Flexetarians — Matthew 19:16-30

Yesterday’s message — the third in the Not A Fan series — was called Flexetarians.

The one point “refrain” repeated in the last half of the message was actually a question:

When is the last time following Jesus cost you something?

It’s a question I want people asking themselves all week.   During the preaching at 11:30, a secondary thought came to me and so I verbalized it:  if you ask yourself that question and do not have an answer . . . it quite likely means that you’re not following Jesus in the first place.  It’s one of those things I wish I had said at 8:30 and 10.

Anyway, here is a rough manuscript of the Flexetarian sermon:


I heard about a new approach to dining that I think is just classic.  I know some of you are on a version of the Atkins diet so you eat the meat, the whole meat, and only the meat.  And others of you – like me! – have gone gluten free, meaning no bread, no grain, no cake, and, most tragically, no Frosted Mini Wheats (AV of box with X over them).  And then a few of you are vegetarian which means, naturally, no meat but only fruits, veggies, nuts, and maybe eggs.  And then some of you are even vegan, which means not only no meat but nothing that’s ever been associated with any meat or animal products.

            But the new type of eater that I heard of is called Flexetarian.  It’s really the Next Generation Vegetarian.  And what is a Flexetarian?  Well, it’s like one adherent told MSNBC:  “I usually eat vegetarian.  But I really like sausage.”  Huh?  IOW, “I’m a vegetarian, sort of.  I don’t eat meat unless I really like it.”  Well, how do you think the REAL vegetarian feels about that?  Two words:  VEGETARIAN WARS!  People want the name, desire the respect, long for the benefits without actually doing it.

            And I don’t know.  I can’t help but think that what is true of flexevegetarians is true of Xns.  People want the name, desire the respect, long for the benefits without actually doing anything about it.  Because face it:    the benefits are out of this world.  Eternal bliss, eternal joy, eternal eternal.  And it’s this kind of other wordly benefit that the young man is seeking in Matthew 19:16: 
 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
Eternal means quality now and quantity then.  It’s a benefit and he wants it.  And shouldn’t we all?  I’ve told you before that once THAT issue is settled – what will happen to you after you die, because after all you’re going to be dead a lot longer than you’re going to be alive – then everything else in life falls into place.  

            And here in Matt 19, Jesus first gives this sort of elusive answer about goodness and then gives a firmer one about the commandments:  
 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
 To which the young man gives THE GREATEST REPLY in 19:18!!:  “Which ones?”  Like:  “I don’t want to waste time or energy obeying the ones that WON’T get me to heaven; just tell me which ones to focus on so I do!”  Awesome!  And Jesus actually answers him!  (I’d have been like, ALL OF THEM, pal.)  Look at 18:b: 
 Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’[a] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]
Note:  all of those are horizontal& not vertical; all about how you interact with others, culminating in how you treat your mom and dad.  At this stage the young man is thinking, “Bingo!” because look at his answer in 19:20: 
 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
  “I’ve done it all!  I can almost see the pearly gates!  Anything I’m overlooking?”  

 To that, Jesus does his best Columbo:  “one more thing.” (Clip?)  
 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
 DANG IT!  To move from fandom to following there’s just one little thing and that one little thing costs a lot.  My great benefit comes with a minor cost: your life.  And then to see the young man’s response, look at 19:22: 
 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Wah wah.  One of the saddest places in all the bible.  The guy KNOWS he needs eternal life, he has located the SOURCE of it, and then he rejects it.  Isn’t it true that a lot of us end up sabotaging or rejecting the very thing we need or want the most in life?  It’s why some of you come on so strong you alienate the very people you want to get close to. It’s why others of you are so easily offended that you’ll ruin a friendship through a lack of forgiveness over things that shouldn’t have been problems in the first place.  And it’s even why still others of you sabotage your connection with God – even when he’s answered prayers, given salvation, revealed himself, you look for reasons to doubt and occasions to disobey.  We’re just another links in a long chain of people who run from what they are actually looking for.  And this guy is Exhibit A!

            Why does he do this?  He’s looked, he’s found, but yet he goes away sad because he found the very thing he was looking for?  Why?  Listen: the answer to that IS NOT GREED.  The story is NOT about some kind of call to charity.  It is instead about a challenge to his IDENTITY.  He thought his eternity hinged on his resume; instead it revolves around his relationship.  And it’s a relationship that while beginning with Jesus’ sacrifice then is lived out in full only by ours.  Jesus wants the young man’s heart to the extent that he (the young man) wills surrender his identity, replace his resume, declare Colossians 3:11 – Christ is all and is in all – and give up whatever he is invited to give up.  He’s not called here to give up his possessions; he’s called to give up, period.  Not about how much of the stuff he owns he will give away; it’s about who owns HIM in the first place!

            Because here’s something that really leads to flexetarian faith, something I’ve even done in ministry.  Look at Romans 10:9: 
 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Say it, believe it, PRESTO!  What a way to answer the guy’s question in Matt 19!  Except what’s the name of book from which we just read this?  Right!  Romans.  So to whom was it written?  Right!  Romans.  And to say “Jesus Is Lord” in ancient Rome was almost like asking for a death sentence.  Because Romans citizens were expected and required to say “Caesar is Lord.”  And Caesar had his Roman KGB listening all over the kingdom and if you were overheard saying “Jesus Is Lord´– and by extension Caesar is not – then you became cat food for lions.  There was a tremendous cost to uttering what seem to us to be almost innocuous words.

