sins and found them most prevalent in the Bible Belt. We really can be ambassadors…….but who would know that by preachers in the media, or the culture war, or, as you say, much that is presented as the Gospel on Sunday.

  4. MelissatheRagamuffin says:

    Just in random point of interest the New Jerusalem Bible says, “I shall look for the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the injured, and make the sick strong. I shall watch over the fat and healthy. I shall be a true shepherd to them.”

    Radically different meaning there at the end. Any Hebrew scholars amoung us?

    • It depends on which variant of the Hebrew text is used as the source. Most Hebrew texts include some form of the phrase “the fat and the strong I will destroy.” The variant using “guard” in place of “destroy” comes primarily from the Septuagint and passed into the Vulgate. I was tempted to say the NJB’s Roman Catholic influences likely explain the difference in adoption. Then I checked a NAB published by the Catholic Book Publishing Company and it used “destroy.” So perhaps we’re just looking at a translation preference not shared by most others today.

      But you’re right that the tone and meaning changes significantly depending on which translation is used. For what it’s worth, I checked several English Christian bibles and a copy of the JPS Neviim on my shelf, and all but one used “destroy.” The New English Bible used “guard,” and only the Neviim and – perhaps strangely – The Lutheran Study Bible (ESV) even hinted that there were other variants in ancient sources.

      Now does the “fat and strong” refer to the sheep, or to the shepherds God is calling out at the beginning of the chapter? Surely that has implications on the question as well as on the Homily today.

      • The Jerusalem Bible translators took the LXX into account much more than most translators do, and in places like this it shows. The JB is my preferred English “reading” bible. It reflects an older tradition than the Masoretic text – by 1000 years and is no less “Hebraic” than the MT – perhaps even more so.

        I really like the “guard” sense. It makes God out as caring of all people.

        (PS – Of course y’all knew that JRR Tolkein was responsible for the translation of the Book of Jonah in the English JB…)

        Dana

  5. Thank you, Jeff, for preaching the Cross.

    Not what we want, necessarily, but certainly what we need.

  6. You know, I’ve always wondered what it means to boast in weaknesses, and how God’s strength is made perfect in it. The verse seems so straight forward, yet applying it not-so-much.

  7. So God is focused on his glory? By the way, how do you know that? Nevertheless, when we focus on our “glory” whatever that means, we are selfish. But somehow God is not selfish when he focuses on his glory? So what we need is to be aware of our insignificance and lack of value-somehow that is what we need and that is what God wants us to do. Isn’t it a kind of reverse arrogance to boast about your insignificance? Isn’t that really a false humility? C.S. Lewis says the following:

    Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.

    Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.

    If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

    Lewis goes on to say-a truly humble person is not one who thinks less about himself, but one who thinks about himself less.

    It is as sinful to spend time thinking about how insignificant we as it is to spend time thinking about how great we are. In the same way, I don’t think God is focused on himself-when its on his glory or his power or any other attribute.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.

      i.e. He will NOT be Uriah Heep.

      Or have written a Christianese best-seller about how Humble(TM) he is.

      In the same way, I don’t think God is focused on himself-when its on his glory or his power or any other attribute.

      Too many think God’s Glory is a Zero-Sum Game, where in order to give God supreme importance, nothing else (like you or me) can be allowed to have any importance. That is like Lord Farquar from Shrek (an acondrophlasic dwarf) decreeing that all in his realm shall have their legs amputated so nobody can ever be stand taller than their Lord.

  8. “This morning in churches all across America, preachers will be telling their listeners just how great their lives can be. They will be told that God wants to bless them in every area of their lives,”

    Then where this is happening the gospel is no longer being proclaimed in either the liturgy or the word. This is not the story of Christ, nor the story of the Church. This is another story, alien to the gospel. It is the story of our culture and the story of a lost world.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Some gremlin was working my keyboard, so now I’m known as “d”? Anyway this was my post.

  9. God does not have your best interests in mind. God has his own best interests in his mind.

    If this is really true, then I no longer have any interest, and no longer want any part of god, or christianity, none of it. If I am on my own, then this god can go pound sand. It [god] is no different than anyone else I have come across in this life, and is not worthy of any more of my energy or efforts. Enjoy your “glory”, it helps no one.

