June 23, 2013

Rev. John Watts

NampaFirst UMC


Jeremiah 9:23-24


It’s good to know things.  And it makes us feel good to know how much we know.  So I thought I’d make you feel good as we start this morning by giving you a chance to show off how much you know with this little quiz.

1)  How long did the Hundred Year War last?  116 years.

2)  Which country makes Panamahats? Ecuador.

3)  What is a camel’s hair brush made of?  Squirrel fur.

4)  What color is a purple finch?  Red.

5)  Where do Chinese gooseberries come from? New Zealand.

6)  How long did the Thirty Year War last?  30 years, of course!

No matter how much we know, it’s always humbling to realize how much we don’t know.  There’s always more to learn.  And of course as parents, we are concerned that our children grow up to be knowledgeable and intelligent.  We want our kids to be smart.  We might even be inclined to brag on our kids when they do well in school.  We’ve all seen the bumper sticker, “My Child is on the Honor Roll.”

Of course, there’s more to life than being smart.  Our kids learn that in school, too.  Especially out on the playground.  It’s also good to be strong.   And sometimes parents brag about how physically capable their children are.  Sometimes they do their boasting with another bumper sticker.  “My Child Beat Up Your Honor Roll Student.”

And there is more to life than being either smart or strong.  You figure that one out as you go through life.  It doesn’t matter how much you know or how powerful are your muscles, without some money you are going to go through life handicapped.  It’s good to be smart, it’s good to be strong, but it’s better to be rich.  If you ever get to be rich, you just might do your bragging by driving a car that has no bumper sticker at all but is ridiculously expensive.

It always fascinates me as I read the Bible to see how little has changed in the way people are.  Even in Jeremiah’s day, people were concerned as we are concerned with what matters most in life.  They were asking the same questions we ask.  Is it what you know that matters most?  Or how about what you can do?  Or maybe what really matters is what you can spend?  Best of all, how about all three?  And people way back then, just like now, would try so hard to develop their minds or strengthen their bodies or improve their financial balance sheets.  Yes, people were even inclined to boast and brag about how well they were doing in any or all of these areas.

These words written a long time ago by a man named Jeremiah cut right through all this.  “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches.”  All these things that seem so important to us are not what real matters.

Not that they aren’t important.  They are very important.  Wisdom.  Health.  Money.  People go through life chasing these three, and for good reason.  It’s good to be “healthy, wealthy, and wise”.  We imagine that if only we were, we’d just about have it made.  All our problems would go away.  Our lives would be pretty nearly perfect.

And it’s what we don’t have that becomes our focus.  If we could just have what’s missing, everything would be great.  For example, maybe you didn’t have much of an education.  The scripture says, “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom.”   You don’t want to be one of those know-it-alls that is always showing off.  But it would be nice to be able to at least be above average. You don’t feel very smart. You feel like everyone else is ahead of you.  It makes you self-conscious in social settings.  You’re afraid to open your mouth because you’re afraid you might sound like, well, MissUtah.

You don’t have that degree or those grades or that pedigree that would qualify you for that career that you know would be just perfect for you.  You have to settle for something less.  Or maybe you can’t find anything at all.  No one wants to hire you.  You are at a huge disadvantage because you fall short in the area of basic intelligence.

And so that becomes your obsession.  You either blame your lack of education for all the problems in your life.  Or maybe you go back to school, whether you can afford to or not, because you’re convinced that surely more education will make your life complete.  And then perhaps you reach your goal.  After a long struggle, with a lot of effort expended and a lot of money spent, you finally do get that degree you’ve always wanted.  It’s great.  But it’s not exactly everything you thought it would be.  There’s still something missing from your life.  Your new life as the smartest person in the room didn’t change that.

And the scripture says, “Let not the strong man boast of his strength.”  Maybe you’re not very strong.  Maybe your health is not very good.  There’s something in the physical dimension of your life that holds you back from living the life you’ve always wanted to live.  So that becomes your obsession.  You might start eating right and exercising more.  You might stop the unhealthy habits that are ruining your health.  You might be able to make some real progress.  Or maybe not.  Maybe your health condition is such that there really is nothing that can be done.  You’re just limited.  You’re just not very strong.  There are certain things you can’t do.  Maybe it’s a matter of too many birthdays.  That gets us all eventually.  But what we don’t have we desperately want!  We tell ourselves, if only I could be healthy!  If only I could find that fountain of youth, then I would have everything I could ever want.  But the simple truth is that even those in the prime of life and in the best of health can be miserable.  Wonderful as it is to be healthy, there’s more to life than that.

If you don’t have money or you don’t have enough money or you don’t think you have enough money, I guarantee you that will be your obsession.  “Let not the rich man boast of his riches.”  You don’t necessarily want to be rich enough to boast, just a little richer than you are right now!  So many people who truthfully have all the money they should ever need, still make the pursuit of more money and more of the things money can buy their whole purpose in life.  And they convince themselves that if only they could ever reach that illusive goal of “financial freedom”, then life would be truly wonderful.  That’s what motivates all the people who buy lottery tickets.  They are willing to part with some of their hard earned money to buy a chance, hardly a chance at all if you do the math, but a chance nonetheless to have all their dreams come true.  Even though it’s been documented that the big lottery winners almost all end up more miserable than they were before.  We know money can’t buy happiness, but we would sure would like to find out for ourselves!

