“Managing Wealth”

Sermon – 09-22-19 – Proper 20 – Cycle C
Scripture: Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13
Sermon Title: “Managing Wealth”

Mr. and Mrs. Rabbit live in a lovely hole in a big meadow. They worked hard to dig that hole and make it a home. They are proud of it. They have little bunnies. They are a happy family. They protect their hole called home. They claim it as their own home earned by themselves.

One day Mr. Rabbit comes sliding through the main hallway from the opening in the ground hidden by tall grass. He calls to Mrs. Rabbit. “Where are you, Mrs. Rabbit? Come quickly!” he calls. When Mrs. Rabbit tears herself away from the dinner she is preparing, she says, “What could be so urgent when I am busy cooking our dinner?”

Mr. Rabbit says, taking deep breaths in-between his words, “You will never believe what I just heard!” What is it? says Mrs. Rabbit in an apprehensive tone. “Well,” says Mr. Rabbit, “As I was hurrying past a window in that nice building on the other side of the fence, I heard someone saying in a rather loud voice that we don’t own our homes, they are gifts from God. We take care of our homes and the things in our homes. This loud voice went on to say that we are free to enjoy our homes and each other. We have good food to eat and comfortable beds and heat in the winter. But . . . we do not own our homes even if, as people do, we have a deed to the property. Loud Voice said, “All of this belongs to God, even if we worked hard to pay for it.”

“Well, of course, Mrs. Rabbit, “Rabbits don’t ever have deeds to our properties but we did work very hard to dig this hole just the way we wanted it. You and I were exhausted by the time we had our home just the way we wanted it. A nursery here, a dining room there, a game room on the other side of the bedrooms. Yes- siree! Some super nice home we designed with our paws. We even experimented and found a way to keep the rain from pouring into our hole. We designed a channel to divert that water. We can stay nice and dry. To think we don’t own this home is ludicrous. Mrs. Rabbit, tell me I heard that loud voice wrong. My hearing must be going bad!”

Mrs. Rabbit said, “Who is this God who owns our home?” Mr. Rabbit replied, “The next time we see a lot of people going into that building, let’s take our family over and sit under the open window and listen. Maybe Loud Voice will talk some more about this God person.” “Okay,” said Mrs. Rabbit. “That is a plan!”

So the next Sunday, people come. The rabbits hop cautiously to the best window for hearing Loud Voice and they sit very still, even the little bunnies. Soon they hear Loud Voice leading a song. “This is my Father’s World” it is. Oh, the world belongs to a Father. “How is he related to the God?” they wonder. Then the people start to sing, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” More words – “Under the shadow of Thy Throne, Still may we dwell secure, Our shelter from the stormy blast . . .”

They wait until they can bear it no longer. They have to share their thoughts with each other. So they quietly hop away, nudging the little bunnies toward home. When they are safely in their hole, which is their secure place, they burst into conversation. So God has a throne. Is he a king? Is he also called Father? Does he own everything? If he does then he could be called Landlord. Landlord! We don’t own our own home! How come we don’t ever see this landlord – God – Father – come to collect our rent check?

Quiet as their voices are, Big Eye Owl who is trying to sleep, hears them. He has good ears and even sitting on a branch high above he could overhear. Big Eye Owl is very wise. He calls to them to come sit under the tree and he will share his knowledge with them. Yes, there is this God who created this world and the animals and the people in it.

This God brought order to the chaos so the story goes. Some of the chaos were minerals including the soil which is your home. He created plants for your food. He created you and me – animals. And again as the story goes, God created people. Big Eye Owl continues, “God never gave the deed to the world to people.” He generously hosts us. That is he shares the world and the things in it with animals and people. He is not in the real estate business. This God wants everyone to live comfortably and to treat each other kindly. It seems like he does not come for a monthly rent check.

What God expects from his animals and people is to be caretakers and managers. God trusts us to use the things around us wisely and carefully and thankfully; not carelessly and wastefully. We are to get out and about and look-out for each other – to share the abundance, to tell each other that God as landlord is also the God of love and caring. If the world seems uncaring, he expects us to pay our rent by spreading love. Big Eye Owl explains that spreading love isn’t just smiles, as helpful as they might be. God’s creatures are supposed to spread the wealth.

