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Sunday, March 26, 2017

True Rewards (Luke 6.22-23,26, Colossians 3.23-25)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; March 26, 2017; Luke 6:22-23,26; Colossians 3:23-25

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Scripture and Music ::
Gathering Music: Thrive (Casting Crowns)
Singing Together: Enough (Tomlin, Giglio)
Singing Together: My Soul Finds Rest/Psalm 62 (Keyes, Townend)
The Word in Music: Blest Are They (Haas, Joncas)
Hymn of Sending: Jesus Calls Us (GALILEE)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks  the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

I’m not sure there is more provocative pair of statements than those we are looking at today:

Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy… Woe to you when all men speak well of you…” (Luke 6:22,26)

We are continuing in a series entitled, “What does it mean to be blessed?” And today’s text serves as a reminder: it may not mean what you think it means! In today’s text Jesus brings up the topic of ‘reward’ and challenges us on why we say the things we say and do the things we do.

Little Rewards

I don’t know why this particular blessing/woe pairing grabs my attention harder than some of the others. Maybe it is because I do so much like affirmation and praise. Yet here Jesus warns me, pronouncing ‘woe’ when everyone starts speaking well. At least I need to ask myself some hard questions: “Why all the praise? Is this empty flattery?” Now, as with all these teachings, there are exceptions to what Jesus is saying. There are certainly times when we receive or give praise for something done truly and well and in a godly way. But that’s not what Jesus is getting at here. He’s talking about that dynamic when we say or do things for the sake of human approval alone, and particularly when those things are in contrast to the will or way of Christ. Right? He’s set up a contrast with doing things “for the sake of the Son of Man.” He specifically mentions false prophets, those who spoke words to please others rather than speaking truth. We might extend that specific warning to any example of seeking human approval but NOT serving Christ.

The flip side of that is when we do or say the right thing, or specifically the godly Christ-thing, and take heat for it. There’s a simple enough example of this: have you ever told a child or a teenager something true, even motivated by love for them, and it not been met with hugs and thanks? The temptation is to say what they want to hear and be “the greatest parent ever” but that’s not truly loving them. Or with a friend who is getting themselves in trouble. If you have a good enough relationship with them you might risk speaking the loving truth to them. I’ve been in that position as a friend as well as a pastor. I can tell you that sometimes – maybe even most times – that truth is hard for them to receive. I’ve also yielded to the temptation just to dodge the hard truth instead. How about you? Ever been in any of those situations?

Let me offer two reasons (besides doing the right thing) that Jesus gives us to live “for His sake.”

Two Reasons to Live for His Sake

He Did it For Us

One compelling reason to risk rejection for the sake of Christ is that he did it for us. I can’t help but think of Jesus when I read that list: hate, ostracize, insult, scorn as evil. Those were the things done to Jesus while he was teaching us about God and giving his life sacrificially for us. While he had followers, he had many opponents who tried to trip him up, trap him. And eventually they arrested him, beat and mocked him, and killed him. It was all while he was about His Father’s business, bringing light into the darkness and making a way for us to be restored to God.

So it is no wonder that when we, in turn, follow after his teaching and his way, we experience some of the same things he did. That’s the response of the darkness and often the response of the world. But that’s just the point where Jesus tries to encourage those who would follow him. Don’t look for immediate reward for your reward is in Heaven.

Heavenly Rewards

He doesn’t spell out for us what those heavenly rewards are. And I’ll admit that it’s something I struggle to understand. Heaven is as good as it gets already, right? It’s not like there’s a better view for some, or that such a thing would matter to us anymore. Probably closer to what he is saying is that the reward of trusting and following him IS Heaven. While we don’t want to misread that as a kind of salvation by works, I think it does remind us that a saving faith is not a comfortable or sheltered thing. It stirs us to action, following the teaching and example of Christ; and that, says Jesus, will stir up some trouble and resistance. That may even serve, then, as encouragement that our faith is alive and well. Jesus even says that it can be a source of joy in the present.

What Does that Look Like for Us

I remember a number of years ago when we first started talking about being a church beyond our walls. In addition to encouraging you to not just keep “church” contained to meetings in rooms here on certain days of the week, but embodying “church” in every moment and every place “out there” (beyond the walls). One of the things I remember saying over and over is that it would get messy. The carpet might get dirty; there might be babies and children making noise in worship (praise the Lord!); there might be people that look different from you (again, praise the Lord!). That’s when we met our friends across the street in the group home. That’s when we welcomed multiple Girl Scout groups into the church. That’s when we connected with homeowners associations and, in many new ways, to the elementary school. And I’ll tell you something: that’s also when we saw a noticeable uptick in vandalism, some minor stuff and some not so minor, including one incident of spray-painted hate speech. (Didn’t see it? We painted over it pretty quick!) But here’s what I think happened: we started making a difference for Christ in the neighborhood and got noticed. Jesus says that faithful public obedience not gets messy, but sometimes there is trouble. It gets noticed and sometimes pushed against.

As I tried to say often back then, if you see those things – whether signs of life like babies and carpet spills and people that look and act different or unpleasant things like vandalism – don’t take it as a sign to back off or slow down. Realize that it may be a sign of faithfulness and be encouraged.

I’d lift that back up as we re-engage the world after some time focusing on renovations and repairs. There is a new vision and energy around things like men’s ministry, racial reconciliation, youth and children, drama, the community garden, and more! It might get messy again. Lord Jesus, I pray that it will get messy again! And when it does, don’t back away; press in! If we do these things for the sake of Jesus, we can expect some pushback, some resistance, and perhaps even some trouble. Be glad in that day!

Whatever You Do… (Colossians 3:23-25)

I chose the Colossians text because it also mentioned “reward” and it expands a bit on Jesus’ words in Luke. In Colossians, the scope of serving Christ is as wide as could be: “WHATEVER you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for people.” (v. 23) In other words, serve Christ in all things and do so HEARTILY, with passion and energy. Here the Apostle Paul simplifies the contrast for us: “for the Lord rather than for people.” And Paul is a bit clearer about the nature of the reward: it is the “reward of the inheritance” (v. 24) – scripture talks in several places about this inheritance being the salvation that God has secured for us in Christ. (cf. 1 Peter 1)  So it’s not a special seat in Heaven, but salvation itself. Again, we can get twisted around thinking that we earn this salvation, but ‘inheritance’ immediately sets that notion aside. You don’t earn or deserve an inheritance; it is a gift. And while that may have slightly negative connotations for us, in scripture it is a powerful and positive image: that the ‘inheritance’ of salvation is lovingly given by God to each one – adopted children at that – who trust in God’s covenant promises to rescue and redeem, finally fulfilled perfectly in Christ.

Paul also expands helpfully on what “for the sake of the Son of Man” means: he says outright, “It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” So that is what I would lift up before us as a challenge and charge as God’s people in this place. Come, let us serve Christ HEARTILY, not only within these walls, but out in the world, where we live and work and move. Let us seek God’s approval, not that of people. It may get messy; there may be push-back. But take heart; that is an indication that it’s working! And that’s what it means to be blessed. Amen!

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