Last week Jesus delivered a blunt warning. A rich man stored up treasure for himself, and he became a fool, isolated and blinded to the ways of God that lead to true human flourishing.
Why did he do it? Why do we do it? Are we all narcissists? No. But most of us worry. We live in a culture that breeds economic anxiety, despite that fact that most of us have more than enough of what we need, and more than enough to supply the needs of those who don’t.
It’s no coincidence then that immediately after he tells the story of the rich fool, Jesus next move is to address our tendency to worry. He says 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. . . Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? Do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. Instead, strive for God’s kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”
Rather than worrying, we are to strive for God’s kingdom, for a whole new way of living together that reflects God’s intentions for human flourishing.
It’s what Isaiah is talking about in today’s first reading, when he reprimands the people of ancient Israel for their injustice, and implores them to “cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” It’s what Jesus is talking about when he urges us to love God, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. We are to strive for God’s kingdom.
But that language of striving may well be enough to trigger our worries again. Will we strive hard enough? Will our striving be successful?
Which is why I think that where we pick this up in today’s gospel reading, Jesus moves from the language of striving to the language of gift and promise:
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
To give us what we need to flourish. Not because we’ve earned it or worked for it, but simply because it is God’s pleasure to give this to us, because of who God is.
This is good news! Rather than worry, we are to trust in this promise. To live by faith, which as the author of the letter to the Hebrews puts it, is “the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.”
So it seems to me that at this point the key question for us is this:
How can we move from worrying to living by faith?
How can we train our hearts and minds, our wills and our ways of thinking to leave worries aside and to live by faith, striving for God’s kingdom?
The answer that Jesus gives in the very next line is, well, shocking, though perhaps by now we shouldn’t be surprised:
“Sell your possessions, and give alms.”
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
At some level we know this to be true. When we spend money on something, we become invested in it. I have a friend in Kingston who just bought a sailboat. Now everything I see on his social media feed is about sailing. When you invest your savings in the stock of a company, you start to follow that company, to care about its ups and downs. When you buy season’s tickets for your favourite hockey team, you pay attention to their off-season moves, and you read about their players and you strategize about their drafting and trades.
For where you put your treasure, there your heart will be also. And note that in Jesus’ time, the heart wasn’t just associated with emotions or feelings. It was considered the seat of the human will and your ways of thinking. In our day, we might say that where your treasure is, your heart, mind and spirit will be also.
You know, sometimes as Christians we fret about how we can connect with God, how we can live by faith, not just on Sundays when we come to church, but 24/7, in all of our lives. Maybe the answer isn’t so complicated.
Where your treasure is, your heart will be also. We can learn to connect with God, we can learn to leave worries aside and start living by faith with every financial decision we make. And we make financial decisions every day of our lives.
Do we want to shape ourselves into people who love their neighbours as themselves, who strive for God’s kingdom, who seek justice and rescue the oppressed?
Sell your possessions and give alms. For where your treasure is your heart will be also.
If we put our treasure in the things of God’s kingdom, that’s where our hearts will be. But it can work the other way too. We saw that last week in the story of the rich fool. And we’re seeing it again with the mass murders in Dayton and El Paso and the ensuing response.
US Senators and Representatives whose campaigns are financed by the National Rifle Association, whose treasure can be found in the NRA, well that’s where their hearts are too. And the ways of thinking, and the will needed to pass effective gun control laws has been lost.