Let’s look at that idea. It is fine for people to be shrewd with money. Jesus even praised this seemingly dishonest man whom we thought was headed for jail. We earn our money. Then there are umpteen methods to have our money grow! Which is fine if we remember the check for the landlord. Until we get the hang of this check for the landlord, we keep the money as it grows or we spend it in a variety of extraordinary ways on ourselves. But Big Eye Owl says, “Something is wrong here. We are to be shrewd in looking for the poor and the needy.”

We say, “Won’t our principal start to dwindle?” God’s economy is wild and unbelievable. It is firmly tied with God’s love. If we try to keep our money and keep love tied as tightly as possible to ourselves, it will slowly disappear. If we share our money and our love it will be replenished in some way. Of course, don’t let shrewdness get lost. Our back pocket might be a good place to keep our shrewdness. Jesus is suggesting that we keep it handy. It might be like a chocolate- coated almond. The hard almond is the shrewdness and the chocolate is the love.

Big Eye Owl reminds rabbit family and us that God’s way of living turns everything upside-down and inside-out. Try it a bit. Then try it a bit more! Be shrewd. Do not squander. How do we know the difference between good giving and good spending versus chasing money after money? Big Eye Owl, full of wisdom, says to the family of rabbits and to us, “Listen. Pray. Test. Watch.” Owl says, “This God can hear everything and see everything and know everything that is hidden in our hearts. God is waiting for us to be good tenants, good managers, good stewards!”

“The Lost Ones”

Sermon – 09-15-19 – Proper 19 – Harvest Home – Cycle C
Scripture: Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 51:1-10; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10
Sermon Title: “The Lost Ones”

A lost sheep, a lost coin, a lost pearl, a lost son, and a lost us! How can we be lost if we are sitting in the church we call home? If there is something nagging in our mind or heart and soul, we are lost from a close relationship with God. Get rid of it! You say, “How can we get rid of something we said or did 50 years ago?” Or how I knew I was unkind yesterday, the minute I ignored a need of which I was aware but kept on walking or driving or eating. How hard would it have been to turn around and offer myself and my possessions to a hurting person?

Would that have been harder than getting rid of the nagging feeling I carry with me wherever I go from that day forward? Is the sin of not doing something we should as great as doing something we should not? Does sin have levels? Is some sin worse than other sins? So we wonder if we are equal to the Pharisees who criticized Jesus for eating with sinners. Or are we equal to the Israelites who turned their gold possessions into a golden calf to worship? THOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME! God was angry! But Moses implored God to forgive the false worship and God forgave his people.

Paul was an enemy of the new Christians. He thought he was pleasing God. He thought the followers of Jesus were against God. He thought he was saving the Hebrew religion – keeping it pure.  God, through Jesus, stopped Paul in his tracks and saved Paul!  In turn, Paul grew the Kingdom of God on earth, preaching about Jesus allowing himself to die on the cross so that future generations might be saved. Here we are, the continuing thread of the saved ones! We need not be lost anymore!

Is being lost the same as sinning? Oh my! This is funny if we think of a sheep nibbling its way to the cliff without realizing where it is heading. And the coin, as it rolled out of sight when it dropped from the woman’s hand. Do we nibble our way into the land of the lost? Do we roll into darkness? Then there is the son – the son who wandered away. Was his a nibbling situation or was he focused on the giant, glamorous money tree with deliberation? He was lost when he found himself alone and in big trouble. It was not a leaf at a time occurrence. He had taken a giant leap for the cliff where the city grabbed him and used him.

How close have we come to being the prodigal, the lost son? Who advocated for that son? Moses advocated to God for the Israelite people. The father advocated for the prodigal son. Jesus, himself, advocated for Paul. Advocate: to stand behind, to lead the way, root for, to open the door, to plead for, to pray and wait. Who has advocated for you in your life? Have you been an advocate for someone? My sister is an advocate for me. She taught me the power of prayer.

Chances are that someone advocated for you or you would not be present here today. Who influenced your life? Or who wanted to influence your life but you resisted? Remember that the Holy Spirit is sometimes called our “Advocate.” We believe the Holy Spirit cares for us with a love so deep it cannot be fathomed. The Holy Spirit stands beside us when we face God and confess that we have made an awful choice or mistake, if you will. The Holy Spirit advocates for us as we move step by step through our lives. The Holy Spirit counsels us and rescues us.

