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Windows of Opportunity

(a sermon for August 25, 2019, the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Luke 13:22-30)

(An audio version of this message can be found here)

The story goes that one day Arthur’s friend Walter picks him up and the two of them go for a drive some 25 miles away from the city out into the country.  And at some point along the road there’s this large, uninhabited and rather unkempt expanse of land where Walter pulls his car over to share with Arthur his dream.  You see, Water’s just closed on the purchase of some acreage on this land, and now he’s trying to convince Arthur to buy some of the land adjoining his to handle all the hotels and restaurants Walter’s dream for his land would generate.  Walter and Arthur are friends, you see, and Walter really wanted his friend to share in his dream; to get in on the ground floor, or at least the ground, so to speak.

Well, as Walter’s laying it all out Arthur thinks it over, realizing almost immediately that the logistics of such a thing were, to put it mildly, staggering.  Never mind all the difficulties that would inevitably arise in creating such a thing – the infrastructure alone could prove to be insurmountable – but even if all that could be dealt with Arthur still couldn’t help but wonder who would possibly drive 25 miles (!) out of the city for the sake of such a crazy ideas as what Walter’s proposing.  Understand, Arthur’s known Walter a long time and he doesn’t want to disappoint his friend, but in all honesty Arthur’s thinking that maybe Walter’s dream had gotten the better of him!

So, mostly for the sake of their friendship he tells Walter he’ll think about it.  Walter, however, can’t wait that long; he really wants, needs to know Arthur’s decision right away.  But in the end, it’s just too risky a venture, and he says no.  And so it was that Art Linkletter turned down his friend Walt Disney and the opportunity to buy land around that which would eventually become… Disneyland.

As Paul Harvey used to say, and now you know the rest of the story!

While perhaps not as huge as what I just described to you, I think you’ll agree with me when I say life is filled with what’s often referred to as “windows of opportunity,” those moments when the world opens up before us in unexpected ways, and which could possibly result in a new adventure or, for that matter, a long-held regret, depending on our response!  You know what I’m talking about here; I suspect that most of us can probably tell stories about a chance encounter, the unexpected invitation or some other random offer that came our way which not only changed our expectation and experience, but maybe even shifted the course of a lifetime:  The side road, taken on a whim, that leads to the best part of a vacation and a cherished memory; the business venture that pays off big; or in my case, the blind date that leads to romance, 33 years (and counting!) of marriage and three adult kids!  Hey, you can never tell what that window of opportunity might bring forth… but only when it’s open!

And in that regard, of course, I also suspect we’ve all had occasion to look back at an opportunity and wonder, if only for a fleeting moment, “what if?”  What if we’d turned left rather than right; what if we’d taken one career path rather than the other; what if we’d invested in some endeavor when we’d had the chance?  You know, we still tell the story in our family of how my parents, back over 40 years ago, had the chance but chose not to purchase a piece of undeveloped property on our lake for $3,500 – for various reasons it didn’t happen – but today that land is valued at well over ten times that amount!

Oh, well… be it out of necessity or preference, you make your choices in this life and you move on, right?  But make no mistake, windows of opportunity are unpredictable, often inconvenient and rarely easy.  They require us to weigh the pros and cons of the particular decision to be made, to consider the varying amounts of possibility and risk that’s involved.  And more often than not, they’re also opportunities swift to pass by; so generally speaking, you can’t stop to think about them for very long.  So, yeah, you make your choices, alright… but oftentimes, one way or the other, those choices are tough to make.

Well, our text for this morning from Luke is all about the choices we make, as well about the windows of opportunity we have to make them.  This is actually not an uncommon theme in the gospels; there are a wealth of stories of men and women who seized upon an opportunity involving Jesus.  For instance, the woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years (Luke 8:43-48) and dared to push her way through a crowd to touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak; she was not about to let this opportunity for healing pass her by, and it turns out that by her faith and courage she was healed.  On the other hand, however, remember the story of the so-called “rich young ruler” who’d come to Jesus seeking eternal life, but when Jesus told him what he needed to do – to sell all that he had and give the profits to the poor – “he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” (Matthew 19:22)  Despite the massive and certain opportunity that was before him, this rich young ruler could not bring himself to make such a large leap of faith, and thus the opportunity was missed.

