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First Reading = Matthew 6:19-33
19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; 23but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 24“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. 25“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
This is our last week looking at our divine design. If you feel like you’ve made a little progress on discovering your divine design but you’re not there yet, I do have a multi-week intensive course I can offer with a ton more useful tools that we haven’t covered in any of our sermons, Bible studies, or discussion groups. If you’re interested in a more intensive course on discovering your purpose and your divine design, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next week we’re trying something different for our sermon. It’s going to be a Biblical, pastoral conversation rather than a formal sermon. Blakeley Winslow and his wife Melissa are part of our church, and Blakeley is a campus pastor at School of Mines. Blakeley and I are studying Mark 16 on our own, and then we’re going to record our conversation about the text. I’m pretty excited about this, I think it will be a nice change of pace.
But first, let’s wrap up our time with Jeremiah. A couple of weeks ago we heard Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles, and in that letter God promised to restore them after 70 years. God instructed them to multiply and thrive in their exile. God’s mid-range promise was to restore them after 70 years.
Today, we see God’s long-range promise. Another way to think about this is to think about legacy. What’s God’s legacy? This text gets quoted in the New Testament because Jesus fulfilled these promises in ways no one would have ever guessed when they heard it at the time. Let’s hear what God said about his plans for his legacy through Jeremiah.
14The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” 17For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, 18and the levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to make grain offerings, and to make sacrifices for all time. 19The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 20Thus says the Lord: If any of you could break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night would not come at their appointed time, 21only then could my covenant with my servant David be broken, so that he would not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with my ministers the Levites. 22Just as the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will increase the offspring of my servant David, and the Levites who minister to me. 23The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 24Have you not observed how these people say, “The two families that the Lord chose have been rejected by him,” and how they hold my people in such contempt that they no longer regard them as a nation? 25Thus says the Lord: Only if I had not established my covenant with day and night and the ordinances of heaven and earth, 26would I reject the offspring of Jacob and of my servant David and not choose any of his descendants as rulers over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes, and will have mercy upon them.
Legacy as Story
In my office here at the church, I have two drink coasters. They’re thick. They’re heavy. They’re old. And emblazoned in the middle of them in brass is the state of Texas. Now, my wife will confirm that I am most definitely NOT a sentimental person. I’m very practical. But I have these two old Texas-themed coasters because they are part of my family story.
My grandfather, Charles Sandahl, was in the Texas House of Representatives from 1953-1963. And somewhere along the way he walked out of the Texas capitol building with these coasters. While he died when I was pretty young, I have very fond memories of him. My oldest child is named Charles. He’s like a touchstone for my internalized family narrative. He had perseverance. Intelligence. And apparently a penchant for stealing coasters from the Texas House of Representatives.
I always like to confirm my family stories before I share them with you, so I texted my dad to confirm the origin story of these two coasters. And…he didn’t remember. He said it sounded like the kind of thing my grandfather would have kept from his time in the House, but he couldn’t confirm it. So either these two coasters represent six or seven decades of family history. Or, they’re just Texas-themed coasters. I don’t know for sure.
Do you have any family heirlooms? Any furniture or objects that have been passed down through the generations? Why do you keep it? It’s probably not the best fit for your house. You could probably get something better. But you still have it. Why? Because of the story.
My coasters are only noteworthy if they’re part of a story. Otherwise they’re just coasters. The story determines the legacy. The story determines whether they’re coasters or heirlooms.
In our text today, God lays out a story. A big story. A legacy. We see in verse 20, “Thus says the Lord: If any of you could break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night would not come at their appointed time, ONLY THEN could my covenant with my servant David be broken.”
God’s story won’t be broken by the destruction of Jerusalem. God’s story won’t be broken by the destruction of the Temple. God’s story won’t be broken by his people going into exile in Babylon. God’s story won’t be broken by the Persians in the book of Esther. God’s story won’t be broken by the Jesus’ crucifixion. God’s story won’t be broken by persecutions throughout the ages. God’s story won’t be broken by the Spanish Flu in 1918. God’s story won’t be broken by the horrors of World War II. God’s story won’t be broken by COVID-19. As God says in our text today, unless you can move the earth from its orbit around the sun, unless you can move the moon from its orbit around the earth, unless you can reshape the heavens themselves, you can’t break God’s story. God’s story won’t be broken. Can I get an Amen on that?!? God’s story won’t be broken.
