Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Would You Take a $20

Would You Take a $20

Suppose I hold up this relatively new $20 dollar bill, and ask how many of you would be glad to take it? Would you? If it were a $100 dollar bill you'd take it in a heartbeat! Suppose I were to crumple it up in my hands, would you still be willing to take it? Suppose I sully it in dirt and grime, how about then? Would you still take it? And if I were to toss it disdainfully on the ground and stomp on it and treat it as shamefully as I could, what would it be worth to you then?


Yes, it is still worth $20.

Some of you might be horrified at such treatment of legal tender. I was when I first heard the story. Something innately within me cried out for respect of legal tender. 

So then, what about you? How much do you suppose you are worth? Especially in the eyes of God? Suppose you are crumpled up by misfortune? Suppose you are dirty, grimy and sullied by sin of your own doing or somebody else’s? Suppose you are stomped on by oppression and shamefully mistreated at home or in the workplace or anywhere else; how much are you worth then in the eyes of God?

Exactly! Your value is not diminished in the least in the eyes of God whatever becomes of you. 

In Jesus’ campaign speech, or what we more commonly call the Sermon on the Mount, he was fond of saying this: “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” ~Matthew 6:26 

In this same speech or sermon at the very outset, he blessed the poor and those who mourn, the meek and those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart and the peacemakers, and he blessed also those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. He repeats the essence of this message in what biblical scholars refer to as the Sermon on the Plain which you can read in Luke 6:17-49. Because the essence of the message occurs in different places, many scholars suppose that Jesus went back to these themes time and again as he made his way around Galillee. 

What price then does God put on your head? Of how much value then are you? Can you put a price tag on a human life? your own or anybody else’s?

It is one of the mysteries of the Gospel that your life is worth as much as the life of the Savior. God gives his life for you in the person of Jesus. You are worth dying for. God will give his life for you. God did give his life for you in the person of Jesus. 

The Psalmist says "worship God in the beauty of holiness." What does it mean for us to "worship" God? Interestingly enough, if we look at the word “worship” in the dictionary, we learn that it is both a noun and a verb. As a noun it can be described as a feeling of reverence to God or to anything or to anyone that is sacred. Typically, worship comes with a set of rites and rituals to help us recognize that which is sacred and holy. As a verb, worship is the act of rendering reverence and homage to God or to something or someone who is holy. 

You see, when we come together week by week to worship God, we ascribe to God the Glory and Honor that is due God’s Name. We recognize God's worth to us. God's value is infinite, absolute, the ultimate worthiness of our lives. But what of your value as part and parcel in the act of worship? To me this is the key to our worship. We learn in these songs we sing, in these Holy Writings we listen to week by week, even on occasion, in a decent sermon or two, and above all in the sacrament; that God’s life has been and is being given for us in order that we might learn not of God’s worth alone, but our own as well. For insofar as God's worth is infinite, absolute and the ultimate reality of life, so too we come to discover the same of ourselves. 

In today’s first lesson, what upsets Elijah and this whole business of the prophets of Baal is that the folks had gone off to worship graven images. They had forgotten God. They actually had forgotten much more than what can be understood merely to be a petulant and jealous God. No, there is much more to this contest between the prophets of Baal and Elijah than a bit of trickery as to who could make the carcass of a bull ignite in flames. 

What had happened is that the folks had forgotten their own worth in the eyes of God. For what really matters to God is that we understand our worth to God as much as God’s worth to us. Instead off we go chasing after some graven image or another time and again throughout our history.

In our own time, what is the object of our worship? What is our bottom dollar? In colloquial idiom we call it The Almighty Dollar as if it were a god to us. Take a good look at Wall Street; you may notice that there is a bull ensconced there and there are those whose greed and love of money reaches such an extent that the bull of Wall Street becomes an idol and an object of worship to many. I needn’t point out to you that at the bottom of the crash of 1929 or 2008 was greed gone wild. Time and again we need to learn and relearn that such misdirected worship will always come crashing down upon itself. 

In today’s Epistle, Paul notices a similar phenomenon. Have the folks forgotten the Gospel so soon? Are they chasing after other gods so quickly. Has the Gospel message become so quickly confused with the secularism of their time?

And what of today’s Gospel? It seems appropriate that a soldier comes to the fore on Memorial Day weekend. Jesus is astonished at his faith. In fact the entire Gospel passage is astonishing. This particular soldier has a profound respect for the Jewish People. That’s unusual right there. An occupation force is more likely to despise the people and the place it occupies and vice versa. But not so here. In fact, this particular Centurion was instrumental in building the Synagogue. Therefore both the Jewish elders and the Centurion have a profound respect and admiration for one another. For this particular Centurion, the slave who was sick was of deep value to him. The people were of value. Even their God was of value to him. And more than that Jesus was of value. He knew that as he gave orders to his soldiers, so too, all Jesus had to do was give the word. 

This is astonishing! Jesus said that nowhere in all of Israel had he seen such faith. Here was a man who understood what it meant to worship. Worship led him to value people, even if they were slaves, or a foreign people who worshipped a foreign God. For this particular Centurion people were of much more value than the whole pantheon of Roman gods. Nowhere had Jesus seen such faith. 

This soldier got it. This is what Jesus had come to teach us; "Love one another."

How astonishing indeed! Think of the foreigner in your life. Think of the slave and the poor and how well they are treated and spoken of. Think of those who worship God differently than we do. How well do we honor “the other” in our time and in our nation? 

Our lives are of immeasurable value to God. All lives do; domestic and foreign. However crumpled, sullied by sin or stomped on by oppression and violence, in the eyes of God we all remain of infinite value.

The Psalmist wants us to “sing a New Song to God”.
The Psalmist wants us to “worship the God in the beauty of holiness.” For then we shall see the beauty of holiness.
Then we shall see the holiness of all God's people.
"Sing to God a new Song!"

In the Name of God, the most holy, undivided and everlasting Trinity.

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