Just as the shepherd says, “Rejoice with me for I have found my lost sheep!” we hear the Holy Spirit saying, “Rejoice with me for I have found and rescued this wayward soul!” Just as the woman is saying, “Rejoice with me for I have found my lost coin!” so Jesus is saying, “Rejoice with me for I have found the soul for whom I died!” And the Father in heaven is saying, “There is more rejoicing over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need not repentance.” Do you hear that heavenly singing? It is the angels. Yes, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents!

Okay! Are we the one sinner who repents or can we claim to be among the righteous? I guess it depends on which minute we are asked that question. After we say to God, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,” we may be righteous for a second or so. But that second is what we live for! To be forgiven, to be as white as snow in the inside. To hear the joy and gladness in our ears and in our souls. That is when we join Paul in shouting, “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.”

And while we are on that high, we are expected to praise God with our actions, not just our voices. That is why today we have this beautiful and bountiful display of God’s goodness before us. That is why we faithfully bring food Sunday after Sunday or week after week. We recognize the mercy and faithfulness of God in our lives.

How is the bounty in this world distributed? According to righteousness? Rain falls on the just and on the unjust. It is a puzzle why we are not evenly blessed with bounty. It is like asking why do good people suffer. We need to acknowledge that the suffering of this world does not match people’s righteousness. The people who live in drought can be our brothers and sisters in Christ. The people, who live where cruel gangs control neighborhoods or the whole country, could be the chicks under the wings of Christ. But Christ could be expecting us to be extensions of his wings to these people.

Who will receive this bounty after we have enjoyed the sight? Who will receive this bounty that we could have kept for ourselves? People who never had the privilege. People who had opportunities but made poor choices. People who never knew human love. People who were bullied until their self-worth is mashed into a pulp. People who never knew that Jesus was more than a swear word. People who are viciously mean.

Then again, how much gratitude are we to expect for the sharing of our bounty? Will receiving gratitude make the giving more worthwhile? It is in the giving that Jesus will say, “Good and faithful servants.” It is in the giving that we can feel the reward. It is in the giving that we can grow to see what more is needed. We as a congregation are givers! We can be pleased that it is this way. Does God have a vision for us to be challenged to somehow let the receiving person know that “Jesus” is real and not only a swear word. “Jesus” is the name by which angels will sing over one sinner who comes home. Who is going to bring that person home? Is it you? Is it me? Is it all of us together? One plants the seed. One waters. Over and over, tirelessly. Like the plants which became this food. The seed was planted and watered and harvested. So be it with the person who is rescued and becomes living grain and fruit for the Kingdom of God.

“Figure the Cost”

Sermon – 09-08-19 – Proper 18 – Cycle C
Scriptures: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33
Sermon Title: “Figure the Cost”

One of my friends is a conscientious buyer. She is willing to research various companies, be it landscaping, painting, washing machine, new car. She is willing to go store-to-store or website-to-website to compare prices to buy almost everything she buys. She knows the quality of the things she buys. You can’t fool my friend! My goodness, if she were planning to build a new house, she would price things down to the last brick.

I have another friend who is very busy and is just glad if the first person she calls to do emergency lawn mowing can fit her yard into his schedule before she needs to bale the cut grass as hay for cattle. For this friend, time is money. She will take whichever gas station is near when her tank gauge says only one gallon left. She is fearful of trusting that one gallon. She simply does not have time to wait for AAA to come to her rescue if her car goes sput, sput, sput!
If this friend had to find a new dwelling place, she would not start with an empty lot. She would lean on a realtor to find the house that would vaguely fit her and sign the papers.

However, this friend needs to be in charge of planning, constructing, and using a new building for her company, she is all detail, endless detail, because she is accountable to the owner of the business to do this task well. She dare not go overbudget. This project needs to meet the time deadline. When it is finished on time and within budget, it looks good on her resume. She can feel pleased with herself. I don’t know how Jesus feels about her vanity. Last week we heard the “sit at the low end of the table” passage, the “be humble” instruction from Jesus. But, I believe that Jesus is pleased with the planning that my friend does for this new company building.

In Luke 14:28-30, we read Jesus’s words about planning before we attempt a project. Jesus goes on to say that a king needs to analyze his chances of winning a war before he says, “Go!” to his soldiers. If he can’t win, he asks for peace instead of starting a war.

