Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | August 7, 2016

2016.08.07 “Close to our Heart” – Luke 12: 22 – 34

Central United Methodist Church
Close to our Heart
Luke 12: 22 – 34
Pastor David L. Haley
August 7th, 2016

8.7.16 image

Jesus said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Luke 12: 22 – 34, The New Revised Standard Version

 

The day of the Lord is coming; the day of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. No – I’m not talking about the Last Judgment; I’m talking about the next time we have to move, most likely downsizing, definitely purging ourselves of lots of stuff, some of it junk and some not, in fact some of it even dear to us.

If we have not had to do this for ourselves yet, we have likely had to do it for someone else, like our parents, or perhaps even a friend (they would have to be a VERY CLOSE FRIEND.) As the baby boomer generation (of which I am one) ages and downsizes, there are millions of people and couples and families going through this day-by-day.

If you have done this, you know how hard it is. In fact, I think it is harder to do for ourselves, than for others. Because it is easy to throw away somebody’s else’s junk; not so easy to through away our TREASURES. Which is why – if we are wise – we always ask for help – whether paid or volunteer – someone who doesn’t have the association or nostalgia or sentiment we do, and can more objectively decide whether any given thing should “stay or go,” whether it is junk or treasure.
Due to the demand, one of the hottest self-help books in this area has been that of Marie Kondo, entitled, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” (I know we have a copy in the house somewhere, if only I could find it in all the junk.) Ms. Kondo’s decluttering theory is interesting and helpful, and – risking oversimplification – can be reduced to one basic idea: “Discard everything that does not “spark joy;” after thanking the objects for their service, give them the “heave-ho.” Some might find this a strange thing to say to a T-shirt of pair of jeans or old socks. And – for those of us in text-intensive professions – what about papers? As Ms. Kondo says, “There is nothing more annoying than papers,” she says firmly. “After all, they will never spark joy, no matter how carefully you keep them.” Which is why I like the guy who said – according to this theory – that he had already thrown out his tax form and several piles of bills, as they sparked no joy whatsoever. Good luck with that. (Penelope Green, “Kissing Your Socks Goodbye; Home Organization Advice from Marie Kondo,” The New York Times, October 22, 2014)

We arrive at this topic today because in today’s Gospel Jesus continues to talk about the danger of wealth and possessions, and the anxiety and distraction they cause in our lives, whether from having too much or too little. And the worst distraction is this: both anxiety and greed distract us from our real riches in life, God’s gifts to us and God’s purposes for us. In today’s text, Jesus puts it is this way: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Which raises the question: where is our treasure? What is close to our heart?

If you were here last Sunday, you may remember Jesus’ comments on these subjects came about when someone asked him, “”Teacher, order my brother to give me a fair share of the family inheritance.” Being the wise man that he was, Jesus refused to intervene in this domestic, but he did go on to warn: “Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.” And then he told a story, about a rich farmer who decided to build a bigger barn. The good news was that the rich farmer’s harvest was so good he needed a bigger barn; the bad news was, he died that night, so he never got to see those barns. Thus he wound up looking and being pretty foolish, because while rich in many ways, the sad thing was that he wasn’t rich toward God.

He wasn’t rich toward God because he had no insight into his life, knowing what most of us have come to know, that our lives are fleeting, leading us to think about what is important. He never seemed to understand what most of us have learned, that others have contributed to our assets, and others can benefit from them. It never seemed to dawn upon him that which is most important to us, that whatever we have, it is worth nothing without people who love us and whom we love and who make our lives worth living. Perhaps most importantly, he never seemed to understand what most of us are learning, that what being “rich toward God” really means, is to care and to share what we have with those who are hurting and needy. Which is – in the end – what we seek to avoid – why God called him foolish.

