First Congregational Church
August 11, 2019
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
“Treasures and Hearts”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
So this last week, I came across a picture of an air pump at a gas station, and the meme on it said, “Remember when air was free and now it’s $1.50? Do you know why? Inflation.” There was another graphic that suggested that if you want to know how cold it is in the Arctic, you should poll a bear.
I set you up with those groaners, so that this one would be worthy of at least a shake of the head. You know how people refer to a section of writing, usually from a book as a passage or section? And sometimes, especially in connection with the Bible, a section is sometimes called a text? Isn’t it interesting that one of the most modern ways of communicating these days is with short, even abbreviated letters, words and phrases called - texts?
So this morning’s “text” comes from the book of Luke, halfway through its 24 chapters. In Luke’s arrangement of events, Jesus had been at a pharisee’s house for dinner. In a moment when Emily Post or Miss Manners would have blushed from the tips of their toes, Jesus points out the faults of Pharisees. When Jesus left, while the Pharisees began to figure out how they would entrap him in political snares, people began to gather, enough people that they were not only beginning to trample on one another, but they were probably on the verge of a riot. Jesus encourages the crowds, again with parables, but also with warning to be watchful in the coming days.
32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
Thank you, Sonia. When I was looking at the Dollar Store Children’s Sermon video this week, Pastor John Stevens put out an interesting illustration. He suggested using an old family recipe, and in his case, it was chocolate almond rocca.
His point was that you had to follow the recipe in the precise steps, or you wouldn’t get the perfect results. He then pointed out that the “recipe” of this morning’s scripture passage begins with “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid, before all the other things in that passage makes all the other things in that passage possible. With fear, the results of hope and preparations and all the other points aren’t nearly as good as when they are done without fear. The thing is, sometimes it’s easy to not be afraid, and sometimes - not so much.
The photos in our minds are sometimes so vivid. The scenario of the night that I realized my passport was going to run out while on vacation a few weeks ago is still quite clear. Incidentally, a passport, even when expired, is still a valid form or id, and you can still come back into the States - by land. Even so, if you’re planning a trip any time soon, here’s your reminder to check the date.
Back to mental photographs, the day that the lesson was reinforced, that two people should not stand up in a 14 foot boat at the same time, is swimmingly clear. The scene in the back yard of the first house I grew up in, and the last day my mother tried to spank me with a yard stick is in high definition on steroids.
I remember a sermon that a mentor of mine delivered somewhere in 1996 or 7, and perhaps it was even based on this scripture passage. What she said was, “If you want to know where your treasure is, look in your checkbook register.” It was a sermon long before the days of online banking and electronic transfers, but the point is still the same. If you want to see where your treasure is, look at your financial situation. My addition to my mentor’s point is, “Include your calendar in that understanding of what you treasure.” There is great truth in the idea, that despite busyness, we sometime make time for the things that are most important to us. It’s not true for everyone, but there are a good number of folks that can find the money to obtain that which they really want, even if it means going into debt, rather than saving up for whatever “it” is.
Years ago a farmer owned land along the Atlantic seacoast. He constantly advertised for hired hands. Most people were reluctant to work on farms along the Atlantic. They dreaded the awful storms that raged across the Atlantic, wreaking havoc on the buildings and crops. As the farmer interviewed applicants for the job, he received a steady stream of refusals.
Finally, a short, thin man, well past middle age, approached the farmer. "Are you a good farmhand?" the farmer asked him. "Well, I can sleep when the wind blows," answered the man. Although puzzled by this answer, the farmer, desperate for help, hired him. The man worked well around the farm, busy from dawn to dusk, and the farmer felt satisfied with the man's work.
Then one night the wind howled loudly in from offshore. Jumping out of bed, the farmer grabbed a lantern and rushed next door to the hired hand's sleeping quarters. He shook the man and yelled, "Get up! A storm is coming! Tie things down before they blow away!” The little man rolled over in bed and said firmly, "No sir. I told you, I can sleep when the wind blows."
Enraged by the response, the farmer was tempted to fire him on the spot. Instead, he hurried outside to prepare for the storm. To his amazement, he discovered that all of the haystacks had been covered with tarpaulins. The cows were in the barn, the chickens were in the coops, and the doors were barred. The shutters were tightly secured. Everything was tied down. Nothing could blow away. The farmer then understood what his hired hand meant, so he returned to his bed to also sleep while the wind blew.
One might be tempted to suggest that sleep was so important to the hired man, that he took the extra steps to make sure that the would-a’s, could-a’s and should-a’s weren’t going to keep him awake at night. One might also be tempted to suggest that the hired man understood the worth of security - even job security - and so he did a little more than was expected of him, knowing that his efforts would return in manifold ways. If nothing else, one could say that the hired man understood the things that were important and he acted on them.
Nearing the midst of August, in the perfectly sublime days of summer, one might be tempted to allow one’s brain to slide - exclusively - into neutral, running, but not moving. I totally support the idea of sometimes allowing our brains to idle from time to time. But when you’re waiting at the stoplight, or at the checkout, allow your brain to dredge up this morning’s message, and take a tally of what it “appears” to be important in your life, and lay that image - or those images - against what your heart tells you should be important - what your heart’s desire tells you is important.
If you see congruity, awesome! Thank God for such as it is. If you see incongruity, then take some time in the coming days to determine what you can do about that. If you think you may need to back up a few steps and take another run at a particular endeavor or way of interaction, do so - and as Jesus said, fearing not, asking for God to help your treasure to shine brighter, so that you may help your heart find its way to those things of this world - and the next - that are really important. Until we have those moments for evaluating and clarifying our heart’s desires, we can surely pray.
Holy and Great God, thank you for giving us hearts and brains and lives and goals. We ask for your forgiveness when we deliberately miss the mark of aligning our hearts and brains and lives and goals with yours. Thank you, for your forgiveness and your heart’s desire for love and joy and grace and peace of heart. When we miss your desires by ignorance or simple error, guide us back to the place of alignment of you and us and spirit. Thank you for memory, wisdom and thought - that allows us to enter into this life - with you - and each other - rather than being sub servants in a scheme in which we have no significance. In gratitude and thanksgiving, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.