On this first day of May and this third Sunday of Celebration let’s go back to something we did a couple of weeks ago: writing down 5 things that you are grateful for in your life from this past week.
The book is Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and other Bribes. In this book the author, Alfie Kohn, takes on the belief that flows from American pragmatism—that if you just reward someone they will gladly do what you ask. Or putting it another way: “Do this and you’ll get that”. Kohn points out that study after study has shown that this not only doesn’t work well, but it actually is destructive on all kinds of levels from seeing people as objects to be manipulated to destroying rather than creating motivation, to destroying innovation and relationships and so much more.
Study after study has shown that rewards actually destroy rather than build. But businesses, schools, parents and a host of others are terrified of giving up rewards. After all if we can’t give out rewards or for that matter punishments how will we control other people’s behavior, how will we keep the kids in line, how will we make sure are employees are working hard? Kohn writes,
When [people] are pressed on their insistence that it is simply right to reward people for what they do, it sometimes turns out that their real concern is with the results they fear would result with the abolition of rewards. We find that what at first appears to be a moral stance— you should pay for what you get—is ultimately based on expectations about the consequences—you’ll get what you pay for— [The fear is] that workers will come to ask, “Why work harder if there is no benefit for doing do?”
How do we keep control if we can’t reward people or if we can’t punish them? Deep in the Christian gospel there is a very similar issue. An issue that is all caught up with God adopting us as his very own children because of what Christ has done on the cross and through his resurrection and ascension, not because of anything we have done. Because of what Christ has done on the cross as one person put it, there has been this wondrous exchange for all who believe.
- We receive Christ’s happiness in the place of our misery.
- We receive the riches of Christ in the place of our poverty;
- We receive the righteousness of Christ in the place of our brokenness,
- We receive immortality as he tastes death,
- We receive sonship where we can cry “Abba Father” while he cries “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”,
- He takes our weakness so we can have his power.
It is the wondrous exchange—in this exchange we who own what Jesus has done on our behalf become adopted children of God the Father, the great king. In this moment of adoption through the work of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit we become children of God immortal, strengthened, wealthy, and being clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
This is amazing and huge. As we noted a couple of weeks ago: When Paul talks about God adopting you, there are many other things God gives you in Christ, but this change in status is the highest. You have to see it as the highest. Nothing can be higher than this. You see, some people understand Jesus died on the cross to secure our forgiveness. That’s great. That’s true, but this is higher than that. For not only does Jesus when he died on the cross get rid of and pardon our sins, but his perfect record is transferred into our account. Not only are we not liable for our sins, but we now stand as if we had been righteous. In God’s sight you’re righteous. In God’s sight you’re a hero.
And it is here, at this moment of celebration of being forever loved, forever wanted, forever accepted, forever adopted that we find the rewards and punishment issue hits the church. For if it is true that having become an adopted child of God. God no longer and never again will see his relationship with you as his being judge and you being defendant. Your relationship with God is out of the legal domain and into the place of family. From that moment forward God will treat you as a dearly loved daughter, a dearly loved son. A child of whom he says what he said of Jesus, “This is my beloved child, in whom I delight.” If God sees you in that way, no punishments that will cut you off from his love, no rewards for doing good stuff because all of your rewards come through Christ, then why do good? Why not just do whatever we want?
The apostle Paul when he sees the richness of grace knows that people are going have exactly this response: why not do whatever we want, since as an adopted child of God, God delights in me through Christ. This is what he writes in Romans 5 and 6,
“The Law came, so that the full power of sin could be seen. Yet where sin was powerful, God’s kindness was even more powerful. Sin ruled by means of death. But God’s kindness now rules, and God has accepted us because of Jesus Christ our Lord. This means that we will have eternal life.
