Sunday, August 11, 2013

Pentecost 12C

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

I don’t know what you hear in this passage, but sometimes such promises increase my blood pressure. Mainly because of the second half of Jesus’ statement where Jesus fleshes out what he means:

“Sell your possessions and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

No doubt Jesus is right. We spend money on things that are important to us. Economists tell us that all spending is emotional spending. Heart spending. It’s not rational. It’s a personal expression of our deepest selves. No matter how much we tell ourselves otherwise.

And I’d rather not have Jesus poking around in the most personal areas of my life. I’d rather keep Jesus at a safe distance when it comes to my money. In fact, Martin Luther once said that the last part of a person to be converted is the person’s wallet. And when I look back at my own financial history, I’m uncomfortable with how right he is.

I’m reminded of this passage each month when my credit card bill arrives. I dutifully check each item to make sure that there’s nothing on there that shouldn’t be. Or that I wasn’t charged twice when made me click two times to complete my transaction. I confirm each purchase.

I don’t know if this happens to you, but every so often (more often than I’ll admit in public) I’m surprised by where I’ve put my treasure. I’m staggered by some of the stuff I’ve bought after sober reality kicked in. But I know, at the time, such purchases must have seemed like good ideas.

A subscription to a magazine that I could easily flip through at the library. The extra book that gave me free shipping, but which I might not get around to reading, at least not this year. The organic olive oil in the fancy bottle to class up my kitchen. And a few other items that shall

They were all emotional purchases. I handed over my treasure to where my heart was.

And Jesus clearly tells us where he wants our hearts to be. “Sell your possessions and give alms. Make purses form yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.”

Jesus is talking about fear here. The fear that Jesus is talking about is the fear that the stuff we have will be taken from us - stolen or destroyed.

Or worse, that our stuff will take over our lives, and that’s a position that Jesus wants to fill.

Jesus said that it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom, and the kingdom apparently does not include the things we jam into our garages. The kingdom is everything that which God alone can give us, and which cannot be taken away. It cannot be stolen or destroyed.

Our relationship with the material stuff of life is conflicted at best. After all, most of our purchases keep the economy’s engine humming. My magazine subscription and book purchases provides royalties to the authors and keeps the publishing industry afloat. The organic olive oil helps the farmers and processors make a living, and encourages sustainable agriculture. My purchases were a source of some good.

But that can go too far. We can pay a high price for our accumulations. We neglect our health, our families, and friends.

We may find ourselves in debt, which imperils our economic futures.

We can become defined not by what we produce or what we create, but by what we consume. We can become the product of other peoples’ work.

We spend too much time at our jobs, giving too much of our time and labour to those who may not deserve it, but thinking that we’ll get a worthwhile return.

Retail-therapy blasts endorphins into our pituitary glands providing a momentary sense of well-being and all around grooviness, but that sense of well-being and grooviness evaporates once the bank statement comes at the end of the month, sending us out for another hit.

So what do we do about this over-striving, over work, and over accumulation? What do we do about the trap that many of us find ourselves in? How do we regain a sense of who we are beyond what we buy?

The church says that we can put it on the altar. We can take this morally ambiguous money - the root of all kinds of evil, and the source of so much good - and offer it back to God. And in doing so, our daily work is redeemed. We are freed from the traps that others lay for us. We remember who we really are.

What we are doing, in our offering, is transforming our days from the mere making of a living to the living of a life - God’s life.

Whatever we do for a living, we now do for the glory of God and for service to others. We offer our gifts for the work of Christ’s church. And the work of Christ’s church is the kingdom of the God.

The offering is probably the most counter-cultural act we do as a church. It’s at that moment that we take a stand against the consumerism that tells us that we are what we buy.

When the plate is passed around we put our beliefs into action, the belief that God’s kingdom has come in Jesus.

When the offering is taken our hearts begin to transform from being self-centred to God-centred and other-centred.

It’s a minor sport to make fun of churches who ask for money. And for good reason. Occasionally, I sit down and watch the Miracle Channel re-invent indulgences for today’s troubled consciences as they go about their fund-drive appeal.

And we know of sham-preachers who lie, cheat, and pilfer folks out of their hard-earned paycheques to pay for their air-conditioned dog houses.

Or we hear of the pastor in the $2000 suit who flies around the world by private jet, sharing the message of the poor wandering preacher from Nazareth. There’s a lot to answer for.

But this congregation seems to know in its bones what kingdom work looks like. I see it all around me. I see where your heart is.

I see your heart in our building in how it’s so lovingly maintained. I see your heart in the priority worship has in this church.

I see your heart in the relationships you have with each other, building a strong community in Jesus’ name.

I see your heart in how you so quickly open your wallets to generously meet the needs of those who are hurting, and who ask for our help.

I see your heart in how much of our offering goes out, rather than stays in. To Lutheran Campus Ministry, to Canadian Lutheran World Relief, to the work of the synod and national church, and to other important and life-giving ministries.

The list could go on. This is kingdom work. This is where you place your treasure. This is where your heart is. This is stuff that cannot be stolen or destroyed.

So watch as the plate goes around. You will see the church at its best. You will see a confrontation with the world’s priorities. You will see who you really are, and the hold God has on you. You will see how we take the stuff of our labour and our lives and we give it back to God, for God’s kingdom work.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Indeed, as I look around, I can see that God has given you the kingdom.

May this be so among us. Amen.

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