Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sermon Starters: "True Significance"

I'm writing six sermon starters to make a sermon series based on the Sermon on the Mount. The first two are:

Week 1: "The Winner Isn't Who You Think" (Beatitudes, Matthew 5:3-12)
Week 2: "Love the Whole Way" (Matt. 5:43-48)
Week 3: "Who Is Your Audience" (Matt. 6:5-14)

And now a sermon for Week 4: "True Significance"

I would start with some story where something is taken to be significant that really isn't. For example, children might fight over something the parent knows is trivial. There's an old Looney Tunes cartoon where Sylvester the Cat is stuck in the house while the family goes on vacation. There are cans of food everywhere but the mouse of the house has the can opener, which becomes the one really significant thing in the house.

There's a scene in the movie Titanic where a wealthy man is trying to bribe one of the stewards with a wad of money, but the steward knows he is going to die. The money means absolutely nothing.

Matthew 6:19-34 is about what is truly significant. It is not what you see around you, the treasures of earth. And the things that should worry you are not matters of your body. The things of greatest significance are heavenly things.

For background, see the devotionals for Week 4 in The Wisdom of Jesus (pp. 60-76, "Trusting the Master") and the material in Jesus: Portraits from the Gospels (pp. 67-71).

1. Status Non-Symbols
If you read what Jesus says in Matthew 6:19-24, what is insignificant? Money and possessions. Like so much of Jesus' teaching, he turns our worldly common sense upside down. Our first instinct is to treat those with lots of wealth as special. We have a tendency to envy the person with the car, the nice house, the nice clothes, the nice shoes.

There are similar distractions we might mention like fame or status. We prize the football star, the movie star, the famous politician. In the church we might prize the large church pastor, the church leader, maybe even a college professor. But status means nothing in the kingdom of God. The least in this world is great in the kingdom of God.

What does your eye look for? What lights up your insides? Is it the new car? Is it the promotion? In the light of eternity, these are completely trivial things. Any number of stories and illustrations could be made, from high school status to the lives of the rich and famous in the media.

2. Passing Worries
Jesus moves in Matthew 6:25-34 hits closer to home. We all realize that money means nothing if there is no food to buy. We all realize that you would give anything for a coat if you are freezing to death. If you are in a life boat on the ocean without water, you would give a 100,000 dollar car for a drink of water.

In these verses, though, Jesus says that even needs like food, water, and clothing are things that we should not worry about. They too are passing things in the light of eternity. And, more importantly, they are things we can trust God for.

Christians worry. It is human nature, to be sure, But it is a point of inconsistency. If we really believed, if we really trusted God, we would not worry. We would trust that he is in control.

There's that great quote--"Lord, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to tell the difference." It could be a sermon series in its own right.

I think about the joke about the man hanging from a branch on the side of a cliff. He yells up, "Is anyone up there?" God responds yes. What do you want me to do? "Let go," God says. The man pauses, then finally says, "Is there anyone else up there?"

Give examples of trusting in God for our basic needs.

3. True Significance
Jesus tells us that what is truly significant are the things that last, the eternal, and the things the last are the things associated with God and his kingdom.

It's not that we are not living now. It's not that we are just waiting to die or for Christ to return. There's an interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 3 that I like, even if it may not be correct. In this interpretation, people are not working because they are waiting on Christ's return. Jesus is not telling us to waste our lives while we wait.

We can live for what is eternal now, even while we wait for Christ. What is eternal and heavenly? God and Christ, for one. Being God's servant is more significant than being king of the world. Pick any king the congregation might know--Alexander, Caesar, Xerxes. The servant of God will live forever. They are nothing.

People are eternal. We all have an eternal destiny. An investment in a person can yield an eternal result. That's an infinite return on your investment. Better than any financial deal you might give as an example.

Truth is eternal. People forget knowledge, but that which is true is not passing. Jesus is the truth.

Are you living for what is truly significant? If you were to add up your values and the things you are living for, what is your net worth? It's not how many stocks you have or how much you have invested. How much do you have invested in God and Christ? How much do you have invested in your family and others? Are you laying up treasures in heaven or treasures on earth? Are you worrying about the kingdom or the earth?

You might close with either a positive or negative example of either investing in heavenly things or investing in passing things.      

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