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Sermon for 23 October

Leviticus 19:1–4, 9–18

1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:  2 Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them:  You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.  3 You shall each revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.  4 Do not turn to idols or make cast images for yourselves: I am the LORD your God.  9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.  11 You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another.  12 And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the LORD.  13 You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.  14 You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God:  I am the LORD.  15  You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great:  with justice you shall judge your neighbor.  16  You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor:  I am the LORD.  17  You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.  18  You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself:  I am the LORD.


Psalm 1

1Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful!  2 Their delight is in the law of the LORD, and they meditate on God’s teaching day and night.  3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall prosper. 4 It is not so with the wicked; they are like chaff which the wind blows away.  5 Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes, nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.  6 For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked shall be destroyed.


1 Thessalonians 2:1–8

1 You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, 2 but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition.  3 For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts.   5 As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; 6 nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, 7 though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ.  But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children.  8 So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.

Matthew 22:34–46

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.  36 Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?  37 He said to him, ” ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  38 This is the greatest and first commandment.  39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question:  42 What do you think of the Messiah?  Whose son is he?  They said to him, “The son of David.”  43 He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, 44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet” ‘? 45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?”  46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.



Live a life pleasing to God


As many of you know, part of my seminary training was to serve as an on-call chaplain at a hospital.  I was fortunate to serve at Cooper Medical center in Trenton, NJ which was a level 5 trauma center.  As the area’s trauma center, it was a busy hospital 24 hours a day.  As the on-call chaplain at night, I seldom was able to get any sleep, often being called out during the night to be with families going through difficult situations.  However, even in the midst of these difficult situations, there were many humorous moments.

For example, one night one of the surgical residents was called out of a sound sleep to the emergency room.  Unshaven and with tousled hair, he shows up accompanied by a medical student, equally disheveled.  In the ER they encountered the on-call medical resident and his student, both neatly attired in clean white lab coats.  The medical resident said to his student, “You can always tell the surgeons by their absolute disregard for appearance.”  Two evenings later, the same young surgical resident was at a banquet when one again he is called to the ER for yet another emergency.  He was stitching away on his patient, this time wearing a tuxedo from the banquet, when he encountered that same medical resident with his student.  The medical resident looked at the surgical resident now wearing the tuxedo, then said to his student, “Sure is sensitive to criticism, isn’t he?”  I don’t know of anyone who, at some point in their lives, has been unfairly criticized by someone else; perhaps a family member, a colleague or a customer?  It’s something that happens to all of us.  I doubt that anyone is exempt.  This is especially true with public figures.

The Gettysburg Address, for example, is considered to be one of the most eloquent orations in U.S. history.  And yet, the editor of the Chicago Times, a prominent newspaper of its day, ridiculed that address which had been delivered, of course, by President Lincoln.  On November 20, 1863, the day after Lincoln delivered his famous speech, the editor of the Times wrote:  “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, fat and dish‑watery utterances of the man who has been pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.”  I’m sure the editor would love to take that statement back if he could!  It’s a fact of life, people will make disparaging remarks and sooner or later all of us have to deal with criticism.

With that in mind let me ask a second question:  how many of us have ever had someone else flatter us?  That is, have we ever been praised extravagantly?  I would venture to say that all of us enjoy the flattery by far over the criticism.  And it goes without saying but, we are not nearly as defensive when it comes to flattery as we are to criticism.  I chuckled when I read a story about the late, great motivational speaker Cavett Robert.  Mr. Robert was a humble, kind man who was also a successful lawyer, salesman, and founder of the National Speakers Association.

Robert once told of looking out his window one morning and seeing a skinny twelve‑year‑old boy going door to door selling books.  Robert further noticed that the boy was headed toward his house.  Robert turned to his wife and said, “Just watch me teach this kid a lesson about selling.  After all these years of writing books about communication and lecturing all over the country,” Robert continued, “I might as well share some of my wisdom with this young entrepreneur.  I don’t want to hurt his feelings, but I’ll get rid of him before he knows what’s happened.  I’ve used this technique for years, and it works every time.  Then I’ll go back and teach him how to deal with people like me.”  With that said Mr. Robert heads to the door as Mrs. Robert watches from the living room

