This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, August 2, 2015.
Reading: Matthew 13:44-51a
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today. It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray. Amen.
People deserve the best. It’s a mantra and a statement that means a lot to me. I don’t think people should settle: they deserve the best. That does not mean that I’m perfect at offering it. I’d like to think that I’m ever improving, but it doesn’t mean I’m perfect. It does mean that I know my limits: if there’s something I can’t do with excellence then I find someone else to do it. People deserve the best in everything and that’s often more than I can offer myself. But just because I can’t offer it doesn’t mean people don’t deserve it and it shouldn’t be given. People deserve the best.
Jesus was attending a wedding. He was drug there, I like to think, by his parents. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t there by choice, but they insisted. I mean, we don’t even know the names of the couple. It must not have been important to Jesus or the band of friends who followed him there. At any rate, Jesus is sitting in the back when his mother comes off the dance floor and tells him that the host has run out of wine. A bit perturbed, Jesus gives his mother the I-don’t-care look (parents who have or have had teenagers, you know the look). Mary gives Jesus the I’m-you’re-mother-you-will-care look (anyone who’s ever been a teenager, you know the look). She tells the servers to do what Jesus says. He acquiesces. “Fill the wine jars to the brim with water then dip some out and have your boss taste it.” They did; and, as they poured the water from the vats, it turned to wine. The head-waiter was impressed, “Everyone serves the good wine first, he said. “They bring out the second-rate wine only when the guests are drinking freely. You kept the good wine till now” (John 2:10b, Common English Bible). Jesus gave the best. It was his first miracle; and he gave the best to a bunch of people who couldn’t taste the difference. He could have gotten away with making a quick batch of “2 buck chuck” but he served the best because that’s what people deserve.
The Kingdom of God—the community Jesus came to usher in—the foretaste of things to come—is built upon this principle: “people deserve the best even when we think they don’t deserve it.” The Kingdom Christ came to usher in—the rule and order which we are called to follow—is built upon selfless giving. Followers of Christ live into God’s kingdom.
This kingdom is in the changed hearts and lives of humanity. Its citizens are those who have the spirit of kindness, love, humility, justice and mercy. Its law is “the Golden Rule.” Its growth is not by sword, but by the attractiveness and power of love.
It is becoming a kingdom of world-wide community—all are to work for each and each for all. No matter one’s race, ethnicity, economic status, gender or identity, all are called to live as a family: as children of God. Each of us should do our share to bring about this kingdom by being kind and unselfish, obedient and helpful…wherever we go. We cannot make the whole world follow Jesus, but he expects us to have the kingdom of love and of goodness in our hearts and in all our words and actions.
Followers of Christ, citizens of the kingdom, are to work toward the best in all things. We’re called to “continue encouraging each other and building each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, Common English Bible). The best in people is not revealed through patronizing and condescension. It’s not offered in shallow “hellos” and handshakes on Sunday mornings. We unlock the best in people—the best in one another—when we care enough to sit down, have a meal, and learn more about each other’s stories. We’re called to offer the best. People deserve the best; and when they get it…
Jesus sat down to teach near a lake. Such a large crowd had gathered that he climbed into a boat and cast off a little ways. The people gathered along the shore to hear him. He told them several stories: a story about a farmer who went out to scatter seed (Matthew 13:3-9. 18-23); and, another about an enemy who planted weeds in a farmer’s field (Matthew 13:24-30). He compared the kingdom to a mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32) and a woman making bread (Matthew 13:33). And after describing the kingdom with all these stories, he then turns to stories that explain what it’s like when people stumble upon the kingdom—when people experience the best of God and God’s people.
When we experience the best of God and God’s people, it’s like stumbling upon hidden treasure. “Full of joy” the finder sells everything he has and buys the field (Matthew 13:44). It’s like a merchant in search of fine pearls who finally finds one precious and flawless. He goes and sells all that he owns and buys it (Matthew 13:45-46). The Kingdom of God is about people discovering the best. Some people stumble upon it, others diligently seek it out, all will eventually find it.
People deserve the best; and, in the end, there will only be the best. Jesus shared another story (Matthew 13:47-51a, The Message)
God’s kingdom is like a fishnet cast into the sea, catching all kinds of fish. When it is full, it is hauled onto the beach. The good fish are picked out and put in a tub; those unfit to eat are thrown away. That’s how it will be when the curtain comes down on history. The angels will come and cull the bad fish and throw them in the garbage. There will be a lot of desperate complaining, but it won’t do any good.”
51 Jesus asked, “Are you starting to get a handle on all this?”
People deserve the best. You deserve the best. I deserve the best. The world deserves the best. And, in the end that’s all that will be left: the best. That which is broken, that which refuses healing, that which wallows in its own self-pity, that which seeks to only serve itself will be set aside and, in the words of Scripture, thrown in the fire. The prophet Malachi (3:2-4) describes the fire as one that refines. It’s so hot that all the impurities are burned away till that’s left is what is pure: the best of quality.
Dear friends, let us not settle for anything less than the best in this life; therefore, let us work toward it till it’s all that’s left. Let us seek the best for others till God’s Kingdom of goodness, kindness, love, humility, justice and mercy comes on earth as it is in heaven; and, when it does, and it will, only the best things of life will be left and that will be the end.
Let us pray:
Gracious God, too often we settle for less. We don’t think we deserve the best; but, in Christ, you show us that the best is what we’re called to work toward and offer. You ask us to strive for more than we can achieve; you ask us to offer for more than we can give. But with you all things are possible. Help us to follow you along the way that we might walk a more excellent way, that we might give to others more seems possible. Remind us that humanity is of eternal and sacred worth and that everyone deserves the best. Help us work toward it till that’s all that there is: the best. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.