One of the advantages of my side gig as a newspaper writer is that i have interviewed some famous people; Great Big Sea, the Irish Rovers, and Tommy Hunter for example. My little brother Andrew is a movie producer and he has met some really famous people...
Here is something that has surprised me. How normal these people seem.
I have never talked to anyone who did not sound just like one of you.
In fact, there are some people in our congregation who are famous – we just don’t ask enough questions of each other or share our stories enough.
So what makes one person different than another? Is it wealth? Is it popularity? Is it social status?
What would make someone more important?
What are we supposed to be like?
Let’s think about that for a moment as we say a prayer together....
I humbly suggest to you that life is about asking the right questions.
If you don't ask the right questions, you can't get the right answers. That's a basic principle of success in almost any endeavour. All of you who are gathered here today can more than likely think of times in your life when you had to ask the right questions. As a matter of fact, it can be devastating to not ask the right questions.
To the real estate agent, "Is this house on a flood plain?"
To the used car salesman, "Can I have the phone number of the little old lady who owned this car?
To the insurance agent, "Can you tell me what is not covered?"
What question do you imagine God would ask of you? Because that is essentially what is happening in this passage; God asks:
God asks all of Israel, "What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?"
Okay, so this is harsh... but this is Jeremiah’s twist on “you are what you eat.” He is saying, “you become like the things you seek;” or perhaps “you are what you worship.”
I will take it a step further and combine it with my opening – I believe we ‘worship’ what we ‘envy’ in society. So we want to be rich, we want to be famous, we want to be healthy, we want to be beautiful... and I know, some of us make peace with our lives – but envy is never far below the surface... even something as simple as thinking our grandkids spend too much time at the inlaws...
“What have I done?” asks God, “that you put all of these things first?”
We try though – we try to at least make God a priority; and God’s values important... and that is why each week we offer up a token of our lives and our love as we give back a portion of the bounty that grace has blessed us with.... May our hearts be opened to God’s will as we share in our offering.
All I ever really needed to know....
Have you ever read the book or seen the poster about “all I ever needed to know I learned in Kindergarten?” it is great, it is written by another minister, and writer, Robert Fulgham.
Here is the famous part:
All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at school.
These are the things I learned:
- Share everything.
- Play fair.
- Don't hit people.
- Put things back where you found them.
- Clean up your own mess.
- Don't take things that aren't yours.
- Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
- Wash your hands before you eat.
- Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
- Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
- Take a nap every afternoon.
- When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
- Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
- Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we.
- And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.
Everything you need to know is in there somewhere; the Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation; ecology and politics and equality and sane living.
Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all - the whole world - had cookies and milk at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap; or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.
And it is still true; no matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.
There you are – the book of Hebrews and every other Biblical advice on how to live our lives explained... in a way that even a five year old can grasp...
Let’s listen to John and Daphne sing...
The Foot of the Table
I think I have told you about end stress analysis. It is a truism of Biblical writing – whatever is the last thing said in a particular passage is probably the most important.
Take for example, Jesus teaching here – there is a lot going on – parties and places of honour – choices to be made...
But the story ends... so when you throw a party, invite the people everyone else forgot... they can’t repay you, they often can’t throw you a party... but you will be blessed.
Jesus was always taking the wisdom passed down through the tradition and simplifying it... and he was always using the most basic examples to get people understand a “better way” to be.
This is the other side of Jeremiah – Jeremiah comes to the people and says, “Why are you always choosing the wrong things?” “Why do you fight so hard against God?”
Jesus comes to those who already know they are messing some things up and says, “it is easier than you think.”
I suspect that is why a lot of the people I talk to who have “made it big” are humble. Perhaps it is far easier to see how easy it is from the other side.... all of us could be the type of people that make a difference in the world – we just have to focus a little differently... and it means learning some skills we might not have – like humility and hospitality. Openness and kindness. Trust and compassion.
Jesus essentially says, God does not want all that much from you... so... are you willing to try?
Micah Brings Us Home
Long before Jesus summed things up for everyone, Micah did it in a very poetic way... the song we just sang is almost exactly what Micah says; but the prophet elaborates a wee bit:
With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God
That’s it... simple... go and do likewise!