And you and I are a part of that unbreakable story. You and I are a part of God’s legacy. You and I, we’re not just coasters. We’re family heirlooms. We’re part of the story. We’re part of God’s legacy. None of the weird things thrown at us by 2020 change that.
I mean, most years it’s hard to identify with the defeated and exiled Israelites in the book of Jeremiah. But this year, we should totally get where they’re coming from. Their context was different, but we have quite a few similarities. They weren’t at church in-person. Their church had been destroyed. And they weren’t even at home – they were in a foreign land. Some of their most cherished traditions were interrupted. Some of their core ideas about their identity were shaken. They wanted it all to be over. They wanted to get back to normal as quickly as possible. But God told them it would be 70 years, and even then things would be different.
I guess it’s a little perspective for us. We are experiencing several months of significant disruption to “normal.” Our church worship services are at lower capacity, meeting less frequently, it’s harder to see people, we probably have some number of months of disruption ahead of us on some level. It’s very annoying! It’s very challenging! It’s very draining! I’m ready to hear Auld Lang Syne to bring in 2021.
But we’re reading about a time when God’s people had no place to worship because it was destroyed. We’re reading about a time when God’s people couldn’t see each other at all because they were in Babylon or they were dead from the siege. We’re reading about a time when God’s people couldn’t expect light at the end of the tunnel for 70 years!
Even then – I said even THEN – God’s story wasn’t broken. God’s people weren’t broken. Are we made of that kind of stuff? Can we remain faithful even through our own version of exile? God’s story hasn’t been broken by anything 2020 has thrown at it. We’re still part of that story. We’re still part of that legacy. We’re still family heirlooms, not coasters.
Choosing a Legacy
This chapter of Jeremiah is an invitation. It’s an invitation to see our own story as part of God’s unbreakable story. It’s an invitation to see our own legacy as contributing to God’s eternal legacy.
God has a legacy as the Creator of all things good. God has a legacy as the one who gave us another chance after Noah and the flood. God has a legacy as the one who chose one family, Abraham and Sarah, as the cornerstone of his eventual people. God has a legacy as the one who took a bunch of slaves out of Egypt and forged the Chosen People. God has a legacy as the one who took a shepherd boy and turned him into King David. God has a legacy as the one who sent prophet after prophet to speak the truth to his people. God has a legacy as the one who preserved a remnant to start over once again during the time of Jeremiah. God has a legacy as the one who sent his son to fulfill the promises made in our text today. God has a legacy as the one who sent the Holy Spirit to empower the followers of Jesus after his death and resurrection. God has a legacy as the one who has preserved the church through its faithfulness and its follies, through its exhibitions of the kingdom of God and its temptations to be like the kingdoms of man. God has a legacy as the one who created you and me. God’s legacy isn’t done, and his story is unbreakable.
Where will you fit your legacy inside God’s legacy? Where will you fit your story inside God’s story? That’s the invitation given to us through our text today.
One morning in 1888 a famous man named Alfred opened the newspaper to a disconcerting headline. It was an obituary. His obituary. Alfred’s brother had recently died, and the newspaper got confused and thought Alfred had died. As a famous man, it would have been newsworthy if he died. The newspaper’s mistaken obituary proclaimed Alfred “the merchant of death.” Alfred NOBEL was the inventor of dynamite. In addition to its many uses in construction, mining, and engineering, his chemistry discovery also increased the deadliness of cannons. That’s what made him rich and famous.
Alfred Nobel was shocked by this framing of his legacy, and he responded. He said, “Every man should get the chance to rewrite his own obituary.” And that’s what Alfred did. He gave away most of his wealth and established prizes in chemistry, physics, physiology, medicine, economics, literature, and PEACE. The Nobel Prizes are still awarded today – in fact they’ve been rolling out over the last couple of weeks.
