A TL, DR Sermon: The Lost Sheep

Matthew 15:21-28
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

Going into my final year at Asbury Seminary, I did an internship where I worked with some of the homeless population in Lexington, Kentucky. The experience was a profound eye-opener that had a major impact on my life and my ministry. Among the lessons I learned was that much of what we think we know about the homeless is untrue and there are many systematic problems that prevent them from more quickly getting back on their feet. I was also reminded that the homeless that society – and the church – tends to often shun are seeking God and are just as precious in His sight as anyone else. Oh, that we would all be reminded of this from time to time!

The texts I chose to preach on this week were part of the Lectionary, but I also believe that choosing just one for such a time as this was not adequate. I believe these texts give us two important truths: All people are beloved by God and are worthy of being invited to His table, and the calling to seek the lost sheep never expires.

The gospel reading starts soon after a group of disciples is sent off on a missionary trip for the first time. Jesus instructed them not to go among the Gentiles. This text can often be used to justify bigotry but I do not believe Jesus did this as a judgment against the Gentiles. Rather, I believe He knew that the disciples were simply not ready ready effectively minister to the Gentiles and Jesus needed to show them that the prejudices that Jews held against Gentiles were wrong and sinful.

This is where the Gentile woman comes in. The fact that Jesus illustrated to His flock that she, too, was worthy of love and receiving grace and mercy. This was the beginning of their eyes being opened to the reality that God’s kingdom is not just for certain people, but that He desires for all to have a chance to know Him.

In the reading from Romans, Paul is teaching that not only does the call to seek all of the lost sheep never expire, but that God has not abandoned the Jews in favor of the Gentiles as many of them thought. Paul was saying that, yes, the Jews still matter to God, but so do the Gentiles. Until they understood this, the Jews would continue to hold these age-old prejudices against the Gentiles and consider them inferior. Yes, the Jews still matter but so do the Gentiles and so does anyone else made in God’s image (Spoiler: That’s everyone!).

In God’s eyes, no one is inferior. I believe these two texts together are trying to teach us that. Who are the lost sheep that you need to invite to the table? Let’s stop acting as gatekeepers to the Kingdom and instead act as guides who show people the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Prosperity at What Price?

ZomboMeme 09052017204148“[When I die] if I leave behind me ten pounds . . . you and all mankind [may] bear witness against me, that I have lived and died a thief and a robber.” – John Wesley

One of the great things about subscribing to satellite radio is that I have access to all sorts of music. I can listen to anything from acoustic music you might hear in Starbucks to Broadway show tunes. Additionally, I have access to several channels of news and other information. There are even several religious channels where I can listen to programming from contemporary Christian and southern gospel music to sermons and talk shows dedicated to faith.

One such channel is the Joel Osteen channel.

Now, let me stop right here and issue a preface: I know that a lot of people find inspiration from people like Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes, and Joyce Meyer. I have to admit, they do sometimes give some nuggets of truth in their writings and messages. If you fall into this category, know that my intent is not to offend you, but you should also know that the body of their work is very much contrary to orthodox Christian teaching. This is an opinion piece based on my opinions and convictions. Please know that that is the place where I am coming from.

When I drive to and from Asbury, I have anywhere from one to two hours to kill and I flip through the channels (when safe to do so, of course). Tuesday I landed on Osteen’s channel and a message that he gave at Lakewood Church was playing. I decided to give it a listen to find out just why so many people were drawn to him and similar prosperity preachers. I listened, found myself groaning and wanting to throw things a few times, and shaking my head. They played another one and I thought it sounded very similar to the one I had just heard.

Yesterday I went to town to run an errand and my radio was still on the channel. Yet another message was playing – yes, a different one than either of the previous two I had heard – and I again thought that it sounded very similar to the ones I heard on Tuesday. It was then that I realized what the secret is. Allow me to give you a run-down of the anatomy of a prosperity gospel “sermon:”

A funny story
A scripture that is taken way out of context
Another story
Perhaps another scripture that is taken out of context (which was not named)
A closing story
Sprinkled throughout is some sort of “you can do it!” phrase which is repeated over and over.

As I mentioned above, an occasional truth was expounded but the essential point of all of the message was that God wants to bless us with material wealth and all we have to do is believe that we can receive this wealth. More than anything, what was proclaimed was a belief in oneself as opposed to a message of rebirth, transformation, and sanctification through faith and obedience to God.

In other words, the prosperity gospel treats God as nothing but a means to an end involving the wealth and success of this world.

Very little of what I heard was kingdom minded. It tells the hearer nothing more than what they want to hear – that they are special, that God wants them to be wealthy, that God wants them to be successful, and all one has to do is have faith and God will give them these things.

The prosperity gospel is a gospel of self, not of Jesus Christ.

Jesus spoke about money more than any other subject. One of my favorite verses that we should all use to check ourselves is, “19 Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” (Matthew 6:19-21 NLT) A couple of verses later, Jesus says this: “24 No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.” (Matthew 6:24 NLT)

Jesus makes clear that the pursuit of money and stuff should not be our number one priority. Note that Jesus did not say that having wealth in of itself is a sin, but he did say that we are to be good stewards of our money and to be generous with it (see Matthew 19:21). Indeed, making money into an idol and basing our worth in God’s eyes on the size of our bank accounts can actually be detrimental to our souls. If we place money on the same level as God or have the audacity to somehow think that holiness is measured by wealth, we are guilty of idolatry.

While prosperity preachers may tickle your ears and help you to feel better about yourself, know that there is little if any interest in the condition of your soul. I actually encourage you to follow some advice that Joel Osteen gives at the end of his messages: Find a church where the Bible is believed and proclaimed. Don’t go to a church that proclaims God as simply a means to material wealth, but one where you will find out the good news that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and that Christ will come again.

Remember: Christ died so that we can have eternal life, not earthly wealth.