Years ago, when our kids were younger, I spent entirely too many hours one evening putting together a basketball goal in our garage. The reason this hour max project took so many additional hours was a small round metal object included in the assembly kit. At first, and even second glance, this, maybe 2 inch, piece seemed totally superfluous. So, I did what you do when you don’t know what to do with an unneeded piece, I quickly found a place where the object almost fit and crammed it in until it didn’t fall out. I gave little consideration that it might be of importance – I soon, however, discovered that it was of great importance. As I finished the project I found it would not stand alone. I was pretty sure that this was not right – I had seen enough inspirational basketball movies to know that something was wrong. As I analyzed this conundrum I recognized the problem. It needed of a small, 2 inch round metal piece at the base of the post. Embarrassingly, it took me a few moments before I remembered that I actually already had small round piece of metal that was crammed into another slot. I disassembled the entire project and reassembled it with every piece, including the small round metal piece in its appropriate spot, the goal stood tall, just like in Space Jam.
Sometimes we are not as smart as we think we are, sometimes we are not as wise as we want to be, sometimes we are not as discerning as we need to be, sometimes we are not as confident as we could be, sometimes we are not as patient about seeking answers as we are called to be. Sometimes we disregard a useless piece that is actually critical to our mission.
Our gospel passage this week is a difficult read. It is especially troublesome when we consider the fact that this was the last official teaching moment that Jesus spent just with his followers. It was of urgent importance.
In 1517, an obscure German monk named Martin Luther challenged 95 theology points that made up the prominent Christian thought. The one we are most aware of is his insistence that our salvation comes through faith, not faith in our works but faith in the works of Jesus Christ. His premise was based on the Apotle Paul’s writing to the Ephesians
‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.’
We owe Martin Luther and his brave contemporaries for taking the risky stand and insisting the religious institution recognize this. However, we must also realize that Luther had a small round piece of metal he did not know what to do with still laying on the floor of his study. The next verse is a light from the window reflecting on the metal piece, constantly blinding Luther as he continued to work.
‘For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.’
Martin Luther was convinced that any teachings, especially the book of James and its emphasis on doing good, that did not blatantly proclaim salvation by grace did not belong anywhere near the ‘gospel’ writings of the apostle Paul that he said…
‘St. James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it.’
― Martin Luther
Luther erred in that he felt that the ‘gospel’ is just about eternal salvation. However, the true gospel is is found in everything about Jesus, for that matter, everything about God – it is all essential to understanding the gospel, the good news. This truth is the missing piece that keeps us standing upright, it turns us away from a totally selfish Christianity that leads our focus to self and our own agendas.
Later, another German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke to the small round piece of metal on Martin Luther’s floor, saying.
‘Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.’
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Letting me start with the basic premise of this message, let’s take a moment to begin to grasp the basic point of what I am going to be saying this morning.
Our deliverance from a hopeless filled void of eternity is in the person and work of Jesus Christ, we have nothing to do with it except that we recognize truth and embrace it with our whole being. Being a good person does not give us an out on eternal hopelessness because we are unable to be that good, only Jesus could.
However, the gospel is not just a truth about us, it is not just about the exit door from eternal hopelessness and despair. The gospel truth is about being in a place of eternal hope and what that creates in our very existence here and for eternity.
We were created, not just to find the escape, but to mercifully bind up the wounds, to compassionately address the needs, to show the way through our words, our actions, our very being. It is about doing good, the same good we hope others will do for us. This aspect of the gospel call is not for eternity, it is for now, it is what happens when we have the greatest investment possibly, this life of the Son of God, invested totally in each of us.
Mother Theresa said it succinctly and correctly, ‘The best gift we have been given is to feel alive while we are alive.
This week, as I struggled with our gospel passage God brought me back to Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus. The believers in the city of Ephesus had a small round metal piece problem. In Ephesians chapter 1, Paul says:
‘I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the boundless greatness of His power toward us who believe.’ (NASB)
Now, how could they, how can we, not love a passage like this? Inheritance, boundless greatness, riches, power…those are promises that can grow a church!
But, now look at this passage from another, just as legitimate perspective:
‘I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can see something of the future God has called you to share. I want you to realize that God has been made rich because we who belong to Christ have been given to God! I pray that you will begin to understand how incredibly great God’s power is to help those who believe him.’ (TLB)
Did you hear that, ‘God has been made rich, not us but God, because we who belong to Christ have been given to him’? Let’s look back at the first translation,, a translation that is probably similar to your own Bibles – Look, there, on the floor, is our important piece, there it is in the first translation, it is saying the same thing as the second translation – ‘the riches of the glory of His inheritance IN the saints’
There it is – the word IN. It is lying there on the floor, completely dismissed, easy to step on it, its presence neven recognized. In this two letters, this small word, we can understand what has confused the church for centuries. These two letters ‘I’ and ’N’, this one word, ‘IN.’