            Because people have been trying to soft-pedal it ever since.  I have done so on more than one occasion with people!  To minimize the cost that is embedded in the name “Christian.”  People want to get close enough to get the benefit but not so close they actually give something up.  I’ve shared this with you before, but listen to what happened when Frederick Douglass’ master became a Methodist:  

In August, 1832, my master attended a Methodist camp-meeting held in the Bay-side, Talbot county, and there experienced religion. I indulged a faint hope that his conversion would lead him to emancipate his slaves, and that, if he did not do this, it would, at any rate, make him more kind and humane. I was disappointed in both these respects. It neither made him to be humane to his slaves, nor to emancipate them. If it had any effect on his character, it made him more cruel and hateful in all his ways; for I believe him to have been a much worse man after his conversion than before. Prior to his conversion, he relied upon his own depravity to shield and sustain him in his savage barbarity; but after his conversion, he found religious sanction and support for his slaveholding cruelty. He made the greatest pretensions to piety. His house was the house of prayer. He prayed morning, noon, and night. He very soon distinguished himself among his brethren, and was soon made a class-leader and exhorter. His activity in revivals was great, and he proved himself an instrument in the hands of the church in converting many souls. His house was the preachers’ home. They used to take great pleasure in coming there to put up; for while he starved us, he stuffed them.

He may be the worst, but he’s not the last.  It’s why so many Xns are so good at gossip.  It’s why Xns still keep about 98% of the income they hear.  It’s why Xns co-habitate before marriage at almost the same rate as non-Xns.  It’s why Xns play Grand Theft Auto as much as people who’ve never been in church.  It’s why we hang around people who look just like us.  We stay close enough to get Jesus’ benefits, but we don’t get so close we have to sacrifice anything.

            So really, here’s the question I want to ask now, ask later, and want you to ask yourself all week:  When’s the last time following Jesus cost you something?  That’s all.  And I am speaking to professing Xns now; if you’re not one of those yet, I do want to let you know what you’re in for.  Don’t want to give a bait and switch!  But, REFRAIN.  What Jesus is doing with this guy in Matthew 19 is not about money; it is about acknowledging what and who rules our lives.  Because Jesus will not share that space of ownership and rulership with anyone or anything.  His great desire is that in your following (not fan-dom), you would count the cost and decide it’s worth it.  Respond to the enormity of his sacrifice with a sacrifice of your own.  REFRAIN.

            A lot of you know we have a new Youth & Family Pastor, Devin Tharp (AV).  And you know that he has a wife named Tia (AV). What you probably DON’T know is Tia Tharp’s maiden name.  What is it?  Puthenveetal  (AV)  Wow!  It turns out Tia Tharp comes from a long line of Puthenveetals.  What’s the big deal about that? Well, it’s an Indian name; her father is a native of the state of Kerala in that land.  But Puthenveetal was a name that family actually had to give to themselves.  You see, about six generations back, Tia’s g-g-g-g-g-grandfather was a high caste Brahman in the Hindu system.  Had money, a name, servants, prestige, you name it in India and had it.  Of course to keep it he had to continue to worship the pantheon of Hindu gods & goddesses.

            Except Jesus happened to this man six generations ago and when Jesus happened Jesus assumed the throne & ownership of his life and all the Hindu idols had to leave the stage.  In so doing, he lost status, position, respect, family, even his name.  And so he chose a new name: Puthenveetal, which literally means “one with a new foundation.”  (AV, dissolve in on same screen).  I’m glad that spirit is now in this church.  REFRAIN.

            Or a bit closer to home, I heard about a 3rd grader here who was playing some games with friends at school.  The kind of games that in the elementary school pecking order are pretty important if you want to fit in a be cool.  And anyway to play this game, you had to join a tribe and it was The Tribe of the Dust God.  Join the tribe and worship the dust god.  Whatever.  Except this GS boy said to his friends – and to the cost of his status – “Nope, there is no dust god. There is only One God.”  I’m glad THAT spirit is in this church. REFRAIN.

            So what is it going to cost?  Some of your impulses?  You know, we are surrounded by a world that says – either explicitly or implicitly – surrender to your impulses.  What you feel, you must do.  And yet Scripture tells such a different story: don’t surrender to your impulses; surrender them.  So will it cost you that relationship, that potential relationship, if you surrender your impulses and, gulp save sexual intimacy for marriage?!  Or will it cost some of your prosperity?  I know there are people here for whom that typically historical standard of the tithe (10%) would be an insult to God. That you’ve been favored and in return you’ve been given the platform to live on less and advance the kingdom through giggling generosity.  Or will it cost you some of your popularity?  Because face it, if you’re funny, you’re popular.  And few things are more funny than other people – and gossiping about them.  So will you surrender your ability to be the belle of the ball at the other people’s expense and zip it?  Or even your career path?  As I was thinking through this talk, I had such a sense that someone would be called to leave a high profile, lucrative career and use those same biz skills for a non profit or a ministry.  Cuz they need them.

            Or even . . . your very identity.  We might have some folks here like that young man in Matt 19 – where your identity is wrapped up in your resume, your accomplishments, your you and God comes along, almost by force, and says, MINE.  The RYR in Matt 19 thought his eternity was tied to his ACTIONS; truthfully it’s connected to his OWNERSHIP.  When you surrender that, you inevitably give up something.  Daily.  REFRAIN

            And I know: you think you’ll miss out on stuff.  Oh yeah, you’ll miss out.  You’ll miss out on the trouble gossip gets you into.  You’ll miss out on the endless cycle of acquisition – like a cocaine addict always in search of that first high.  You’ll miss out on the regret of giving the most intimate part of yourself to people who were just using you.  You’ll miss out on letting your mind go dull by endless enterntainment.  The more you give up, the less you’ll miss out!  And is it not all worth it in the end?  Look at 19:28-29: 
 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[a] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

 When’s the last time following Jesus cost you something? Whatever it is, you get it back, bigger, better, bolder, in the end.