YOU CAN’T HAVE THIS IF YOU WANT THAT
Chilmark Community Church
April 17, 2016
Rev. Armen Hanjian
When you respond to the various opportunities that come your way in life with “Yes. I’ll do it,” or “No, I don’t believe I’ll do that,” are you sure you are making the right decisions? Today’s sermon should help you to say “no” and to say “yes.”
As a boy scout, I recall a campout a fellow built a log bridge over a small brook. He warned the rest of us it was his bridge and we shouldn’t use it. In place of three of the cross logs he placed three pieces of bark so anyone unknowingly using the bridge would put his foot through the bark and into the small stream below. It was good for a lot of laughs when the builder of the bridge was the first to put his foot into his own trap.
The reason the road-runner cartoons were so funny is that they captured an aspect of real life. The fox pulls back a gigantic slingshot which holds a huge stone to capture the bird – and the boulder falls back on him. He builds a long shut down which he will roll a round bomb. He lights it at the top and it goes off immediately.
The naturalist Charles Darwin made a trip into Argentina and Uruguay on horseback with the famous gauchos. Darwin tried to throw the bola, a long rawhide thong with balls of iron on one end. These were used to capture wild horses. In his autobiography, Darwin reported in one of his efforts, the bola wound around himself and his horse. The gauchos roared with laughter – they never had seen a man caught by himself. But it’s not really so unusual. So many of us trip up our own selves. We get all wound up with our own ambitions, gadgets, sports, worries, desires. What begins with smiles and laughs often ends with tears and tragedy.
There was an AP dispatch from Big Stone Gap, VA, with the sad story of the body of a young women, “found entangled in a fence which she and her husband electrified with 110 volts to keep boys out their tomatoes.” Their craftiness boomeranged. You say, “We are not that stupid.” But don’t so many put up fences to protect and actually imprison themselves from almost all of the community. So many avoid the imperfect church only to become less and less sensitive to what Jesus Christ is about, to what God’s will is for them. They build what Hal Luccock called a “premature mausoleum.” There is a line in a hymn that describes too many of God’s children: “And age comes on uncheered by faith and hope.”
The editor of a magazine that specializes in word study asked a small number of distinguished writers to answer these questions: “What English word seems to you the most useful in the language?” and “What word to you seems the most annoyingly used or misused?” Nearly all agreed that the most misused word was “yes,” and nearly all voted that the most useful word in the language is “no”.
Plutarch tells of an ancient town whose inhabitants became slaves to others because of their inability to say “no”. If you didn’t see the cartoon, you saw one like it: a women is saying to her doctor, “What can I do to feel better without giving up what makes me feel so awful?” It’s funny in the lives of others, but not so in our own. Do we not ask similar questions: “How can I lose weight without changing my life style or getting therapy?” “How can I get better marks without giving up any of my other activities?” “ How can I have a better marriage without making personal sacrifices that inconvenience me?” “How can I find more satisfaction in life without changing my cherished pleasures and pastimes?”
By now, you must see the insight I want to drive home to you is that we must sacrifice things of value to attain other things which are of higher value. You can’t have this if you want that. We must give up things which are good and valuable in themselves if we are to achieve the higher goods available to us. It is not that evil will defeat most of us in our attempt at doing good; the danger is that the good will crowd out the better, and the better may keep us from the best. You can’t have this if you want that! None of us are anywhere near maturity until he or she comes to terms with saying “no”, with the principle of renunciation, pruning.
The Christian uses Jesus to measure maturity. Jesus knew times in his life when he had to say “no.” In the temptations in the wilderness he said no. When he was counseled not to go into Jerusalem, he said “no.”
Jesus said in Matthew 10:36-39, “…a man’s foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his for my sake will find it.” Jesus knew that one who says “yes” to God has to be able at times to say “no” to family and to self.
“Jesus demanded a primary and undivided allegiance. He was not despising natural ties. He blessed little children, taught us to call God by the name of Father, and gave his own mother at his death into the care of a beloved disciple.” Interpreter’s Bible 8:259
Jesus knew how to say no. He spent his early years with his family, but he did not let his family prevent him from fulfilling his calling. Jesus calls us likewise, as we begin again to follow him, to practice the principle of renunciation.
