What does God require of us? Learning Time for Jan 29, 2023 Harrow United Church

It’s that special time of the year again.  We received our first record of donations by mail the other day. Soon we will receive our T4 slips, and other statements of income. 

Tax season is upon us. I use a tax program to sort out and file our returns. It is so much easier than doing it all by hand. But whether I work at it with a calculator and a sharp pencil, or the software, the object of the exercise is to calculate what is owing. 

I am happy to pay my fair share. I am grateful for my life in Canada, in Ontario, in Essex County. I recognize that much of what it takes to live comfortably, to trust the water and food supply, and to feel safe when I venture outside my home, costs money.

I have the sense that not everyone sees things that way. There is an undercurrent in our society, a murmuring that encourages us to pay the least possible amount for anything, and do even that grudgingly. Some of our friends, family members and neighbours look upon earning and having money not as a gift or privilege, but as an undeniable right. I sometimes get the sense that some people would like all the rights, but without the responsibilities that are part of the package.

We are, in so many ways, consumers. We purchase products, and consume, or use them, mostly for ourselves, and those closest to us. It’s the same with services and experiences. If we have paid for it, we expect things to be done for us.

The consumer mindset has seeped into many of our relationships. Our posture in the world too easily becomes one of entitlement, and expectation, and demand. “What do I get?”  is a more common question than “what can I contribute, what can I do to help?”

If we are sick, we go to the doctor for a prescription, a literal magic pill to make us better. If the doctor says, hey, what you really need is to go for a walk every day, and cut back on snacks and desserts, we might ask, isn’t there an easier way? Can I see a specialist?

The same murmuring that tells us to get the maximum bang for our buck, to pay the least, and get the most possible, will also tell us that this is the power of the consumer. We can make demands, and ask for more, and bargain, and threaten to withhold payment, or even sue, until we get what we want.

That can feel like power. But it is also, if you really look at it, giving responsibility for our own happiness, well-being, satisfaction to someone else. We place someone else in charge of making us happy, because we have paid for it.

I am not suggesting we let people take advantage of us, or not deliver on what they have promised. Accountability is important. 

It’s also important to look carefully at ourselves, and our own priorities for life.

There is danger in the mindset that we can always buy, and demand what we need to be satisfied.  I believe it’s a danger that Jesus warned about.

We heard part of the Beatitudes read out loud today. I appreciate the version we heard today from The Message. Especially where it says,

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.”

It’s good to be reminded that we can’t actually buy happiness, or contentment, or meaning for our lives. That there is so much more to us, and to life than what can be bought or sold. 

That’s not saying life is easy, even though some preachers have tried to sell us faith in a kind of transactional way. If you sign up to follow Jesus, you have done your part, and God will do the rest. You will be blessed in many tangible ways. There is a brand of Christianity called the Prosperity Gospel, popular with the TV preachers, that doesn’t even beat around the bush. They actually say, pray this prayer, sign up with us, and you will have it made.

That may sound good, until it doesn’t. Life inevitably surprises us, and disappoints us, and hurts us. There is sickness and death, change and loss. Things do not always go as we hoped, and being a Jesus follower does not insulate or protect us from hard things happening- ask, well ask anybody in this room. We know that life can be hard. We may also have experience with our faith helping us, even when, maybe especially when life is hard.

I am pretty sure that’s not what Jesus was getting at. I don’t think he was trying to sell anybody on anything. 

The reading says, “When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions.”

The passage is part of a talk he gave, not to a big crowd, but to the inner circle of the group of disciples he was gathering.

I think it was more like Jesus was offering them their job description. Follow me, and this is how it’s going to be. He was telling them about a life that was not passive, but active. He wasn’t reading them a consumer’s bill of rights. He was saying, “here is a way to live that will be hard, and in which you will feel alive, and part of something bigger than yourself.”

Jesus invited his closest friends, and each of us, to a life in which we are blessed, as we bless others. The blessing he was talking about was not just saying “bless you” when someone sneezes, but actually helping people, caring for their physical, emotional, spiritual needs. 

Jesus said:

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.” Amen