“Consider the lilies and the ravens… and.. Don’t Worry” – September 2013

Readings:

Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Luke 12:22-34

He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.  “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 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.”

*******

When a man asks Jesus,  “Teacher, tell my brother to divide our family inheritance with me ” – Jesus takes the discussion quickly in a different direction, saying,  “Why ask me to judge between you and your brother? Beware of all greed – life’s not about your many possessions. ”

Then he tells a story.  “The land of a rich man produced a big harvest, and he thought to himself, ‘what will I do, now that I’ve run out of room to store all my crops?’ Then he says to himself, ‘I know. I’ll tear down my old barns and build bigger ones – then I’ll sit back and say to myself, “Take it easy, my soul! Eat, drink and be merry!”’

Bible commentaries tell us this phrase ‘eat, drink and be merry’ occurs in many cultures around the world – usually ending with the phrase – ‘for tomorrow we die.’  Reminding me of my youth, when we often sang along with Ray Charles: ‘Hey, everybody – let’s have some fun – you only live but once – and when you’re dead, you’re done – so let the good times roll…’ But the wannabe barn-builder in this story doesn’t seem to remember the end of the lyric –  “eat, drink and be merry – ‘cause – tomorrow we die.”

But now here’s God, saying: “Tomorrow’s here. Time’s up! What are you going to do now – with that big barn full of stuff?  Reminding us of yet another ancient proverb (probably you know the one that says): I’ve never seen a hearse towing a U-Haul.  And Jesus says – ‘So it is with everyone who stores up treasure for themselves – but is not rich toward God.’

I don’t usually consider materialism to be one of my biggest temptations. I’ve walked away from nearly everything I’ve owned several times in my life. (But that was back when I was younger, and single.)

And I’ve also been remembering, how, once when I was working with farmers in Vermont, several decades ago, and we were hosting a visiting Nicaraguan woman farmer, on a speaking tour. Our guest was staying with some of our farmers. I knew the family our guest was staying with was in deep financial trouble. Milk prices were very low and they were way behind on the bills. The IRS had actually seized their check book, they’d confided to me. Their farm was quite modest by Vermont standards. Well-maintained and a good herd, but milking only 50 cows. But our visiting Nicaraguan farmer said: “this farm could feed my whole village!” A small, struggling Vermont family farm was a mega-farm to her. And –

Wealth and poverty are relative. It wouldn’t cost much to replace our family’s material goods if we had to. Most of my many boxes of books came to me as gifts and from thrift-shops and yard-sales. Many of our household items much the same. We need to keep giving away our out-grown clothing and books. But we generally live pretty simply – so I think, most of the time.

But I’m sure that’s not how it looked – when many of you were there unpacking that twenty-something-foot-long moving van full of stuff, when we moved here a year ago.

Wealth and poverty are relative. That’s what makes me nervous in this parable of a man thinking about building bigger barns. That and the man’s habit of talking to himself.

I hasten to say – I don’t do this nearly as much as I used to. When I lived alone, before seminary, and before I met Reah, I had a habit of talking to myself, often out loud. Mostly around the house, but sometimes even walking in the woods or out fishing. I’d catch myself talking to myself – and be nervous someone would overhear me, and report me for weird behavior.

There’s nothing wrong, on one level, with talking to ourselves. Except, in my experience – when we talk to ourselves to excess – there’s the danger of starting to believe – we really are alone. Notice how this man in the parable acts as if he’s all alone – as he says to himself, “my barns – my grain – my goods – my soul.”

Once we start believing we’re actually alone in life – like the man in the parable – not accountable to anyone else – it gets easier to also start believing that things – crops, money, wealth, land – cars, barns, financial portfolios, whatever – actually belong just to us. Then from there on it’s easier still to slip into thinking “our” things matter more to us – than even God – and life itself.

Anyone living in Israel in the time of Jesus – or America in the time of our earliest settlers – (in both cases, people usually lived in close community and looked out for each other) – would know in a flash what’s wrong with this picture. What about our neighbors and their needs? What about asking God what God wants us to do with our lives and our abundance?

But this man has somehow become so used to talking only to himself, thinking only of himself, acting only for himself – that – Now he doesn’t even seem to remember – anyone but himself. But – Now the heavenly banker on high has called in the rich man’s loan – the life God has loaned him for a season. And all that treasure you’ve stored up, God asks  – whose will that be now?

So will it be with all who store up treasure for themselves, Jesus says – But are not rich toward God.

Thankfully, Jesus now continues on with the treasure theme – though on a more positive note. Speaking with disciples, Jesus tells us three times – not to worry – and why do we worry?  – and don’t worry – be happy.  First Jesus gets us into a little holy worry – about what our lives are about and where we’re heading….

Then Jesus tries to un-worry us – by getting us properly focused on what really matters.  And Jesus tells us – Consider the ravens – close cousins to crows. Not a big favorite with any bird-watcher I know. Though one of our resident ornithologists, Kathy Parsons, loaned me a book titled Bird Brains, about ravens, crows and jays – which has me thinking – maybe these birds are smarter – and more ethical – than people, at least in some ways. If any crow or raven finds food – the whole flock knows about it right away. Hoarding food and not sharing doesn’t appear to be a problem in raven culture. Consider the ravens – who don’t build barns and don’t even work for a living, but God feeds them anyway. And aren’t you of more value to God than the birds?

And can any of you add even one hour to your life by worrying? (The correct answer, for the record, is – no, we can’t.) And since we can’t – why worry? Consider the lilies, those beautiful flowers of the field, that neither toil nor spin. They’ve got no sewing machines, not even needle and thread. No cash, no credit or debit card. No way to get to the mall to shop. Consider the lilies, with nothing to go on but sunshine and rain – still better-looking than King Solomon in his best royal clothes – better-dressed than all those guys on the covers of GQ magazine. And if God so clothes the flowers that bloom and are gone in a wink –  don’t you think God will clothe you better than that?

Jesus says don’t organize our lives around food, clothing, shelter. Don’t worry about the necessities of life, which God knows we need.

All the more don’t organize life around things that (God knows) we don’t need. Things that pile up in the attic, the basement, the garage – over-flowing into rental storage barns, like buried treasure. Burying ourselves in debt in the process.

But strive for God’s kingdom first and foremost. And everything else we need will be given us.  Seek first God’s kingdom. And – Don’t worry.

Because our awesome and gracious God is always eager to give us the treasure of his kingdom. Always offering to help us get rich in the things of God – rich in the divine economy of grace.

Sell our excess – give to the poor. (Our Thrift Shop is also still gratefully accepting gently used items, benefits of which go to both the church and community organizations serving the poor.)  Store up treasure in heaven, where the stock market never crashes, and the bonds of faith, hope, and love yield the very highest interest. Divest from clutter and excess. Invest all our treasure where worries and fretting can’t break in and steal our peace, steal our joy.

For where our treasure is – that’s where our heart will be also.  And where our heart is – that’s where our life will be lived.

The treasure that matters can’t be kept in barns or kept to ourselves. The treasure that matters, of course, is God’s kingdom – where we’re never alone and there’s always enough – because in God’s kingdom we always know – we belong to one another. We belong most of all to God – who feeds the little birds and clothes the lilies of the field in glory – who feeds us far better than birds, clothes us far better than wild flowers  – feeding us with the very bread of heaven – clothing us in the love of Christ our Lord.   Thanks be to God.

God be with you always. And may we always remember God’s presence… with us, ever always.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Tim