An elderly man is traveling with a boy and his donkey. As they walked through a village the man was leading the donkey and the boy was walking behind. The townspeople said the old man was a fool for not riding, so he climbed up on the animal’s back. When they came to the next village, the people said the old man was cruel to let the child walk while he enjoyed the ride. He got off and set the boy on the animal’s back and continued his way. In the third village people accused the child of being lazy for making the old man walk and the suggestion was made that they both ride. So, the man climbed on and they set off again. In the fourth village the townspeople were indignant at the cruelty to the donkey because he was made to carry two people.
The frustrated man was last seen carrying the donkey down the road.
The story makes a good point: We can’t please everybody, and if we try we end up carrying a heavy burden. While the story’s got a solid point, if we end up pleasing very few, more than likely we’re not pleasing the Lord either.
John’s Gospel describes the Word when it says in John 1:14, “And the word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory…full of grace and truth.” Since Christ was full of grace, and pleasing to God, we should also be the same.
We’ve heard it said many times, to each his own. To each her own, and it’s true. We can’t police others. We know “one can’t account for taste,” as another saying goes, meaning what someone else likes or doesn’t like is up to her or him—even if it’s terrible, according to us.
With all due respect to those who love Nascar, I can’t do it. I’m not that into cars. I used to not be able to watch soccer, but now I enjoy it. I don’t watch horror movies or zombie shows but others love them. The Mexican spice cilantro is a bitter pill to swallow, and I don’t do it. That doesn’t go for whole countries and millions and millions of folks. To each her or his own.
But when it comes to ourselves, we’re not to look at ourselves and say, “to each my own.” We are supposed to police ourselves, so to speak. It’s right to watch over mind and mouth, to guard our hearts, keep our steps. We want to be pleasing to the Lord.
God can bless those who keep in mind being full of grace and truth. The Lord brings miracles and contentment to the one who seeks what is
good. As Proverbs 16:7 says, “When your way pleases the Lord, even your enemies will be at peace with you.”
Our scripture this morning started out hammering against sexual life that goes against God’s will, as well as greed, or financial living, that goes against God’s will. Both kinds of wrong living can be seen clearly for what they are when shown against the backdrop of “the saints.”
Saints are those who have freed themselves from overpowering sexual urges or immaturity; and they are those who have freed themselves from overpowering financial urges or immaturity, as well. Saints, in other words, can do the will of God because they aren’t overcome by urges that many others fall prey to.
Some find it easier to keep greed and lust at bay. Others don’t. But both impulses and urges when unchecked can ruin lives. Find a way to reclaim financial and sexual health. Keep your mind and heart in a healthier direction. Don’t let temptations overcome you. Instead, believe in God’s love for you, a love that brings grace and healing.
In the middle of the first paragraph comes an exhortation to watch what we say. Instead of saying things that are unhelpful, we’re to talk about what makes us grateful. Instead of ridiculous or rude stuff coming of our mouths, remain grateful. Retain gratitude, Ephesians tells us.
Gratitude is not a small thing. It’s a key that unlocks Christ’s power but it’s a key that needs to be inserted and turned more often.
The truth is, while we thank God for what we have, at the same time we often feel things should be better. We have this vague sense our lives should be easier or more agreeable or consequential. We should have less problems, more money, more stuff, more influence, less illness, more good times, less hard times.
…but we tell God we’re grateful. If you were God, would you believe us?
The truth is we’re not that good at being grateful. It’s one of the main reasons our spiritual life is weak. We complain about the weather (when we should be grateful to be alive). We complain about our income (or our taxes which take away our income) when we should be grateful that we have an income. We complain about the government (though we should be grateful we don’t live in anarchy). We complain about how our food is cooked (or how long the waitress takes) when we should be grateful we have food. We complain about traffic when we should be glad we can travel with such ease.
We complain about crowds in the store (when we should be glad we are able to shop).
Being pleasing to God means to grow in gratitude, even when it doesn’t come easily. We want to stay sweet to life, not sour on it, kind toward people, not curse them. If your preferred method of facing challenges is to be quickly overcome, emotionally negative, mentally stewed, verbally agitated, then you’ve got to get a new m.o.
Look differently upon your difficulties and the unexpected. They’re not lasting as long as you think. Others aren’t as bad as you believe. Turn your problems upside down or to the side, look at them from another angle, with a newer heart. You may have to make adjustments to your view of someone or spend more energy on something but it’s worth it to be better at being grateful.
The Lord is pleased with such effort.
One person has much to teach us about how to be grateful. She says, “I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability—to try to help people who have not shared the unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this. . .
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip—to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. Michelangelo’s “David.” The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The flight attendant comes and says, “Welcome to Holland.” “Holland!” you say. “What do you mean, Holland? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.” But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland, and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible …place…. It’s just a different place. So, you must go out and buy new guidebooks. You must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met. It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around, and you notice that Holland has windmills, Holland has tulips, Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy, and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life you will say, “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.” And the pain of that will never, ever, ever go away, because the loss of that dream is a very significant loss. But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about Holland.”
Dig a little deeper to get thankful again. Remember your gratitude more often. Pursue why you’re blessed for as long as it takes to bring it to the surface of your heart and mind. It’s worth the time and focus it takes.
Our scripture says, “Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.” Famously, Andy Warhol, the pop-art painter of such American images as the Campbell’s soup can, once said, “In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.” But he was wrong. I’ve also heard famous Christian athletes and celebrities say it’s good they are famous and Christian because their fame brings God more glory seeing as how their Christian and lots of people can come to Christ because they know them.
Perhaps. I’m not sure Christ desires or needs famous people to be Christian for others to come to him. It’s tough to believe that type of conversion would have a lot of staying power. There may also be a small amount of self-serving going on here.
There are millions and of course billions of people who will never get their moment in the spotlight. Most will never be recognized outside their circle of family and friends. And that’s alright because the Lord doesn’t require anything spectacular or anyone celebrated for us to be right where we’re supposed to be, doing what we’re supposed to be.
One of the people in the Bible most pleasing to God was someone named Enoch. Hebrews 11:5 says he was pleasing to the Lord. But here’s the thing, in a day and age when biblical patriarchs like Adam and Seth, Enosh and Kenan lived more than nine hundred years, Enoch lived only 365 years. That’s like a teenager. That wasn’t good by their standards. Yet the Bible says, “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him.” God liked him so much that Enoch, it is said, went straight to heaven. Young Enoch clearly pleased the Lord.
The fact is he wasn’t so great in the way the other patriarchs back then were. He was less than half of them, you could say, if you were to look at it
from how they measured each other. Somehow, in that shortened life, Enoch bore fruit and pleased God.
But there’s something more. Enoch may not have lived long but his son lived the longest of anyone. When Enoch was 65 years young, he became the father of Methuselah, who didn’t die for another 969 years. Enoch’s shortened life span wasn’t passed on to his son. Enoch’s goodness and strength however were. His son became the greatest of patriarchs in terms of age. Enoch’s life would have been seen as a failure back then but no life’s a failure when those around them are blessed.
Human standards aren’t always God’s.
Do well with what’s set before you. Keep your gratitude for how blessed you are. Let go of what steals your joy. See again what pleases the Lord and your part in it. Forget about how others measure worth or judge value. Our value doesn’t have to be validated. Our worth doesn’t have to be seen as worthwhile, at least not by dimly seeing eyes.
The Lord knows your worth. Bear fruit for the kingdom in your own way, according to God’s needs. But bear fruit.
Can the church say Amen?