There is an old story about man who had worked at a factory for twenty years. Every night when he left the plant, he would push a wheelbarrow full of straw to the guard at the gate. The guard would look through the straw, and find nothing and pass the man through.
On the day of his retirement the man came to the guard as usual but without the wheelbarrow. Having become friends over the years, the guard asked him, “Charlie, I’ve seen you walk out of here every night for twenty years. I know you’ve been stealing something. Now that you’re retired, tell me what it is. It’s driving me crazy.”
Charlie simply smiled and replied, “Okay, wheelbarrows!”
It’s not hard to understand how we can get distracted from what we are supposed to be doing. In this morning’s scripture, the Disciples were doing what they supposed to be doing until they were distracted by someone who was healing in Jesus’s name. He was not one of them. And so, they stopped what they were doing and went told Jesus about it.
“Huh, excuse us Jesus, there’s this guy who’s is healing in your name. We were concerned that he is not one of us so we thought we would tell you.”
“Is he hurting anyone?
“Is he saying bad things about me?”
“Well then, leave him alone.”
“Didn’t you hear us? He’s not one of us! We thought you might want to stop him.”
“Why stop him. He isn’t hurting anyone, beside he doing some good and we need all the help we can get. Weren’t you supposed to be doing something for me and the Kingdom of God. Weren’t you supposed to be teaching people about me and healing people and taking care of the poor.”
“Well, yea but then we saw this guy and. . .”
“I appreciate that you did that but we got some important job to do. You all need to pay attention to what you are doing in my name so that these people who you are helping don’t sin and fall away from. Those people who need our help, not the guy who is healing people in my name should be our concern. It’s so important that if one these should be led astray because you aren’t paying attention that a grinding stone should be tied around your neck and you be thrown into the sea. Get the picture. You need to focus your attention and faith on them. You don’t want your faith to become weak like salt when it loses its flavor do you?”
“Uh, of course not Jesus.”
“How can they know the love of God if you are distracted by things that are not that important?”
The other day I was in meeting with a group of pastors in the community. One of the pastors from one of the big non-denominational churches started talking about how their church was helping people and then he said something that bothered me. He began to talk about how some people who came for help felt like they were entitled to the help they were receiving. He told about an incident about a person who called needing help with getting a perm. The person was going for job interview. Another person in that meeting who works for a local agency that also provides help to people in need shared her story about how people feel entitled. One of the people she was helping told her that the church has to help them. She told them no they don’t have to.
Do you see the distraction here? The distraction is not with the people who are in need. The distraction is with the people who were supposed to be helping them. The distraction was those persons said that the persons who they were helping in the name of Christ, felt “entitled”. They were distracted by their judgment of those people. They were distracted from the work that they were supposed to be doing in the name of Jesus Christ just as those Disciples were distracted by that man healing in Jesus’ name because he was not one of them.
Now I am sure that some of you are saying hold on Jeff. There are people who feel entitled about the help they receive. And you are right. But the truth is that all of us feel a sense of entitlement. Why do you think people stop their giving to the church when they disagree with something the church is doing? Why do you think people leave the church? Because they fell entitled. I spent the last ten years working in Breckenridge teaching people how to ski, many for them quite wealthy and all of them feeling just as entitled as that poor person asking for help.
The point is not whether or a not a person is entitled to something. The point is the issue is a distraction from what Christians are supposed to be doing and that is living and showing and sharing the love of God with people regardless of who they are, what they do. Whether we think they deserve it or not. Jesus didn’t tell his Disciples to be on the look out for people who were healing in his name. Jesus doesn’t tell us to be on the look out for people who are gaming the system, He doesn’t tell us to make sure people qualify for help. If anything, Jesus takes the light we want to shine on those we think are gaming the system and putting it back on us. tells to be careful about how we live out our in a manner that people who are in need are helped to be apart of the Kingdom of God and not fall the path. The onus is on us to be careful because we are the ones who have been blessed.
The truth is that all of us, everyone is entitled. That entitlement is called God’s grace. And so, as someone who is in God’s grace it my responsibility and obligation to do my best not to be distracted by things that are not important to God and to share that grace and love with everyone whether they are rich or poor. My job is to be obedient to the thing that Jesus commands me to do. The only thing that judging people who may act like they feel entitled to help does is to further build walls and separation between people. It further divides us and distracts us. And consumes a lot of time and resources.
The thing is we can not only be distracted from what we are supposed to be doing but also from being whom God create us to be. We can be distracted from the purpose God has for us. I think of the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke chapter 15 and all the distractions in the lives of those brothers. The older brother is always distracted by what others are doing and being jealous and envious. We know what that is like. Don’t we. We get distracted by what others have and why they have it. There is always something that distracting him from realizing his father’s love. Do you see what that no good brother of mine is doing? You love him more than me. We always distracted by the feelings that we aren’t good enough.
The younger brother on the other had was distracted by the weight of guilt for what he had done and feelings of worthlessness. That’s why he wasted his money he was distracted by things that made him feel good about himself. But it didn’t last did it. He could never fill that hole. And so, we distract ourselves from knowing God’s grace.
I think Everyone one of us is carrying around a distraction that is keeping us from living out what God created us to be, my distraction is my Father calling me everything filthy name you can think of in the book. Feeling like I am never good enough.
We all have them and it’s those distractions that keep us from fully knowing the love and grace of God. And I think that sometimes we act the way we do and treat people the way does purposefully as a distraction from having to face God. Because we all have a dysfunctional understanding of God and how God feels about you.
Think about how serious God is about you that he is concerned about you being led the wrong way. If anyone should lead someone down the wrong way intentionally or without concern they should have a millstone wrapped around their neck. If their hand leads you astray they should have it cut off. Better for them to enter the kingdom of heaven with one hand than go to hell with two hands. That is some pretty serious concern.
You see the one concern that God has for each and every one of you is that you get distracted away from the truth that God loves you and is there for you. God is concern that you allow the difficulties of life and the misfortune of life’s distract from the truth that God has purpose for you. And I don’t have to tell you that there are people and things and powers spiritual and physical that are working hard to distract you. If you don’t think so just look at Facebook and other social media outlets, they have alga rhythms that tell them everything about who you are and what your habits are. They know your likes and dislikes and they are ready to distract you in order to get what they want. Politicians and Political Action Groups know how to distract you from what is important.
There are a lot of things out there distracting you from the truth of knowing God’s grace and forgiveness and purpose for your lives. God extends Gods grace and love and we extend it to everyone. That is what Jesus was training his Disciples to do until they got distracted by the man who healing in Jesus name and then Jesus had to remind them again who they were and what they were supposed to be doing.
And it’s the same for us. We go along and we love God and love people and then something distracts us and then God has a way of getting us back on track to tell us that we aren’t being what were created to be and doing what we are supposed to be doing. And then we get back on the narrow way again until the next distraction.
But nothing can distract us from the fact that God loves us and forgives us and has a purpose for each of us. And God is there to help us to what we need to be doing and find that purpose.
Think about what it is you like to do and then think about how you can help people with it. I love music so I went to school with the purpose of helping people with music. Think about something that happened to you good or bad and think about how you can turn it around to help another person. We hear stories each day of people who take tragedy in their lives and turn it around to help people.
You see that is the Great Distraction that is happening today that is keeping us from loving and helping people. And when we describe people in need as being “entitled” well that is just another distraction that keeps us from experiencing the full grace and love of God.