Listen to the sermon here:
Scripture: 1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43 Psalm 96:1-9 Galatians 1:1-12 Luke 7:1-10
Mary finds money in the parking lot. Mary is 9 years old. What does Mary do? What are her choices? She could keep it without saying anything to anyone. After all, we hear, “Finders, Keepers.” She is walking home from school and it just happens that she is alone at the moment. This could be the time that folly wins over wisdom. Mary takes the $5.00 bill in her fingers. Of course, there was no name on this bill unless you count Abe Lincoln as the owner.
Should she take it home and ask her mother what to do with it? Would her mother say it was alright to keep it? Should she put the $5.00 on the macadam again? Should she stick it in her backpack because she could slip it into a drawer in her bedroom when she was in her house? What would she do with it then? Would it stay in her drawer forever because she would be afraid that her mother would ask questions when she used it?
How would she use it? If she did place it on the ground again, would it blow away? Would the person who dropped it come back to find it? Is anyone watching? There is that apartment house across the street. Someone could happen to be at a window. Mary is not in a hurry and it is a nice day. Actually, Mary forgets about time. She has this big decision to make.
Mary remembers that cameras are everywhere these days. When the person who lost the money returns and cannot find it and goes to the police to see if someone had brought it there, the police will say, “Let’s take a look.” There would be Mary caught on tape walking away with the money. And would you know, Mary has this bright orange jacket which she really likes, but which would be a sure give-a-way on that video tape.
Mary feels sick on her stomach now. This is too much decision for her. What is she to do? If she does not take it, is it a good idea to just place it on the macadam again? It will probably blow away. She thinks about taking it to the police building nearby. She thinks about buying food for the food pantry. She thinks about buying cat food for her friend Mrs. Brady who has very little income. Mary thinks about placing it in the offering at church but then she would need to explain it to her mother probably, unless she placed it in the Sunday School offering. Good idea! But wait, the teacher is going to be suspicious about Mary giving $5.00. She could say it had been a birthday present.
What is the “right thing” to do? Translate this story to you and to me. What ethical dilemmas appear out of the blue? We could go on and on. Very few people get through life without facing an ethical decision of one sort or another. These choices we make either make us feel good and free or they haunt us and eat away at our well-being. Sometimes doing the “right thing” takes a lot more effort than doing the wrong thing. But as humans we have been given the ability to look ahead, to forecast, to see the direction of the road. Is this the road God planned for me? What does God want me to do?
Sometimes God does not answer our questions on the spot. You may have waited a long time for an answer in your life and finally it came or you may still be waiting. Then sometimes God’s response is different than we expect and we do not see it for awhile. Often we need a decision on the spot. When choices come flying our direction, we can’t wait – waiting could find us in serious folly. Our choices often range from bright wisdom to dark folly. The funny thing is that dark folly often has a sparkle which attracts us in our weaknesses.
In our scripture passages today, we find King Solomon having finished the building and furnishing of the temple and we find Solomon praying to God. Solomon is doing the “right thing” at this moment. God wanted him to build a temple for the Israelites who had wandered with tents. God did not provide for David to build a temple even though God liked David. God proclaimed that David’s son, Solomon, would be the one to build the temple. Now Solomon is praying that strangers may be brought to God through this completed temple. This was the “right thing” for Solomon to do. Solomon is still in God’s favor. But do you know how Solomon lost this favor with God? Solomon married wives who followed other gods. Now Solomon was not doing the “right thing”.
The “right thing” helps other people. The “right thing” has us facing God, not turning our backs. The “right thing” is just and fair to all persons involved. We should not do the “right thing” because it will bring glory to ourselves. I am not sure about Solomon’s motives in praying that strangers shall come to know God because of the temple. That angle would bring glory to Solomon.
What about Mary and the $5.00? If she takes the money to the police, they will praise her. Here is this young girl doing the “right thing”. Glory will come her way. Then what will the police do with the money? Will they do the “right thing”? This is endless. But are we supposed to worry about other people doing the “right thing” or should we simply be concerned for ourselves doing the “right thing”? Is the culture in our community, our nation, our world based on doing the “right thing”?
How many times do we read about ordinary citizens doing the “right thing” even though it will likely bring injury or death to themselves. For example, recently in Pottstown several people stepped into danger to end an attack by a dog on other persons. We read of by-passers diving into water to save persons in a car that plunged there. Or one person will take a chance on thin ice to rescue a person who has already been swallowed by freezing water. Where is wisdom? Should we risk our own lives when the danger is very clear? People rush into a burning building to save a person or pet and never exit alive.
It seems that wisdom does not always rule the day. Sometimes we do very foolish actions in the name of doing the “right thing.”
In our scripture from Galatians today, Paul is admonishing the new Christians in Galatia. They don’t know what is the “right thing”. They need much direction. They are confusing their old thoughts and ways with the new “Way.” Paul is making it clear to them that they should not be following the wrong person or persons. Instead they must stay focused on Christ. Paul is saying that wisdom will not come from just anyone. We need to be careful to whom we are listening and whom we are following. Not everyone will give us good advice. There are many tempting paths in life. But are they leading toward a trap.
My experience tells me that our eyes need to be focused on God – on Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. For good measure, we can address all three persons of the Trinity. They have an incredible oneness. If any advice or temptation takes us away from God, it is the wrong path. Facing God is the right path. How do we know what action to take that will keep us facing God? Well, how good do we feel inside? If we think, what will happen after this one step, after the next step, at the end, we may get a picture, or call it a vision, of the approaching disaster. Sometimes disaster finds us; sometimes we head directly toward disaster.
A centurion in the Roman army is in charge of 100 soldiers. In our gospel lesson, we read about one of these centurions – a Gentile Roman centurion – who was not outwardly a follower of Jesus. But when the centurion had a servant who was ill, the centurion knew exactly where to go for help. A messenger was sent to Jesus. The message was “Please heal my servant.” So Jesus sets his feet in the direction of the house of the centurion. But before Jesus reaches the house, the centurion bursts forth and says, “You don’t need to come to us. You don’t need to actually touch the servant. I know what you can do just by your word. Just speak the word where you are.” Of course, the servant was healed when the centurion returned to the house.
This centurion had faith. Faith is a powerful word as I am sure you could verify. Faith takes us from uncertainty and leaves peace. Faith takes us from selfishness into doing the “right thing”. Faith is our invisible protection from the ways of the world. Examine ourselves. Are we following our ever-changing culture? Are we watching movies and TV programs that bring us closer to God or are we allowing ourselves to be taken the way of folly into disaster? Are we wearing clothing which leads someone else to the temptation of flesh? Or are we treating our body as a temple of the living Lord?
What did little Mary finally decide? What would give peace to her for the rest of her days? Do you remember the verse in the Bible that says, “A little child will lead them.” Mary kept the $5.00 bill in her hands where anyone or any camera could see it and headed to the police station. She had no idea what the police person on duty would decide to do with it. She need not worry about that. She knew she was doing the “right thing” and guess who she knows with certainty is watching all her thinking and helping with the decision. She knows God is seeing all this. And she also knows that God will be watching the police person. She does not need to know the result. She knows she has done the “right thing” and that she is bearing peace instead of guilt. May our own bodies and minds and hearts be the temple for God. Solomon’s temple may have attracted people to God, but we don’t need to have a temple of building stones. We are the temple of God. We can attract people to God with our actions and with our peaceful essence.
Lord God, we pray for this essence of peace which only comes from you. Guide us, direct us, fill us, mold us so that we will know and do the “right thing” and so that we will be your temple. May we proclaim your name so people who are watching will know the source of our joy and peace. Amen