Alfred Nobel made a conscious decision to alter his legacy. He made a conscious decision to tell a better story with the rest of his life. He decided he wanted to get ahead on what he wanted to leave behind.
What do you want to leave behind? What legacy do you want to have? How does that fit within God’s legacy and God’s story? And how can you get ahead on what you want to leave behind? Neil Cole said, “Finishing well is not what we do at the end of our lives; it’s what we do every day of our lives.”
Alfred Nobel demonstrates the first tool I want to give you as you think about how your legacy could be a part of God’s legacy. The first tool is thinking about your ultimate contribution. Nobel was shocked to see that his ultimate contribution was becoming the merchant of death. So he decided to make a different contribution to the sciences and to peace. What’s your ultimate contribution?
Your ultimate contribution might be a community to grow. That might be your role as a parent, or a philanthropist, or a mentor. If that community honors God, it’s part of God’s legacy, too.
Your ultimate contribution might be a culture to enrich. That might be your ability to invent, or paint, or entertain. If the culture you enrich honors God, it’s part of God’s legacy, too.
Your ultimate contribution might be an organization to lead. Maybe you’re a founder, or a stabilizer, or a multiplier. If that organization or its mission honors God, it’s part of God’s legacy, too.
Your ultimate contribution might be an idea to conceive. That might be a new discovery, or a new way to present or compile knowledge, or communicating truth. If that idea honors God, it’s part of God’s legacy, too.
Your ultimate contribution might be a change to activate. You might be a role model, or a catalyst, or a leader. If that change you embrace honors God, it’s part of God’s legacy, too.
What’s your ultimate contribution?
Some of you might be thinking, “I’ve already lived a lot of my life. I think I’ve already made my ultimate contribution.” That might be true. Is there a way to reinforce that contribution? Or does God have a different contribution in mind for this phase of life? Maybe you created an organization that honors God earlier in life. That might be your ultimate contribution. But maybe God now wants you to invest in others as a mentor or being a role model to younger generations.
Three workers were making bricks. The first worker was asked what he was doing. He said, “I am making bricks.” Fair enough. The second worker was asked what she was doing. She said, “I am building a wall.” Interesting. The third worker was asked what he was doing. He said, “I am building a beautiful cathedral.” All three were making bricks. But the third worker saw how those bricks were part of a grander story. That’s an ultimate contribution.
What’s Stopping You?
Our second tool is pretty simple. We’ve spent most of this series trying to equip you to think of what you can do to live God’s dreams for you during this phase of life. So here’s a different angle: what’s stopping you?
Really, think about that. If you want to make a contribution to your legacy inside of God’s greater legacy during this phase of life, what’s stopping you? I don’t mean that rhetorically. I mean that literally. Write it down.
Is it a lack of ability? Is it a lack of opportunity? Is it a lack of willpower or motivation? Is it a lack of health? Is it a lack of transportation? Is it a lack of funds? Is it a problem with a relationship? Is it hard to do anything because you’re depressed? Is it a distraction? What’s stopping you? Write it down!
My mom is a counselor, and she asks that question sometimes. She told me that most people have one of two reactions by actually writing down the barriers that stop them from making the change they want to make. Either they realize that the barriers are much smaller than they imagined, or they realize there are ways around those barriers. The act of writing down what’s stopping you moves them from pure anxiety to actionable obstacles.
So what’s stopping you?
Sisters and brothers, you and I are part of God’s unbreakable story. We are part of God’s unbreakable legacy. The people were pushed to their very limit, but nothing the Babylonians could muster could break God’s story. Many people are being pushed to their very limit, but nothing 2020 can muster can break God’s story.
How can your remaining story be a part of God’s unbreakable story? What contribution can you make that honors God? And what’s actually stopping you from making that contribution?
No matter how useless you feel, no matter how defeated you feel, you aren’t just a coaster. You’re a precious family heirloom because you’re a part of God’s unbreakable story. Amen.