This whole gospel passage from Luke 14 speaks to our giving up everything to become part of the kingdom of God, to be a follower of Jesus. Not just a walk-along follower, but an active disciple. We are to give up everything that detracts us from serving Jesus. Really! Do we need to do a total surrender? Yes, we do. Are we ready to do this? Do you know anyone who has done this and is still doing this? Give up everything to serve Jesus! Well, I always knew that God should come first in our lives, then our wife, then children, and then the dog, or something like that.

Did you hear, and did you see the cover of the bulletin, that we need to carry a cross in addition to giving up everything? Jesus said, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” A cross!

I have good news about the word “hate” which Luke says that Jesus says. Get this! Jesus exaggerated to get people’s attention. It is called hyperbole. Apparently, Jesus really meant that we need to love Jesus more than we love anyone or anything else. Whew! What a relief!. Can we go back to our regular lackadaisical way of thinking and acting. Can we come to church once a week or once a month and think we are dong great as a Christian?

I acknowledge and submit to you that some of you are way ahead of me in Christian living. But no matter where we are in the matter of carrying crosses most of us are not at #10 on the scale of being a Jesus follower.

Carrying our cross could mean that we have burdens in our lives that are causing hardship. Some of these burdens are physical demands on our lives. Some of us are carrying crosses of guilt that no matter how many times we go through the confession routine, we cannot feel white as snow inside. Some of our crosses are a lack of discipline: harmful habits, loss of control with money, wastefulness with time, just thinking about ourselves. Some of our crosses are simply obeying the rules of life which work. Some of our crosses are an eagerness to get to the end of the race; to hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Have you recognized your cross here or have I missed the cross you are carrying?

Does God, and therefore Jesus, really want us to feel the cross as a burden? Can carrying the cross bring healing from whatever made it feel like a burden? Can our cross become lighter as we move closer and closer to Jesus? Can carrying the cross transform us? Is there something magic in this cross? Think about this. If we are focused on Jesus as being #1 in our lives, could our families be carrying crosses together? Sounds like a plan to me. Let’s think of our families. Could you persuade each person in your family to put everything aside to carry a cross with the goal being a disciple of Jesus? Oh, Oh! Here is where the separation becomes reality. Not everyone is going to want to follow. Following Jesus seems like a gamble.

But we are here today because the gamble seems more sure than not sure. We are here because we are ready to carry our cross if we are not already carrying the cross. We can try to persuade other people to assume a cross on their backs but in the end some will and some won’t. But how will they know about the cross unless we tell them. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Bringing people to Jesus is a lost art. But if we consider ourselves disciples of Jesus, if we want the fulness of the experience of being a disciple in the kingdom of God, we need to ask God to cover us with courage; courage to invite people to accept the love of Jesus, invite people to walk through the church door with us. Some of you have already done that. Some of you are the persons who were invited and you came. Some of us, including myself, need to pray, and pray some more, asking God to give us the right words to invite our co-workers, our co-volunteers, our own relatives, our friends to step inside. Let’s use a bit of marketing skill and not tell them they will be expected to carry a cross. Let’s make sure they feel the love of Jesus and our love. However, I have seen new Christians who could not stop telling people about Jesus. It was a truly joyous time for them. Maybe one of our own crosses could be finding and sharing the joy of Jesus!

“Humbleness and Success at Work”

Sermon – 09-01-19 – Proper 17 – Cycle C
Scriptures: Proverbs 25:6-7; Psalm 112; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14
Sermon Title: “Humbleness and Success at Work”

Okay. Maybe 85% of us do not go to paid work anymore. Let’s call this sermon “Humbleness and Success in Daily Life.”

On this Labor Day Sunday, Peter Somebody is saying to himself, “Thank you, God, that I don’t have to face that arrogant so and so tomorrow. I am really going to enjoy my vacation day tomorrow. Who does he think he is? Always bragging! Always insisting his way is the best way. He started with our company 2 weeks before I did so that gives him some false sense of being in charge of me.”

People, did that ever happen to you! It has happened to me at least once, maybe more. Life in a certain job would have been so much better if I had been the one to start three weeks before the other person. But, then again, I need to remember that there were times when I was the one to start a bit before another person. Was I kind? Was I humble? Or was I pushy and arrogant in wanting things to be done my way without trying an alternate way?

