Matthew 6: 19-21; James 1:2-8
Pastor Tom Millner
We’re beginning a series of lessons on living response-ably. Our objective is for us to learn how to enhance our ability to respond to circumstances, challenges, inspirations, limitations, temptations, and confusions with the grace that God has granted us through Jesus Christ. The dictionary defines responsibility as having a burden placed upon one as in an obligation. We’ve known parents, children, friends or even neighbors who have acted irresponsibly with the persons or things that have been entrusted to their care. Perhaps we have been the recipient of irresponsible behaviors from others, or even suffered the consequences of our own irresponsibility. Even those who have taken on the mantle of preaching, teaching and living God’s love through grace and mercy have acted irresponsibly and caused strife, division, rejection, and even violence toward God’s children. When God divined creation of the earth, He gave mankind the authority to care for it. As far as we know, mankind was doing an able job of looking after that for which God has made them responsible. They were in relationship with God and enjoyed enhanced abilities directly through that relationship. Then, they decided that they could go against God’s rule and become as good as the teacher and giver of all. They thought they would gain all knowledge. Instead of gaining all knowledge of the universe and all things created therein, however, they gained knowledge of their own deficiencies, shortcomings, created-ness and inabilities. We’ve inherited those traits to want to do life all on our own. We want more of what we see as good and less or none of what we deem as bad. Yet we often shun the responsibilities that come with having or being given more or much less. Responsibility is the obligation that comes with position, ownership, oversight, etc. Response ability is the wherewithal to be able to live out the commitment to what and for what we have agreed to be responsible. Responsibility is the what; response- ability is the how.
So, where does the strength for living up to the responsibilities come from? Psalm 19:14 declares; “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.” That means that strength lies in relationship with God. When we acknowledge and accept that Jesus Christ has secured the ways and means of restored relationship with God, just as if we’d never broken that relationship, we acknowledge that the power behind that union is Jesus and not we ourselves. What does God require of us? He requires the surrender of our hearts, minds and souls to His tender, loving care. That’s our work, and it’s grounded in faith. He calls us to faith it till we make it!
James wrote in his epistle that we “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Even when our faith is weak, He calls us to stay the course – to persevere even in the midst of whatever is challenging our faith. Look at some prime examples from scripture.
Abraham: It’s recorded that Abraham was considered as a righteous man; his faith was counted as righteousness. At a ripe old age of around 75, as a result of his faithfulness with being hospitable to strangers who turned out to be Angels from God, was given the promise of being the father of a great nation. Abraham believed God and went about his business giving God the glory for every day. No child seemed to be coming their way so Sarah took it upon herself to help God out in His promise. She ordered her servant, Hagar, to mate with Abraham. A son resulted, but Ishmael was not the promised nor intended heir. When Sarah discovered she was pregnant at an advanced age, she was humbled. In spite of her unbelief, Isaac, the intended heir and progenitor for a great nation was born. Abraham’s faith must have faltered at times, but he never ceased to move ahead as though it were to be. Even when God tested him by asking him to give up Isaac as a sacrifice to God, Abraham moved forward in obedience, trusting that God would provide a way out. And He did!
Paul: The Apostle Paul, before his dramatic conversion, was persecuting Christians with zeal. Once God touched him with the presence of Jesus Christ, his zeal for persecution turned to passion for spreading the good news of God’s redeeming grace to everyone, regardless of where, what, or who they were. He suffered beatings, persecution, imprisonment for extended periods of time, yet he stuck with his faith that God’s grace and love for this world is greater than any circumstance that he (Paul) faced. Paul had faith beyond the circumstance. In Romans 7:19-20 he states; “19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” In the face of his own actions that did not always honor God, Paul nevertheless persevered in his faith that he was a child of grace, not condemned by the sin that he identified as living in him. How many times do we find ourselves being discouraged because what we are doing is not what we know we could be doing that honors God? It’s easy to beat oneself up and conclude that indeed one is not worthy of God’s love and thus depart from the faith. What Paul encourages us to remember is that we were never worthy in the first place. Grace is God’s love shown to us without regard for our merit. We can never measure up! That’s not meant as defeat, but as “de” fact. What takes us off tract from living our His grace through faith is the belief that we SHOULD be able to live our lives without temptation, without flaw, without the bothers of difficulties or distractions, hardships or challenges. That’s not real life, folks; that’s fantasy! Paul lived out his life of grace through faith, even in the midst of life threatening, personal conflicts, and challenges. He persevered, not because there was some grand reward for him at the end of the rainbow, but because he believed that the One in whom he believed was greater than all his experiences, challenges, sins, and circumstances, which surrendered him to “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Living out His grace in our lives is the work to which He calls us.
Jesus: Let’s talk about Jesus now. He’s the perfect example of the perfect human living out God’s creation plan in a perfect way. He practiced what He preached and lived out His life in perfect harmony with His Father. “Sure,” you say; “He was God.” He was as much human as if not God at all and as much God as if not man at all. In His humanness He experienced temptations, emotions, and desires for all the places of safety from harm that you and I experience. What made Him rise above the worry, temptations and what could have been negative emotions? It was His faith that His Father had His back. It was the surrender to doing what was God’s will that transcended all the things that might have filled His agenda at the moment. It was the faithful perseverance in the faithfulness to which He had been called that was the culmination and fulfillment of His righteousness. This He did by the power vested in Him by the Father. He executed God’s investment perfectly and made himself the perfect sacrifice that overshadows all of our sins, our shortcomings, our failures to measure up to the standard for which we were created. Because He did this perfectly and was not held captive to death and the grave like all other humans, we are given the vista of new life in and because of Him. When we choose to live out His love in grace and mercy, we “faith” our way to a deeper relationship with Him and enhance the probability of a deeper relationship with each other.
From our reading in Matthew today we hear Jesus saying; ““Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The question we must face today is “where is our treasure.” If our treasure is truly to be found in Him, why do we spend so much time and energy striving to measure up with a treasure that has nothing to do with Him? Letting go of our self-professed intentions to always do His will and surrendering instead to “not my will, but Thine be done,” is the pathway to the ability to truly respond within His grace and mercy. As Christians we do have a responsibility and an obligation – to nurture our part of the relationship to the One who has given His all for us. That nurtured relationship takes shape in surrender of agendas to the power of Grace and Mercy Himself and therein acquire new abilities to respond to Him and others with the same degree of love that has drawn us to Him.
Pastor Tom Millner, Sr. Pastor
http://www.cohssnj.org (Sister church in NJ)