A few seconds later Mrs. Robert watched as the twelve‑year‑old boy knocked on the door.  Cavett Robert opened the door and quickly explained that he was a very busy man and that he had no interest in buying any books.  However, he said, “I’ll give you one minute, but then I have to leave.  I have a plane to catch.”  The young salesman was undaunted by Cavett’s brush‑off.  He simply stared at the tall, distinguished‑looking man, a man that he knew was fairly well known and quite wealthy.  The boy said with a sound of awe in his voice, “Sir, could you be the FAMOUS Cavett Robert?”  To this Cavatt Robert replied, “Come on in, son.”  Mr. Robert admits to buying several books from the youngster‑-books he later admitted he might never read.  The young boy had already mastered one principle; the principle of making the other person feel important and it worked.

Sometimes we’re criticized.  People will say unfair, negative things.  Sometimes we’re the recipient of flattery.  People can say things that can puff us up and make us feel better about ourselves than might be good for us.  The question is, how do we get to the point where neither praise nor criticism affects our day?  St. Paul knew what it was to be criticized.

In the New Testament church there was a group of people known as the Judaizers who wanted to keep Christianity as a Jewish sect.  Since Paul was determined to take the faith to the Gentiles, these Judaizers looked for every opportunity to find fault with him. One of the criticisms they leveled at him was that he was in the ministry for the money. For anyone who has read Paul’s writings, you know what a joke that is.  Paul, even after he began his ministry, continued to support himself as a tent maker so that he wouldn’t be a financial burden on young, struggling Christian congregations.  Those who knew Paul best knew that he did nothing for his own gain.  But that wasn’t all, these Judaizers also accused him of spreading lies and untruths.

Again, we know they were way off-target.  St. Paul didn’t soft-pedal the Gospel or use flattery upon his hearers.  He simply told it like it was.  Yet they were still critical.

So Paul was forced to defend himself.  Beginning in verse 5 Paul writes:  “You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed God is our witness.  We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else . . .”  If Paul wasn’t in it for the money or praise, then what was Paul looking for?

The answer to this question lies in the second half of the previous verse:  “We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.”  St. Paul had no interest in pleasing people, he Paul lived to please God.  Wouldn’t it be nice to live our lives impervious to the hurtful or unhelpful opinions of other people?  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could live without being fazed either by criticism or flattery?  We can; we live our lives with a goal to please God.  It really is that simple.  If our primary audience is God, and we make our primary goal to have God say at the end of this life, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” then what difference does it make what other people say about us?  It really shouldn’t make any difference.  However, I know this is by far easier said than done, but the fact still remains.  We need to live our lives with the focus on pleasing God, not others.

But how do we live our lives so that we please God?  Thankfully, Paul gave us the answer both to this question in both his words and in his life.  To please God we need to live with integrity.  That’s what Paul did.  He tells the church at Thessalonica, “For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.  On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel . . . You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed, God is our witness.”  Paul lived his life with integrity.

Living a life of integrity is more than simply keeping the commandments.  There are many people of whom it could be said that they’ve never killed, stolen, or ever committed adultery.  But that doesn’t mean they live a life of integrity.  As the rich young ruler found out, keeping the commandments is an outward act.  Living a life of integrity comes from within.

Dr. Haddon Robinson once told the story of a newspaper writer in Toronto, Canada who undertook an investigation into the ethical practices of auto repair shops in his town. He took a spark‑plug wire off of his engine, making the car run unevenly.  He took the car in to different shops and asked them to fix it.  Time after time mechanics sold him unnecessary repairs or charged him for repairs that weren’t accomplished.  Finally, he went to a small garage.  A fellow named Fred came out, popped open the hood, and said, “Let me listen to that thing.”  After a few seconds, he told the reporter, “I think I know what’s wrong.”  He reached down and grabbed the wire, announcing, “Your spark‑plug wire came off.”  And he slipped it back on.  To this the reporter asked, “What do I owe you?”

“I’m not gonna charge you anything,” Fred replied.  “I didn’t have to fix anything; I just reattached the wire.”  The writer then told Fred what he was doing and that he had been charged all kinds of money by mechanics looking at that same wire.  He asked Fred, “Why didn’t you charge me anything?”  Fred said, “Are you sure you want to know? I happen to be a Christian and believe that everything we do should be done to glorify God.  I’m not a preacher and I’m not a missionary, but I’m a mechanic and so I do it honestly.  I do it skillfully and I do it to the glory of God.”  The next day in the newspaper was a headline that read, “Christian Mechanic, Honest to the Glory of God.”  Integrity is honesty.  It’s an uncompromising commitment to be truthful and trustworthy.