Maybe you are in a volunteer situation where you started just a little bit after another person and that person insists in a bossy way that things shall be folded a certain way, or put in a drawer in a certain way, or refrigerated while things are still hot when you are sure that is not good – that food that is hot should sit at room temperature for awhile.

Maybe you are a man and you are volunteering other than in a kitchen. You know how careful you always are with your tools. When they are not in use, they have their own spot for storage even if you know you will use the same tools tomorrow. You are always careful about cleaning your tools to keep them working well. It happens that you are a humble person but you did start doing this volunteer repair work before your work partner did. So by right, you could be in charge. But, remember, you are humble! Do you grit your teeth and pretend you don’t notice how your partner leaves tools lying anywhere uncleaned at the end of the day? Do you drive your car faster as you drive home to get rid of your annoyance over the tools? Do you growl at your spouse when you enter your everything-in-place home? Do you either spoil the evening meal as you complain or as you clam up and refuse to be civil all because you were too humble at work.

Sometimes being humble is a liability. Sometimes we need to be creative and learn how to express our feelings in a less than sandpaper way or even an explosive way. Starting comments with “Have you thought about cleaning the tools?” or “Did you notice that these cleaned tools are working better than the uncleaned tools?” If we are the actual manager, we need to be humble in a more forceful way. We could say, “We need to clean the tools at the end of the day and store them in their designated space.” If we have a really arrogant person on our hands, we may need to back our statement with an either/or ultimatum. But we can do this without sounding like a mafia boss. How do we accomplish this style? How do we control our tempers? Well, we ask God to take charge of us. We practice. Get it wrong. Ask God again. Do it better but not real well. Ask God again. Much better now. We are getting the knack of being firm and humble at the same time. Arrogance has become lost – our own arrogance and, little by little, the arrogance of our fellow tool user.

Then we are asked to co-teach a Sunday School class with another person. We would rather do it ourselves because we are good with children. We don’t like to spend the extra time to explain and convince the other person how we think things should be done; how we should relate to the students. We don’t know the other person well, but then again we have not tried. The convincing point is that we need two adults in the room at all times, even if there is only one child. So forget doing it ourselves. How can we control ourselves? How can we get over this strict method of doing things? We could go to a counselor. That is a fine idea. We could explain the whole situation and our own self-determined nature to our heart’s content. However, ultimately, it is God who needs to be the counselor to retrain our bossy and selfish nature. It is God who will have us gradually learn to know Person B. We learn that Person B is very lonely. We learn that Person B has some good ideas for teaching the lessons. We learn that Person B is good at following us as we teach and organizes and cleans after us. Perfect partners. We even notice how Person B genuinely loves the children and is super kind while enabling the children to be the best they can be. Wow! When God helps us to be humble, he goes all the way! Be careful!

Yes, be careful what we ask God! The last verse of the last hymn today goes like this: “Work shall be prayer, if all be wrought as you would have it done; And prayer, by you inspired and taught, shall then with work be one.” Work and prayer, partners in life! We pray as we work. We become aware that the co-worker with tools has a disabled child at home who needs an unusual surgery. His whole mind is consumed with how can they possibly manage this challenge. We learn that the person in the kitchen never had a mother to teach her when to place food in the refrigerator. This person was lucky to have food. None of it was left to even think about what to do with it.

Take the lowest seat at a dinner. This next idea is extreme but we might consider taking the least desired seat at the high school football game. Then there is no place to go but “forward” when there are empty seats. However, if one of our grandchildren is playing, forget this idea. But hear this: “Take the front seat in church.” You will gain favor with the pastor. Here is another directive straight from the mouth of Jesus, so we believe, “When you are hosting a gathering, invite the people who cannot return the favor.” That is why we have food pantries and community meals. We can go and mingle with people who cannot return the favor, at least at the present time. We are invited to community meals – not to sit at head tables but to sit with the humblest of humble. To sit and mingle is a great gift of humility. We never know what we will learn and how Christ will look at us from the eyes of the new sister or brother. That is reward enough but know this: We will find our reward at our resurrection into Christ’s glorious heaven. So we read in Luke 14:14.

