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!

Do What to Enemies?

“Do What to Enemies?”

Luke 6-35 love enemies, bible

Luke 6:27-38 (6:27-28) – February 24, 2019

Throughout history, we can trace many battles between enemies. I don’t mean outright war, like between armies with guns and tanks and bombs, but enemies, nevertheless. Serious sports rivalries can turn ugly, like soccer hooligans causing fistfights and even rioting. Factions and strife in a town can cause a cohesive neighborhood to break up. And in recent times, political differences can cause serious rifts between former friends. Deep tension even makes family members stop speaking to each other, sometimes for years.

What is this corrosive feeling between enemies? Some say envy, others say fear, others say hatred, plain and simple. Which brings us to the Gospel. What does Jesus say about enemies?

But, first we need to back up, and remind ourselves of what came just before. Or rather, what we heard last week. Just a reminder that Luke chapter 6 contains much of the same information that Jesus preached in Matthew, chapters 5, 6 and 7. Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount—leading off with the Beatitudes—is summarized in about one third of the space, right here. In Luke’s Sermon on the Plain.

Jesus said a lot of controversial things, a lot of which got Him into serious hot water. But, “love your enemies” was a particularly troublesome statement.

The country of Israel was under occupation. Just imagine occupied France or the Netherlands during World War II. The hated Romans were Israel’s overlords, and the whole country had to pay Roman taxes. Essentially, paying tribute to Caesar and his armies. The Roman soldiers threw their weight around, and it was backed up by the threat of force of arms. In other words, Roman garrisons were stationed in towns throughout Israel, keeping the populace in line and making certain there was order in Rome’s occupied territory.

Somehow, I doubt whether the Rabbi Jesus scored many points with either the Jewish leaders or the Jewish people by preaching about loving their enemies.

Sharp divisions have come up from time to time in the modern day, too. Think back several decades, to the 1960’s. A sharp debate over civil rights tore our country apart, much like certain political stands do today.

Let’s think about that debate concerning civil rights. This is February, Black History Month. Black leaders protested, held sit-ins, and even marched on Washington in August 1963, where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the famous “I have a dream” speech. But many Americans at that time did not agree with civil rights, or with blacks and other people of color receiving equal treatment under the law, or equal treatment in general society.

Remember the race riots around the country, and here in Chicago. The National Guard needed to be sent in a number of situations to keep the peace. A great divide was evident in our country throughout the 1960’s, and my retired professor Ken Vaux and Pastor Gordon Smith were among those allies who stood with the black protestors.

Many people on both sides of that political divide would say that they were sincere, devout Christians. Christians who probably would hear sermons on Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain from time to time in their churches.

Wait a minute. People on both sides of the civil rights issue? Sincere, devout Christians? Well, yes. Yes, they were.

Let’s get back to Jesus, preaching the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6. He challenges the crowd. “He says the shocking phrase, ‘Love your enemies.’ What?! He doesn’t just tell us to listen to them. We are to love them!….Some must have decided that they were not ‘willing to hear’ and walked away with their heads full of questions. Others began to work on the bargain. Which enemy might they “love” without risking their own position? Others tried to imagine how they could love their enemies.” [1]

How can anyone do this seemingly impossible stuff Jesus told us to do?

First, Jesus does not ask our opinion. He doesn’t check in with us and see whether we agree with Him. His words are not an option. “Love your enemies.” “He is talking about the Kingdom of God, where love is the rule, not an eye for an eye.” [2] What did Gandhi say of that bloodthirsty comment? “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

Let’s hear the next few verses: “32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.” Wouldn’t you expect yourself to be loving, caring and generous? Don’t we all think of ourselves in a positive light, as Jesus suggests here?

Not so fast. Jesus does not let anyone off easily. He holds us all to a high standard. These verses have “examples of ways we should be generous and loving, expecting nothing in return. In fact, Jesus tells us (if we are willing to hear), ‘If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended?’ We are to ‘Be compassionate just as [God] is compassionate.’ Everything about this way of being in the world goes against the ways of the world. It is so counter-cultural that we may not be willing to hear.” [3]

So, what ought we to do when we encounter an enemy?

