Where’s Your Treasure?

“Where’s Your Treasure?”

Luke 12-34 your treasure, words

Luke 12:29-34 – August 11, 2019

I greet you all in the name of our loving, gracious God and our Lord Jesus Christ. It is good to be back here with you at Epiphany United Church of Christ.

Is anyone here familiar with a particularly challenging time? Either in your life, or the life of someone close to you? I’ve been through a number of challenging, even difficult times, over the years. Periods of unemployment, strained and broken relationships, times of extended illness of loved ones, even death and periods of grieving and loss—of many kinds. Sadly familiar to many here, I suspect.

On the flip side, I have experienced times of great happiness and contentment in my life, periods of harmony and peace, times when I felt I was in a good place, in terms of relationships, employment, and my personal and family life. Those are times I suspect many people want to continue to experience, long-term. Even, your whole lives long.

What did Jesus have to say about both of these long-term situations? Both the up-side as well as the down-side?  Our Scripture reading from the Gospel of Luke sheds some light on that question. Our Lord Jesus gives many instructions in Luke 12, and tells His listeners a number of important things. He talks about the positive times in life as well as the times of sadness and heartache. And—Jesus does not shy away from challenging His listeners. By no means! He talks straight, and lays things on the line, not pulling any punches.

Let’s pull back, and look at today’s short, power-packed reading from Luke chapter 12 in context. Luke 12 comes from what bible scholars call the Sermon on the Plain, a section from the Gospel of Luke that parallels the Sermon on the Mount closely, Matthew chapters 5 through 7. Many of these statements in Luke state or summarize statements we find in Matthew. (Both Sermons have versions of the Lord’s Prayer, for example.) But, these words of the Rabbi Jesus—from either sermon, Luke or Matthew—have both comforting as well as challenging moments. For example, the words from our Scripture reading today.

This reminds me of two years ago, when I preached a series of sermons on the Sermon on the Mount, from Matthew 5. Those were the lectionary readings for February 2017. Yes, the words of Jesus are familiar. We are the light of the world, the city on a hill. We need to take care of our tongues and not call each other names. And, especially, Jesus’ command to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Jesus meant all that. All of it. I found it particularly challenging to faithfully lift up the words of Jesus for those Sundays. I tried to do my best, but I know our Lord’s words can sometimes be difficult to hear, and even a rebuke for us.

So, it is with a similar feeling of anxiety that I come to this reading today. What is Jesus saying in this section of the Sermon on the Plain, anyway?

I included a part of last week’s reading from Luke to begin our reflection this morning. Words of a reassuring nature for people going through some difficult, challenging times. Concentrate on God. Keep our eyes focused on things that matter to God, and don’t worry about the peripheral but distracting stuff that happens in our lives. That sounds great! I could just stop right there, couldn’t I?

But, Jesus does not stop there. He continues: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.”

Wait a second, Jesus! It’s all very well to tell us comforting stuff like “Do not be afraid, little flock,” and “your Father (or Parent) knows what you need.” Those things are great, and reassuring, and encouraging, especially when we are going through difficult times in our lives. But, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor?” and, “provide for yourselves a treasure in heaven?” What kind of stuff is that? Sounds pretty suspect to me. I can imagine two hecklers in the back of the room glancing at each other, and elbowing each other. Yeah, I always knew this Rabbi Jesus was running some sort of con game.

Except, it isn’t a con game. Jesus is really for real.

Sure, economic security is certainly a concern for almost everyone. And, appropriately so. Concern for ourselves and for our families is to be commended. But, I think we can better understand where Jesus is focused: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Commentator Matt Skinner notes that “we can train our wills and our ways of thinking (for that is what the heart symbolized in his culture) through the ways we use our money.” [1]

Jesus is really asking each one of us: where are your priorities? What do we put first in our lives? Are my priorities “me, me, me!” and “my house, my car, my 401 K!” Or—are my priorities something else? Something that would be pleasing to God? Something involving having an open heart and loving compassion?

