Sunday’s sermon: Driving a Hard Bargain


Texts used – Jonah 2:1-3:3; Matthew 19:16-30




  • Story of 4-H pig auction → Mary Jane’s pig
    • Explain how a 4-H animal auction works
      • 4-H kid leads animal into the bidding ring
      • Bids = $$/pound
      • 4-H kids gets the proceeds
    • Ryan → mandate from his employer to buy Mary Jane’s pig
    • Robert → playing around – upping the bid just for fun
    • I have to admit that it was rather entertaining to watch these two squaring off. Ryan would bid. The auctioneer would recognize the bid and call for any others. Robert would wait a minute or two – sometimes even waiting until the auctioneer got to “Going once!” – and then he’d chime in with a “Yup!” And Ryan would bid it up again. And with every bid and counter bid, Ryan got a little bit redder and a little bit redder and a little bit redder.
      • Everyone around us knew what was happening
      • Mary Jane, standing down in the ring with her pig, could see what was happening
      • Close-knit rural community → the auctioneer knew what was happening, too
    • Eventually, after bidding the cost of the pig up to an abundantly high price, Robert backed off and let Ryan win the auction for his employer. → by the end …
      • Had Ryan wiping the sweat off his brow and reaching for his wallet
      • Had Mary Jane sufficiently thrilled about the check she’d get
      • Had all of us nearly rolling on the floor with laughter
    • Now of course, this is an amusing example of bargaining and “upping the ante,” as it were. It was all in good-natured fun. But not all the bidding and bargaining that goes on in our lives is so good-natured, is it?
      • Anyone that’s tried to balance busy schedules (family, work, social get togethers, etc.) knows how much bidding and bargaining can be a tricky and uncomfortable part of that
      • Moving in with someone and sharing a space for the first time requires serious bidding and bargaining
        • Living in Chancellor’s my senior year of college = 4 girls, one shared kitchen … one small, shared freezer!
      • Not to mention the bidding and bargaining that happens between us and God. → cue today’s song from The Greatest Showman [PLAY “The Other Side”[1]]

