February 3rd, 2019

Trivial Pursuit
Matthew 6:16-24, 33

Listen as I read from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:19-24, 33.

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. . .
33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Coming to Rutledge has been an invigorating experience for me because I find myself among some of the wisest and most knowledge people in Grainger County – maybe in all Tennessee. Therefore, this morning, I’ve decided to test your great depth of knowledge with a few simple questions. Ready? Here’s the first question. Who made George Washington's false teeth? (Paul Revere)

2. What sport features small hops called pity pats at the end of a run of plinkers? (stone-skipping)

3. What happens if you get pepper in you proboscis? (you sneeze)

4. Who was Mrs. Jumbo's son? (Dumbo – No, Doug Smith is not a correct answer).

You know where I got these questions? They came from a board game called "Trivial Pursuit." The name says it all, because the object of this game is to purse answers to questions that are, for the most part, trivial.

You know what? Trivial Pursuit is more than just a board game. To many Americans, Trivial Pursuit is a way of life. In our ladder-climbing, money-grabbing, status-seeking society, it’s easy to get blindly caught up in a search for all things trivial.

In today’s text, Jesus indicts those who pursue the trivial. Here, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus not only speaks to the people of his day but speaks to you and me, too. Yes, Jesus offers words of warning to all who get caught up pursing the kingdom of man while hardly giving a nod to the Kingdom of God.

What does this text say about our Trivial Pursuit? First, Jesus reminds us that our trivial pursuits have pitiful rewards. Yes, trivial pursuits always have rewards, but their rewards are pitiful, indeed.

In verse 16, Jesus addresses the trivial pursuit of the Scribes and Pharisees. They were in pursuit of public attention. They desperately wanted to be noticed. (That kind of reminds you of some people in our society, doesn’t it?)

In fact, the Scribes and Pharisees would often rub white make-up all over their faces before going into public on the Jewish days of fasting. They did this to make people think they had fasted so long that their skin had become pale.

In verse 16, Jesus points out the pitiful reward of their trivial pursuit when he says, And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you they have their reward in full.

Yes, they had their reward in full. And what was their reward? Their reward was being seen – a pretty pitiful reward for all that trouble if you ask me. But that's the way it is when we pursue the trivial. Trivial pursuits always pay off with pitiful rewards. That why Jesus warned, Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal . . .

Yes, Jesus is warning those of us who pursue the trivia of this world. He says, “Forget your pursuit of things that won't last, because the rewards of such pursuits are pitiful, indeed.”

The popular lyricist for the Eagles, Don Hendley, pictures the pitiful nature of those things that won't last after death. He says,

From Main Street to Wall Street to Washington,
From men to women to men.
It's a nation of noses pressed up against the glass.
They've seen it on the TV and they want it pretty fast.
You spend your whole life just pillin' it up there,
You've got stacks and stacks and stacks.
But then Gabriel comes and taps you on the shoulder
And you don't see no hearses with luggage racks.

You know, Hendley's right. "You don't see no hearses with luggage racks." So if we are pursuing things that won’t last past death, we are reaping the rewards of a trivial pursuit.

You know, death is the great definer of that which is truly significant. That which is truly significant is that which survives when we die.

Let me ask you. What will people miss about you when you die? When I die, I hope people don’t stand at my casket and say, "You know I'm gonna’ miss Gene’s beautiful suits with coordinated ties. I hope they don’t say, “I’m gonna’ miss seeing Gene in his bright, red car.” I hope they don’t say, “I’m gonna miss watching Gene’s great putting stroke on the golf course.” If those are the things people miss about me when I’m gone then my life's been lived with little significance. Instead, I hope people will miss my hugs and my smiles; my words of encouragement, or comfort or help; my friendship, my fellowship, my love, and concern. For suits, and cars and golf games will never pass the test of time. But hugs and smiles and the love of a friend can't be erased even by death.

So pursue those things that are truly significant. Pursue those things which will ultimately survive death because the pursuit of a reward that will not survive death is a trivial pursuit, indeed.

