February 21, 2010 (Lent 1) Deut. 26:1-11; Luke 4:1-13 …Tomorrow Depends on You
We went to Wal-Mart the other day. We had ordered something online that wasn’t in the store. The options you have now when you buy something online are either to have it shipped to your house for an extra charge, or you can have it shipped to the store for free.
So we had this thing sent to Wal-Mart.
And when you pick things up like that, there’s a little room in the back of the store where you have to go to pick it up. It used to be called ‘Layaway’, back in the days when the idea was you could ‘lay’ something away until you could afford to pay for it.
Anyways, back in this little room, as we were waiting for someone to help us, I noticed a big sign on the wall between the bathroom doors.
This was obviously an employee-area, so the sign was meant for them, not for us customers. But it was pretty big, and so you can’t help but notice it when you’re waiting for help back there.
It’s a big sign, on the top it says something like “this morning’s stock price was”…
Then there’s a big middle area where a manager can post numbers. This particular day it was something like $52 and some odd cents. I suppose someone changes that number every morning as the price of Wal-Mart stock fluctuates.
Then underneath the numbers, the sign reads “Tomorrow depends on you”.
Now, my first thought when I saw the sign was something like “Oh, that’s kind of a nice idea—if the employees are given stock or can purchase it, then the sign serves as an incentive to work harder, to be friendlier to the customers, to somehow care more about the work they’re doing—if for no other reason than they could make a little more money on their stock if they own any.”
My first thought had to do with how that sign was an attempt by someone to make the employees care a little more about the Wal-Mart experience.
And I appreciated it, as I was waiting…and waiting…and waiting…J (?)
But then, as employee after employee walked by…I’m assuming to and from a time clock or a break room or something…I started to think something more like “yeah, right”. Does anyone here actually think that their personal contribution to the Wal-Mart experience will somehow affect the price of the stock?
It’s hard to believe that even an entire Wal-Mart store could somehow impact the stock price, since there are so many stores, and so many employees, and since Wal-Mart depends on so many customers from such a broad area.
How could any single employee possibly think that their individual contribution can make the price of the stock rise or fall?
And yet that’s exactly what this big sign was saying.
Tomorrow depends on you. J
Whether the employees at Wal-Mart know it or not, this sign I’ve described isn’t just a sign. It’s an invitation into the Wal-Mart story. In that story, the main characters work hard as a unit to achieve success. In that story, the employees understand success as something that makes the stock price climb higher, and failure to be something that makes the stock price sink lower.
It’s a story that’s been written over the past number of years by Wal-Mart executives, stockholders, and to some extent the customers.
It’s a pretty simple story. It has a basic, predictable plot. Success is this…failure is that and tomorrow is up to you.
Well, this morning I’d like to suggest that these passages from Deuteronomy and from Luke are invitations into a completely different story. I don’t mean a different chapter—I mean a completely different book than the Wal-Mart story. Maybe it’s not even a book, maybe it’s more like a story that’s still being written.
Wal-Mart invites its employees into a story where ‘tomorrow depends on you’.
But Deuteronomy invites us into a story where ‘tomorrow depends on God’.
You’ll notice that the Deuteronomy passage spends a lot of time reciting history.
The people are supposed to take a basket filled with their first fruits to the priest and after he receives it they’re supposed to recite their story—Where they’ve been, how they were treated, how they cried out to God, and how God provided for them time after time.
I’ve heard sermon after sermon on this passage, talking about the importance of showing your gratitude to God by offering your first fruits. There’s something to that—there’s something to be said for giving God a thank-offering for the blessings we enjoy.
But this passage is about more than that.
It’s about telling God’s story and casting yourself not as the main character, but rather as one of the supporting characters, someone who’s depending on God at every turn, someone who takes bold risks throughout the story to help further the mission of the main character—who is God.
This story begins with “My Father was a wandering Aramean”, and it ends with sacrificing the first fruits of the land in order to help the story progress.
This story is radically different than the Wal-Mart story, because success and failure look radically different. The main character is radically different. The plot is radically unpredictable, because more often than not in this story the biggest successes look like the biggest failures!
…It’s tempting to believe that tomorrow really depends on you.
It’s tempting to cast yourself as the main character of your life—of your story.
Lots of people live like that every day, and lots of people are disappointed when that story ends in failure rather than success (as defined in that story).
That’s why this passage in Deuteronomy is so genius!
It’s not just about giving God the best that you have as some kind of cosmic ‘thank you’. It’s not just about sharing the enormous material wealth that we’ve accumulated.
It’s about casting yourself in a completely different story than the one about Wal-Mart stock, the one where tomorrow is up to you.
It’s an invitation into God’s story.
And if God is the main character, then all that’s left for us are supporting roles!
So, what’s your character doing? Which story are you in? If you’re not sure, ask yourself where you’re giving your first-fruits. Where is your best?
Where we put our best tells a lot about which story we’re in.
We can all talk the talk, but where’s your best going? Where are your first fruits? Are they in your bank account? Are they in your house? How about the car you drive or even your job—does your job get your best?
Maybe it’s your friends or your family that are getting your best, your first fruits.
Maybe it’s your church, or maybe it’s your school or your team.
Where are your first fruits going and what story is that telling?
To whatever extent you give your best to God, to that extent you are able to depend on His provision for your life. To whatever extent you keep the best for yourself, to that extent you are unable to see and experience His provision.
So what story is your life telling? Does tomorrow depend on you, or on God? Where does your best go? Where are your first fruits?
Look, this plot continues in the temptation story of Jesus—the other passage we heard this morning. Three times Satan tempts Jesus to basically put himself at the center of the story—to take control of his destiny rather than staying true to God’s story.
And it’s important to remind ourselves that Jesus saw these three opportunities to control his future as a temptation, not a privilege. Jesus understood that the story he was in meant saying ‘no’ to casting himself as the main character.
He said “no” to using God’s power for his own selfish motives—no matter how noble or how Holy his motives might have been at that point in the story.
I have to wonder how we’ve missed that point for so long. Jesus went into the wilderness. He fasted and prayed for a good, long time and at the end of it he was prepared to accept his role in God’s story. It wasn’t just a snap, one-time decision.
It took preparation, even for Jesus.
And in the end, He refused to take control into his own hands.
So how is it, that we as his followers—how is it that we think for some reason the game has changed?
How is it that we think for some reason, suddenly it’s a fine Christian thing to do, to trust primarily in our protestant work ethic, or our savings account, or our family for our peace of mind—isn’t that turning stones into bread?
How is it that we think for some reason today we’re better off pursuing political power than Jesus would have been in his time? Has Satan stopped being in ultimate control of all authority and splendor of all this world’s kingdoms?
How is it that we think that for some reason today we’re more justified in testing the Lord our God when Jesus himself refused to do it?
When we put ourselves in God’s story—we are giving up control. We are choosing to give the best we have to God, and we begin trusting Him with all our tomorrows.
This is the first Sunday of Lent.
Many Christians choose the season of Lent to re-organize their priorities.
Many Christians give something up that they’ve depended on, choosing to lay aside their pacifiers for a period of time in order to experience how it is to just live the lives we have.
But today is also a day like any other—a day that demands a choice from us as to whose story we’re telling.
If tomorrow depends on God, what is your character doing today?
How does the plot thicken this afternoon? Tomorrow? Next week?
God is writing the best story ever told! He’s using each of us to do it. Our part is not small—but it does consist of doing small things.
Those small things, when done with great love…it’s then that they find their meaning in this epic narrative God continues to tell, one life at a time.