In both cases, you see, there are difficult choices to make; decisions in that singular moment whether to act, or not.  And the choice is theirs and theirs along… but of course, only the one choice leads to the glory of what awaits.

Which brings us to this morning’s reading, in which Jesus is traveling on the road to Jerusalem when someone asks him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?”    In one sense, at least, it’s a simple enough question, a matter of affiliation, if you will, where Israel’s concerned; but, you see, as Jesus so often does, instead of answering this directly he gives the questioner and – and us – a word of caution, and it should be said, urgency:  “Strive to enter through the narrow door;” Jesus says, “for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.”

That in and of itself would have led to the crowd to pay attention. The very idea of entering through a narrow door, squeezing through an opening not quite big enough for us to get through clearly speaks of the discipline and cost of discipleship that Jesus spoke of often.  In fact, what you might not know here is that when Jesus says to strive to go through that narrow door, the Greek that gets translated as the word “strive” is actually agonizomai, which is where our words “agony” and “agonize” come from!  And that means just about what you think it does: a strenuous exercise of muscle and willpower, not unlike what it takes for athletes to win medals at an Olympic event.

So this business about how many, if any, will be saved ends up not about the law, nor about affiliation and privilege, but about who has chosen to do so, and how.  Entry by the narrow door requires passionate devotion, not half-hearted commitment; one needs to agonize over entering that narrow door of salvation.

So what we have in this passage, if not a window, is Jesus offering up a doorway of opportunity that requires from us a decision:  a choice. And one thing we all know for sure: that any choice, from that of the purchase of household items to a decision whether or not to follow Christ means that you’re going to be forsaking other choices in the process.  Jesus makes it clear:  you strive to go through the narrow door, or you don’t; it’s up to you and you alone, but understand that a choice must be made.  And it’s an urgent choice, for that doorway of opportunity will not be open forever.   The door will close, and when it closes it’ll be too late, for the opportunity will have passed.

And if that isn’t foreboding enough (!), then consider what Jesus says next:  it’s a parable, a rather disturbing parable, in which there’s this householder who welcomes people into his home until the moment comes when it’s time to shut the door.  And once that door is shut the people who were running late, those who had preferred to linger out in the yard and the rest of the crowd who were basically waiting around for a better party to come along… they’re all out of luck because now the door is closed and it’s too late.  Inside the house there’s this incredible feast going on with people in attendance from the four corners of the earth, but outside are all those who missed the opportunity to come inside when it was offered.  And as though to add insult to injury when the latecomers knock on the door to ask if they might still come in, “in reply he will say… ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers.’”  And as The Message goes on to translate it, “And all the time you’ll be outside looking in – and wondering what happened.”  It’s the Great Reversal, in which the last will be first, and the first will be last and so it will be with you, says Jesus, if you don’t take advantage of this opportunity NOW.

It’s harsh, no doubt; this is not exactly one of the more “feel good” parables of the gospels!  The bottom line is that nobody wants to be shut out; no one wants to miss out on the banquet.  But in life, and especially in faith, we need to understand that there are things that are available to us “for a limited time only,” so we had better “act now because this offer may end without notice!”  Once the time for the offer has passed, it’s over!

However, there’s good news within the warning, friends, and it’s not only that the door’s still open, but also that there is one who is watching for us, and who keeps bring forth opportunities for us to come inside.  Our God fills up our lives with windows of opportunity, chances for us to make life more a holy thing, chances to find and to deepen a relationship with Jesus Christ:   perhaps in the opportunity for worship, for prayerful reflection and an immersion, if you will, into the riches that are found in God’s Word; maybe in the chance we’re given from time to time to actually apply what we profess to know in faith in a real-life situation, say for instance in how (and who) we view as our neighbor; or could be it comes in that fleeting  moment we can reach out in love to someone in need, to be there in a time of difficulty, to provide a listening ear in a time of crisis.

The point is that it doesn’t have to be some grand and momentous thing – and may I say here it transcends all of the political and cultural conundrums of this world – but might just be revealed in the simplest happenings of life.  In the words of Arthur Gordon, “It’s that almost always there is a lot more to these commonplace happenings than meets the casual eye; and most people would find a lot more in them if only they would pause and look and feel and care just a bit more than they do.”  You see, the nature of such windows of opportunity is that while they tend to be brief and often involve some risk and sacrifice, they also bring us in deeper fellowship with God and Christ, leading us to discover the Kingdom of God in our midst and thus the worth of our own true selves.

