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Being a Winner in God’s Eyes
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
September 13, 2015
Isaiah 50:4-9 Mark 8:27-38 Psalm 116
Was Jesus a winner or a loser? Of course from our perspective, with Christianity being the dominant religion in Europe for the past 2,000 years, we would say that Jesus was a winner. But let’s think about Jesus Himself, during His life. In one respect He was certainly a winner. He was popular. He had a large following. But in another respect He was a dismal failure. He wasn’t a success in terms of religious authority. The priests and the teachers of the law never let Him into their ranks. Jesus never attained a place of authority in the official ranks of religion. In this respect He was an outsider, who only appealed to the uneducated mob. Worse still, the religious authorities even opposed Jesus. They considered Him a blasphemer, an outlaw, a criminal. Rome agreed. Jesus stood trial for treason and was executed in a shameful way as a capital criminal. Seen this way, Jesus was a dismal failure.
So it is possible to be both–a winner and a loser. We live in two worlds. We live in the material world. And we live in the spiritual world. And we need to conform to the rules of both worlds. Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17). We need to be concerned about our success in both worlds. But we need especially to be concerned about our success in the spiritual world.
Whatever success we attain in this world will pass away when we die. The things of this world perish in time. So we call them by the Latin word for time, “temporal.” But spiritual success lives on forever. We call spiritual things, “eternal.” While we live in this world, we need to care for ourselves and for our families. But we need devote only as much attention to this world as our basic needs and some degree of comfort require. It is the eternal things that truly matter. Eternal things carry over into the next world and make us blessed forever. So Jesus says, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life” (John 6:27). This idea is developed in greater depth in the familiar passage from Luke,
And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? . . . And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well” (12:22-25, 29-31).
This passage doesn’t mean that we needn’t care at all about the things of this world. I take it to mean not to worry excessively over the things of this world. They will all pass away in time. There’s a clever line from a blues song I like, “I ain’t never seen a hearse with luggage on top!”
We are tempted by society to think that the good things of this world are all that matter. More severely, we are tempted to think that we need to be a colossal success in this world. Some actually crave fame, power, and fortune. On a lesser scale, some want status symbols like a Mercedes or BMW car to drive, designer clothes, and a large home. I know of people who are mortgaged to the hilt and are working two jobs because they have spent so much money acquiring the things of this world.
Our society doesn’t have a very healthy view of success. In ancient Rome, a victorious general would parade through the streets displaying all his plunder. But behind him, holding a laurel wreath over his head, was a man chanting, “Success is fleeting.” Even at the height of his glory and power, the Roman general was being reminded that the things of this world are temporal and not eternal. In the middle ages, people spoke of the wheel of fortune. They compared fortune to a wheel. At times, the wheel would turn and you would be on top of things. But the same wheel would continue to turn and at another time you could find yourself at the bottom of the wheel with all your fortunes reversed. A song has come down to us from the middle ages about the wheel of fortune. Carl Orff wrote a piece of music about it called Carmina Burana. The lyrics to this dismal song about fortune go as follows,
Like the moon
You are changeable
And then soothes
As fancy takes it
It melts like ice
God is concerned about the things that last forever and that bring us into His kingdom of love. Swedenborg tells us that, “The divine providence regards eternal things and temporal things so far only as they accord with the eternal” (n. 214). When I first read this I took it to mean that God regards only eternal things. I didn’t see the second part that says God regards temporal things “so far only as they accord with the eternal.” That means that God does regard temporal things if they are in agreement with the things that last eternally.
Eternal things don’t always agree with temporal things. Temporal reasoning tells us to be the greatest, the best, the most popular, the most powerful. Eternal reasoning tells us to be the least, to be humble, to be a servant to all, to love others as much as ourselves. Temporal reasoning tells us to self-promote, to advertize, to get our name out, to let the world know how great we are. Eternal reasoning tells us not to take credit for the good things we do, to do good secretly, to put God first, to subordinate self to God and the neighbor.
But we are citizens of both worlds. When it comes to our job, we do need to let our superiors know the good things we are doing. They, also, need to know this as part of their job. We need to divide our consciousness. In the world’s eyes, we have obligations to our job, and we need to follow the reasoning of worldly success. But personally, we need to follow eternal reasoning and separate work from self.
I think this applies especially to our career aspirations. I was disappointed when I lectured at a humanities class that was comprised of business majors. I asked the class what matters in life. The response was that achieving wealth and power were what matter. How different this was from my own youth. I grew up in a culture that valued peace and love above all.
We do need to tend to our material well being. But do we need excessive wealth and power? Do we need to put them first as our goals? How does that view of success measure up against the words of Jesus, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life” (John 6:27). “Seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well” (Luke 12:31). If we seek to be good, if we seek to serve, we will find ourselves valued in this world and we will be laboring for food which endures to eternal life. If we are successful in regard to eternal things, we have all we need. Then, the success we attain in this life is all icing on the cake.
Lord, we pray for eyes to see, eyes to see from your heavenly kingdom. Many are the temptations of this world. Many are the messages about the good life. But the good things of this world are but a fleeting fancy. But you, Lord, you have messages of good things that last forever. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. We pray for the desire to find eternal rewards, not only the rewards of this world. We ask that you quicken our hearts and give us to love the things that last for ever. We know that you look after us. We know that you care for our souls. We know that you want us to be happy–both in this world and in the next. We pray this morning that you show us the way to blessedness–first in your kingdom, then in this life.
And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.