It could be meeting a real White Sox fanatic, when your family has been Chicago Cubs fans for generations. Or, at this local election time of the year, it could be sitting at the lunch table or the senior center with someone who vocally supports someone from the opposite political party.

Dr. Margaret Ann Crain, a retired professor from my seminary, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, tells the following story. “Many years ago, when I was first employed by a congregation as an educator, I was appalled by the resistance that came from some members of the church. They made a show of walking out on the pastor when he began to preach each Sunday. They tried to stir up support for their point of view whenever the church council had a decision to make. I confess: I did not love them! But I also did not ever ask them to explain their point of view. They were enemies, and I didn’t listen to them. As I look back now, 40 years later, I really regret that response. If I had listened to them, I could have become more compassionate and understanding. They were faithful church members all their lives. I suspect that they had some faith-filled reasons for their resistance. Clearly, their methods were poorly chosen. Yet, they may have had important lessons that all of us needed to hear. I will never know because I did not love my enemies. I was not willing to hear what Jesus has to say to us today. Are you?” [4]

What do we do when we meet someone who disagrees with us vehemently? Jesus says in verse 31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” We are asked to do what to our enemies? Love them. We are told to treat others—all others—how? As we wish to be treated. Period. Jesus said it, and it is not an option.

Is this difficult? Well nigh impossible! Except—with God’s help. So help us God, help us love our enemies. Help us love them as we love You, and treat our enemies as we wish to be treated.

Amen, alleluia.

 

(Many thanks to Dr. Margaret Ann Crain and http://www.umcdiscipleship.org for ideas and assistance for this series on discipleship.)

[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2019-part-2-worship-planning-series/february-24-seventh-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/seventh-sunday-after-the-epiphany-2019-year-c-preaching-notes

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

@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!

What Are You Expecting?

“What Are You Expecting?”

Jesus teaching

Luke 6:17-23 (6:18-19) – February 17, 2019

Have you ever been expecting something, with all your heart? Perhaps, getting to a stadium early, and expecting a great ball game? Or, arriving at the church, expecting a wedding of two people who are dear to you? Maybe, finally going to a concert you’ve been waiting for, for many months. You are there with many other people. And, all of you have such expectations!

Expectations—of what?

We see something so similar with the scripture reading Eileen just read to us, from Luke chapter 6. Yes, this was early in the Rabbi Jesus’s ministry, but there already was talk about this promising young Rabbi. He not only teaches with authority, but this Jesus heals people’s diseases, too! And, He even casts demons out of people!

Wouldn’t that be something to travel a long distance for? Just imagine—a Rabbi, a high-profile teacher who spoke with authority. On top of that, He’s a healer and miracle-worker, too! That is something to see, indeed!

We need to step back a bit, and look at the bigger picture. Did you know that Luke chapter 6 contains much of the same information that Jesus preached in Matthew, chapters 5, 6 and 7? Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount—leading off with the Beatitudes—is summarized in about one third of the space, right here. In Luke’s Sermon on the Plain.

Both sermons contain much of the same information, except sometimes in different phrases and from a slightly differing point of view. Matthew was one of Jesus’s disciples, he was Jewish, and an eye witness. Dr. Luke was a Greek, he was writing his Gospel some years later, and relied on the testimony of a number of first-person accounts. Just so you can see these two sermons side by side.

Instead of diving into the sermon right away, I want us to look at the people who were hearing it. Dr. Luke is quite particular in his wording: he wants us to know that people from all over are listening, from down south in Judea and Jerusalem (good, God-fearing Jews), as well as people from the coast in the north, from the cities Tyre and Sidon. This second group of people was more mixed, some Jews, but secular, pagan Gentiles as well.

Luke mentioned the disciples, specifically. These were the twelve disciples, recently hand-chosen by Jesus. Moreover, “there are the larger crowds of disciples who are followers of Jesus, who have responded to His ministry, but who have not received a special call from Jesus.”[1] Quite a diverse group, indeed. And, Jesus preached to them all.

Have you ever been in a crowd of all different kinds of people? At a ball game, or, in a crowd at a concert, perhaps. I’ve been there, and I have felt the camaraderie, the fellowship and general good nature of certain kinds of crowds.

Reading again from Luke 6: “Jesus went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of His disciples was there and a great number of people who had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured.”

Expectant? I suspect that is exactly how this crowd was feeling. Even before Jesus can start preaching, people surged around Him. Listen, again from Luke: “and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.”

People not only wanted to see Jesus, they wanted a word of comfort or encouragement from Jesus. And, people wanted to be healed by Jesus most of all! Did you notice that Jesus did not just heal people from their physical problems, but also their spiritual and psychological difficulties, too? Such miracle-working activity must have brought people many miles to see the Rabbi Jesus.

As the Rev. Ernest Lyght mentions, “Perhaps there are some similarities between the crowd on the plain and the crowds that come to our churches. When you look out into your congregation, whom do you see? What are their needs? Who are the people who come to our churches? Do they reflect the neighborhoods around the church? Surely, they are folks who want to hear a Word from the Lord, and they want to be healed. They come with certain expectations.”[2]

Which leads to the next question: what are your expectations for the worship service, this morning? Were you expecting a warm, familiar service, with nice, familiar hymns, and a warm, comforting sermon? Or, were you surprised and even taken aback when we heard the testimony about a lovely ten-year-old boy with autism who wrote that wonderful poem for his English assignment? (I had tears in my eyes when I first finished reading that poem. God bless that boy, and God bless that teacher, too.)

Does Jesus challenge you – challenge me – in our daily walk with Him, or are you just looking for a nice, easy, quiet stroll with Jesus? What are your expectations?

Let’s look at some of Luke’s version of the Beatitudes: “’Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.’”

Whoa, wait a minute, Jesus! I thought You were warm and cuddly, like a teddy bear. At least, that’s what I heard. From Sunday school, or somewhere. Where did Jesus come up with all this about hungering, and weeping, with people hating me, excluding me, insulting me, even rejecting me. What gives, Jesus? What happened to that warm, fuzzy Christianity I thought I knew?

Christianity is not a religion, being a Christian is a relationship. It’s a series of relationships. Jesus and me, vertically. Sure! But, it’s Jesus and all of us too. Plus, it’s the horizontal relationship between you, and me, and you, and you—and all of us, with each other. That is what Jesus came to offer all of us. A radical change in relationships between God and humanity. And, in how we all relate to each other. No matter who.

Have you told anyone about this radical, out-of-this-world friendship between you and God? Have you been changed in how you relate to everyone you meet?

Bishop Lyght is now retired from the United Methodist Church. The UMC has for its advertising catch phrase “open hearts, open minds, and open doors.” Great images! Wonderful things to strive for, too. We can take that phrase to heart, and ask ourselves: do we have open hearts? Are our hearts open to everyone who may walk in to our church? Do we have open minds? Are our minds open and accepting of everyone, no matter what ethnicity, mental challenge, sexual orientation, or other kind of differences they might have?

Finally, do we have open doors? Who are the people who do not come to our church, on this corner? Do we truly welcome all people? In our church? On the street or at work or at line in the grocery store? In our neighborhoods?

What are your expectations? Check with Jesus, and see who He would welcome.

 

(Many thanks to the Rev. Ernest Lyght and http://www.umcdiscipleship.org for ideas and assistance for this series on discipleship.)

[1] http://www.crivoice.org/lectionary/YearC/Cepiphany6nt.html

Lectionary Commentary and Preaching Paths (Epiphany C6), by Dennis Bratcher, at The Christian Resource Institute.

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2019-part-2-worship-planning-series/february-17-sixth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/sixth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-2019-year-c-preaching-notes