Eager to Do Good Jamie Maciejewski
Titus 1:1-5; 2:1, 11-15; 3:1-15 11/25/2018
Last week as I was studying Paul's letter to Titus and preparing to share with you, a story popped into the news. Maybe you saw it. A few months ago, this woman ran out of gas late at night. A homeless man saw her and gave her his last $20 for gas. The woman was so grateful that she launched an online campaign to raise money to help him.
It was a real feel-good story, and hundreds of people gave more than $400,000 to help him. The only problem was, the story was completely made up. Two weeks ago it came unraveled. Turns out the woman, the homeless man, and the woman's boyfriend had gotten together and dreamed up a scam to prey on the hearts and wallets of people who were willing to help someone in need.
It's a shame. Something like this just fosters cynicism, and our world does not need any more cynicism than it already has. And you and me – what do we learn from this story as we try to do good?
This morning we are reading from the Apostle Paul's letter to Titus. Titus, like Timothy, was one of Paul's students in the faith. Paul had mentored him over a number of years. Now Paul has installed Titus as the interim pastor of a group of congregations on the island of Crete. It's not an easy assignment, and he writes to give him some advice.
“Doing good” is a prominent theme in this little letter. We're going to take a look at what Paul has to say to Titus about helping people learn to do good. We're even going to ask what Paul might say to all the people who gave money to help a homeless man, only to find out they'd been scammed.
To do good. It means to help someone in need. Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles give quite a few examples. They include raising children. How many of you parents realize that you are doing good as you care for your kids? Visiting and taking meals to the sick, the lonely, the hungry and homeless are examples of doing good. Amy and George and company have made many sandwiches to hand out to hungry people in Port Townsend. Jeff is coordinating a whole bunch of you to welcome and cook meals for the residents at the winter shelter. Dave picks up the mail for Habitat, where I work.
Another example of doing good is when Jesus tells his disciples to wash one another's feet. That's pretty obscure to us today, but in Jesus' time it was a necessary and dirty job to clean the feet of guests in sandals, before they reclined to eat and stuck their feet right next to their neighbor's dinner plate. I see so many of you doing jobs that could be considered washing feet. Six teams take turns cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming carpets, mopping the kitchen, and taking out trash. All of you who cook for Alpha and provide coffee hour goodies, and then clean up the dishes afterward – that is a foot washing example.
Doing good is not flashy or sexy. It's just doing what needs to be done, in very practical ways, to help someone who needs it.
Our actions show people whether our words mean anything. Listen to this verse from the first chapter of Titus: “Such people claim they know God, but they deny him by the way they live. They are detestable and disobedient, worthless for doing anything good.” (Tit 1:16)
Paul is describing religious people who claim to know God, but their actions show otherwise. They may talk a good game, but they are worthless when it comes to doing good. I am reminded of something attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Your actions speak so loudly, I can't hear what you are saying.” Our actions, or laceof them, can totally cancel out what we say.
So, strengthening our witness to Christ is one reason to do good. Another reason Paul gives for ding good is that God is good, and we are to be like him. “He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.” (Tit. 2:14) This one verse contains the whole of the Good News. Jesus gave his life for us. He gave it. For us. To set us free, clean us up, and – here is the amazing part to me – make us his very own people! Oh, how good God is!
Sometimes people think they need to be good in order to convince God to like them, to prove that they are worthy of his being good to them. But this is the good news: We don't do good in order convince God to be good. We do good because God is good! Doing good is our response to God's being good. God has made us his children, and he wants his kids to take after him.
But this isn't easy. Let's read. “Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other.” (Tit. 3:3) What Paul is saying is that we don't by nature do good. In fact, that's the human condition. We live among a lot of cranky people who are out for Number One. Read that, “Sinners.” As Paul would say, “of whom I am the worst.”
Let's keep reading: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (Tit. 3:4-5 NRSV)
God's goodness and loving kindness come to us, despite our broken and foolish condition. God washed us up with the new birth and renewed us with the Holy Spirit. When Jackie is plunged beneath the waters of baptism this morning, think of this picture of newness. Helpless and undeserving as we all are, God brings us to birth. We don't do good to others because they deserve it. We do good because God is good to those who don't deserve it, me included.
Let's continue reading: “He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life." This is a trustworthy saying, and I want you to insist on these teachings so that all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good. These teachings are good and beneficial for everyone.” (Tit. 3:6-8 NLT)
I think God gave us each other, gave us the church, so that we can practice doing good to one another. I won't say that it's easy. In fact, sometimes it's downright hard, because the church is filled with people who wouldn't normally hang out together. People whose only common denominator is Jesus. I hope this doesn't come as a shock to anyone, but I can guarantee every single one of you that someone is sitting pretty nearby you this morning who voted differently than you did. Maybe even had a political yard sign that would have given you heartburn.
Sometimes I imagine how much easier it would be to attend a church where everyone shares the same views on the big issues that affect this country and world, where everyone votes basically the same as me and commiserates over the same things I do. Don't tell me you haven't imagined how much simpler that would be! I have! But I can tell you that if you are attending a church like that, you are not attending a church. You are attending a club.
God gave us one another so that we could practice love, practice doing good. Remember what Jesus said? “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35)
To love one another like God loves means that we “do good” to people regardless. Regardless of whether they think like me. Whether we like one another. Whether someone deserves it. We do good regardless of whether someone is grateful and kind, or cranky, foul-mouthed, and spiteful. We do good because we are the children of a good God, who is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.
In fact, Jesus had something really important to say about that:
"If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” (Lk. 6:32-36 NLT)
Which brings us full circle back to our friends, the scammers. God doesn't tell us to reserve doing good for the good, for the appreciative, for the deserving. God is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.
Do good, because God is good. Do good to those who don't deserve it, because God is good to those who don't deserve it. Do good, because God wants his children to take after their Dad.
Be eager to do good. Then, “your good deeds [will] shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matt 5:16) Will you pray with me?