  • Movie context
    • P.T. Barnum bargaining with Phillip Carlyle, playwright and member of the upper class → Barnum wants Carlyle to bring his creativity and expertise (as well as his good name and his relative celebrity) to Barnum’s circus
      • Barnum’s part = offering, enticing, seeking to open Carlyle’s eyes and enliven his soul – song: You run with me / And I can cut you free / Out of the drudgery and walls you keep in / So trade that typical for something colorful / And if it’s crazy, live a little crazy
      • Carlyle’s part = hesitant, uncertain, stubborn → convinced that the life he’s living is the only way he would ever want to live (even though it’s clear that he’s unhappy living that life) – song: Don’t you know that I’m okay with this uptown part I get to play / ‘Cause I got what I need and I don’t want to take the ride / I don’t need to see the other side
        • Driven by propriety
        • Driven by expectations (his parents’, society’s, his own)
        • Driven by fear of the unknown
        • Driven by worry of shame that might come from being associated with Barnum … with the other … with “too different”
    • The back-and-forth nature of this song is what makes it so exciting. And it’s also what makes it so unexpectedly Biblical. → long, long line of characters in Scripture who can bid and bargain with the best of them
      • OT “heavy hitters”
        • Abraham[2]
        • Moses[3]
        • Jacob (took his bargaining to the next level by actually wrestling![4])
      • Many of the psalms = bargaining (“help me, God, and I will praise you all my days” or something similar)
      • NT bargainers:
        • Mary, mother of Jesus (wedding at Cana[5])
        • Mary and Martha (bargaining with Jesus after Lazarus’ death[6])
        • Even Jesus himself in the Garden of Gethsemane (“Father, if it’s your will, take this cup of suffering away from me. However, not my will but your will must be done.”[7])
  • Today’s Scripture passages = probably some of the most notorious bidder and bargainers
    • Start with our NT Scripture this morning → So, the first time I heard this song on The Greatest Showman soundtrack, this was the Scripture reading that popped into my head because Phillip Carlyle shares so many similarities with the rich young man who encounters Jesus at the beginning.
      • Text: A man approached [Jesus] and said, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus said, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There’s only one who is good. If you want to enter eternal life, keep the commandments.” The man said, “Which ones?” Then Jesus said, “Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Then the young man replied, “I’ve kept all these. What am I still missing?” Jesus said, “If you want to be complete, go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come follow me.” But when the young man heard this, he went away saddened because he had many possessions.[8]
        • Hear that back-and-forth btwn. Jesus and the rich young man just like you hear it btwn. Barnum and Carlyle in the song: “What must I do?” → Jesus: “Keep the commandments.” → “Which ones?” → (Jesus lists commandments) → “Done that. What else?” → Jesus: “Sell all your stuff, give the money to the poor, and come follow me.” → (CRICKETS)
        • Challenging Scripture because we don’t actually get a concrete answer from the rich young man – text: But when the young man heard this, he went away saddened because he had many possessions. → Clearly, he didn’t like Jesus’ idea. Clearly, he wasn’t as gung-ho about following Jesus as the disciples who dropped their nets right there on the beach and followed immediately. Clearly, this was going to be a struggle for the rich young man. But Scripture doesn’t say he turned Jesus down flat. Scripture doesn’t say, “He went away saddened and never thought about Jesus again.” What if that seed that Jesus planted in the rich young man’s mind and heart actually took root? What if it only took him some time – time bargaining with himself, time bargaining with God – for him to say, “You know what, I’m going to take that chance. I’m going to do it.” What if he really did sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, and join Jesus and the rest of the crowd following him somewhere down the road? A few towns later? What if he really did say yes … just a delayed “yes”?
      • Rich young man is not the only bargainer in our NT reading this morning – text: Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I assure you that it will be very hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. In fact, it’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.” When his disciples heard this, they were stunned. “Then who can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible for human beings. But all things are possible for God.” Then Peter replied, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you. What will we have?” Jesus said to them, “… all who have left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children, or farms because of my name will receive one hundred times more and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.”[9] → Peter and the rest of the disciples are bargaining here, too. They’ve already done what Jesus asked the rich young man to do. They’ve given up everything for Jesus. They’ve been following. They’ve been learning. They’ve been devoted. … But they’re still bargaining.
        • Bargaining for eternal life just like that rich young man
        • Bidding for a better (the best?) place in Kingdom of Heaven
        • Can’t help clinging to their perceived needs and deep-seated desires even in the face of all that God is offering them and calling them to do
    • OT character = embodiment of this in spades → none other than Jonah
      • Jonah = prophet in about the easiest, cushiest, most positively famous time for prophets to exist in Israel → Most of the time, it was a pretty horrible job to be a prophet. You were called by God to bring words of rebuke and conviction, calls for repentance and change, and predictions of dire and unspeakable things if that repentance and change didn’t come about … not normally words that people living high and happy lives like to hear. But Jonah was a prophet in one of Israel’s most peaceful and prosperous times, so he enjoyed a life of ease and comfort and celebrity … that is, until God called him to GO. – called to take a word of conviction and repentance to Nineveh → huge city, violent city, evil city
      • Jonah = not so excited about this call → decides to bargain not with his words but his actions
        • BARGAINING MOVE #1: runs in the exact opposite direction of Nineveh (hops on a ship to Tarshish) → God’s counter: bring about a giant storm
        • BARGAINING MOVE #2: Jonah confesses to fellow sailors that he’s trying to run away from God and asks them to throw him overboard → God’s counter: Jonah swallowed by a giant fish
        • BARGANING MOVE #3: Jonah sits in the belly of that fish for three whole days before finally agreeing to go to Nineveh → God’s counter: fish spits Jonah out not just anywhere but on the shores of Nineveh (subtle, right?)
      • Enter our Scripture reading for today. – text: Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of that fish: “I called out to the Lord in my distress, and he answered me. From the belly of the underworld I cried out for help; you have heard my voice. … I will offer a sacrifice to you with a voice of thanks. That which I have promised, I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the Lord!” Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto the dry land. The Lord’s word came to Jonah a second time: “Get up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and declare against it the proclamation that I am commanding you.” And Jonah got up and went to Nineveh, according to the Lord’s word.[10]
  • Hear this song and these Scriptures woven together in terms of faith = hear all that bidding and bargaining that we do with God
    • Like Jonah, we hear God’s attempts to call us
      • Call us into mission
      • Call us into faith
      • Call us into deeper relationship with God
      • Call us into a life that we can’t even imagine → We’ve spent the last three weeks talking about that life.
        • Kingdom of God being the greatest show we can imagine
        • Million dreams God has for us and for this world
        • God’s call to us to COME ALIVE in the Spirit and in our faith
      • Today = little dose of reality → recognition that even when we hear those calls and even when we believe in the beauty of those dreams, we still push back … pull back … resist … try to negotiate
        • Fear
        • Uncertainty
        • Stubbornness
        • All sorts of pull on our time and our attention that often keep us from following fully
    • Song speaks to us as God speaks to us – promise and hope, goodness and wholeness: You would finally live a little, finally laugh a little / Just let me give you the freedom to dream / And it’ll wake you up and cure your aching / Take your walls and start ‘em breaking / Now that’s a deal that seems worth taking / But I guess I’ll leave that up to you ……………… Amen.

[1] “The Other Side” written by Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, © 2017 Sony/ATV Music.

[2] Gen 18:16-33.

[3] Ex 32:7-14.

[4] Gen 32:22-32.

[5] Jn 2:1-12.

[6] Jn 11:1-44.

[7] Lk 22:42.

[8] Mt 19:16-22.

[9] Mt 19:23-28a, 29-30.

[10] Jonah 2:2, 9-3:3a.

One response to “Sunday’s sermon: Driving a Hard Bargain

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: The Path Less Traveled | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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