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!

A Wise Answer

“A Wise Answer”

love God, love others

Mark 12:34 – November 1, 2015

Rule books are handy things to have around.

What about the rules of the road? Doesn’t it help everyone to know and understand the rules of driving? Plus, the rules of the road give us a handy guide for safe, reliable, consistent driving. Also, we can think of rules in sports; in football, baseball, hockey, and basketball, just to name a few. All of these rules help teams, individual players, and referees to understand what to do—and what not to do in a game.

Do you know one particular person who knows the rules of one particular sport backwards and forwards? I mean, this person can call balls and strikes faster than an umpire behind the plate. Or, can figure out exactly who went offside before a football snap, or when a player got fouled in a fast-moving hockey game? It doesn’t have to be one of these sports, but any sport. And, that person is really proud of their exceptional sports knowledge, too?

That’s a lot like the situation Jesus is dealing with. As one of the commentators said, “Throughout Mark’s Gospel, the scribes [and teachers] were always evaluating Jesus’ activities. They judged Jesus theologically.” The Rabbi Jesus and some high ranking teachers of the Law are having another in their series of continuing discussions. These teachers really enjoyed discussing the Law, and both the major as well as the minor points of Judaism. Some teachers would get all excited and rub their hands at the prospect of a good argument! I mean, discussion.

That’s where we pick up our thread of the narrative. Different rabbis or teachers had different opinions on what was the greatest of all commands. I am certain some of these teachers wanted to know what Jesus considered the “most important” of the 613 laws in the Mosaic law code, which was (and is) the official, orthodox Jewish rule book.

Jesus does not name one of the “big 10,” the Ten Commandments. Instead, He responds with the Shema. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” from Deuteronomy 6:5-6.

Are you familiar with the Jewish custom of the mezuzah, put on the doorpost of observant Jewish homes? I quote from www.chabad.org: “Regarding these words, G‑d has commanded us, “And you shall inscribe them on the doorposts of your home, and on your gates” (ibid., verse 9). Hence the mezuzah: a parchment scroll inscribed with the verses of the Shema prayer is affixed to the right doorpost of every room in a Jewish home.”

“Why a Mezuzah? In addition to its role as a declaration and reminder of our faith, the mezuzah is also a symbol of G‑d’s watchful care. The name of G‑d, Sha-dai, which appears on the reverse side of the parchment, is an acronym for the Hebrew words which mean ‘Guardian of the doorways of Israel.’ Placing a mezuzah on the doors of a home or office protects the inhabitants—whether they are inside or out.”

Just from this short excerpt from Chabad, an orthodox Jewish website, you can see how serious this was to the scribes and teachers of the Law, in Jesus’s day as well as today. So, yes. Keeping rules properly was really high on the observant Jew’s priority list.

Going back to Jesus, and His response, what IS the greatest commandment, anyway?

Jesus did say that the greatest command was the Shema, a basic, fundamental, foundational statement of faith. Love God. Period. This was also a standard daily prayer in Jewish tradition. I suspect everyone in the room with Jesus knew Deuteronomy 6:5-6 so well they could say it backwards, or in their sleep.

But, Jesus doesn’t stop there! No, He makes another definitive statement. “31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Did you follow that? Jesus made “the greatest command” into a two-part command.

Love God, love others. Two sides of the same coin.

Jesus quoted from another verse in the Hebrew Scriptures, Leviticus 19:18b. Yes, it was included in the Mosaic Law Code. In the Jewish rule book. Except this particular law wasn’t considered so all-important in Jesus’s day. That is, until Jesus reached back and pointed to it.

Love God, love others.

You’d better believe this two-part law applies to a modern world torn apart by arguments, resentments, mourning, sadness, bitterness, and downright hatred. Not to mention war, violence, drought, hunger, and natural disasters, just as much as it applied to similar situations in ancient times and places. Even though this modern world finds it difficult to come near to God, even to believe in the concept of a Higher Power; this two-part law still applies.

Yes, this two-part law also applies to us, today. I encourage us all to avoid the trap of thinking that those old stories from the Bible, and from the Gospels, just apply to those people, two thousand years ago. False! Wrong-er than wrong! Jesus’s words apply just as much to us, today. To modern people, running on the treadmill of our daily routines. Yes, us up-to-date folks, who don’t have time for God, or for church. “Don’t you know? My life is so full I won’t have time to make it to church this week.”

Love God, love others. Remember, these are the words of Jesus.

In this vignette from the Gospel of Mark, one particular scribe engages with Jesus. “Well done, Teacher!” the scribe responded. “You’re right when you said: ‘He is the only God and there is no other god besides him,’ ‘Love the God with everything you have,’ 33 and, ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ Obeying these commandments is worth far more than all the worship in the Temple at Jerusalem!” These words are not combative, or argumentative. This scribe agrees with Jesus! The Gospel describes this teacher as sincere, affirming of Jesus and His statements. Plus, this teacher acknowledges that the institutional aspects of Jewish ritual and observance are less important, secondary to loving God and loving others. Isn’t it true that religious ritual so often gets in the way of truly loving?

This scribe, this important teacher of the Law gets where Jesus is coming from. Listen to what Jesus responds: “34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, He said to [the teacher], ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’”

Summary statement? “When we hear these words, we know that we are close to the center of Christianity, that we are close to the heart of God. The cross of Christ, the most important symbol of the Christian faith, has two dimensions: a vertical love to God and a horizontal love towards our neighbors.” (from a Gospel analysis by Edward Markquart)

The simplicity, truth and wisdom of love is at the heart of the Good News. Are there things we are engaged in right now that are secondary, less important that Jesus and His call to love God and love others? Think about it. If we truly love, what else is necessary?

Love God, love others. Jesus’s greatest command.

Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to Rev. Edward Markquart and http://www.chabad.org for their assistance in the formulation of this sermon!

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!