Sunday, October 23, 2016

Calling and Reward

Today, we take a look at an important juncture in the history of humanity. In what we will look at today, Genesis records how God begins to focus His efforts to redeem the world. He’s going to zero in on one man, Abraham. There are many things for us to learn as we watch what God does with Abraham and how Abraham responds. What I want to do today is to take a look at how God calls Abraham to an important task. I’m doing this so that we can see what’s involved when God calls us to do something. But first, let me read what happened.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  Genesis 12.1-3

The first thing to see here is what God called Abraham to do. He wanted Abraham to leave home, to leave family and friends and all that was familiar and normal. He called Abraham to completely uproot himself. To be able to get what this means you need to remember that God called for this in an age when people didn’t do that sort of thing. Normally people stayed put in one place and that for their whole lives - nothing like our very mobile society today. God wanted Abraham to leave all of that behind and to begin a journey to… Well, God actually didn’t tell Abraham where he was going to end up. All He said was, ‘Go … to a land that I will show you’. ‘Abraham, just start the trip, and along the way I’ll let you know when to turn right and when to turn left.’ How would you like to hear something like this from God? Leave everything to go whoknowswhere.

Moses doesn’t tell us what was Abraham’s initial response to such an outlandish calling. We do know, though, that ultimately, Abraham did leave it all and traveled west. Now, how could Abraham have initially responded? Or more to the point, how might we initially respond to such a call? Here’s one possibility. ‘God, what gives you the right to mess with my life!?!’

Now, I’m pretty sure that nobody here would actually say those words. And yet - let’s be honest - we just might be tempted to feel that way. The words? No. But the attitude? Maybe. What else would an angry attitude in response to this kind of calling mean? ‘God, what gives you the right to mess with my life!?!’ Falling into that kind of attitude isn’t all that far fetched.

We all have plans for our lives. As we grow up, we have expectations of what later will be like. Most of us, if not all of us, at some point thought about things like getting married and having a family. And we had some specific ideas of what that would look like. And what growing old would look like, too. We had expectations about a job and what our standard of living would be like. There have also been shorter term expectations, like those at the beginning of a greatly anticipated vacation at some very special place. However, it’s just a fact that many of the expectations that we have had haven’t panned out. There are some things that have been great disappointments. And with some of those disappointments there was at least the temptation to adopt an attitude, the attitude that says, ‘God, what gives you the right to mess with my life!?!’ I’m guessing that most of us have felt this temptation. And it’s possible that some of us have fallen into it.

Now, how might God respond to this interesting question about His rights? How might God respond to us if we adopted such an attitude? What, in fact, gives Him the right to mess with our lives? For one thing, God could remind us that He is our creator. He made us. And He made us for a purpose, His purpose. So, technically, He isn’t messing with our lives when He kills some dream that we’ve had. He’s directing our lives in ways that He had intended when He first gave us life. He can do that because He created us.

And then, there’s also this. He’s our redeemer. God has come in Jesus to rescue us from the morass of sin and death that had swallowed us up. And as Jesus invited us to follow Him out of that mess and into His beauty, He was actually quite clear about what would be involved.

If anyone would come after me let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. Mark 8.34

Jesus was up front about the cost. It would mean saying ‘No’ to ourselves when everything in us wants to say ‘Yes’. It would mean being ready to die to desires and dreams and hopes. Jesus warned us that there would be parts of this life that we have embarked on, this life of following Him, that would be hard, that would be painful. He’s not messing with our lives when He makes those sorts of things happen.

So, if we are going to be faithful disciples of our Lord Jesus, then we need to understand that there will be times when our experiences will not match our expectations. Dreams will be crushed; things hoped for will need to be abandoned. There will be a lot of saying ‘No’ to ourselves. Jesus is going to mess with our lives. Count on it. He did that to Abraham, who, it is good to note, did not adopt an attitude. He did not fall into the temptation. We’ll see him avoid that temptation again before we come to the end of Jesus’ dealings with him. And just as He did that with Abraham, He will do that (and has done that) with us. He is going to mess with our lives. The goal, of course, is for us to respond in the way that Abraham did.

But this is where it’s important to look at all that God told Abraham. God didn’t just call Abraham to leave home, family and friends. He said more. Listen.

And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.

Yes, we need to see that God called Abraham to choose to do something that he would find very costly. Life would be dramatically changed for him. But at the same time, God offered something that would offset that cost. ‘Abraham, do this, obey My call, and I’ll give you something that will more than make up for it. I will bless you.’ God promised to reward him. There would be a payoff for Abraham’s obedience.

This is not the only time that we see this sort of thing in the Scriptures. In fact, the idea of reward runs throughout the Bible. Did you notice it in last week’s Gospel Reading? Listen to what Jesus said.

But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just. Luke 14.13-14

Giving a feast for those who cannot return the favor isn’t anything close to what God called Abraham to do. And yet, Jesus promised to reward those who do even this sort of thing. They will be repaid.

Jesus’ words to the rich, young ruler also fit here.

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Jesus calls this man to something huge. ‘Give away all your money.’ Remember, he was a rich, young ruler. ‘Give it all away.’ But at the same time Jesus promises something even greater: ‘treasure in heaven’. Jesus offered to reward that young man if he obeyed His call.

These are just a couple of examples of an important theme in Scripture. Jesus offers to reward those who obey His call.

There will be times when Jesus will call you to do something hard. In some of these times, He will speak to you about it ahead of time just as He did with Abraham. You will have the choice to heed His call or not. But there will be other times when there will be no choosing the hard thing. There will be times when He will simply send that hard thing your way. No warning and no word ahead of time. But in sending it He intends for you to accept it as His calling. The choice then is about how you respond to what He has already done. But either way, He promises to reward you for obeying His call.

Now, Jesus’ calling sounds hard. And it can be hard. It can be very hard. Just ask Abraham or that rich, young ruler. But when Jesus calls us to something hard we are not being called to endure pain that Jesus hasn’t experienced Himself. Listen to how Paul describes Jesus’ own experience.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2.5-8

Jesus was called by the Father to something that was hard, very hard. Like Abraham, He was called to leave His home and begin a life journey in a strange land. Included in that calling was a death that goes beyond anything that we can imagine, ‘even death on a cross’. Jesus never calls us to suffer pain that He hasn’t experienced. He knows that what He wants from us is going to hurt. But He calls us to it because He thinks it’s the best course to follow.

Paul isn’t done in describing Jesus’ calling. He was also rewarded.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2.9-11

There is always a reward for faithful living. And while that reward isn’t THE motivation for our obedience to the call of God, it is a motivation. The promise of reward is a gift of grace to encourage us to do what is hard. And Jesus leads the way.

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