But the thing is… it’s always our choice whether to go with the opportunity before us… or not.

In truth, these days of confused situations do tend to, in the words of the late cartoonist Walt Kelley, “surround us with insurmountable opportunities.”  There is not a day that goes by, beloved, in which our faith in Jesus Christ does not provide an opportunity for a graceful, loving, just response to both the situations of our lives but also the destructive ways of the world around us.  I ask you, friends, how would it be if we truly seized the opportunities to live as true disciples of our Lord Jesus?  What would happen to you and me if we got up off our collective doubts and fears, and started living like the people we know, way down deep inside, that God wants us to be?  How would it be for you and me to live wholly and fully like a believer?

Let me tell you something, beloved;  the older I get, the more I’m coming to realize that faith is not so much about doing great things for Christ as much as it is doing small things greatly.  And to do small things greatly for Christ comes when we truly seize the opportunity for Christianity in our own hearts and lives!

You see, the window is open; the doorway is being held open for us to enter.  God is waiting by the door, holding it open… for now.

And so, Carpe Diem!  Seize the Day!

Seize this day, for the sake of Christ Jesus our Lord!

And may our thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN!

© 2109  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Posted by on August 25, 2019 in Faith, Jesus, Life, Sermon

 

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The Conviction of Things Unseen

(a sermon for August 18, 2019, the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16)

(Note:  An audio version of this message can be heard here)

It was a small moment, but I dare say that it was one of the more enlightening moments of my summer vacation.

We’d gone up to Mapleton that day visiting both the in-laws and our son and his wife who live nearby.  Zach and Jess’ house is literally out behind where my mother and father-in-law live, and within walking distance, so I’m on my way up there when this old, dilapidated and nearly rusted-out pickup truck drives up beside me, and this old, dilapidated and nearly rusted-out man leans out of the truck window, laughs out loud and says to me (and, by the way, it being church and all, I’m cleaning this up just a little bit), “It really stinks to get old, doesn’t it?”

Now, I don’t know this guy from Adam (!) but he seemed friendly enough, so I just laughed and said, “Oh yeah, it happens to every one of us sooner or later!”  To which he replied, “Well, good for you to be out here walking… you want to stave it off for as long as you possibly can!”  I’m still just laughing, and with my Maine accent kicking in I say, “Ayuh, I figured I’d best be kickin’ that can solidly down the road!” And then the man says this: “Well, you know what, nobody should be out here walking alone… tomorrow I’m coming out to look for you so we can walk together!”  And with that, he just smiles, gives me the official “Aroostook County Wave” and roars off down the road. And as I’m watching him go I’m still laughing, but I’m thinking, how old does this guy think I am?

I mean, granted, I wasn’t exactly at my Sunday best that morning… I’m on vacation, after all, so I’m in shorts and a t-shirt; my hair’s getting shaggy and I’m sure I was sporting some beard stubble, but come on!  I know I’m 60 years old, but did I really look that… that… dilapidated?  Maybe it was the way I was walking down the road; perhaps there was a bit more maturity in my step than I intended (after all, as has been pointed out to me, I may have two new hips, but the rest of my body is still 60)!  All I can say is that apparently I was not only headed to Zach’s house, but also quite literally to the end of the road… my road!   And so when I got back I could let everybody in the family know that it was now official, because the truth of the matter had been unquestionably confirmed for me while on the journey out there on the “old town road,”  so to speak:

I’m old.

Now, don’t misunderstand me here; I’m not headed for a rocking chair just yet!  But I do have to say that for me this chance encounter “on the way” did end up serving as something of a parable, and an apt metaphor for life itself:  simply put, that we’re all on this “walk of life,” aren’t we; taking the journey step by step, mile by mile, year by year, ever and always moving toward some kind of long-term vision for the future; raising a family, having grandchildren, getting ready for retirement, trying to live your life with some kind of integrity so that when you finally do leave this world behind, it’ll be a better place than when you found it.  That’s what we do, right; that’s what our journey, and the walking, is all about!

