Leading A Worthy Life

[]At high school graduations, someone always delivers the address to fellow students, and it usually has something to do with leading a worthy life. It may not be in those specific terms, but it's often about being successful, making one's mark on the world, or making a real difference. In essence, leading a worthy life. But leading a life worthy of what? Others' praise? God's praise? When we get down to it, that's what it really is…either seeking to lead a life worthy of what we think our life should be, or what others expect of us, or what God expects of us. This morning's Sunday School lesson was about not only talking the talk, but walking the walk. Talking the talk and walking the walk…a very important lesson for all of us adults as well as for the children.

Is that not too a calling for us to lead a worthy life? In Jesus' day, Jesus warns about this very same topic as, even in Jesus' time, people weren't sure if they were leading a life worthy of what their families expected of them, what their neighbors and friends expected of them, or what God expected of them. And Jesus spent much of his ministry telling people about the Kingdom of God, how things were to be in God's Kingdom, and calling them to lead a life worthy of God. The Apostle Paul says that in our letter today. And in all of Jesus' teachings, he brings people to an understanding that their lives have meaning and worth as part of God's Kingdom and encourages them to live in God's ways

The people who were following Jesus knew and understood that, and that's why they were following him. But Jesus offers a warning to them about their leadership. He warns the priests, the scribes and the Pharisees, the people he has been interchanging with week after week, saying, "Yes, they sit on the seat of Moses (in essence, teaching Moses' laws). They're teaching you about the covenants of God. And you should listen to them about these things, but don't do as they do for they like to talk the talk"…and I'm paraphrasing Jesus' words…"but they don't walk the walk. Instead, they like to be at the seat of honor. They like to tell people what they need to do to be part of God's Kingdom, building up huge burdens upon them, but then they themselves don't even try to lessen those burdens or walk the walk with the people." They were living a very different lifestyle, one that was more about appearances and seeking the praise and honor of others than it was about actually doing God's work and actually being part of God's Kingdom on earth.

And so Jesus warns them, "Do not be like they are. Yes, listen to what they teach you about the laws of Moses and the commandments and all the covenants and do as they tell you, but do not do as they do." Could we say that about leadership even in the church today if we fast-forward some two thousand years to church leaders perhaps on TV or the giant mega-churches? Have we seen some of the mighty fall? In my lifetime, I've seen five or six pillars of Christian churches with amazing ministries fall. And so these words, "Listen to what they say, but do not do as they do," rings true for us even today. Humanity hasn't changed all that much, although we are all striving to lead a life that is worthy.

My hope is that we are focusing on trying to lead a life that is worthy of God's calling and not on the expectations of our friends, neighbors or society. In our culture, to be praised is to be one who is successful, one who makes lots of money, one who has lots of 'things.' This is what our culture teaches makes us worthy persons, to have all of this. And with this also comes power and authority. But these are not the ways of God. God's ways are much different. Leading a life worthy of God's calling means that one must be a servant of all. Jesus says in the last words of our Gospel lesson today, 'All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. Yes, the greatest among you will be your servant." Very different words and expectations from what our culture places value upon. But if we are people seeking a life that is worthy of praise, doesn't it make sense for us to be worthy of God's praise, to do these things that Jesus teaches and to realize it calls us to servanthood, not excess? It calls us to humility instead of praise for things that really don't mean anything.

Now, on the surface, a lot of the things we strive for in life do mean something to us because they're milestones. We're going that next step, to that next level, and they are achievements that bring us some sense that we're going somewhere and getting somewhere. But those are earthly expectations. We do a very good job of teaching those, and we do an even better job of living those out, I think sometimes to the disregard of where God is calling us. But as a church, we are called to be faithful to that witness, to be those who continually humble ourselves and who present ourselves to others as servants, to do the work of the church, to do the things that Jesus has been outlining for us in our Scripture lessons this fall. Loving God means loving your neighbor. And in the Kingdom of God, if you don't love your neighbor, then you're not really part of the Kingdom of God.

"All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted." The calling for us has not changed since the Apostle Paul's missionary journeys where he visited church after church, imploring and urging them to be of hope, to be of faith, and to strive after the things of the Kingdom. And in his calling, he reminds the church, pleading and encouraging, "Lead a life worthy of God who calls you into his own Kingdom and glory." That is where we actually find satisfaction in life…helping to build the Kingdom that is around us, making that Kingdom real here and now, and in ways that mean forsaking the human kingdom in many ways.

How ready are we to lead a life worthy of God's calling? If we honestly look deep within ourselves, are we really willing to sacrifice that much? Are we willing to sacrifice the honor given to us by our friends and neighbors and those who look up to us? Are we willing to sacrifice that? Are we willing to sacrifice some of our riches in order to lift up some of the least of these? Are we willing to put aside some things that give us earthly enjoyment and satisfaction and become a servant of others and find a different sense of satisfaction that comes from that? At times we are, and at times we fail. But as we approach with expectation the dawning of Advent when we will hear John the Baptist calling out for us to prepare the way of the Lord, it is important for us to ask that deep question, "Are we willing to live a life that is worthy of God, worthy of the calling to which we have been called?" It's a question that convicts us, but one that ultimately leads us on the path to salvation and the restoration of God's true Kingdom on earth.

So let us wrestle with that in the next few weeks. Let us prepare ourselves for what is to come and know that, in Christ, there is always a new beginning.

November 2, 2008

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