Monday, July 02, 2012

Trinity 4 Sermon Notes

I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us.+

I'm entitling this sermon, “What you want, versus what will bring you joy”. Many times in life, we will desire something. Sometimes, we will desire it quite strongly. We don't get it, and we are disappointed. Then, much later perhaps, we may see that what we wanted would not have been good for us anyway, was a disaster we were blessed to avoid, or was inferior to what we finally got. You see, much of what we desire we desire for what we imagine it will be, rather than what it really is. Our imaginations have so little to go on, and so much freedom, that it is easy for us to have an idealised view of the object of our hankering. That is why one of God's greatest mercies can be answering “No” to our prayers!

But it is also the case that many experiences we would choose to avoid, if we had the choice, are the things that bring us wisdom, growth, sympathy and so, in the end, greater happiness. Now, imagine you put two boxes in front of someone and say, “Box A will lead to a life of wealth, luxury and ease. Box B involves suffering and struggle, but enough resources to keep you going. Choose one.” “Box A, Box A! I choose Box A!!!” will be the natural reply. But what if you then said, “Whoa there, hang on, before you make your final choice, be aware that Box A will lead to fewer real friends, but many fair-weather friends, and you will probably become addicted to shallow pleasures and inclined to foolishness and carelessness regarding others, and to never being satisfied with what you've got. Box B, on the other hand, will lead you to becoming a better and more genuinely respected person, and you will know deeper friendships and greater insights. Now what do you pick?”

And that is a good question. What will people pick? Truth be told, many will still want to pick Box A, and some will still pick it with hardly a second thought: “Shallow pleasures, yeah baby, that's what I'm talking about. Who needs friends?!?” Following the thought processes of most others is not too hard. “I know I'm supposed to pick B, I probably ought to pick B, … but … but ...” What would be rare, if this was a real choice with real consequences, that your whole life depended on, would be the person who was able to pick B without delay or uncertainty.

Similarly, if you said to a Christian that Box A was a mediocre but relatively painless life of faith, with few big sins, and just as few great virtues or works, while Box B meant great wisdom, sanctity, and heavenly reward, yet also martyrdom, the choice would not be an easy one for most. Fortunately, God does not give us such explicit choices very often. We are blessed that he often just gives us the right box, though we may not think so at the time. We are also blessed usually not to know ahead of time exactly what is in the box!

However, there is a sense in which we have to make the choice all the time. We want to hold onto our money and our grudges, but today's Gospel tells us that the way to abundant life is generosity and mercy. We want to criticise the faults of others and complain about their stupidity or wickedness, but the Gospel reminds us that we need to shine the searching light on our own souls first, to get some perspective. We want to avoid all pain, but the Epistle says some pain is the path to a reward that is infinitely greater. We want to be satisfied now, if not sooner, but the Epistle talks about “waiting”. (How many men and women have been destroyed by “get rich quick”-schemes? Even in earthly matters, patience is a virtue, and an essential one.)

And it's worth noting that while some of the benefits of Box B are in the next life, some of them are in this one. Jesus in today's Gospel is not referring only to God rewarding us, but what “men” will “give” us. 
Nevertheless, it's in the light of eternity that we see the true value of things. And Judgement is certain.

So, let us invest in eternity by picking Box B. Put people above possessions. Accept unpopularity for the sake of integrity, and persecution for the sake of God's truth. Build up people rather than tear them down, even though the latter is easier. Don't push for quick fixes, but wait and work hard for lasting ones. And seek God above all, for only he can bring us ultimate joy. +

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