My friend, John Van Nuys, is preaching this morning in his church in rural Indiana, using the reading from Isaiah as his text. I’m going to use his words this morning, because on this subject his prophetic words from middle America are more powerful than my own would be:
“El Paso and Dayton. 29 dead in 14 hours. Sunday August 11 is the 223rd day of 2019, and America has had 251 mass shootings in 2019. It is time for the killing to stop. In America now, mass murder is ordinary, but it is not normal. It is wrong. It is evil, and it is time to act. I say this as a gun owner. I own a rifle and a shotgun and I use them to kill coyotes on my family’s farm to protect livestock. . . As a gun owner, I firmly believe and support our second amendment rights. That being said, no one needs an assault rifle. Not one needs a semi-automatic weapon. No one needs large capacity magazines. It used to be that way. Back in a saner time in our history, our country wasn’t awash with military-grade weaponry. And guess what? When we didn’t have machine guns in this country, we didn’t have schools, synagogues, and shopping centers shot to pieces. It is time for common sense regulation of weaponry so this violence ends. And the bloodshed will end when enough of us make our voices heard to tell our elected leaders that enough is enough. Until we do that, we are guilty of enabling disturbed gunmen to kill. And as long as we passively allow them to commit murder, the blood they spill is not just on their hands – it’s on our hands, too.
Pastor, why on earth are you saying this? You are bringing politics into religion! . . . Temporal matters and spiritual worship are two different things and they should be kept totally separate. If you think that, then the prophet Isaiah has a bone to pick with you. The prophet Isaiah looked around at Israel’s public worship and Israel’s public deeds and said, “What you do out there (pointing beyond the sanctuary) and what you do in here (pointing to the sanctuary) are inseparable because God is Lord of all. God says to us through Isaiah: “You can’t come in here and say prayers expecting them to be answered when out there you are not doing what is right by your neighbors. You can’t be spiritually right if you’re ethically wrong. . .That’s why I am sick of your sacrifices and solemn assemblies. I’m not going to hear your prayers – let alone answer them -- when your hands are bloody. Stop being evil and start doing good. Seek justice: rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Do what is right to help those who are being wronged. . . . Then I will hear your prayers. Then I will be honored by your worship. Do this – act justly -- then your worship will be acceptable to me. Then you will live. If you don’t do this, you “shall be devoured by the sword.”
That’s what is happening: we are being devoured by the sword. In Newtown, Connecticut – children devoured by the sword. In Parkland, Florida – teenagers devoured by the sword. At Virginia Tech – college students devoured by the sword. In Las Vegas and Orlando and El Paso and Dayton – innocent lives, all devoured by the sword. Because we do not act. Because we let our leaders bow down before the false god of “anything goes” when it comes to assault rifles and high capacity magazines. It is time for us to demand better for our schools and communities. It is time for us to stand up for our children. It is time for us to stand with our God. What is happening is wrong. It’s time for us to make things right.
When worship doesn’t address what is going on in the world, then we remain ethically adrift and that prevents us from being the moral agents God wants us to be in the world. When preachers stay silent to keep everybody happy, they betray their vow to God and their promise to you to tell the God’s honest truth. The truth must be told. God’s demands must be known. God sometimes helps us by disturbing us. Because if we are never challenged, then we never change. Besides changing the gun laws, we have to change our language. The rhetoric now in the public square vilifies immigrants. Politicians demonize refugees. People who disagree are told to go back where they came from. All this talk emboldens action. Synagogues get shot up. Wal-Mart shoppers are gunned down to stop a “foreign invasion.” We have to demand that any and all politicians stop using racist code words to incite people. Because blood is being spilled.
Hopes and prayers – without any action: That is what God hates, says Isaiah: Your prayers in here are only as good as your actions out there. Pure prayers and holy worship are a spiritual impossibility when blood is running in the streets. Right prayer has to be linked to right action. We may not like it, but that is the standard God expects us to meet. We may not listen, but the word God is saying to the church is: Do something about this.”
With thanks to John for his words.
John Van Nuys complete sermon for August 11 can be found here: https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnx3YWJhc2hhdmVudWV8Z3g6MjMzNmY2YmY0NGRjNGM3ZA
Homily: Yr C P19, August 11 2019, St. Albans
Readings: Isaiah 1.1,10-20; Ps 50.1-8,23-24; Hebrews 11.1-3,8-16; Luke 12.32-40
Image by Pictures of Money, Creative Commons