In the fourth round of a national spelling bee in Washington, eleven‑year‑old Rosalie Elliot, a champion from South Carolina, was asked to spell the word “avowal.” Her soft Southern accent made it difficult for the judges to determine if she had used an a or an e as the next to last letter of the word.  The judges deliberated for several minutes and also listened to tape recording playbacks, but still they couldn’t determine which letter had been pronounced.  Finally the chief judge, John Lloyd, put the question to the only person who knew the answer.  He asked Rosalie, “Was the letter an a or an e?’

Rosalie, surrounded by whispering young spellers, knew by now the correct spelling of the word.  But without hesitation, she replied that she had misspelled the word and had used an e.  As she walked from the stage, the entire audience stood and applauded her honesty and integrity, including dozens of newspaper reporters covering the event.  Rosalie lost the Spelling Bee, but she definitely emerged a winner that day.

To live a life that is pleasing to God we need to live a life of integrity.  And that’s hard to do in a world like ours.  We live in Spin City, when prominent and influential people from every walk of life hedge the truth.  They don’t steal, not in the classic understanding of the word, they don’t kill, they don’t overtly disobey God’s law.  They simply shade the truth.

Often they use flattery and deceit.  Frequently they’re motivated by greed.  It’s not good business to be completely honest about your wares.  Advertisers would be unemployed overnight.  A life of integrity may not make you popular, but it will make you respected.  Even more importantly, there is an audience of One who will be applauding.  To live a life pleasing to God, we need to live it with integrity.  Additionally, we need to live a life of love.

Paul writes, “We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. Even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority.  Instead, we were like young children among you.  Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you.  Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”  The reason Paul had such impact on the churches he served was that the people knew he genuinely cared about them.  As has been often said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.  One thing we know is that Paul cared about the people.

In 1821, a young lawyer named Thaddeus Stevens took on the case of a slave owner whose slave, Charity Butler, had run away.  Stevens argued successfully for the prosecution, and Butler was returned to her slave owner.  The case had been won. According to the standards of his profession, Stevens should have been elated.  However, the opposite was true.

Historians believe that this case affected Stevens deeply.  He knew that he had been successful in an unjust cause.  This didn’t cause him elation, but shame.  As a result, he became a passionate advocate against slavery.  He went on to serve seven terms in U.S. Congress, and was the driving force behind the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, guaranteeing equal protection under the law and giving slaves who had been set free the right to vote.  In 2002, while excavating parts of Stevens’ property, archeologists discovered that Stevens also had beneath his home a hidden passageway, most likely used they believe, to hide runaway slaves escaping by way of the Underground Railroad.  Thaddeus Stevens went beyond being a man who was simply honest and upright.  He became a man with a cause, the cause of the abolition of slavery. He became a man intent on pleasing God.

Tony Campolo once put it this way, “What you commit yourself to be, will change what you are and make you into a completely different person.  It’s not the past that conditions you, but the future.  I say this because what you commit yourself to become, determines what you are more than anything that ever happened to you in the past.  With this in mind, let me ask this question:  What are your commitments?  Where are you going?  What are you going to be?  You show me somebody who hasn’t decided, and I’ll show you somebody who has no identity, no personality, no direction.”

Paul had a direction for his life.  Neither his critics nor those who tried to veer him off-course with flattery or lies could make a dent in his contribution.  He knew what it took to live a life pleasing to God, living a life of integrity and living a life of love.  Someone else put it this way; “When your passion upon getting up each morning is to say, ‘How can I make God look good today?’; when the passion of your life is to someday open your eyes in eternity and hear Jesus say, ‘Well done, My good and faithful servant’; when that becomes the consuming passion of your existence, it absolutely transforms your everyday experience.”

Does this describe how we live our lives?  If not, it should be.  We need to ask ourselves each and every morning, how can I make God look good today?  How can I live my life so that it pleases God?  While the practice may be difficult, the answer is still simple—by the grace of God we need to live a life of integrity.  We need to live a life of love.


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