Sunday’s sermon: Third Enemy of Gratitude – Entitlement

entitlement

Texts used – Matthew 22:1-10; Philippians 4:1-9

  • Week 3 of our stewardship series – Enemies/Obstacles of Gratitude
    • Gratitude is such a crucial part of stewardship → foundation of stewardship
      • Basis of where our stewardship comes from – give because we are thankful → stewardship = powerful, tangible expression of our gratitude
    • Now, over the last couple of the weeks, the enemies or obstacles that we’ve talked about have been things that have both a positive side and a negative side.
      • Nostalgia can comfort and teach us BUT, as we’ve said, focusing solely on the past impedes our progress into the future
      • Worry indicates a level of care/investment in whatever it is that you’re worrying about BUT worry is an ineffective waste of energy in the face of problems
        • Aunt Karen: Worry is a prayer for the negative
  • However, this week is different. This week, the enemy of gratitude that we’re talking about is entitlement. And when you think about it, there really isn’t a positive side to entitlement. No one walks around saying, “Y’all, I am so proud because I’m entitled!” In fact, there are a lot of celebrities and other people born into incredible circumstances to do everything they can to prove that they’re not
    • E.g. – Dr. Jack Hodges on Bones
    • And yet we know full well that we live in a world in which entitlement runs rampant. We’ll address the specifics of that later, but before we dive into our Scripture readings for today, we need to think about how entitlement relates to gratitude.
      • 2 definitions of entitlement: the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment; AND the fact of having a right to something → Now, in terms of gratitude, both definitions become problematic. If you either already believe that you are inherently deserving of privileges and special treatment or have been told that these things are yours by right – as a solid, irrefutable fact – are you going to be inherently grateful for them? Probably not because there is no question in your mind that they shouldn’t be yours. Without that question – without that possibility that you may not have that precious thing – you lose the potential to be grateful. So entitlement eclipses gratitude. The two cannot exist simultaneously.
  • Interesting blog post I found this week as I was working on my sermon → Googled “opposite of entitlement” just to see what came up – post: “Gratitude is the Opposite of Entitlement. How Entitled Are You?”[1]
    • Speaks of how, when we take for granted the opportunities that we have, we are acting from a place of entitlement.
      • Blogger: Opportunity is priceless, and having a chance is a gift, not an entitlement. … I have access to education, medical care, clean water, electricity, safe housing, well paid jobs, and as much food as I please. I can follow my passions such as playing sports. learning musical instruments, reading, writing, swimming, watching movies. I have the opportunity to create my life how I choose. I am privileged not just for WHAT I have, but for the OPPORTUNITIES I have. By forgetting I have these opportunities, I am behaving with entitlement.
    • This because it gets at the heart of how entitlement can eclipse gratitude AND it gets at the heart of the way that our Scripture readings address gratitude this morning. This is exactly what Jesus is talking about in our Gospel reading this morning, and it’s also the situation addressed by Paul in our reading from Philippians – taking for granted opportunities we have been given by God.
  • Gospel text
    • Now, I have to admit that this is a difficult text to wrestle with. For my own organizational purposes, I keep a running spreadsheet of all the Scriptures that I’ve preached along with the date and title of the sermon/s that go with those Scriptures, and in the 6½ years that I’ve been regularly preaching, I’ve never once preached this text. It’s hard. It’s challenging. It’s uncomfortable.
      • CONTEXT:
        • Part of 2½ chs. full of Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom of God and judgment
        • Jesus = teaching the disciples but also a crowd that has gathered around him
        • Location: temple courtyards
        • Follows Jesus’ Palm Sunday ride into Jerusalem
        • Follows Jesus’ rage against the money changers and vendors selling their goods in the very same temple courtyards → After Jesus overturns the tables and chases them out with a whip, he sits down and begins with all of these difficult, demanding parables about the Kingdom of God and judgment.
          • Not the only ones who find these uncomfortable – these teachings/parables = the last straw for the Pharisees → they hear these teachings, realize that Jesus is talking about them (today’s text = just before Jesus’ outburst when he calls the Pharisees a “brood of vipers”), and decide to have him arrested
    • Today’s text: parable of the wedding feast
      • Starts out harmlessly enough – text: Jesus responded by speaking again in parables: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding party for his son. He sent his servants to call those invited to the wedding party. But they didn’t want to come. Again he sent other servants and said to them, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Look, the meal is all prepared. I’ve butchered the oxen and the fattened cattle. Now everything’s ready. Come to the wedding party!”[2]  → Sounds good, right? “Everything’s ready. Come to the wedding party!”
        • Especially important when we understand cultural context → The wedding receptions that we attend nowadays, with all their dancing and feasting and cake and laughter, are nothing compared to the wedding parties that were thrown during Jesus’ time, especially wedding parties thrown by kings. Those wedding parties were feasts that lasted for days. The longer the party, the richer the king. They were a way to celebrate, for sure, but also a way for families to show off their wealth and privilege.