These words of Jesus tell us a lot about God’s view on charity, on being open-hearted and open-handed. The parable of the rich fool is found just a few verses back in Luke 12, where Jesus talks about a foolish man who had big barns stuffed full of all his crops and other goods—all his wealth. And then, after doing a tour of all his barns stuffed chock full of stuff that he was hoarding for himself, he had a sudden, massive heart attack and died.

Jesus’s words for us today are closely connected to this mindset. Where is our treasure? Where are our priorities? If we spend all our money on ourselves, guess where our hearts will be. What is more, we can extrapolate further. Perhaps some do not have too much money, but are particularly focused on their house, or their car, or have some other focus for their life. What is their priority in life? What would Jesus say about that particular priority?

Are we leaving our relationship with Jesus in the dust, in a far distant second or even third place?

I am going to start a third chaplain internship next week, two days a week, and I will still be pastor at St. Luke’s Church in Morton Grove. (And, I would appreciate your prayers, both for my challenging internship and my faithful service to the lovely congregation at St. Luke’s.) When I considered this Scripture passage this past week, I couldn’t help but think of people in the hospital. The patients and their loved ones who I will meet.

I am familiar with that environment, since I was a hospital chaplain for some years, before I came to St. Luke’s Church. I remember many who had total reliance on God, who were spread thin, in trauma. Many of these folks had been pushed so far, and had very little left in the way of resilience. They had fears, anxieties, trials and tribulations. But, they also had faith in God, in whatever faith tradition they came from.

When they—when we—reach a traumatic situation, God is there. God is faithful. That was some of what Jesus was saying in the first part of our Scripture reading today. And, for those who have not faced such sadness and trauma in our lives—yet—this statement of Jesus applies, as well. Where are your priorities? Where are mine?

When we put God first and allow other things to take second place, it is amazing how things sort themselves out. God has a personal hand in sorting things out in each of our lives, and that is truly a wonderful thing. So, where is your treasure?

I’ll let Jesus have the last word: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4142  Matt Skinner

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Baptized, Beloved

“Baptized, Beloved”

luke-3-21-baptismchrist2

Matthew 3:13-17 (3:16) – January 8, 2017

Water. Water is used for a great many things. For washing and cleaning, certainly! Washing clothes and dishes, washing hands before dinner, washing cars in the summertime. Cleaning things, too, like brushing teeth before bed, and cleaning instruments and tools. Water is used for a special, cleansing purpose in the Christian church, too. Water is for cleansing of people, and washing of souls, of body and spirit.

The Gospel of Matthew begins our Scripture passage today with Jesus at the very beginning of His ministry. He comes to the River Jordan, to see His cousin John the Baptist. And what is John doing at the Jordan? Baptizing people, cleansing them while they confess their sins, washing their souls, inside and out.

Let’s back up a bit, and take a look at the passage from Isaiah, from the Hebrew scriptures. Here we have a prophetic suggestion of what is to come; the prophet tells us here in the book of Isaiah about the Sent One of God.

Did you know that God deeply cares about the Sent One? The prophet says so! Listen again to verse 42:6—“I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you;” We see that God is faithful to God’s promises, and will care for those whom God loves. In fact, God is within the Servant the prophet speaks of, And, God means for this Servant to transform and cleanse the mess the world has been in. [1]

This is awesome news! The mixed-up world will finally be washed and cleansed. Except, Jesus does something completely unexpected. Jesus does not come to cleanse the world, at first. No, Jesus comes to John to be obedient and go through the waters of baptism Himself.

We can see from the Gospel passage that John is really hesitant to baptize Jesus. He says, “No way, Jesus! I oughta be baptized by You! And here You are, coming to me to be baptized?”

I want to remind everyone that Jesus had no sin. He was both God and man at the same time. Yet, Jesus came to be baptized by John. Jesus wanted to identify with sinful humanity in every way. Plus, Jesus wanted to fix the mess the world was in.