    –Justin

    • Justin, I believe God does indeed have your best interests in mind. He is pure love; it would be impossible for Him to be otherwise.

      In fact, His desires for us are far, far, greater than we can think or imagine. So much greater, in fact, that it can create a problem on our part: we may not want what is in fact the best thing for us (just as a small child may make the same mistake). I have seen some people walk away from God because He did not solve a particular and painful problem for them. I wish I had the power to help them to see past their immediate pain to believe that God is using that pain for much, much greater things for them.

      Robert F. has comments above that I believe are also helpful on this point,

    • Justin,

      God in Jesus Christ loves you.

      In Jesus’ death on the cross, God exhibits the vast horizon of his love and concern for you. This death of Jesus on the cross also reveals the extent to which God was and is willing to put aside his glory for the sake of the self-giving love that he has for you, for all human beings, and for his creation; at the same time, perhaps paradoxically, Jesus’ cross is God’s glory embodied and enacted in a human life.

      If you want to see how God’s glory differs from human glory, remember Jesus dying on the cross, because this is the glory of God, lifted up for the world to see.

      Peace, Justin, from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

  10. I have some difficulty processing the idea of God doing everything for His glory, I think when it is mentioned in the Old Testament it can be seen in the light of Israel’s mission, which is to educate the whole world about the real God, to be a light to the nations. If we place this idea in the context of Jesus teaching then I think it means that God delights in the little, the small. That His perfection is found in raining blessings on the just and unjust. That we are to show grace and goodness to those who hurt us because He does the same. He asks us to turn the other cheek, give our coats, walk the extra mile because these are characteristics of Him. God is good, very good.

    • Indeed.

      I believe I understand what Jeff was trying to convey. I’m nervous about the “God doing everything for God’s glory” line of thought, because it’s so easy to take away from that that God has the same motives as humans. It is so very, very different from the mind-blowing humility of God that is most evident in the Incarnation and the Cross. Robert F’s comments are also very helpful.

      Dana

  11. MelissatheRagamuffin says:

    About 10 years ago I went through a very dark time. I lost my job/career, my home, and many other things, and to make it all the worse – everything I suffered my son suffered too. I was doing everything right yet everything kept going more and more wrong. I remember my son asking why he should care about a God that so clearly didn’t care about him. I finally got to the point where I decided that even if He didn’t care one wit about me that I still wanted to worship him because He is God, and it is the right thing to do.

    • Bless you, this is so right, there is no answer to unjust suffering except for trust and submisssion to the Almighty.

  12. Daisey former Missionary and Carmelite says:

    God doing what He does, ultimately for His Glory, for the Glory of Who He Is and All He, includes : being Merciful, Loving, Generous, Beautiful, Magnificent, Almighty….

    So this means everything He does: creating human beings, calling each one of us by name, wanting a deeply intimate relationship with each of us, sharing ALL that He IS with us, He does so we can share in His glory and experience His all embracing Goodness. Ultimately, because God does all for His Glory He cannot not care about each person He created. His Mercy can Only be Glorified when He acts mercifully – so we who receive His mercy are the beneficiaries. His Generosity can only be Glorified when He Blesses us. so on and son on….We, human beings, made in His image, are intrinsically connected to God being Glorified. He cannot not care about each person because He IS Love….His Loving Presence, His Merciful Presence, the Power of His Grace Is always Present to each of us. Through our receiving and being blessed by Him He is Glorified in all His Attributes.

    The one thing we need to remember is that what we may not see as a blessing, remember Joseph sold into slavery, Is ultimately for our good, “To the Praise of His Glory”

  13. Liked what Robert f. And Daniel replied. I agree with Jeff,s main points, but Daniel’s statement is true: GOD is love, HEcannot do otherwise than want the best for us. The “best” just happens to come in strange packages. Let’s not let jJoel o. And friends hijack some of our best words/ideas like “glory” or”blessing”. These words have a use. Even if they don’t mean what the prosperity guys say they mean.

  14. The glory of God is self-giving love.