Our counter-intuitive God – 28 August 2016

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Rev’d Jonathan Gale

Jeremiah 2: 4 – 13

Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. Thus says the Lord:
What wrong did your ancestors find in me
that they went far from me,
and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?
6 They did not say, ‘Where is the Lord
who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who led us in the wilderness,
in a land of deserts and pits,
in a land of drought and deep darkness,
in a land that no one passes through,
where no one lives?’
7 I brought you into a plentiful land
to eat its fruits and its good things.
But when you entered you defiled my land,
and made my heritage an abomination.
8 The priests did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’
Those who handle the law did not know me;
the rulers* transgressed against me;
the prophets prophesied by Baal,
and went after things that do not profit.
9 Therefore once more I accuse you,

says the Lord,
and I accuse your children’s children.
10 Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look,
send to Kedar and examine with care;
see if there has ever been such a thing.
11 Has a nation changed its gods,
even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory
for something that does not profit.
12 Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
be shocked, be utterly desolate,

says the Lord,
13 for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns
that can hold no water.


Hebrews 13: 1 – 8, 15 – 16

Service Well-Pleasing to God

13 Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.* Let marriage be held in honour by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ So we can say with confidence,
‘The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?’

7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.

15Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.


Luke 14: 1, 7 – 14

14 On one occasion when Jesus* was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

Humility and Hospitality

7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. 8‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

12 He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’


God is in so many ways counter-intuitive. We instinctively respond in one way, but God in another. As Isaiah exclaims on behalf of the Lord, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. (Isaiah 55:8).

That’s really not surprising. We don’t always act from pure motives. We certainly find it difficult not to be driven by self-preservation. The trouble is there is a very thin line between sensible looking after ourselves and self-centredness.  And self-centredness is first cousin to acquisitiveness i.e. obsessive greed. If you’ve not already noticed it, the problem of greed in our society has reached dangerous proportions with all sorts of social problems associated with it.

God thinks differently.

In our Jeremiah 4 reading God leads his people Israel through a wilderness to a land of plenty. This struggling for 40 years in the wilderness before inheriting the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey, is a powerful symbol for the way God works. In the Kingdom of God, the way is not the way of least resistance.

It was a way that began with the trauma of going through the Red Sea that saw the drowning of the forces of Egypt, but it resulted in the glowing presence of God leading them to a better place.

In our Hebrews 13 reading we are encouraged to spend ourselves on behalf of others.

  • showing hospitality to strangers
  • identifying with those who are in prison
  • being faithful in marriage
  • living lives free from the love of money
  • following our leaders
  • making a habit of offering a sacrifice of praise to God
  • doing good and sharing what we have

These are anything but self-centred. These are things that are costly, and pleasing to God as the final verse tells us.

In Luke 14 – Jesus tells us to take the lowliest place and you will be exalted

Typified by his words, 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

It’s not only about delayed gratification, although that is the cornerstone of all societies that have made progress and stands in contrast to an approach that wants instant animal gratification in life.

It’s about putting to death our instincts of self-preservation so that the real reward (the life of Christ) can come from God.

We may be rewarded in the end but that’s not why we apply the cross to our selfishness. We are not suicide bombers waiting for virgins in heaven.

I think this will help in growing towards an understanding of God’s approach to things:

  • We are created for God’s glory and that is what fulfils us most.
  • Because of what has been called the Fall (i.e. sin) our urges are imperfect.
  • We therefore need to put to death our selfish urges and take on the life and goodness of Christ.
  • We can’t do that on our own so we need help.

One of the powerful helps we have is both conceptual i.e. symbolic, and spiritually powerful when activated in faith.

And that is baptism. In baptism by faith

  • we associate ourselves with the burial imagery of going under the water (i.e. putting to death self-centredness) AND
  • we associate ourselves with the resurrection imagery of coming out of the water and in doing so appropriate by faith the life of Christ.

It is this dying to self that is counter-intuitive, that flies in the face of self-preservation. But it is the secret of the spiritual life.

So when Sally and Clint bring Matthew for baptism, they are promising to bring him up in the way of Christ. It is a way that is counter-intuitive. It demands self-sacrifice. It holds great reward eventually. But more than anything it is a way that brings glory to God and is therefore ultimately more fulfilling than any other approach to life.

Let’s remember that as we seek to live out our baptism each day of our lives.