But secondly, Jesus reminds us that our trivial pursuits give us problems with our sight.

In this text, Jesus shows us that we run into serious vision problems whenever we get caught up in pursuing the trivial. When we get our eyes fixed on that which is trivial, we soon become blind to that which is significant. In verses 22-23, Jesus says,

The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear you whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

You see, when we stare at the darkness of the trivial long enough, we soon lose our ability to distinguish the light. We soon lose the ability to distinguish between the glare of the trivial and the light of the significant.

In his book, "Actions Speak Louder than Verbs," Herb Miller relates the story of two Kentucky farmers who owned racing stables. Over the years a keen rivalry had developed between the two farmers.

One spring, each of them entered a horse in a local steeplechase. Thinking that a professional rider might give him an edge on his friend, one of the farmers engaged a crack jockey.

Minutes into the race, the two horses were neck and neck with a large lead over the rest of the pack, but as they came around the last turn, both suddenly fell, unseating their riders. The professional jockey remounted quickly and rode on to win the race.

When the winning jockey came to the winner’s circle he found the farmer fuming with rage.
"What's the matter?" the jockey asked. "I won, didn't I?"

"Oh yea," roared the farmer. "You won all right, but you crossed the finish line on the wrong horse."
Only then did the jockey realize that he was so preoccupied with reaching the finish line that he became blind to the horse on which he rode.

Some of us are like that. We stare so hard at the finish line of our trivial pursuits we become blind to the significant things that surround us. When we stare so hard at career success we become blind to the needs of our family. When we stare so hard at material wealth we become blind to the value of our relationships. When we stare so hard at social status we become blind to the values of integrity, mercy, love and faith. Yes, a trivial pursuit is a dangerous thing, for when one stares too long at the trivia of life, they soon become blind to the significant.

Lastly, Jesus reminds us that there is better replacement for our trivial pursuits. As Jesus talks about those who pursue the insignificant, trivial things of life, He offers a word of advice. He says, "Let's make a deal. If you'll spend your energies pursuing the significant, I'll throw in the trivial as a divinely added bonus." Listen to his words in vs 33:

But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.

Several years ago an office products store opened in the town where I lived. In their advanced advertisement they sent a coupon, redeemable for a big tin of sugar cookies. The only catch to the coupon was that you had to buy $10.00 worth of merchandise before you got the cookies.

One day, I took my coupon and went to the store. As I was shopping around for some office supplies, I overheard the conversation between a customer and one of the sales clerks. The customer had his coupon in hand and was complaining because the sales clerk would not redeem it for his tin of sugar cookies.

"But sir," she said. "The coupon is only valid when you buy $10.00 worth of merchandise." With a huff, the man walked out mad and empty handed.

Later, when I took my merchandise to the checkout counter and presented my coupon, the sales clerk cheerfully handed me my tin of sugar cookies. No problem at all.

Why did I walk out with the cookies while the other man walked out empty-handed? The answer is obvious. I got the cookies because I realized the cookies were secondary to the principle product - office supplies. The other customer tried to make the office supplies secondary to the cookies, and of course, the store wasn't ready to do business that way.

Many people in our society try to cash in on God's goodies without first investing their lives in God's main product. They ask God to give them money without investing that money in His ministry; houses without investing in Godly homes; careers without investing in God's purposes; popularity without investing in relationships. Yes too many folks want the worldly goodies without ever investing their lives in faith.

Houses, cars, positions, and wealth; these are not God’s primary products. These are the non-essential goodies. So if we are seeking first the things of this world, then expecting God to just hand out the goodies, we've turned things around.

That why Jesus said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, then all these things shall be added unto you."

Today, you and I have a choice. We can continue to pursue the trivial or we can replace our trivial pursuits with a pursuit of the divine. We can choose to invest our lives in things that will fade away or we can immerse our lives in causes that are bigger than life itself.

Which is the most important anyway: knowing the name of Mrs. Jumbo's son, or living the life of God's dear son?
Never forget, anything less than a pursuit of the divine, is little more than a trivial pursuit.