While we wait for that day, let us “Trust in the Lord with our whole heart and lean not on our own understanding. In all our ways acknowledge him and he will direct our paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

“Moving Toward the Resurrection”

Sermon – 08-25-19 – Proper 16 – Cycle C
Scriptures: Isaiah 58:9b-14; Psalm 103:1-8; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17
Sermon Title: “Moving Toward the Resurrection”

Jesus is in trouble! With whom? Is he in trouble with God? Or, is he in trouble with humans? What did he do? This holy Jesus did something holy on the Sabbath. Jesus healed a person who had been crippled for eighteen years. So the religious leaders of that day want to make Jesus look bad. However, Jesus stated his case. This is the day for this woman. This is the day on which she needed to be healed. It is the day that she and Jesus happened to be in the same place at the same time.

Accident? Not in my book! This is one more step on the road to Calvary for our salvation. Jesus versus the religious leaders of the day is the action to follow. God’s plan it is, leading straight to Resurrection Sunday – the ultimate “This is the Day” Sunday. This is the day, this is the day Jesus rose again!

“Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy!” Straight from the Ten Commandments which we can find in Exodus 20. What makes anything holy? I would say that holy is when God is involved. It pushes worldly ideas and actions aside. The long version of the Ten Commandments says that God worked for six days and then he rested. This pattern is not meant to be punishment. This pattern is meant to be life-giving. Working at work for seven days without pause is not healthy! We need the refreshment. We need to relax. We need to allow “peace” and “joy” and even add “love” to flow into our souls just as the Conners sang for us.

My own version of what we should do and not do on the Sabbath is a test of sorts. We shall ask ourselves:
Does my activity on the Sabbath refresh me?
Does my choice of refreshing activity help my family to be refreshed and relaxed?
Are we sharing peace, joy, and love with each other on this holy day?
Do we invite God’s presence so we have true holiness?
Are we ready to start another six days feeling closer to each other and closer to God?

This sounds really good. How can we bring it to reality in our lives? Maybe our own goals need to come into alignment with God’s goals for our lives. Maybe we should sing over and over. This is the day when the Spirit came and comes and stays. The Spirit of God will direct and guide our choices for the Sabbath and each and every day.

As our young people and our teachers start a fresh new year, may the Spirit carry them and enfold them. May they not be threatened, bullied, and defensive. May the Spirit keep them from being a bully, causing fear. May students and teachers alike leave school each day singing, “This is the day when the Spirit came.”

Sing with me about the Spirit bringing rejoicing and gladness. (It is our first hymn, verse 3.)

“By Faith”

Sermon – 08-11-19 – Proper 14 – Cycle C
Scriptures: Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40
Sermon Title: “By Faith”

Our lessons today seem to be a continuation of our lessons last Sunday when we spoke about too much stuff for our barns. As a bridge from last Sunday to this Sunday, I am pleased to tell you that my friend, who with her husband clears houses and buildings when people die with uncleared stuff, emphasized that the possessions they bring home to their own barn do not stay there. People are invited to come and take whichever item they need at a particular time. Her husband says, “I think we have one of those in our barn. Come and see.”

The other bridge from last week is that many people told me they can definitely relate to having too many possessions. However, one person could tell me that she had gradually emptied her attic. What a pleasure it must be to see that empty spaciousness. I would be tempted to trek up the stairs to the attic daily just to fill my soul with the beauty of that empty space. Good exercise also!

So we have crossed the bridge and here we are facing more purification of our selfish ways. We are told to lay up treasure in heaven. Uh-Uh! Is there a ladder? Is there an elevator? Does Jesus know what he is saying? We should move our stuffed barns to heaven? I don’t think so. There are ways of laying up treasure in heaven that are radically different from coaxing a sofa through the clouds.

We shall sell our stuff, especially the valuable stuff and give the money to worthy causes here on earth. In so doing, we are laying up treasure in heaven. And our hearts will be found there because the scripture says, “For where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also.” We will be more likely to do kind deeds, to pay attention to things that really matter here on earth if our hearts are beating in heaven, close to Jesus and the Father. The Holy Spirit will be caring for us while our bodies are on earth.

This is where the “have no fear” comes into the picture. When our hearts are in heaven, our minds and bodies can trust God to be with us and to show us the way. The way to what? Well, how to be ready for Jesus to appear at any time without announcement, probably without ringing the doorbell. Also, the way to solve earthly problems. If we are filled with contentment and peace in the absence of fear, we can look at things from a unique perspective. God helps us to see how the puzzle pieces could fit to bring peace on earth. But, no one is listening to us!