Walter Lippmann wrote: “It is a fact and a most arresting one, that in all the great religions, and all the great moral philosophies from Aristotle to George Bernard Shaw, it is taught that one of the conditions of happiness is to renounce some of the satisfactions which men normally crave. This tradition as to what constitutes the wisdom of life is supported by testimony from so many independent sources that it can not be dismissed lightly. With minor variations it is a common theme in the teaching of an Athenian aristocrat like Plato, an Indian nobleman like Buddha, a humble Jew like Spinoza; in fact, wherever men have thought carefully about the problem of evil and of what constitutes a good life, they have concluded that an essential element in any human philosophy is renunciation. “ IB 8:625
Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” Renunciation is not choosing the dull, lack luster life; it is preparation for choosing the fresh air of a joyous venture. If we could ask the apostle Paul what he was about, he might have answered, “Why, I am wrestling with principalities and powers and mastering them thru Jesus Christ.” Surely that beats a tame, colorless life of trivialities. The worldling doesn’t reach for the higher life and keeps finding his or her world cankered. The Christian sacrifices this world for the Christ-like life only to discover that what remains of this world radiates and satisfies. Heaven has its foretaste in this world; it does make this life abundant. The Christian not the worldling lives at the center of life rather than at its fringes; she or he is in the world but not absorbed by it.
The saying goes, “When one door closes another door opens.” Sometimes doors are closed on us. But we don’t have to wait; we can close some doors intentionally freeing up time and money. The New Testament gives us a warning here. Take care that emptying your life of one demon (or even a good thing) and not putting in place some great thing, we well might end up having 7 demons (from mediocre to good things) take residence in us and our situation will be worse than before. In other words, it is not enough to say no every way we turn; it would be bad for your disposition and bad for God’s world. We must say “no” and we must say “yes” to the best we know, the highest challenges.
It is popular to come across to others as one who has an open mind. That is a fine quality; however, for too many it is an excuse for never reaching a decision, for being neutral, for making your life motto, “There is much to be said on both sides.” G.K. Chesterton dealt with this common masquerade of the open mind by saying that the purpose of an open mind is to close it on something.
In the summer, kids are always asking what is there to do. Adults have the same question: what to do with yourself. Socrates had an answer: “Know yourself.” Pascal had an answer: “Hate yourself..” The Bible has one resounding answer: “Commit yourself.” Doctors, psychiatrists can tell us what’s causing our nervous disorders, our pains, our problems, but the cure in the end has to do with our commitments. It has to do with what we say yes to, what we give ourselves to wholeheartedly.
A pastor from Atlanta shared this insight. For 30 years I’ve served this church and watched thousands of people refuse to make a wholehearted commitment to Christ on the ground that they could do it at a later time.
They did not deliberately intend to do wrong; they delayed their decision to do the right. The decay in their character that resulted has been discouraging. Each day people decide to follow Jesus or they drift. When we drift, we delay decisions until some lesser choice has usurped, swallowed up our time.
We must start saying no, so we can start saying yes to what counts. That’s what budgeting money is about. That’s what budgeting of time is about. If you want this, you can’t have that. If we do not make our distribution of time and money relate to God’s will for us we will fall into one of two traps. Either we will do the selfish thing (It won’t look bad others are doing it, and if we buy it or do it for the family it will not be considered inappropriate), or we will do the thing the media has taught us to do: to smell right, look right, feel right etc. You know – the good life as the T.V. pictures it for us day after day after day.
Whoever will come after me, said Jesus, let him deny himself, take up his cross (i.e. voluntarily take up the burdens of others in need) and follow me.
We are getting closer to summer, so let me summarize:
1. We are often our own worst enemy tripping up ourselves.
2. We content ourselves with good lesser choices which rule out the best God has to offer us. Just like the enemy of a great marriage is a good marriage, so the enemy of a Christ like life is a “good life.” He led a “good life” – that’s the phrase we hear down at the funeral home.
3.The answer then is to say no to many good choices so that we can yes to Jesus Christ who is the highest and best we know. We don’t have to worry about aiming too high for we know there is forgiveness and acceptance; we don’t make a bull’s eye every time.
4. If we are to say no and yes we must do it specifically, so let us start sorting thru our financial and time commitments asking “Does God’s work and God’s will take priority?”
Let spend a few moments in silent reflection.
Let us pray these words from Samuel Rutherford: Thank you God that
“….his cross is the sweetest burden that ever I bare; it is such a burden as wings are to a bird, or sails to a ship, to carry me forward to my harbor.” Amen.