Look at verses 6 and 7 of the passage from Isaiah: “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” That sounds like washing and cleansing this fallen, mixed-up world. That sounds like the mission Jesus had in His ministry here on earth.

But, Jesus is not there yet, at the beginning of Matthew 3. Jesus needs to be baptized, to fulfill all righteousness. And, what is righteousness? “Compassionate justice and care for those who are poor and/or marginalized, humility and faithfulness that always point to God as the One who is at work in this transformation, and the hope—the promise—of new things that will dazzle us and rattle the foundations of our safe little worlds. When read, and heard, together, the texts from Isaiah and Matthew dramatically illustrate God’s own deep faithfulness and care.” [2]

We can see from the Gospel of Matthew how God has deep faithfulness and care for Jesus, God’s Son. After Jesus convinces John to baptize Him, the heavens open, the Spirit of God as a heavenly dove descends, and God the Father says, “This is my Beloved!”

Let us imagine ourselves in that crowd on the banks of the river, watching the baptisms, as people are cleansed from sin. John is washing their souls, inside and out. Hear the sound of the rushing water. You and I, all of us are crowded together, jostling each other. We watch John the Baptizer, with that new rabbi Jesus, in the water. Suddenly, the heavens break apart! Everyone, all of us in the crowd know the Spirit of God is present, in the likeness of a dove coming down from the sky.

What do you think of when you hear the voice of God saying, “This is my Beloved!” What goes through your head? What kinds of feelings are going through you? Are you scared? Excited? Puzzled? Confused? Or, all of the above?

Think of baptisms we have seen, even participated in. Do you think baptisms are just an excuse for gifts and a party? Or, does baptism mean much more? Consider your own baptism in light of this Gospel reading. Now, think of the others in this congregation, too. Close your eyes. Think of God saying to you—yes, to you in particular—“You are my Beloved!”

            God is saying that to each one of you. Really and truly.

I found this story on a pastor’s sermon board, online. It was written a number of years ago by a Pastor Del in Iowa. He tells the story of his grandmother’s death, and his subsequent desire to find out more about his grandparents’ families.

“I began to ask questions about my genealogy… about my great grandfather (whose last name was Fahling) whom I remember well from my childhood.

“As I questioned my mother about the family history on my father’s side, she indicated to me that my great grandfather’s real last name is unknown. It seems that he left the old country and came to the New World as a boy, his journey paid for by a farmer with the name of Fahling. Upon crossing the waters of the Atlantic, my great grandfather took up residency with this farmer, labored on his land and took upon himself his sponsor’s name and identity and became part of the Fahling family. He even receiving a share in the inheritance of the family farm.

“At first I was disappointed with the loss of a history, but then I realized that in many respects this is the meaning of our baptisms. Crossing the waters, we take on different residency, ordained labors, and new identities and begin a new history. We become an integral part of the family of God through sharing in the baptism of Christ who sponsors and pays for our journey.”[3]

We have several different ways to come to an understanding of baptism. Yes, we have been washed and cleansed from our sins. We have crossed the water. Yes, each of us has been adopted by God. Yes, each of us has a new identity. And, yes, each of us is Beloved, much loved by God, our heavenly Parent.

Consider this last understanding of baptism, about each person, child or adult, in our congregation. And then about each baptized person you know. God considers each one God’s Beloved. Do we consider each one Beloved? Do we treat each person as God’s Beloved? How would that understanding change the way we treat each other?

Not that baptism magically changes us and—presto, change-o—causes us to become Beloved in some magical way. No! We are Beloved because God says we are. Just as God called Jesus Beloved, God refers to each of us in the very same way.

Praise God! I know I am God’s Beloved, the same way you are, too. What a marvelous name. What a fantastic feeling. What a wonderful God we serve.

 

(Thanks to Kathryn Matthews and the United Church of Christ’s Worship Ways for several ideas used in this sermon.)

[1] http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_january_8_2017   by Kathryn Matthews

[2] http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_january_8_2017   by Kathryn Matthews

[3] http://desperatepreacher.com//bodyii.htm

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)