What should we say? Should we keep on sinning, so that God’s wonderful kindness will show up even better? No, we should not! If we are dead to sin, how can we go on sinning? Don’t you know that all who share in Christ Jesus by being baptized also share in his death? When we were baptized, we died and were buried with Christ. We were baptized, so that we would live a new life, as Christ was raised to life by the glory of God the Father.” (Romans 5:20–6:4 CEV)
Paul knows that people could be tempted to do whatever they want because the rewards and punishments scheme is gone because of grace, because we are adopted children of God. So what does he do? Does he try to get the rewards and punishments back? No, instead he points out that followers of Jesus have been brought into a new life, in a new family where we are in the process of learning to live as joyful, playful children of the king.
It is a learning and living that flows not from rewards and punishments, but from something wholly different: gratitude. People who have experienced the wondrous exchange, who know what it cost the father, what it cost the son to make the wondrous exchange possible, who know that that wondrous exchange means to them, are overwhelmed with gratitude. It is this gratitude that shapes their lives, their choices, their decisions. Paraphrasing the 16th century reformer, John Calvin,
Those who are adopted children of God their Father, no longer fear the Father’s punishment, what they fear is that their actions or lack of them will break his heart.
The life of adopted children of God is one shaped by gratitude for the wondrous exchange, for what God did so they could be his adopted children. In pursuing this life of gratitude what they long for is to be shaped into his playful, joyful children; what they long for is learning how to live as children of the king.
How do we shape our lives by the ways of the house? Well one way we do so is by seeing who is in the house. Certainly the loving father, the sacrificial son are there—in seeing the love and sacrifice we ask, “how do I shape my life in those ways?” We see people from all different nations, backgrounds, races and we ask if all of these different people are in the house, what does that say about how I need to shape my life? We look around the house and we see posters that say things like,
Can we create these and put them on tables…
- The greatest commandment is to love God and love your neighbor.
- Whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God
- Let your light so shine before others that they will give praise to your Father
- The Father shows he is holy by his justice
- A person’s life doesn’t consist in the abundance of his possessions
- Those who are rich are to be rich in good deeds and generous
We look around the house we see the people, we read the posters, we absorb the atmosphere and we ask how do all of these things shape me so that I out of gratitude live as a child of the king? How do they shape me as I look at the issues of the day, as I vote, as I raise my children, as I go to school, as I…. Whatever I am doing, whatever choices I make in light of what I see, experience and live in the house—do these actions reflect the house, the Father of the house? Not because I am afraid that if I fail that God will toss me out of the house, but because I don’t want to break his heart by my actions, by my inaction.
But it is not just in the house in general that you are shaped as this grateful adopted child, there is one room in particular that is very helpful—the dining room. It is in the dining room that the Father who already loves you as his child, lays out an extravagant meal for his family, lays out a table filled with God things for his children.
Now the meal may not look like much, a bit of bread, a bit of wine, it may not look like much but here is the question: what are bread and wine all about when they are at their best in God’s world? What do you discover about bread (grain) and wine?
“King Melchizedek of Salem was a priest of God Most High. He brought out some bread and wine and said to Abram: “I bless you in the name of God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. All praise belongs to God Most High for helping you defeat your enemies.”” (Genesis 14:18–20 CEV) A celebration of Victory
“Israel, you will live in safety; your enemies will be gone. The dew will fall from the sky, and you will have plenty of grain and wine. The LORD has rescued you and given you more blessings than any other nation. He protects you like a shield and is your majestic sword.” (Deuteronomy 33:28–29 CEV) God’s Blessing on his people
“At mealtime Boaz said to Ruth, “Come, eat with us. Have some bread and dip it in the sauce.” Right away she sat down with the workers, and Boaz handed her some roasted grain. Ruth ate all she wanted and had some left over.” (Ruth 2:14 CEV) Sustains a person
“You let the earth produce grass for cattle, plants for our food, wine to cheer us up, olive oil for our skin, and bread for our health.” (Psalms 104:14–15 CEV) Cheer and sustaining
What are bread and wine all about? Victory, blessing, sustaining us, bringing good cheer. John Calvin says that exactly what the Lord’s supper does for us in our spiritual lives, it brings victory blessing, it sustains us, it brings good cheer. And as it does all of those things we are shaped into people who live as grateful, joyful, playful children of the king.