What you don’t have is what you really want, whether it’s wisdom or strength or riches.  So we might devote our lives to trying to attain what we don’t have.   We might end up chasing after these things like greyhound dogs chasing after a fake rabbit.

There was a greyhound dog.  He had done his share of racing.  But he was now officially retired.  And he had been adopted by a little girl who was determined to take good care of him. The truth was this dog would have been destroyed had this little girl not begged the dog’s owner to let her have him.

Imagine her surprise when she discovered one day that this dog was a talking dog!  They had many delightful conversations.  One day her uncle visited and she introduced him to her talking greyhound dog.  This is the record of their conversation.

Uncle:  Are you still racing?

Dog:  No.

Uncle:  Well, what was the matter? Did you get too old to race?

          Dog:  No, I still had some race in me.

          Uncle:  Well, what then? Did you not win?

          Dog:  I won over a million dollars for my owner.

          Uncle:  Well, what was it? Bad treatment?

          Dog:  Oh, no.  They treated us royally when we were racing.

          Uncle:  Did you get crippled?

          Dog:  No.

          Uncle: Then why?  Why?

          Dog:  I quit.

          Uncle:  You quit?

          Dog:  Yes, I quit.

          Uncle:  Why did you quit?

          Dog:  That rabbit I’ve been chasing all my life isn’t a real rabbit.  Did you know that?  I finally figured that out.  I decided I’m not going to spend my life chasing after  something that isn’t even real.

          We chase after a lot of things in our lives that aren’t even real.  Or at least that don’t matter as much as we think they do.  Things like wisdom and strength and riches.  We’re trying so hard to get them and that quest might be a little like a greyhound dog chasing a fake rabbit.          

          Or it might be like climbing a ladder that’s leaning up against the wrong wall.  It’s a high ladder.  It’s been a hard climb.  And just when you get to the top and look over the other side you realize that this ladder didn’t get you to where you wanted to be after all.  Jeremiah is warning us here to not make that mistake that has been made and repeated so many times.  Wisdom, strength, and riches, important as they are, are not what matter most in life.

So then, what does?  Which is the right wall where we should be placing our ladder?  The wall we can climb that will get us somewhere.   Somewhere that is real.  Somewhere that matters.  Somewhere that will not end up disappointing us.  That will get us to the place we have been looking for all our lives and didn’t know it?  That’s the question that matters a whole lot more than where Chinese gooseberries come from.

And that’s the very question Jeremiah answers for us in this remarkable passage of scripture!  “Let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows [God].”

Do you understand and know God?  That’s what matters most in life.  It’s not what you know, it’s who you know!  And the tricky thing is that you might not even feel the need for what really should matter to you most of all.  If you are lacking in education, you will know that and you will feel the need to address that.  If your health isn’t good, you will know that and you will want more than anything else to get healthy again.  If you aren’t making it financially, you will know that and you will drive yourself crazy trying to turn your finances around.  (In fact, even if you are doing quite well financially, you will likely want to do better and then better yet because of the addictive quality of money and possessions.)  But if you are completely ignoring your most basic need, your need for God in your life, you might very well not even know it.  You might very well not feel the slightest need to do a thing about it.

All this is to explain why we takeVacationBibleSchoolso seriously here atNampaFirstUnitedMethodistChurch.  No child is ever too young to begin the lifelong process of knowing God.  It says in Proverbs to, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (22:6).  In other words, when these children grow up, they will remember what they’ve learned about God this week.  They will remember, let’s hope, what they’ve experienced of God this week.  They will no doubt have worries about school or about health or about money.  That’s part of life.  But we trust that they will remember that God is in control of all these worries and any other worries they might ever have.  They can turn them all over to God.  And that this week ofVacationBibleSchoolwill help them to feel God in their lives and to get to know God more and more in a growing relationship that every day is getting stronger and stronger.

That, by the way, was the point of this year’s theme.  “Kingdom Rock: Where Kids Stand Strong for God.”  We stand strong for God not because we are strong.  But because God is strong.  Because our relationship with God is strong.  Like it said in our scripture, we don’t boast about how strong we are but about how strong God is and how blessed we are to know such an awesome, amazing, wonderful God.


God, we are so thankful for our children.  They are such gifts from you, each one so precious and so loved.  We pray that they might inherit from us more than wisdom or good health or eventually an inheritance of money.  May they inherit from us a faith that will never disappoint them.  May they know you.  May they know Jesus, your Son.  May they grow not just mentally and physically, but spiritually.  And help us God to set for them a good example.  We can’t give what we don’t have.  So strengthen our faith and help us to grow in your love.  In Jesus’ name,  Amen.