As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Honour God, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday August 27, 2017. The Reading was Matthew 6:1-4.
There are some things, as an officer, you learn to give up. Some, you’re aware of before you start. For example, I knew that I was giving up my freedom in choosing where to live. Don’t get me wrong, I love living here, but I am a long way from my family. But I knew that going in it would be unlikely that I ever get sent back to WA. At the very least – I don’t have the choice. But there are some things that you aren’t told going in, and one of them is my very minor OCD. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Yes, I have OCD. I know, if you were to look at my desk, you wouldn’t think so, but it’s true. I have OCD – but it’s selective OCD. There are some things that if they’re not quite right, they annoy me to no end. For example, if the dishwasher isn’t stacked the right way. I know, Liesl and I sometimes disagree about this, but I feel that there is one way to stack our dishwasher, and that involves putting the knives in one section of the cutlery carrier, and the forks in another. See? Nice, easy, and when it’s done you can grab them all and put them in the drawer.
Or grammar. I’m a bit obsessive about grammar and punctuation. Which is a good thing, because it means I have a lot less editing to do on my essays. It also means I have a lot more editing when I edit Liesl’s essays.
See, I’m obsessive about some things – but they’re all things that don’t matter. And it’s one of the things that I had to give up when becoming an officer. You see, an officer relies on volunteers. And we have many fantastic volunteers here. And if I didn’t have volunteers, I would burn myself out in 3 days flat.
But one of the things you have to let go of is the sense of “I wouldn’t do it that way”. Someone may choose to do it the way that they know, and get the job done. Or I could ask someone to design a flyer, and look at it and think “Now there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just not how I would’ve done it”. But I hold my tongue, because those words don’t honour the work the person has put in, and – in the end, I didn’t have to do the work. And for that, I will always be grateful.
What about you? Do you suffer from mild OCD? Or perhaps, severe CDO – that is, Compulsive Disorder Obsessive, in the alphabetical order it should be in? Have the pictures on the screen made you uneasy? I think for most people, even if they wouldn’t consider themselves OCD, they can at least admit that they prefer some things to be in the right order.
Doing things by obligation
That’s a little bit of what Jesus was talking about in our reading today. Putting things in the right order. Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.” He goes on to critique the giving of others, saying “whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others.”
When you get into the cycle of doing things so you get praised, you aren’t doing it for the right reason. It’s like the husband who did the dishes one night, and then got grumpy because the wife didn’t shower him with praise for doing the dishes, so he decided to never do the dishes again – despite the fact that he never showered her with praise for doing the dishes. He wasn’t doing it for the right reason. He was doing it for his own benefit.
In the same way, I can see a difference between our Thrift Shop Volunteers, and those who help out our Thrift Shop under a Work for the Dole agreement. There are some Work for the Dole participants who have been sent here by their provider, and they are here out of obligation. Sure, the tasks might get done, but there’s something missing. Where as our volunteers, they aren’t obliged to come, but they do it because of their love. They have the order right – and it is evident. Now that is a simplification – everyone has good days and bad days, and I could never complain about any of our volunteers, whether they’re a work for the dole participant or not, because they all do fantastic work. But those whose hearts are in the right place – their efforts are evident.
Put things in the right order
In everything we do, we need to put things in the right order. And what is that? We need to put God first. When we start getting tied up on rules, we aren’t putting God first. When we start getting tied up on specificity, we aren’t putting God first. When we do things for our own benefit, we aren’t putting God first.
But, when we put things in the right order, they just work.
For example, How do you put an elephant in a fridge?
You open the fridge door, put the elephant in the fridge, and then close the door.
How do you put a giraffe in the fridge? You open the fridge door, take out the elephant, put in the giraffe, and then close the door.
See, you have to get things in the right order!
We heard how God is blessing the work that Sylvie Palladino is doing, because she chose to honour God. But I want to tell you how God blessed my life, when I put God first.
In 2009, I was teaching violin. I had picked up work at a couple of schools, and some private teaching, and things were going ok. Then I got a position at a large private school, teaching scholarship students. Things were going well. Then at the beginning of 2010, the year that Liesl and I got married, I received a phone call one week before the school term was about to begin. This large private school told me that they didn’t have any scholarship students anymore, so my services were no longer required. With only one week until school started, there weren’t exactly any teaching jobs going. I had half a day at one school, and one day in an administration role. I was still living at home with my parents, but knew that I would be moving out by September that year. So I started applying for jobs. And got nothing. February – no interviews. March – No interviews. April – no interviews. By this point I was sending out at least an application every day, to anything that I might remotely have a possibility of a chance. Often, there were multiple applications each day. And again, no responses. In May, I landed an interview at Divisional Headquarters in Perth following a chat with the divisional secretary – but the role went to someone internally. In June, I had an interview, but the role went to someone else. And by this point, it was getting far too close to our wedding. During this time, our corps had a planned giving renewal, much like we are having now, and Liesl and I were convicted that we needed to be tithing. This wasn’t because of any law saying we had to, but we felt that we needed to put God first. So we worked out what we were going to give, and started giving. Now, when you’re not earning a lot of money, giving like that is really tough.
We also decided that we needed to start looking for a house. We figured that it might take some time, so we should start looking. We found a house that we liked, it just squeezed into our budget, so we put in an application. On Wednesday morning, we put the application in. Wednesday afternoon, we received word that we had been approved for the house. I also got a call back for a job that had been given to someone else. On Thursday, I picked up the keys to the house. On Friday, I went to the interview, and signed the contract. On Saturday, we moved in. And on Monday, I started what would give me the equivalent of a full time Job.
Now I’m not saying that because I was tithing, those things happened. That’s a false theology, and we should always be wary of suggesting such things. But I had my order right. I put God first. Things haven’t always been rosy since then. but I have always tried to put God first, above anything that I do. because when we put God first, everything just works.
We honour God by putting God first in all things.
In Luke 21, we hear of the widow who put two small copper coins into the treasury. Jesus praises her, saying that she has given more than anyone else, since she put all that she had in order to honour God. It wasn’t that she was willing to give all that she had. But in doing so, in giving what she was able to – with the right heart – she honoured God.
This doesn’t relate just to our giving and tithing either. We need to seek to honour God in everything that we do. In our giving. In our prayer life. In our work – however that might look. In our daily lives. In our conversations with friends. In how we do the most mundane, every day things – things that we think no-one would notice. We need to honour God in how we act, how we talk, how we behave. I’ve talked before about Brother Lawrence, who sought to praise God even in his washing of the dishes of the monastery. In everything we do, we need to be praising God as well, because God has done so much for us.
We honour God because he created us – each and every one of us is created in God’s image. Each and every person we meet – whether they recognise it or not – bears the thumbprint of God’s creation on their life. But God didn’t just create us and leave us to our own devices. God continued to reach out to us – despite our mistakes, despite our failings – God spoke through the prophets to tell us more about the nature of God, and what it means to honour God.
We often call God “the Father” – and there is a sense that his relationship to us is a bit like a father. And I get that. When I think about my relationship with my kids, I see a lot of the relationship I see with God and humanity. I love my kids more than anything. I would do absolutely anything to make sure they were safe. But sometimes, they’re a little bit naughty. And sometimes, after I’ve told them not to do something for the umpteenth time and they still do it, a lose control a bit and my voice gets raised a bit. I get a bit angry with them – and after the moment I feel terrible about it. And you can see a lot of the old testament God in that.
But I also see a lot of God in Annabelle. In that despite my failings, and despite the times where I raise my voice, I see the way she looks at me at the end of every night, and I know that none of those things matter to her – that she loves me. That she forgets all those times when I’ve been too busy to sit and watch a movie with her, so long as she can give me that great big cuddle at the end of each night. And it’s the same with Davey too – it doesn’t matter what happens during the day, we always have our cuddles and kisses at the end of the night and I know that he loves me.
It’s the same with God, who sees all our failings, all the times that we got angry with God, all the times we were too busy to spend time with God, but loves us anyway, and loves us so much that God sent Jesus Christ to live as one of us, to die as one of us, to have the full experience of human life, and to save us, so that God could continue to have a relationship with us.
This is why we honour God. This is why we put God first in all things. Because after all that we have in our lives, God sees past that, and loves us, and wants to be in a relationship with us, even though we don’t deserve it.
So if you want to commit to honouring God in all things in your life, I invite you to stand as we sing this next song. Maybe you feel like you would like to come and spend some time in prayer here at the mercy seat, or to come and make a commitment to put God first in all things – and to honour that by bring it to God in prayer. The place of prayer is open to all. The words of this song speak about worship – but our worship is our whole life. We bring our whole lives to God, and it’s more than a song – that’s not what God requires. God searches deeper, looking into our hearts. So if you would like to commit to honouring God in all things in your life, let’s stand as we sing this together.