The supper does this first by dazzling us. At the table we are dazzled by God. He dazzles us by having the supper remind us of the wondrous exchange. Each time we eat the bread and drink the cup we are reminded of the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus that made possible the wondrous exchange. At the table we are dazzled by God because as his adopted children we no longer fear any condemnation, but instead are wanted.love.accepted. At the table we remember that God is our good, good father, that he is the fountain of all good and we know that because he has shown his goodness first and foremost in giving us his son.
But it is more that our being dazzled by God. The supper is more than remembering and have that remembering flow into a life of gratitude. The supper, much to our surprise, is nothing less than the Spirit working dynamically in us to shape us into those who live as playful, joyful children of the king.
Here’s how the Spirit does that—the Spirit uses the bread and the cup to unite us to Christ, to build our union with him. So how do we get our minds around this wonder. Well let’s imagine posters in the dining room of the house. These are the things they say:
Can we create these and put them on tables…
- Want food for your soul? The bread we eat makes Christ ours!
- Looking to get closer to Jesus? In the bread and cup Christ becomes ours and dwells within us!
- Want to Grow? In the Supper we are grafted into Christ growing more and more together with him
- Long for Strength for the journey? The Spirit uses this food and drink to empower you to live out your new identity as adopted children of God.
- Got Mystery? Eating the bread and drinking the cup makes you partakers of Christ’s substance, so you are incorporated into the Son’s own life.
One more here. Back to John Calvin who wrote,
- In the Lord’s Supper believers receive Christ, who is the life giving Word of the Father, the spring and source of life, for the flesh of Christ is like a rich and inexhaustible fountain that pours into us the life springing forth from the Godhead.
As we eat the bread and drink the cup we are dazzled by God and in a deep mystery, the Holy Spirit so empowers the elements that they make us one with Christ, giving us strength for the journey and building us into those who live more deeply as sons and daughters of the great king.
One more thing—there is so, so much more on this that when you study the supper it causes you to gasp and want to never miss having it—but just one more thing this morning. This supper rather than turning us inward, actually turns us outward. The supper turns our hearts to the broader world. For the Spirit is at work in us to shape us in the supper into those who follow the heart of God who is making all things new. When we sit at his table, eat the bread and the cup, we are stirred by, activated by the Spirit to join with God in this great work. But the other reason that it turns us outward is because turning outward reflects God’s gift to us, God turned outward from the trinity to a world in desperate need, to people in desperate need and brought about the wondrous exchange at the cost of his son. For those living in the house, eating the extravagant meal that the father has prepared, they understand that to be one who lives in the house is to be one who has a face turned outward. In particular John Calvin pointed out,
In the Lord’s Supper, the worship of the church is connected to the needs of the broader society. Believers participate in Christ through receiving Christ’s body and blood, entering into loving communion with other believers, and extending this love by alms to be administered to the needy in broader society. In all these ways, the church loves God and neighbor through the spirit, having been united to Jesus Christ.
Those who are at the table turn their eyes to the world and one important way they turn their eyes toward the world is by giving alms, which is to say, they give to those who need help. In Calvin’s Geneva that led to the building of a public hospital that served the poor. In our place it means a budget that includes resources for Mission India, Aware, Rehoboth Christian School, money for benevolence, for caring for single moms and more. And it includes our corners offering during the year. When we gather around the table and then take our offering, we are turning our eyes outward because we have been united with Christ and activated by the Spirit to live this kind of life.
No rewards, no punishments. Instead a life shaped by gratitude. A life that learns what gratitude looks like by living in the house and by sitting down for God’s extravagant banquet, where his followers are dazzled by God, united with Christ, and empowered by the Spirit.
So if you are a house person, let me ask you as we step into the dining room for supper: how will your life of gratitude be shaped by the supper today