Summary: Pentecost 11: Believers are called to be different than the sinful world. But where does the child of God find the power to live a God-pleasing life? Our lesson today points us to our relationship with God through the forgiveness Christ has won for us. We
Take a look at this. It’s one of those little slips of paper that the bank’s automated teller machine gives you when you make a withdrawal. It’s got some interesting information on it. Apart from the name and other basic account information, the ATM machine prints the amount of money you withdraw and the remaining account balance on this little ATM receipt. These little slips of paper certainly can come in handy. They could serve as reminders of the transaction. They could serve as proof of the transaction amounts in case of difficulty. They could even help in balancing the checkbook.
But let me tell you what I heard from a brother pastor who I was with on Friday. It seems that some enterprising company has decided that they could print pads of ATM receipts and sell them. They look absolutely authentic. They have printed on them what looks to be genuine account information. When you look at one of these fake ATM receipts – it looks absolutely genuine! Even the transaction seems normal - a withdrawal amount of say $150.00. But then you when you look at the account balance it says something a bit out of the ordinary. It has a huge account balance – like $325,432.33.
Now why in the world would anybody print and buy pads of fake ATM receipts? Well here’s one reason as told by a National Public Radio commentator. This man went to a bar and had a few drinks with a woman. He said to her, “Here is my telephone number,” and he wrote it one of these fake ATM receipts. The woman apparently put the fake ATM receipt away without even looking at it – she seemed to have no real interest in the man who gave it to her. But then, sometime later, the woman opened the fake ATM receipt and noticed the huge balance figure printed on it. Now, it seems, the man’s telephone hasn’t stopped ringing.
Fake ATM receipts seem innocuous enough, don’t they? And this little story even has a bit of a humorous side to it. But this little story also relates what lives in the heart of unregenerate humanity. It describes a darkness and a way of thinking and being that will go to any extreme to satisfy self. It exemplifies what the Apostle Paul warns believers about in the first paragraph of today’s Epistle reading. [Read Ephesians 4:17-19 here]
Now this certainly isn’t anything new. It’s in may ways, bigger bottom lines is the story of humanity. Adam and Eve wanted a bigger bottom line – and so they disobeyed – and it grieved God. The people of Noah’s time wanted to get their piece of the action and so they lived like hell and it tells us that God’s heart was filled with pain. In our Old Testament lesson we read about the whole Israelite community – after having been set free from a 400 year bondage – complain and grumbling because what they perceived to be a short-changing of their bottom line – pots full of meat and plenty of food. In our Gospel Lesson today we have crowds of people following after Jesus, but the Lord reprimands them saying, “I can guarantee this truth: You’re not looking for Me because you saw miracles. You are looking for me because you ate as much of those loaves as you wanted.” (John 6:26)
The Lord calls his people and asks them to reorient their priorities. “So I tell you and encourage you in the Lord’s name not to live any longer like other people in the world.” The admonition for the believer is to recognize what’s truly important and to put our minds on that. If the most important thing for you is to chase after the big bottom line – to be like God – like Adam and Eve did – you are destined for destruction. If you live carnally - as if carnal pleasure is the most important thing – like in the time of Noah – judgment will be upon you before you know it. If your god is your stomach and God is important to you only because He can provide you with meat and potatoes – then you face missing the Kingdom and the real blessings that the Lord is so very desirous to share with you.
So what do we do? How do we approach the challenges of this life? Let’s get to the bottom line here. Is God really trying to tell us that we need to grovel in misery all of our lives to find true religion? Well no, He’s not saying that. Does God not want us to enjoy any of the pleasures of this life? Well no, Jesus demonstrated by his own life that laughter, joy and pleasure are not wrong. Well does the Lord want us to starve and be hungry? Well, no, beloved, God is not asking us to malnourish our bodies – even though some folks like me could stand to skip a meal or two along the way.