What about us? We may or may not be rich, but does our anxiety about what we don’t have, or our preoccupation with what we do have, distract us from being rich toward God, from seeing what God has given us and what God intends for us? “Stop being so anxious and distracted about what you have or don’t have and look around,” Jesus says. As you hear how Eugene Peterson renders it, keep in mind that Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem. Imagine that as they walk and talk, birds fly overhead, or sing in the trees, just as – even when we are discouraged or anxious or distracted – they also fly over our heads, or sing around us:

“Don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or if the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your inner life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the ravens, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, carefree in the care of God. And you count far more. “Has anyone by fussing before the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? If fussing can’t even do that, why fuss at all? Walk into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They don’t fuss with their appearance — but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the wildflowers, most of them never even seen, don’t you think God will attend to you, take pride in you, do best for you?”

Ever hear the story about the boy, who while walking, found a quarter? Ever after, he walked with his eyes down and his back bent, on the lookout for more money. And, sure enough, through his life, he found some $2,500 in loose coins and bills. What he didn’t see was, the blue sky, the green trees, the beautiful flowers, or the faces of the people he met on his way. That’s what happens, says Jesus, when we get too distracted by our stuff or our things or our money.

I know, if we were there, we might want to raise our hand to say, “Au contraire, Jesus!” Because Jesus’ words and his whole idea of simple trust seem so out of step with our society and the way we live, the way we have to live. As someone once said, “What Jesus said could only have been written by a single guy living a carefree life on a beach in sunny Galilee.” Obviously Jesus never had to worry about the rent or insurance or a retirement pension. I guess that’s one good aspect to getting nailed to a cross at the age of 30. (“Always look of the bright side of life.”)

On the other hand, the way we live is not working out that well for us, either. In fact, the stressful, anxious, way we live is literally killing us, either causing or exacerbating many of the disease processes that take us down. Constant anxiety depletes our immune systems, it keeps our bodies in a constant state of alert, it raises our blood pressure and constricts our arteries, it squeezes off the blood flow to our heads, our hearts, and yes, our pocketbooks.

So I like what Jesus says next, as Eugene Peterson renders it:

“What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way God works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how God works . . . Be generous. Give to the poor. Get yourselves a bank that can’t go bankrupt, a bank in heaven far from bank robbers, safe from embezzlers, a bank you can bank on. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.”

Karoline Lewis is a Lutheran pastor and professor of preaching at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. Each week, for preachers like me she writes a commentary on the Gospel at WorkingPreacher.org. This is part of what she had to say about this week’s – and last week’s – Gospel, illustrating the intertwining of our stuff with that which is dear to us:

“We are moving my mom into a nursing home. We are getting closer, but the sorting and the sifting and the sadness persist.

And so, the biblical text yet again lives my life is such a way that this column has to be a “part two.” The biblical story just won’t let me go. And I guess I am glad it won’t – because it reminds me of what the life of a preacher, of a believer, should be.

You know what I mean, right? You try to find something else on which to preach. You imagine going rogue, and wow, is that ever a ride! Outside of whatever lectionary you are using. You consider justifying a chosen text for a situation when really, all of the machinations are just escapes to avoid the ways in which a text comes way too close to the truth.

Two weeks in a row. Luke, you are killing me.

So, here I go again on possessions.

What is close to your heart?

In last week’s column, I talked about how our possessions matter if they matter to another – if the meaning of the object can be lodged in how it means outside of yourself.

This week, it’s a 180, friends. What is close to your heart?

Driving back on Sunday night from a day of packing, I called a dear friend. I needed to talk, to process. I needed help. How do you decide? What do you keep? My friend told me, “When my mom died, I kept just a couple of things, a few things close to my heart.” (Karoline Lewis, Treasured Possessions, Part II, Working Preacher.org, July 31, 2016)

It’s a good question, the same question Jesus raised, a question to think about long after we leave this place. What is “close to our heart?” “What brings us joy?” Because if we can figure out where our treasure is – what is close to our hearts and what brings us joy – what changes might that make in our jobs, in our lives, even our giving? I’m going to think about this; will you also?

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: