Tag: treasure

If you want a friend, tame me

petit-prince-630

YOUNGER SAINTS AND YOUNG AT HEART….

There is a classic book, and now a movie, called The Little Prince. In it, a Little boy travels the cosmos to visit planets and learns life treasures, life lessons, along the way.

In the beginning, The Little Prince loves a rose and believes her that she is the only rose in all the universe. But when The Little Prince visits Earth, he finds a whole garden of roses. He falls into despair, for his rose is not unique in the least.

Although it is marketed towards children, it is actually a book of parables for adults. Listen to this one about the Little Prince and the Fox.


“”Who are you?” asked the little prince, and added, “You are very pretty to look at.”

“I am a fox,” the fox said.

“Come and play with me,” proposed the little prince. “I am so unhappy.”

“I cannot play with you,” the fox said. “I am not tamed.”

“Ah! Please excuse me,” said the little prince.

But, after some thought, he added:

“What does that mean–‘tame’?”

“You do not live here,” said the fox. “What is it that you are looking for?”

“I am looking for men,” said the little prince. “What does that mean–‘tame’?”

“Men,” said the fox. “They have guns, and they hunt. It is very disturbing. They also raise chickens. These are their only interests. Are you looking for chickens?”

“No,” said the little prince. “I am looking for friends. What does that mean–‘tame’?”

“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. It means to establish ties.”

“‘To establish ties’?”

“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world . . .”

“Please–tame me!” he said.

“I want to, very much,” the little prince replied. “But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”

“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me . . .”

And so the little prince begins to tame the fox by spending time with him. The fox tells him not to speak, because “words are the source of misunderstandings. They just sit near one another, closer and closer, over a great period of time.

“After the fox is tamed, it is time for the prince to leave, and the fox is about to cry. Because of this, the prince worries that the taming has hardly done any good. But the fox says it has done him good “because of the color of the wheat fields” The golden wheat will remind the fox of the prince’s golden hair, which will make the wheat fields a source of happiness to the fox – until he was tamed, the wheat fields meant nothing to him. Thus, according to the fox, it is our relationships that make the world around us significant and meaningful.” (https://www.shmoop.com/little-prince/fox.html)

The fox then shares three secrets, or treasures, with the boy:

1. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

2. “It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.

3. “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.


SCRIPTURE

Mark 8:27-38
James 3:1-12

In our kid’s chat, I read a portion from the Little Prince. Remember the three secrets to the fox’s life…

1. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

2. It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.

3. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.

After hearing and understanding these, the Little Prince is able to return and love his rose not because she is the only rose in the universe, but because she is HIS rose. What is essential isn’t that she’s a rose… it’s what’s invisible about her. Their time together has tamed one another – established ties with one another – and that is what makes them unique and important to one another. And once you have ties with someone, you’re in covenant with them. You’re responsible for that relationship.

Pretty heady stuff for kids, right? It’s why I advise reading this book as an adult, too. In many ways, it’s a retelling of the stories from our Bible. The fox could almost be a retelling of our section of James today.

James writes about teachers and words, horses and boats… but what he really is drilling down to is taming – is establishing ties.

James explains that a boat is tamed with a rudder. The little thing allows the boat and its riders to then tame the wind, and glide across the water safely.

A horse is tamed with a bit in its mouth. And this tiny thing takes control of its hold body and tells the horse where to go.

These little things have big effects.

Now, a little spark is what starts a wild forest fire that burns everyone and everything in its path.

Your tongue, writes James, is a little thing. Does it spark fires that harm, or does it work like a horse bit or a ship rudder and make something tamed?

James argues that our tongues are wild, untamed, and don’t have those established ties with us or others. Tongues speak curses and blessings both. If we get used to speaking bad about people, we’re like brackish water and unable to speak blessings of living water. Or we’re plants trying to produce fruit that isn’t native to us… because we’re used to producing the fruit of curses. So we should practice giving forth sweet, fresh waters and good fruits – then those things come more naturally.

What we spent time on is what is important to us. Think of that horse James describes… it wasn’t actually the BIT that tamed it. Someone established ties with that horse over time, teaching it to respond to the bit, building up a relationship. Little things, over time, built up between a trainer and that horse until the horse and the trainer were trained to one another. Knew one another.

And think of that boat – that rudder was learned by the captain over time. Over time, the captain learned how to watch the sails and wind. This wasn’t simply a matter of putting a rudder on the boat and suddenly it is tame… time, energy, thought, and patience had to be invested.

And think of the fox. He says he is same as 100,000 other foxes… but with established ties, he will be unique and special to the little prince… who, until the little boy is tamed, is just the same as 100,000 little boys to the fox.

Time invested, words spoken, meals shared, prayers over one another – these are little things that tame us to one another. That establish ties with one another.

Our tongues, our words, spoken or typed on Facebook, or instant message, or signed, or communicated in any way – are us investing time into someone or something.

They are little things with big effects.

Is that effect a blessing, bringing forth the uniqueness of each person, bringing forth positive ties, taming one another into a meaningful relationship?

Or is that effect a curse, spreading negativity and sin like a wild fire, burning bridges and scorching hearts and refusing to spend time to know someone or something?
That is the tension with the word tame… tame can mean control, to be docile… but it can also mean to establish ties, to invest time in, to be friends… in what sense of the word is your tongue tamed or are you tamed by your tongue?

Jesus and Peter get into an argument with their tongues today. Jesus has spent SO MUCH time with his disciples. Like the Little Prince, he invests time in his disciples and they invest time into him. He guides them from knowing Jesus is just one of 100,000 men to knowing he is something so much more… and he asks them today: just who do people say I am?

We, the listeners, hear the disciples call back to all the other motifs, themes, Jesus has fulfilled. He has been like Elijah, and like John… But Jesus presses them for their own secret, their own life truth. Who do YOU think I am?

We listeners hear Peter proclaim the truth: You are the messiah! But then Peter rebukes Jesus for saying the messiah will suffer, be rejected and murdered.

Peter wants to tame Jesus in the control sense of the word. Taming as control is not the same as taming to establish ties. Taming to control is trying to dominate the other. It would be like coming to the fox with a tranquilizer dart; or the horse with an electric prod. Yes, you’ll establish ties… but they won’t be good ones. The other will obey, but not be tame.

Taming, in the sense of establishing ties, is to approach one another with respect. Giving room for the other. Learning who the other is, and appreciating that. It is coming a little closer to the fox every day and starting the horse on bridle or a training snaffle. This lets us know the horse, and the horse know us, and trust to be built. Not fear or control.

Peter wants to control Jesus. He argues the messiah should be the one who doesn’t suffer but relieves suffering. He isn’t rejected, but welcomed as the new king and throws off Rome. He also isn’t murdered – he rules!

Jesus wants to tame Peter in the establish ties sense of the word. He wants Peter to realize that the divine will isn’t set on killing Romans and military conquest. “What is essential is invisible to the eye” – the essentials are divine things. Essentials – love, forgiveness, reconciliation, time ‘wasted’ on others. Essentials – spending your life not focused on how to get ahead, or how to preserve what you have… for it is not living to be in fear of loss. Instead, you gain your life by giving your life away and ‘wasting’ it on invisible, but so essential, things like love.

Like being tamed.

Like spending enough time with your messiah to know why he is different than all others. Like spending enough time with your brothers and sisters to know what makes them unique. Like ‘wasting’ enough time sitting in prayer, and meditation, and scripture reading to know that your invested time makes these things all the more precious.

What profit is there to gain the whole world…?

To have everything? To never waste a moment? To never pause to smell the rose or tame the fox or pray with the stranger or speak with the messiah?

… But forfeit your life? Give up the opportunity to establish ties, make things important, and care for one another?

No one can tame the tongue. We will make mistakes. We will say the wrong things. Sometimes things just slip out! We will have moments when Jesus ought to yell at us “Get behind me, Satan!”

“Words cause misunderstandings…”

But we are more than our words. We are more than our thoughts and prayers. We are also actions. Jesus doesn’t toss Peter out. Jesus invests more time into him. Jesus has a tie with Peter, they are tamed to one another, and therefore, in covenant… responsible…to one another.

When you disagree, it’s okay if you’re in covenant with one another, if you’re in committed friendships and relationships, congregations and families. It means the harsh tongue can be forgiven with time invested back into the relationship. It means the wildfire can be snuffed out. It may mean much time of silence, and getting to know one another again. It may be for the best that, after reflecting, you part ways much as the fox and the little prince did…

But their relationship was worth it “because of the color of the wheat”, now wheat is a constant reminder of the good times with the prince for the fox.

I’ve had friends and family come and go over the years. But they were all worth it – because of how we tamed, established ties, with one another and changed each other’s worlds. I see symbols that remind me of these good times and memories, much like the wheat reminds the fox of this time with the boy.

The things that remind me are as varied as a song, a scent, a particular restaurant, a food.

Some of these people passed away. Some of them passed to new cities. Some them passed on to new phases of their lives.

But they were worth it because of 4th of July cake, lavender pillows, LiveJournal, glow in the dark markers, and spiders… just some of the many things that make me remember fond times with other who tamed me, and I hope I tamed them – established ties with them – and they think of our time together fondly.

So if you want a friend… tame one another. Waste time on one another. It is the language of love – a language without words. God is investing God’s whole life, and more, into you.

Amen

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Sola Scriptura – Scripture Alone

luther95theses1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46

 

Love a dead person? Worried they might be being tortured for their sins? Set those rests aside! Buy an Indulgence today! Only $5!

Tired of bad things happening to you? Buy an Indulgence today and get right with God! Piece of mind is priceless, right?

Planning a sin? Never fear! Buy your coverage for that sin now! Got a deal! Booklet of 5 for $5! Never be caught red-handed in a sin again!

See here? This is a Papal Bull – an official letter from the Pope – who is Jesus-on-Earth until Christ returns – and right here – for all you Germans who don’t read Latin – it says I – friar Tetzel, Grand Inquisitor, am telling the truth:

“As soon as the coin in the coffer rings / The soul from Purgatory springs!”

What did you say? Oh the money? The money is to be used to build upon Saint Peter’s Basilica! A most beautiful building of God!

Don’t you want to honor God?

Don’t you want your loved ones to stop suffering?

Don’t you want to cure the current woes in your life?

Get out your money!


It’s 1517, and nearby, the professor and monk Martin Luther watches Friar Tetzel with growing fury. He knows exactly where that money is coming from. It is being collected from moms who can barely provide for their children, and dads struggling to find word, and grandparents sick and worried. And it comes from well meaning friends and scared, uninformed, normal people.

And he knows where it is going. It slips off to friar Tetzel’s two employers – yes, one is the Pope. But the other is the Archbishop of Mainz, Cardinal Albert of Brandenburg. He had to pay an extortionate amount to the Pope to be appointed Cardinal. And now he’s paying his debts back with half the money Tetzel raises.

Luther listens to Tetzel, growing more and more furious, and remembering his trip to Rome seven years prior.

His Monastic Order went to Rome to argue in favor of more stringent requirements on monks. Along the way Luther saw Christianity of all its types across Europe. In places churches were like his own rural Germany — poor, struggling, and rarely assigned leaders who were well educated. In other places were churches who lived out the command to help the poor – and set up orphanages and hospitals. And in other places were affluent churches with well educated leaders. All of them part of the One Holy Roman Empire, all of them part of the One Holy Roman Church.

At long last Martin reached Rome itself – where the Pope ruled as Christ’s Representative. It was (is?) known as the holiest city on Earth; where the place between heaven and earth is so thin you just may hear angels’ wings. The story back then was that the city was literally built over the blood of martyrs and saints who were murdered for their Christian faith. And that holiness of those people so permeated the stone, was so thick in the air, that just being in the city makes a person more holy.

Young Martin Luther is so excited he can barely stand himself.

But… what meets his eyes is not heaven on earth.

Rome wasn’t just the capital of the Church, it was a capital of the Empire. And the position of Pope was not just about the Church… since the Church was also the Empire… the Pope also helped choose the Emperor. Therefore, being pious, being religious, and godly was not a requirement to be Pope. Having money, having connections, and being crafty WAS required.

Clergy copied their Popes (Martin saw 9 over his life time. Some holy, and sadly, many very unholy.) Some of the Popes Martin Luther knew had children, so their clergy had children. Openly, their vows of celibacy were ignored. Some of Martin’s Popes held drunken parties that lasted for days and featured little boys coming out of cakes…. and so the clergy were drunk and at parties and victimizing children.

While some churches were focused on hospitals, and orphanages, or just making ends meet enough to have a copy of Holy Scripture… here in Rome were palaces of gold and silver and jewels for the cardinals and popes. Here in Rome the great cathedrals were full of art and silks and marble. The richness here would save lives if it were sent to other places in the church. But instead, the wealth gathers dust among all the other riches.

Martin was deeply disturbed.

Back at home, the disturbed monk continued to think about the greed and sin he saw in Rome… and the attempts to be generous and holy he saw here in rural Germany.

And seven years pass. During this time, Monk Martin began reading the newly translated and available writings of Saint Augustine from 300 AD. Augustine argued the Bible, rather than church officials, is the ultimate source of religion authority. Augustine resonated with Martin Luther. Here, someone respected by the church– St. Augustine is a church father – gives a way to critique the church and its leaders. He argues scripture – scripture! – is more important than traditions, or the words of church leaders, or credos or dogmas.

So Martin begins to tell his students this, and read to them the works of Augustine. Martin believes the Church can right itself if it returns to scripture and changes itself to reflect scripture. He’s hopeful and optimistic.

Then this fateful day occurs – October 31st, 1517. Let me give you the background: The current Pope has announced it is time to work on St. Peter’s Basilica and sent out friars into the whole Empire to collect money for this. The way they did so was to sell Indulgences, which is absolution — forgiveness — to sinners in return for money.

And THIS Friar – Friar Tetzel – is preaching not just reduction of time in purgatory, but full release from purgatory and forgiveness of sins not yet committed.

THIS Pope and THIS Friar and THIS Archbishop are all concerned about money. Not the poor at all.

Martin has had enough. He writes 95 arguments, 95 theses, and, as legend has it, nails them on the Wittenberg Castle church’s front door announcing he intended to argue these points, and invites people to come argue with him. This is a scholarly thing to do. Come! Join Professor Luther in debating the pros and cons of Indulgences!

Come! Let’s talk about how to use St. Augustine to correct our clergy and get back on the right path!

However, what Luther was arguing wasn’t just about Indulgences… it was about who has power and authority… Scripture, the Pope, the clergy, the traditions of the church? Who is in charge?

And Martin was not known for being… soft spoken. He was a lot like John the Baptist. He was prone to saying things VERY strongly. So when he publishes things like: “Why does not the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus,” the richest king, “build the basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?” … word gets back to the Pope REAL quick.

And when Martin writes these things against Indulgences, and sends them to the Archbishop selling Indulgences…. Word gets back to the Pope about the heretic Martin Luther real quick.

Over the next several years, Luther would be examined, called to Rome, ordered to Recant, he’ll refuse. Still clinging to Scripture Alone, Martin will tell the people at the Diet of Worms, (not a literal eating of worms. It was a group of clergy called a Diet in the city of Worms): “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand, I can do no other. May God help me. Amen.”

Luther would be branded a heretic. (Teizel’s preaching would be branded heretical too.) But Luther would be on the run for his life the rest of his life. And he’ll write against corruption in the church and teach that Scripture Alone is the final authority all his life.


Scripture is who guides us, classical Protestantism teaches. Not fallible clergy, corruptible church institutions, or traditions whose meaning gets lost over time. Scripture is all we need and is, according to Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

This led to ideas and teachings that have forever changed our world and affects us right now.

Because Scripture Alone is all a Christian needs to come to God, we are all a priesthood of believers. Every person can come to God without a mediator. No need for saints, or angels, or clergy. You can go to God directly.

It means many churches select their own clergy, or have no clergy at all… because clergy are tutors, not your connection, to God. I stand here today because of the reformation. You, Saint Michael’s, have chosen a woman as your pastor instead of having people elsewhere in the world give you a male pastor. Other churches are picking men, women, transgendered, and genderless pastors. Some pick highly education, some pick highly spiritual, some pick elderly and some pick young. This is because clergy shepherd, but you don’t need them. All you need is the Bible.

Which means you need a Bible.

In Luther’s time, books were rare and precious. Think of all the work that goes into it: you have to cut a tree or collect cotton, and cut it tiny, and wet it, and spread it out, and press it flat, and dry it into sheets of paper. And then you need a goose quill and a knife, and a bottle of ink made of oils and pigments. And someone has to sit and handwrite out every single line, word, and letter…. From Genesis to Numbers to Isaiah to Luke to Revelations. And someone then takes animal skin or fur, makes a thread, and sews page after page together. And someone makes a wood or metal cover to protect the whole thing. THOUSANDS of hours go into making a book.

And when very few read, and even fewer write (they were considered separate skills), this specialist work is not around often and takes more money than most anyone has.

Books are treasures. Literal treasures.

And the Printing Press changed all that. Now hundreds of hours could produce a book. And the power of who had access to scripture changed from only the rich, to now the rich and the middle class.

And by our time, Bibles are free, and everywhere – hotel rooms and pews, our personal homes and offices – our purses, our phones – everywhere. Elevating scripture means scripture is now available to be read – everywhere.

But you have to know how to read.

And learning to read your own language takes years, let alone learning a dead language like Vulgate Latin.

So, in part because of the Protestant Revolution, Bibles have been translated into hundred of languages and are continuing to be translated into new languages. You no longer have to be a scholar to read scripture.

But you do have to be able to read.

Here is the next major change Martin Luther’s insistence on Augustine’s authority of scripture – public education. Why do we require kids to learn to read and write? Why did the early Protestants insist on free, public, school for every child? Because they believed you MUST be able to read your Bible.

Public schools, public libraries, English in common languages, clergy of all walks and styles, and diversity among churches… all of this is related to that fateful time 500 years ago.


Now… Correcting ourselves with scripture, and scripture alone as the final authority, sounds good until we get into using scripture practically… and we add in the claims that early Protestants like Luther did: that scripture is Perfect, Without Errors, the Word of God, and doesn’t contradict itself…

See, Protestants like Charles Wesley, whom you know from the Methodist, admitted that parts of the Bible are… in error.

Scripture, until about 250 years after Jesus’ death, was a combination of oral and written histories and stories. It changed, it was letters, it was midrash, and adapted to the time and place and situation. Jesus quotes things which are not in our Bible, but in Jewish oral history – and our scripture references details of history that aren’t in any of our books. Take Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, for example. Was Adam created and then Eve, or were both created simultaneously? Depends on which story you read. And among the gospels… how many angels, if any, were present in Jesus’ empty tomb?

Sometimes, the scripture seems wrong because times and morality have changed. Deut. 22:28 advises any man who rapes a woman or girl who is not pledged in marriage owes her father money and owes the victim a marriage. Then, this was a charity – the woman would still have a man to care for her and wouldn’t be murdered for the rape… as she would be if she were a wife or fiancée. But nowadays? Absolutely not going to force victims of sexual violence to STAY with their abuser!

Charles Wesley advised we balance scripture with tradition, experience, and reason.

Luther advised cutting out the books and sections of the Bible that he didn’t like… like all of James… Hebrews… Revelations… and all that seemed non-authoritative to him. Other Protestant Reformers said no – and compromised on tossing out some of the Old Testament books, like Bel and the Dragon which we read part of today for the Children’s Message, but keeping all of the New Testament. This is why the Protestant Bible is missing the books known as the Apocrypha.

This isn’t the first time the Church has argued over what scripture is authoritative. The Church had did this in 250 AD, which is why it is missing the many more books that the Ethiopian Christians use.

If Scripture Alone is all that matters… which scripture?

If Scripture Alone is all that matters… what happens when we understand the same passage in different ways? Who is right?

If Scripture Alone is all that matters… what happens when different translators use different words for the ancient Latin, Greek, or Aramaic? Or different words in English for the same word in Greek like…. is it forgive us our debts or forgive us our trespasses? Same word in one language. Two different words in English.


As I said, the authority of scripture is nothing new at all. Not even in 250 AD. In our reading today, Jesus and the educated citizens get into a debate over scripture. Those who like legalism, a lawyer, tries to catch Jesus in legal rules. He asks Jesus – what is the most important commandment out of all of them? As we hear, Jesus summarizes all scripture into a passage from scripture… and one of his own. He uses scripture, applies it, and shows he can draw its root meanings out… not just the legalities.

Jesus then uses scripture to debate back in the same manner since he is speaking with a lawyer. It is said that the messiah will be a Son of David – a descendant of King David. And yet, Jesus points out, when David writes the Psalms, he writes YHWH LORD speaks to my Adonai, my lord… meaning that the Messiah was around during King David’s reign, and more than just a child of David, since David calls him lord. The messiah isn’t just any ol’ human descendant.

Knowledge of tradition and scripture, and his audience, allows Jesus to communicate who he is – not just any ol’ human.

When Jesus faces Satan – he fights Satan with scripture… and Satan uses scripture back against Jesus.

Scripture is authoritative. Important. And often the only authority another holds over themselves.

Biblical literacy is necessary for Christians and non-Christians alike because these texts have shaped and are shaping our modern world. Everything from our fictional books to the way we organize ourselves to our modern debates on homosexuality, abortion, guns, and immigrants is infused with religion – all drawing on different parts of this book.

And we’re called to come to it as Jesus did – with fresh insights, open ears, and ready to not get caught up in ancient and culturally-specific laws, but rather get at the gestalt – the Holy Spirit – of the message. Listening, as we say in the United Church of Christ, for the Still Speaking God who placed a comma at the end of the Bible, and invites us to continue to interact, and engage with God and the world. Invites us to write our own Good News of the relationship we live with Christ. Invites us to creatively take the scriptures and traditions handed to us and apply them to the very real needs of people this very moment.

But we got to know those nuts and bolts parts too… for when we run into the lawyers.

Still, in our lives, this is not who we are called to be. Rev. Daryl Ward writes on sola scriptura, “The Bible contains all that is necessary for salvation. But it also contains much more. We should not be making an idol of it. And we should not be putting semantics and legalism above the fundamental gospel messages of love and mercy. Otherwise we are not being like Jesus. We are being like the Pharisees.” Being like lawyers. ((http://www.ucc.org/daily_devotional_aside_from_that))

Paul tells the Thessalonians, “…we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition… we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God.” Much like Luther, Paul and his aides were opposed, but, because they trusted in God and God’s good news, they carried the message on. They sure didn’t please mortals, but they pleased God.

We are challenged to do the same. To dig into the words about God for the Word of God. To dig into scripture, and traditions, and creeds and dogmas, and pull forth where the Spirit is still moving and working and guiding us to use our rich heritage to love today’s world.

May we always be a reformed and reforming, a united and uniting, a loved and loving church!

Amen.

 

Bring Out the Treasure

Romans 8:26-39lk19_11
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

In today’s readings, I hear people asking, “What is the Kingdom like, Jesus? Tell us!”

And he thinks about this… and decides to take the old treasure of their daily lives, and the old treasure of their sacred scripture, and polish it up to be the new treasure for their present and futures.

Jesus says: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field. It is like a weed someone purposefully planted. It is the smallest of seeds, but nothing can kill that weed off. You’ve heard in the Torah of the cedars of Lebanon and how the birds make their nests in the temple? I tell you birds bless weeds with their nests.

All you who have considered yourself a weed? God blesses you. All you who feel excluded from fine places and fine company? God seeks you out. The kingdom belongs not to the elite, but to everyone.

And the kingdom of heaven is like yeast. You’ve heard in the Torah how it is morally impure, morally questionable. Like mold. Like sinners. The kingdom is like yeast a woman takes and mixes it all through her flour. And the flour is leavened. It rises.

All you who the world says are sinners, outcasts, and impure – God needs you. You are what is going to bring life, bring growth, to all the world. The kingdom of God is made of sinners.

And the kingdom of God is like treasure hidden in a field. Which someone accidentally finds. They never were looking at all! With joy, that someone goes and sells everything they have – their house, their home, their wealth, their ties – to buy that field where the treasure is hidden.

All you who accidentally find God, in a time of trial or in a time of peace, at home or at war, a relationship with God is worth changing all your plans over. You never meant to become Christian, never meant to be one of those faith types… but now that you’ve had a taste, it’s okay to risk more. With joy, God won’t let you down.

And the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. An educated business person, who knows just what they are seeking. They have a system, they have a plan, and they work diligently. Upon finding a pearl of great value, that merchant sells everything and buys the pearl.

All you who purposefully find God, studying texts and attending church – a relationship with God is worth all your work and troubles. You, too, can risk all you have built up to build a relationship with God and will not be let down.

Indeed, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that is thrown into the sea and catches up fish of every kind. Good fish. Bad fish. Fish who just need a little tender loving care and fish who refuse to be gathered in by Love even when every chance is given. And only at the end of the age are they separated. Until then, they’re all welcomed in and gathered.

Indeed, the kingdom of heaven is thrown wide to everyone and anyone. Those who have led good lives and those who have led bad lives. Those who repent and those who refuse. Only after all are gathered in will the righteous -those who wish to live in love with each other and with God- and the evil -those who wish to live at odds with God and hate each other- be separated. Then there will be peace.

So do you understand?

If so, then you are commissioned to bring out the new treasure out of these old words.

Do you get what the kingdom of God is like?

If so, you should be able to take your own old treasure, polish it up, and bring it out anew.

If so, you should be able to think of your own parables to explain what the kingdom of heaven is like for you.

A parable doesn’t perfectly fit. It is LIKE something. So an orange is not an apple, but it is LIKE an apple. It is a fruit, it is round, it grows on a tree. But they are not the same.

The kingdom of heaven isn’t a net or merchant or weed. But it is LIKE these things in some way. Or like how these things relate to other things.

So, how would you explain what heaven is like to others now-a-days?

Maybe…

The kingdom of heaven is like a line with no order. This is how Meredith (Vosburg) Bazzoli of Chicago explains what the kingdom is like for her. She witnessed a line all out of order, with this family mingling into that one, and people just milling about with no line. They were all Hispanic, and standing near a church with a sign that said, “los pasaportes.” Passport help was being given out here. No one grumbled as people moved in and out of the group; no police kept the line carefully in a row. There was no rope, no tickets, no different reward for those who came early or those who came late. Everyone got the same help. And they waited with joy. She writes, “The kingdom of God is like this, a line with no rules, a line that offends the righteous, those who’ve been in line for a while doing the right thing.” ((https://abbynorman.net/2015/10/09/the-kingdom-of-god-is-like-a-line-with-no-order/))

Or maybe the kingdom is like a squeaky hamster wheel. Author Addie Zierman thinks so. Before you get upset – she doesn’t mean futile – as in going no where. That is the limits of parables! They’re not literal, and not perfect. They’re examples to try to get at something unspoken.

So go with Zierman and me with a moment… Have you, or any of your kids or grandkids had a hamster? The wheel squeaks, and squeaks, and squeaks as they run on it all the time. Dinner time the squeak begins. Bed time it continues. Midnight potty and guess what you hear — two in the morning and you roll over and you hear… squeak! Squeak! Squeak! She writes, “The hamster wheel squeak, squeak, squeaks, and it occurs to me that the Kingdom of God has been at work all this time — that when I am asleep, when I am distracted, when I am unaware, it is still turning, turning, turning — God at work, always, in the world he created… That we wake into a Kingdom that is always already happening.” God, and God’s in breaking into our world, never stops. Whether waking or sleeping, God is aware and present. ((https://abbynorman.net/2015/10/15/the-kingdom-of-god-is-like-a-squeaky-hamster-wheel/))

Organists Gayl Wright says the kingdom of God, for her, is like an unexpected polka. One Sunday while she was playing the new church organ, her finger slipped on the buttons during the prayers. She thought she had the organ set back to a proper classical piano… but instead, when she pressed the first chord, the piano began to play a polka beat and rattle off drums with each press of a key. She writes, “In our church services we pray the same prayers and sing the same responses every week. If we are not careful in that routine, we might just go through the motions not even thinking about what we are saying. Sometimes we need a wake up call, like a blast of the unfamiliar.” ((https://abbynorman.net/2015/10/29/the-kingdom-of-god-is-like-a-surprise-during-church/))

And, sometimes, we need the unexpected polka to remind us God’s love is not based on perfection. If only perfect people make it to heaven, heaven is an empty place.

For Paul, the kingdom of heaven is a deep sigh. A holy, sacred sigh – the kind that we do when we don’t even know how to begin to pray. The kind we do when our dearest loves have deep pains and we wish we could alleviate them. The deep sigh we have, internally, when we ache head to toe and there is not enough time. Or too much time. That deep sigh when we know we need God, but have no idea in what way. The Spirit prays.

And when we are sleeping, the Spirit prays. And when we are distracted, the Spirit prays. And when we are spoken against, charged with crimes we did or didn’t commit, condemned, know hardship, peril, distress, persecution, poverty, war, sickness – when anything and when everything tries to break our faith in God…

That deep sigh and whisper inside of us keeps praying. The Spirit keeps us tightly. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The kingdom is an internal and eternal sigh, breath, whisper, connecting us with God forever.

So bring out the treasure of your hearts, of your sacred stories, of your experiences – polish it up – and present it anew to one another! Tell each other – where do you see the kingdom of heaven? What is it like for you?

Amen.

Vanities of Vanities

auction_bySheltonReality.jpgEcclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
Luke 12:13-21

Have you been to an auction? I used to go all the time with my dad. It was our daddy-daughter bonding time. I remember this one auction very well: it took up the entire farmhouse yard, went into the barnyard, and into the two barns AND the house. There were tables of tools, boxes upon boxes of pots and pans, antique furniture around every corner, and enough holiday decorations to decorate the White House. The front lawn had a long line of folding tables divided into lots — lot 1, lot 2, — and so forth. Whatever was in your half of the folding table is what you were bidding upon.

I stood at the head of one of the tables and looked in the boxes. It was photo albums. Book after book of black and white photos; book after book of Polaroids; and Christmas cards with photos and address books with photos. About half were carefully labeled ‘Danny’s First Christmas’ ‘Hannah and Chuck’ ‘Whitehall, 1960’ and so forth. Weddings. Birthdays. Picnics. Men ready for war. Women holding little babies. Kids in bathing suits.

I suddenly realized a woman, an elderly woman, had died. We were rifling through her possessions. Soon we would be taking some, giving her family or her medical bills money, and then all she owned would scattered across the state.

These weren’t extra dishes. These were the dishes she ate with every day.

This table she had toast at, and fed her children.

These were the clothes she washed, wore, repaired, for decades.

And here, these photos in my hands, this is her nice cursive handwriting detail the people she loved. What would be done with the photos now? No one here even knows who Danny or Hannah or Chuck are. Would the buyer throw the photos away and reuse the antique albums? Who collects old color out of focus Polaroids? Why didn’t the family take these?

… Maybe she doesn’t … didn’t… have any living family left.

The auctioneer began his fast pelt of questions and calls and the people around me began to nod their heads or flick their little paper numbers. But I was lost in thought looking at that stack of albums. It made me begin to wonder about this dead woman I’d never met, and, what it will be like when I am the dead woman some day. What will I leave behind when I die?

Another death. Nuns and monks have their own private rooms although they share a big house. A UCC minister told this story of her aunt who was a nun. One of the nuns passed away, and, eventually, the sisters needed to clean out the deceased’s room. When they opened the door to her bedroom, they found it was completely stuffed with things: maps and books, little nicknacks and silk flowers, photos and paintings and everything you can name — all piled into that little room. I think it must have looked like my closet when I was a kid: one of those ‘Open Only If You Dare’ situations. It took days to clean and clear out.

Later, the minister’s aunt herself was diagonsed with incurable cancer. The minister was called by her aunt to come visit. When she got there, her aunt handed her treasures: her favorite painting, little ceramic cats the two played with, and pictures the minister had made her aunt when the minister was a little girl. The minister knew her aunt treasured these things, and was so surprised she was parting with them. But the aunt was adament, “I know you’ll treasure these like I do. Take them.”

When the aunt died, the sisters gathered one day to clear out her room. They found it was completely empty but for its bed, nightstand, and dresser. The aunt had given away everything.

The minister realized then that STUFF is for the living. We can’t take it with us at all. By giving away things, the aunt had seen all the people she loved one last time before passing away. She knew what true wealth is, and how to share it.

The writer of Ecclesiasties sets out to learn what is true wealth. He wants to know: what brings lasting happiness? What brings lasting joy? What is worthwhile to do? How should one spend their life?

And in woe, he finds that most things we do are meaningless in the big picture of the world. Every joy and every meaning is fleeting, is a vanity, a puff of smoke or is dust in the wind. Like cleaning the house, or weeding the garden, our toils never end and just seem to come to nothing.

He writes that if we work really hard and build up something to pass on to our kids: wealth, a furnished house, a business, or even photo albums labeled and organized… we have no guarantee what they’re going to do with those things. They might not appreciate the money and blow through it. Or they may not want to live where we have the house. Maybe they don’t want to work the business. Maybe they don’t want the photo albums.

Yet we want to have lives that MEAN something. If we can’t trust even our own kids to pass on our mark, our stamp, our memory, on the world, what can we do? Is life a vainity? Is life meaningless?

The Teacher in Ecclessiasties struggles with this. In the end, he concludes that the truest meanings of life we mortals can’t know. God alone knows. So, while we are living, live well: relax, eat, drink, be merry, enjoy time with your family and friends. Whatever you do, do with joy. Obey God and the commandments, for whatever life is, (a test? a dream? a proving grounds? a place to learn?) and whatever death is, we can ask God once we have passed away. What is certain is, he writes, “Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart. They take nothing from their toil that they can carry in their hands.”

Our second reading echos, refers back to, Ecclesiasties. Did you hear it?

A man has come to Jesus and said, “Tell me brother to divide the family inheritance with me!” You see, each son was entitled to some of their father’s wealth when their father died. Usually Rabbis could step in and use scripture to chastize the greedy one not sharing.

But Jesus turns the tables, and warns everyone: don’t be greedy at all! Sure, this boy deserves his share by the law… but the real issue is that greed — greed of the older brother and younger brother — is tearing the family apart. One’s life does not consistent in the abundance of possessions. What you own isn’t who you are.

I can’t tell you how many families I’ve seen torn apart when somebody dies. My own included. Countless. Theft during funerals; hiding or changing wills; hiding possessions; changing locks; lawyers and police and decades of hurt feelings. Over what? Possessions. Jesus reminds us that who is right and who is wrong in these situations isn’t going to make us happy. Getting a laywer or a judge or pastor to say, “You’re right!” doesn’t knit the family back together again. Guard against all kinds of greed. It tears us apart.

Then Jesus tells the story that echoes Ecclesiasties. He says a rich man had land that made him even richer. He had so many crops they didn’t all fit in his barn. So he decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. Then, like the teacher of Ecclesiasties, he chose to relax, eat, drink, and be merry. However, the Teacher told us to enjoy time with our family and friends, and to honor and obey God. He also told us that wealth is meaningless. The rich man chose to hoard his wealth all to himself. He didn’t share it with family and friends. He didn’t honor and obey God by sharing with the stranger and the needy. And God called the man a fool, and that the man was going to die that very night. “All the things you prepared, whose will they be?” All that toil was in vain. All that hoarding was in vain. The man didn’t need barns of food after he died. So who owned them now?

Greed tears us apart. Clinging to poscessions tears us apart.

Poccess your poccessions. Don’t be poccessed by pocessions.

When you store up treasures, store them up for God- not yourself! Store up good deeds, good memories, fun times, prayers, times of comfort and sollace, times of generosity, times of worship; store up heavenly treasures. Store up love for others — and share that love abundantly.

The treasures we hoard for ourselves all alone, without others enjoying or God invited, these we lose.

The Teacher writes in chapter 5 of Ecclesiasties:

Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless.
As goods increase,
so do those who consume them.
And what benefit are they to the owners
except to feast their eyes on them?
The sleep of a laborer is sweet,
whether they eat little or much,
but as for the rich, their abundance
permits them no sleep.
I have seen a grievous evil under the sun:
wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners,
or wealth lost through some misfortune,
so that when they have children
there is nothing left for them to inherit.
Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb,
and as everyone comes, so they depart.
They take nothing from their toil
that they can carry in their hands.
This too is a grievous evil:
As everyone comes, so they depart,
and what do they gain,
since they toil for the wind?

Wealth – financial stability – comes and goes. Work – what we do to survive – should never consume our whole lives. Our lives are meant for more than labor. No matter if you have no income, a fixed income, make $30,000 a year, or 50, or 100, or a billion dollars a year… you always will think you could use a bit more. So instead of worrying about money, enjoy what you do have – and share it with others. In the sharing we find we all have enough to go around.

Jesus economics are like garden economics. This week I have so many cucumbers I beg you to take some and use them. Next week, you’ll have so many tomatoes you’ll beg me to take some and use some. By sharing, we all have richer summers, richer relationships, and richer lives. We store up in heaven our love for one another.

When we apply this to money, it means that some years of your life you’ll have more income than you need. Then is the time to share, because in later times of your life, you’ll not have enough. And there is no shame in taking tomatoes or cucumbers. There is no shame in taking offered finanical assistance.

For while one has more money than they need, another has more time, another has more skills in gardening or cooking, another has abundant repair skills, and another abundant stories. We each are blessed with more wealth than we can ever count. And together, when we share it, we always are an extrememly blessed community.

Where is your treasure? Stored somewhere fading and passing away; or stored in our heavenly home? Amen.

Treasured Treasures

Isaiah 60:1-6
Matthew 2:1-12

Whatever happened to the magi’s gifts?

Walk and think with me on this.

Some magi — likely priests of Zoroasterism — came to Jesus with treasures: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Two were prophesized by Isaiah — the wealth of kings and the scent of a deity used in temple worship. But the third gift, myrrh, is unique. It is the scent used to anoint the dead. All three gifts are expensive and rare.

I don’t know how and why they picked their gifts. Maybe the gold is for the king, the frankincense for the services praying for the new king, and the myrrh for the king who died — since there can only be one king at a time over a county.

However it is, they take some of their wealth and they begin to follow a star to see over which country it appeared. The county happens to be Judea, whose capital is Jerusalem. But, as we know, King Herod is still alive and none of his sons have taken the throne as a new king. Yet the magi are certain there is a new king in this land, this land of the Jews, somewhere. So they keep seeking and following the star.

We know eventually they find Mary and Jesus in a house – maybe this is Jesus’ childhood home and Joseph is off working for the day. Toddler Jesus is there and these foreign priests bow to the boy and present their treasures to him. Our Epiphany, our realization, is that Jesus is both God and mortal; both king and sacrifice; both judgment and forgiveness.

But then the magi head home, avoiding Herod (or Herod Jr. We’re not really sure what year the magi came to Jesus.)

So have you, like me, ever wondered what happened to that treasure? I mean, does this treasure go towards buying carpenter equipment? Does it get stolen? Is it buried somewhere? Was it passed down in the family or help fund Jesus’ adult ministry?

As an adult, Jesus spoke about treasure. Our Lord tells us (Matt. 6:19) “Do not store up for yourself on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal…” Was Jesus speaking out of personal experience? The precious oils and saps of frankincense and myrrh decayed and the boxes rusted and their cloth was moth ate and thieves took the gold. Maybe that’s what happened to the treasure.

There’s lots of stories outside of the Bible people have made up about what happened to these gifts from the wise men. Some said it helped them flee to Egypt, some say it started Jesus’ adult ministry, and one old story says it was stolen from Jesus by the very same thieves he was later crucified with.

In truth, we don’t know what happened.

But not knowing is kind of the definition of treasure…

Treasures are a pile of riches– usually ancient — and usually considered once lost and forgotten until discovered. I mean, we don’t say a bank is holding treasure… it has money. A set and counted amount of money. But we tell stories that a dragon has a treasure trove, and we mean a dragon has an unknown large amount of gold and gems, precious things we can’t even name, all which the world thought was forgot but now is found under said dragon.

Robert Lewis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island is all about finding that unknown lost sum, the excitement, the mystery, and bringing the wealth back into the world.

Ali Baba and the Arabian Nights is all about learning the magic password – open sesame – and finding all the stolen treasures hidden in the secret cave – and how he takes these out and uses them.

Treasures are what we value, stored up, ferreted away, what was lost and is now found and returned to the world.

So since the magi brought Jesus treasure… and it was lost… doesn’t that mean we can find it again?

Like a treasure map with a big x to mark the spot, they had a big star to mark the spot they left their treasure. So maybe it’s just a matter of picking the right star and following it… but what if it was a star that wasn’t always there – it was just there a little while? Like a comet or an asteroid?

Or what if Matthew was trying to tell us a story with a deeper meaning rather than trying to give us a map to coins and perfumes?

I mean, later in Matthew, Jesus’ whole saying on treasure is: “Do not store up for yourself on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourself treasures in heaven, where neither moth no rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal, for where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.”

Maybe the wise men are a foreshadow, a hint, at what later Matthew wanted us to remember about Jesus: Jesus didn’t value monetary wealth and the treasures of the earth. Jesus valued the treasures of heaven. Treasures like prayer, helping each other, being honest, loving each other and loving God.

Treasures that we can find, and give to the world, over and over again.

Or maybe, we’re to understand that the wise men went and put their treasure where their heart was. Jesus, their heart, is who they gave their treasures to. Herod, meanwhile, kept his treasures to himself and so kept his heart to himself. He only loved himself. The wise men were wise, and knew to love God.

See, I have heard before that we are the heart of Christ. And we are Jesus’ treasure. And since we are Jesus’ treasure, and his heart, Jesus stores us with himself in heaven. Safe and secure.

The reverse is this: When Jesus is our treasure, our hearts are with Jesus. So that we are encircled by Christ, surrounded by love, like treasure inside a protective chest.

When I think of my own heart, my heart is a treasure trove. A hoard of treasures. It is my wealth. In it is love and memories, loyalty and laughter, people, family, friends, pets, and places; and my God.

Sadly, however, even the treasure that normal moths and rust and thieves can’t take still can slip away like sand through my fingers. Time makes some memories fade, and like a thief in the night, some of my favorite places have been stolen for urban sprawl. Family, friends, pets… they all pass away.

So what do I do?

I think Jesus’ answer is still the best. Entrust him with this heart of treasure. Pray. Tell God our favorite memories, our favorite places. Tell God of our love for family and friends. Tell God our gratitude for loyal pets and good jokes. Trust God to take all of our treasures and store them in heaven where they cannot degrade, cannot fade, cannot be stolen or fall apart.

Treasures get lost… and found… lost and found. We might lose our treasured treasures on this earth, but those we entrust to God shall always be findable.

One day, what will you find waiting for you stored away in heaven? What stories, what memories, what loves, what joys, what prayers have you tucked away?

Given to Saint Michael’s UCC Baltimore, Ohio, 12-3-2016

Possessed!

Hebrews 4:12-16

Mark 10:17-31

Have you heard George Carlin’s act “A place for my stuff?”

It goes a bit like this:

I would have been out here a little bit sooner…
…but they gave me the wrong dressing room…
…and I couldn’t find any place to put my stuff.
And I don’t know how you are…
…but I need a place to put my stuff.
So, that’s what I’ve been doing back there…
…just trying to find a place for my stuff.
You know how important that is, that’s the whole…
…that’s the whole meaning of life, isn’t it?
Trying to find a place for your stuff.
That’s all your house is…
…your house is just a place for your stuff.
If you didn’t have so much […] stuff…
…you wouldn’t need a house.
You could just walk around all the time.
That’s all your house is, it’s a pile of stuff…
…with a cover on it.
You see that when you take off in an airplane and you look down…
…and you see everybody’s got a little pile of stuff.
Everybody’s got their own pile of stuff.

And when you leave your stuff, you gotta lock it up.
Wouldn’t want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff.
They always take the good stuff.
They don’t bother with that […] you’re saving.
Ain’t nobody interested in your fourth grade arithmetic papers.
They’re looking for the good stuff.

That’s all your house is, it’s a place to keep your stuff…
…while you go out and get more stuff.
Now, sometimes, sometimes you gotta move…
…you gotta get a bigger house.
Why? Too much stuff.
You’ve gotta move all your stuff…
…and maybe put some of your stuff in storage.
Imagine that, there’s a whole industry based on keeping…
…an eye on your stuff.

[…]

Now, now, sometimes you go on vacation…
…you gotta bring some of your stuff with you.
You can’t bring all your stuff, just the stuff you really like…
…the stuff that fits you well that month.
Let’s say you’re gonna go to Honolulu…
…you’re gonna go all the way to Honolulu you gotta…
…take two big bags of stuff…
…plus your carry on stuff, plus the stuff in your pockets.
You get all the way to Honolulu and you get in your hotel room…
…and you start to put away your stuff…
…that’s the first thing you do in a hotel room…
…is put away your stuff.
Now I’ll put some stuff in here, put some stuff down there…
…here’s another place some stuff here…
…I’ll put some stuff overthere.
You put your stuff overthere, I’m putting my stuff over here.
Here’s another place for some stuff.
Hey, we got more places than we’ve got stuff.
We’re gonna have to buy more stuff.

And you put all your stuff away, and you know that you’re…
…thousands of miles from home, and you don’t quite feel…
…at ease, but you know that you must be okay because you do have…
…some of your stuff with you.
And you relax in Honolulu on that basis.

That’s when your friend from Maui calls and says “Hey…
…why don’t you come overto Maui forthe weekend…
…spend a couple of nights over here?”
[…]
Now what stuff do you bring?
Right, you’ve gotta bring an even smaller version…
…of your stuff…
…just enough stuff for a weekend on Maui.
And you get over, and you are really spread out now…
…you’ve got [stuff] all over the world.
You’ve got stuff at home, stuff in storage, stuff in Honolulu…
…stuff in Maui, stuff in your pockets…
…supply lines are getting longer and harder to maintain.
But you get over to your friend’s house in Maui…
…and they give you a little place to sleep…
…and there’s a little window ledge…
…or some kind of a small shelf…
…and there’s not much room on it but it’s okay…
…’cause you don’t have much stuff now.
And you put what stuff you do have up there…
…you put your imported French toenail clippers…
…your odor eaters with the 45 day guarantee…
…your cinnamon flavored dental floss…
…and your Afrin 12 hour decongestant nasal spray.
And you know you’re a long way from home…
…you know that you must be okay because you do have…
…your Afrin 12 hour decongestant nasal spray.
And you relax in Maui on that basis.
That’s when your friend says…
…hey, I think tonight we’ll go to the other side of the island…
…stay at my friend’s house overnight.
[…]
Now what do you bring?
Now you just bring the things you know you’re gonna need…
…money, keys, comb, wallet, lighter, hankie, pens… […]
Think of Carlin’s words — “that’s the whole meaning of life, isn’t it? Trying to find a place for your stuff.”

Protecting it from rain and weather.

Guarding it from robbers.

Paying others to guard your items.

And accumulating more and more stuff all around the world, and then finding a place for it.

Carlin is so extremely funny because he speaks truth to us in a way we hadn’t heard it before. We’ve heard Jesus’ message about stuff too often for it to really hit home – so Carlin repeats it in a new way. But it’s the same old story!

Who is possessing whom? Do you have possessions or are you possessed?

The young man who comes to Jesus is a good young man. He’s following the Torah very diligently. He comes to Jesus not to catch Jesus in a word trap, like so many others, nor to ask for a healing – no, he wants to know, how can he inherit eternal life?

Jesus tells him to follow the commandments of God. The young man says he already is doing so.

“Jesus looked at him, LOVED him, and said ‘You lack one thing… sell what you own and follow me.'”

And the poor man goes away in grief. In sorrow and agony “because he had many possessions.”

We always assume the man doesn’t sell everything and follow Jesus because he leaves in sorrow. But the text doesn’t say that. Perhaps the man left in grief and sorrow because he HAD SO MUCH STUFF! So much to sell, to organize, so much to say goodbye to… but maybe, someday, he did get released from his possessions and followed Christ.

I am guilty of being possessed by possessions. Some of them I’m holding on to because you know, I might need that some day or I think I’ll get around to fixing them. It’s half a can of paint, but you know, the moment I donate it to the ReStore, to Habitat for Humanity, is the day I’m going to need just a little dab of paint. And yeah, I have two sweepers – the old one just needs a new belt rotor. I’ll fix it some day. It’s only been broke… for four years. So there it is, in my closet.

Other things I’m holding on to because they are fond memories or are just cool. I’ve got my kindergarten coloring book and I smile when I see it. It means nothing to everyone but me. It’s marks on big bold pages from some kid. But to me, it’s days sitting at my aunt’s house and great-grandma’s. There’s also a stack of wedding invitations from all my friends who have gotten married.

And the cool things — like this magnifier glass that folds into a leather case — but I digress. I hold on to all of this. I move it, from this apartment to that, and now to a home. I haven’t used any of these in years — almost decades — and yet they stay on.

Stuff.

I think, I feel like if I get rid of the stuff, I also get rid of the memory.

It’s like, I don’t want to throw away my key to those memories by throwing away the invite or the book. So I carry them on. I don’t want to forget Katie’s wedding or lunch at Great-Grandma’s. I don’t want to lose that special feeling I have when I think about those times.

And yet — here, I just recalled to you those memories without the items physically in my hand. I can access those memories without a physical key. I don’t need the old coloring book or wedding invite to remember, to feel the emotions, to smile…

… If Jesus had told me to sell all I own, give the money to the poor, and follow him… I would go away grieving too. Even if I eventually did just that – it would feel like Jesus had asked me to give up all my memories.

… and that is not at all what Christ is asking.

Christ is asking that we own possessions, rather than being owned by them.

Asking that we hold on to our items with lose hands, so that we share what we have easily and quickly.

Asking us to not be the person in Carlin’s skit who feels stretched thin with stuff all over, but to be a disciple of Christ who owns only what they can possess and use… nothing that possesses them and uses them.

If I donate my paint to Habitat and find I need a dabble, I bet one of my neighbors has some I can borrow. I can rely on my community. If I asked my community, I bet someone even has the part for the sweeper or wants mine for parts.

Jesus comes preaching freedom to the captives. He preached freedom to this captive rich young man — freedom from stuff — but the freedom price was so heavy. It was the weight of houses and storage units, stuffed garages and boxes. And fear.

Jesus especially preaches freedom to the richest nations, such as ourselves. Freedom from bigger houses and places to store stuff, freedom from going into debt for more stuff and more places to put stuff, freedom from fretting over what stuff to buy this upcoming Christmas season. We have more than we ever will need already.

We have but to hold on to our stuff more loosely.

And to not fear letting go.

To trust.

To follow.

Jesus speaks to us in this rich nation specifically today. “How hard it is for Americans to enter the kingdom of God! It’s as hard as driving a F150 through the eye of a needle. Impossible – but for the grace of God.”

And why us specifically? Because the more stuff you have, the richer you are, the harder it is to share. The harder it is to let go. The harder it is to freely follow Jesus rather than to be labored with, burdened with, caring for, organizing, working to afford, and housing stuff.

Stuff is stuff, I think Jesus would say. Stuff doesn’t matter.

People do.

Don’t ignore people for stuff.

For the kindom of God is made out of people… not forks and spoons, houses and cars, clothes and books. The kindom is people.

All this stuff you’ll leave behind. What you take is what’s in you. Memories. Relationships. Loves. Invest in those, not more stuff.

Amen.

Given to Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ, Baltimore, Ohio 10-11-15