I know a man spends a majority of his time watching the stock market on the computer screen, the television screen, in newspapers, and anywhere else he can find out the latest market news. He does this because he is invested in the market and has, in fact, placed all all of his funds in one stock. Everyday he continually looks at what he has invested his valuable resources ‘IN’. When that stock takes a nose dive, when that business experiences a financial disaster, he never considers trading that stock for another – He is invested ‘IN’ that stock, he believes in the work of that company, his hope is in that field, he has calculated that his most valuable resources are best placed with this institution. He has decided that his greatest assets will be most powerful when invested IN this stock.
So we see Jesus, speaking to his followers for the last teaching moment before his arrest. This is not one of his large hungry crowds that we saw earlier in his ministry, teaching a group of nonbelievers….this is a moment with this crowd of probably around 120 people, mostly those who would also be with Jesus after the resurrection. It is here, with this group of those who are already followers of Jesus, that he is explaining God’s entire investment strategy. Jesus is sharing that God has invested his all, his most valued asset, in them, in us. There is not plan B, this is where he has placed everything of true worth. This is to who he gave creation and this is who he gave Jesus.
Jesus message about sheep is not about salvation it is about life here on earth, it is about the abundance Christ desires that we live in. It is about lives that reflect God’s investment, it is about us recognizing that our relationship with God is not one sided, it is not just us escaping eternal hopelessness – No, it is about our participation and work to multiply God’s resource by us meeting our suffering world and seeking to do what Jesus did, striving to meet the needs with compassion and mercy, attempting to make our lives worthy of the most valuable investment that has been made in us. It is about how we interact, it is about how we treat others, it is about how we choose to love all, it is about how we vote, it is about how we spend, it is about how we walk with others, it is about our burdens in the face of injustice and oppression, it is about treating all people as the beloved created by God the creator.
God’s investment is Jesus, and his stock is you and me.
God is watching how his investment feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, inviting the stranger in, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the prisoner. He is seeing how our very presence is a proclamation of the God who has invested his all in us. He is seeing how these followers do not even realize that they are doing it, how they love without his push or prompting, how they care and show mercy without God saying screaming threats.
We are God’s INvestment plan. A plan that takes those who have INvested everthing they have, Invested everything that they are in God. A plan that leads him to pour all of his worth into these Invested individuals, into us, who have placed their hope, our hope, their eternity and our eternity, and their now and our now, in the same INvestment the God has chosen. A plan to see ‘his will be done on earth as it already is in Heaven.’
A plan to do, a plan to be, even when we do not realize that we are doing and being. A plan that will leave us asking, ‘WHEN DID I DO THAT?’ A plan that send us out to be his hands, his feet.
So, what does this mean in practical terms. As Paul closed out his first letter to the believers in Thessalonica he said, “I really do not need to tell you what to do, you already know that.’ And they did, and we do. It is the same thing that we have been told since the beginning. The prophet Micah was on the same path as the apostle Paul when he said to the wayward and struggling believers,
‘God has already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, to all people, be compassionate and loyal in your love…oh, and don’t be arrogant, don’t take yourself too seriously— instead take God seriously.’
What do we do with this, how can we be the highest preforming investment in God’s singular portfolio?
- First we seek to know God, not our self centered view of God, but God. A type of understating that trumps all other views. A recognition that is allowed to change everything in our life, our agendas, our judgement, our doubts, our fears, our faith, our relationship with God. A transformed mindset that is permitted to alter us to the very core.
- Second, look at life and evaluate all your values, your views, you judgements, your condemnation, your religious practices, your stances, your everything and ask yourself, ‘Is this increasing the value of God’s investment in me?’
- Third, give the Holy Spirit free reign in your life. Hold nothing back, let the Spirit clean out you closets and every corner of your life. Let the Spirit sweep out hatred, and anything that you have forgotten is there, everything that is devaluing God’s investment in you.
- Fourth, Know God, Follow God, Know God More, Follow God More – in the life where God has placed you, be His investment in you, to the point that you will ask, ‘When Did I Do That?’
5. Important Note: All four of these points are dependent on each other. We cannot do any of these without the willingness and opening of our humanity and, at the same time we cannot do any of these apart from the freedom of the Holy Spirit to work in our life. We are not puppets and the Holy Spirit is not a magician changing us apart from our work or willingness. Christ identified the Holy Spirit as being a helper, a helper can only help when we are willing to be helped and are willing to be the active participant in this help. This word helper, also found in Genesis 2 when God says that he is going to create a ‘suitable helpter’ for Adam – a helper comes along side, a helper prompts and sometimes pushes but nothing is possible if we are not open and willing – willing to do the difficult word and make the necessary sacrifices.
So, we close with this question: What are the current returns on God’s INvestment in you?