Of course, how could anyone hear our advice over all the hate that is being shouted with increasing meanness and gusto and dare I say “evil.” I will say “evil.” We could unite and shout “Get lost, Satan. You are in the way. You are poisoning our peace!” The world today matches our Psalm of today, written ages ago. We spoke these words: The king is not saved by the size of the army. The horse gives vain hope for victory. Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord. Happy the people chosen to be God’s heritage!”

The word “chosen” here, to me, means given the responsibility of continuing the faith in God. If we have the vision of a country indivisible under God, it is our responsibility to share this vision. But how to do that over the screaming and hate is a matter of faith. First, we need to have faith in God. That means we need to trust God. We need to let our faith in God override our own thinking. My own thinking is a parallel line to the floor – like a horizontal rod across my shoulders. My “God thinking” is a vertical line with an arrow at each end indicating that advice and assurance are coming down to my head from God and my response and more requests for assurance are going up to God. We need both kinds of thinking working in tandem with each other.

Our Epistle Lesson today is from Hebrews which is like a mini-history review. I counted the word “faith” 8 times in these particular 12 verses. Faith. Trust. Give it to God, literally. Lift that horizontal rod from our shoulders and make it the vertical line to God. It could be like a technician taking remote control of our computer to improve its performance. Once God assures us of his attention, we get to share the action, always checking to make sure we are complying with God’s plan for the project. Now what is the project?

Oh yes! The nation, Being ready. Storing up treasure in heaven instead of on earth. Think, just think, if the money that is spent on war equipment and walls could better be spent on helping people in distress; helping these people to be okay where they are, to be safe, to be fed.

Our Gospel lesson talks about a thief coming as well as the second coming of Jesus. How many thieves are in our midst? Think, are we ourselves the thief in some instances? Do we make matters worse? Do we take or accept the whole good life which should be shared with the other persons whom God created? Are we silent when we should speak or take action? Should we radiate love to suffocate hate? Should we take time to lift the horizontal shoulder rod into a vertical “God communication line?”

This is where faith carries the ball. It seems hopeless for our nation to agree on gun laws and the abundance of guns. The mental health aspect could take a century to solve. A wall. Oh, yes, a wall. The only kind of wall that seems practical is a prayer wall. Take it to the Lord in prayer. We need to take our faith and put it into the action of prayer.

We need to pray for the suffering people. We need to pray for the members of congress. We need to pray for the president. We need to pray for the vitriolic hate to dissolve and disappear as love flows in. How will this wave of love happen? A trickle starts here and a trickle starts there and they meet each other as well as other trickles of love. You know how trickles become streams and streams become rivers and rivers flow into the mighty ocean.

Also, if you will, picture love as tiny droplets of mist join other droplets of mist until there is an atmospheric change. A change in the atmosphere! Picture it! Imagine it! Imagining is the beginning of accomplishment. But we are big fools if we think this can happen without constant and continuous prayer – placing things in God’s hands. Are we afraid to pray with all of our mind, soul, heart, and strength? Jesus says, “Have no fear, little flock.” So, we can write old-time letters or we can use Twitter, we can attend a protest, we can shout ourselves hoarse, we can vote; but remember – prayer is more powerful than strong horses, prayer is more effective than an army. We can pray for a wave of love to move through the wheat fields and the corn fields; through hills and valleys, through factories and giant office buildings, through day cares and prisons, through the United States and its neighbors, through Russia and China, North Korea and South Korea, through Afghanistan and the Holy Land, through Africa and India.

Please say “yes” when you see an announcement of a prayer session here at Zion United Church of Christ. We don’t need to take a back seat to our neighboring churches in Berks County. It is fine to pray alone but something powerful happens when people pray together. Have no fear, little flock. Just your presence adds power. You will not need to speak. Please come. Lay up some treasure in heaven!

“How Much Stuff Is Filling Our Barns?”

Sermon – 08-04-19 – Proper 13 – Cycle C
Scriptures: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23; Psalm 49:1-12; Colossians 3:1-11;
Luke 12:13-21
Sermon Title: “How Much Stuff Is Filling Our Barns?”