      • But then, everything turns.
        • Guests again refuse the wedding invitation → some go so far as to kill the messengers that the king has sent with the 2nd invitation!
          • This is where entitlement has gotten in the way of gratitude. For the invited guests, they took for granted that they would be invited to this lavish feast. It was a privilege bestowed on them simply because of who they were – important, wealthy, influential people of the kingdom. And so they felt no gratitude for the generous invitation or the feast that the king had prepared. And in that lack of gratitude, they turned their backs.
          • Parable breakdown
            • God = king sending the invitation
            • Kingdom of heaven = wedding feast
            • Messengers = OT prophets that were sent by God to declare God’s word to the people
            • Invited guests = those who refuse God’s invitation
        • King’s response: to welcome the un-welcomed to his son’s wedding feast – text: Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding party is prepared, but those who were invited weren’t worthy. Therefore, go to the roads on the edge of town and invite everyone you find to the wedding party.’ Then those servants went to the roads and gathered everyone they found, both evil and good. The wedding party was full of guests.[3]
          • Breakdown: final set of servants = Jesus → inviting all those who have been neglected, pushed to the margins (to “the edge of town”), left out up until this point: lepers, sinners, those who have been deemed “unclean,” even Gentiles – those who are the exact opposite of those guests initially invited: hungry, poor, underprivileged.
            • Scholar: [This parable] teaches us something about all those who are too comfortable in their standing with the king. The good news is meant for the hungry, for those who would drop everything for an invitation to the banquet. When we lose sight of the radical grace of the invitation, we have forgotten who we are.[4]
  • And the radical grace of that invitation is what inspired Paul for our reading from Philippians this morning.
    • Encouraging radical grace and invitation when it comes to those who minister with him, asking the Christians in Philippi to welcome and help Euodia, Synthyche, Clement, “and the rest of my coworkers whose names are in the scroll of life”[5]  → And remember, Paul is asking for this help from the Philippian church because he is once again in prison – detained yet again for speaking the radical good news of God’s love and grace through Jesus Christ.
    • Paul also embodies that radical grace and invitation → Despite his circumstances, Paul is joyous! Paul is practically effervescent! Paul is overflowing with gratitude! – text: Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that this worthy of praise. Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace is with you.[6]
      • Paul understands the gift of grace – his very own invitation to God’s kingdom, the heavenly feast laid out by the outstretched arms and nail-scarred hands of Jesus Christ on the cross. He knows he did not earn it. He knows he does not deserve it. He knows he is not entitled to it by anything he is or was or will ever be. And yet assured in that holy invitation, Paul is profoundly grateful.
        • Scholar: Whenever we allow ourselves to believe that we deserve what we have, or that we are somehow more worthy than another, we will find ourselves incapable of gratitude.[7]  → Whenever we allow ourselves to believe … that we are somehow more worthy then another …
          • I am more worthy because I am white
          • I am more worthy because I am male
          • I am more worthy because I am an American
          • I am more worthy because I am straight
          • I am more worthy because I identify with the physical gender with which I was born
          • I am more worthy because I am educated
          • I am more worthy because I have a good job
          • I am more worthy because of my bank account
          • I am more worthy because I am a Christian
          • Entitlement specifically in the church:
            • I am more worthy because I sit on this committee
            • I am more worthy because I’ve been coming here this long
            • I am more worthy because I come here this often
            • I am more worthy because I give this much
          • All of the ways that we shut people out … that we uninvited them to the feast … that we limit their participation and contributions … that we place them beneath us because we see ourselves as “more worthy” … all of the ways that our entitlement gets in the way of our gratitude are exactly the reasons that God says to everyone, “Look, the meal is all prepared. Now everything’s ready. Come to the wedding party!” So friends, how can we release our entitlement and express our gratitude for what we are doing here and now? Amen.

[1] Kate J. Parker, http://vivalame.com/gratitude-is-the-opposite-of-entitlement/.

[2] Mt 22:1-4.

[3] Mt 22:8-10.

[4] Brian Erickson. “Fall Series 2: The Enemies of Gratitude – Proper 21: Nostalgia” in A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 70.

[5] Phil 4:3.

[6] Phil 4:4-9.

[7] Erickson, 70.

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2 responses to “Sunday’s sermon: Third Enemy of Gratitude – Entitlement

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Fourth Enemy of Gratitude: Greed | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

  2. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Fifth Enemy of Gratitude: Disappointment | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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