"Reality Check"
Category: Sermons
Tags: Sermon - 8/5/2018
Obadiah 1:1-4
“Reality Check”
August 5, 2018
            I once knew somebody named Obadiah.  He was a teenager that was working with a summer daycamp that we ran in Philadelphia.  He had been sent to us as part of a program called PhilaJobs that was supposed to teach kids work-related skills on the job.  I fired Obadiah.
            It was a hot, August afternoon and the PhilaJob kids were on their half-hour break.  I walked downstairs into the church basement where they were hanging out (which was fine) and there I found some of them sitting at a table with a pile of coins in the middle, playing poker (which was not fine).  I walked over to the table, scooped the money into a saucer or something, and told them the game was over and so was their break.  They demanded the money back.  I told them it would be going into the campers’ water ice fund.  Obadiah protested.  He was going to complain to Mr. Roper, who ran the PhilaJobs program.  I said, “Good idea.  I’ll hold the money aside while you call him and explain how I confiscated the poker money.  Meanwhile, your break is over.”  They all went away grumbling.  Later that day, I asked Obadiah to sweep the floor.  He refused.  I told him he didn’t need to do it, but he didn’t need to come back in the morning, either.
            The next day he did come back, but he brought his grandmother with him.  She wanted to know if I had fired her grandson.  I said, “Yes.”  She asked why, and I suggested she ask him first.  He said I was making him sweep the floor.  She just stared at him. 
           “Anything else you want to add to that?”  I asked him.
           “No,” he said.
           His grandmother never took her eyes off him.  “You’re going to tell me whatever you left out, and you are going to be doing a lot of sweeping when we get home.”  She looked at me and said, “Thank you.”
           I never saw him again.
           Obadiah the prophet had a message for the nation of Edom, just south of Judah and east of Egypt, that had taken part in attacks on Jerusalem.  It was very much like what I imagine Obadiah the teenager’s grandmother had to say to him, but even more serious and frightening. 
“Your proud heart has deceived you,
   you that live in the clefts of the rock,
   whose dwelling is in the heights.
You say in your heart,
   ‘Who will bring me down to the ground?’ 
Though you soar aloft like the eagle,
   though your nest is set among the stars,
   from there I will bring you down,
says the Lord.” [Obadiah 1:3-4]
Great or small, nation or individual, there comes a time when there is a reality check on what we think of ourselves, and it may be unpleasant.  We do need to know, though, and it’s for our own good to learn early on, that the world is bigger than we are, and God is bigger than the world. 
            Some people learn that lesson way too late, and some never quite get it at all.  There’s a poem by Shelley that goes:
“I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Have you ever wondered what happened to all those statues of Karl Marx and Lenin that used to be all over Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union?  No?  Me, neither. 
            If we pay attention, we don’t fool ourselves about our own importance quite as much.  Corrections have a way of finding us and providing those reality checks.  For instance, as I wrote this sermon I realized that the name of the PhilaJob kid was “Hezekiah”, not “Obadiah”.  Reality check: I might not always remember details as well as I think I do.  Reality check: someday people will forget my name, too.  Reality check: very few people know my name now.  Reality check: that’s no big deal.
            The only one with a permanent memory is God, so in the long run, the only one really worth trying to impress is also God, who sees through us and our pretense.  We may try to show off our power or wealth or wit or learning or looks, but they do nothing.  We may try to look like we have everything together in our lives, or even like we are “ultra-spiritual”.  The prophet Micah asked himself about that.
“‘With what [he said] shall I come before the Lord,
            and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
            with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
            with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
            the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
            and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
            and to walk humbly [hear that? - “humbly”] with your God.”
                        [Micah 6:6-8]
            I’m not saying not to do amazing things for the kingdom.  I’m not saying not to take satisfaction in great accomplishments.  Only, don’t get so far ahead of yourself that you think any achievement overmatches the importance of simply being in relationship with the Lord.  In fact, it is being in a living relationship with him that matters more than anything else, because it’s the only thing that lasts.
            The good news is that it lasts forever.


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