There is this hut – ground floor, sides and roof made of plant material, no door, no windows, all one room, no stove, no sink, definitely no refrigerator and no toilet. A family of six persons live in this “building.”

There is this mansion – grandiose entrance and circular staircase to three floors, as many bathrooms as bedrooms and then some, enough closets and floor space to store all possessions efficiently and attractively.

There is this modest home – working class level, two bathrooms, window air conditioners, not enough storage space and floor space and wall space to handle the large entertainment equipment, an exercise bike, a set of drums, a keyboard, ceramics, newspapers, a dog, toys for the dog, photographs, fishing equipment, plants, not to mention clothes and more clothes and crafts.

Well! Which scenario seems to match your reality the closest? Oh, I forgot. Do you collect souvenirs from trips, near or far? I know. Even the car displays how we have spent our money.

Do we build extra buildings or an extension on the house or do we make our car sit out in the weather, while we use the garage for storage? Does this sound vaguely familiar? The farmer with so many crops that he built bigger barns? What would God have wanted him to do with his abundant crops that year? Should he have left them rotting in the field? The next planting season may have been a real challenge if that matted mess of vegetation had been left to spoil.

Yes, you have the right idea if you are wanting to shout that this farmer should have given part of the crop to people who did not have fields or could not afford the seeds. Some of us have the ability to give certain necessities to other people, while at the same time depending on other people to provide goods and help for us; a market-exchange type of arrangement.

In my opinion, that is how God envisioned his world to be. People sharing with people. People who live in towns and cities cannot grow crops easily but they can grow hospitals and gyms and shopping centers and food pantries and food kitchens.

But here is a new thought. Can we have too many hospitals, rehabilitation places, gyms, stores? Maybe accumulating these businesses and services is similar to building new buildings to store extra crops.

Why do we go overboard with things and activities in our lives? Why can’t we keep life simple? Well, my house has too many pieces of clothing because if I kept it to a minimum and a blouse or skirt or coat or boots or shoes or raincoat suddenly became unusable, what would I do? Well, I would do what many people in this world do – I would “make do.” But, I need to look nice, I tell myself. I need to stay dry, I tell myself. I need to look professional, I tell myself.

There is this thing called “time.” I can’t drop everything to run to a store. And the store will not have something I like in the size I need.. No, I definitely need to be prepared. Hence, the squashed-full closet space. And those of us who change weight frequently need to have several sizes hanging in our closet.

How much stuff is filling our barns?

We did not even mention technology. Oh my! What is enough? Enough indeed! Do we really NEED ipads and iphones and iwhatever? I heard an advertisement where the speaker said a string of idevices and ended with “idon’t know what I am doing.” We could also say idon’t know where iam going because iam not looking where iam going and idon’t know how to hold a live conversation because inever do a face-to-face activity unless we count Skype or Facetime.

How much stuff is using our time and our money?

Some of us work from our homes. That means equipment and supplies. Next to the fear of fire is my fear of having no working computer. So I have two computers. One computer pushed out my AOL program. On the other computer, I allowed an update of my WordPerfect program to download and install. Well, the minute it was installed it took over! It would not allow any Word documents to enter when people would send Word documents by email attachment. So until I found time to let an expert help me – a free expert – I had to be sneaky to work around my ailing computers. I needed to involve my smartphone in the process. It stretched my mind for sure.

Do you think there is too much stuff in my barn, disguised as an office?

Our Colossians passage today mentions a string of sins some of which surely match each of us. Those sins are like the stuff in our barns. They need to go. They keep the pure and simple among the missing. We don’t need to swear. We don’t need to lust. We don’t need to be angry. We can banish those things from our lives – our barn lives. They keep us from the purity, the clarity that is Jesus. We read, “Christ is all and in all!” Sweep our lives. Send the bad stuff packing! Immediately invite Jesus into our lives full time and filling every inch of space. Jesus is not clutter. Jesus is not extra. But, we can share Jesus and still have enough Jesus for ourselves.

You do know what happened to the man who built bigger barns so he would not need to work or worry ever again? Well, he didn’t need to work or worry anymore because God took the man’s life on the very night he began to relax, eat, drink and be merry.

The moral of our four scripture lessons today seems to be: work just enough to have just enough and clean up our behavior and attitude. In this way, we will receive the blessings God has in store for us.