And yet, we also know how utterly unpredictable life can be, and how quickly things can change in ways that are often wonderful but sometimes… challenging (What’s that expression; I think it’s attributed to Woody Allen, of all people: “If you want to make God laugh,” he once wrote, “just tell him about your plans!”).  So often the hard reality of life is that plans change: there’s a bad medical diagnosis, the loss of a job, a shift in a relationship status — hey, maybe you discover that you’re not as young as you used to be (!) — but at the end of the day some of the things we envision get postponed, others change as we along and a few, well, don’t happen at all.  And as far as leaving the world a better place?  Well, when we look around as we do these days to see that world that keeps spinning recklessly out of control, we can’t help but wonder if that’s even possible.

And yet… and yet, we keep walking, don’t we?  We stay on the journey, we kick that can down the road, we keep on “keeping on,” continuing to go where we are determined to go and to do what we know is right, ever and always staying true to the path that’s been set before us even if at times we’re not all that sure where that pathway’s going to end up!  We walk in faith… because, as our text for this morning has so beautifully proclaimed, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Understand, friends, that this has nothing to do with wishful thinking, which is the expectation that by some miracle that which has never happened before in our lives will come to pass; nor is it even about optimism, per se, as optimism has to do with the strength and resilience of the human spirit and the confident belief that good will triumph, eventually and finally, no matter what.  And there’s certainly a place for that; but faith is different.  Faith, you see, is all about hope: a hope that is founded in God and which is made real and vindicated because of God’s faithfulness!  Lest you think I’m just talking in circles here, let me put it another way: in the words of Craig Barnes, “Faith isn’t something we get.  It’s something that gets us.  We don’t possess it.  We are possessed by it… faith is a grace from God – a grace that changes everything about your vision of life in this world.”  So faith, then, is the assurance of things hoped for, precisely because that assurance comes from God; it’s not simply our confidence in the triumph of good, it’s our understanding that this is how good triumphs, solely by God’s faithfulness unto us!  It’s how you and I keep walking the path set before us even when we’re not at all sure of what’s ahead; for faith, beloved, is “the conviction of things unseen.”

This 11th chapter of Hebrews, of which we read just a small portion this morning, is considered one of the greatest affirmations of faith that’s found in all of Holy Scripture, and moreover a celebration of the heroes of faith who had gone on before, from Abel to Noah to Abraham to Moses and beyond, all these people who spent their lives believing in this great hope that had its source in an ever faithful God.  But what’s interesting is that if you read just prior to where we picked up the reading this morning, in the 10th chapter, you read how Paul is urging the people to not “abandon that confidence” in their own Christian faith, saying to them, “you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.”  Understand, we’re not talking about a group of people who have turned away from God, but those who have kept on, and who likely have a long way yet to go on the journey.  So, says Paul, you need to know what faith truly is; hence this grand affirmation of faith in the chapter that follows.  Actually, there are two Greek words that are used in that regard:  first, there’s upostasis, which translates as “standing under,” and speaks to “a foundation of belief,” that comes from Jesus himself; in other words, Jesus is the very picture of the “bedrock of God’s identity,” “something basic, something solid, something firm” that “provides a place from which one can hope.” (Amy L.B. Peeler, NT Professor, Wheaton College) It is, as we read, the “assurance of things hoped for.”

The other word used is elegchos, the translation of which is a bit murkier, but is probably best referred to in English as “evidence” or even “proof” of what we have difficult comprehending; that is, in the words of The Message, “our handle on that which we can’t see.”  In other words, even if on this point on your journey you’re having some doubts (I don’t know, maybe some random passer-by has suggested you’re too old to keep walking!), don’t forget there are those who have gone before who continued to stand firmly upon God’s faithfulness, and you would not want to reject that evidence!  Case in point: Abraham, who demonstrated his faith by going to the place where God called him to go, sight unseen, and who continued to be faithful, though “this great obedience never really paid off” during his lifetime, living out his days “as in a foreign land, living in tents.”(Peeler)  And yet, over time and across generations that promise would come to fruition, and Abraham “looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Likewise, the promise of descendants as many as the stars up in the heavens did not happen in exactly the way that neither Abraham most especially (!) Sarah were expecting; nonetheless, even though they were elderly and “as good as dead”Paul’s words, not mine, friends (!) – there was a child, the beginning of a great multitude of descendants.

The point is, it was by faith that Abraham and Sarah kept walking; they kept looking and moving forward, firm in the knowledge that God’s faithfulness and his sure and certain promise of a land and a home and a family.  They truly had a “conviction of things unseen,” and the question for you and me is whether we’re willing in our lives – and, might I add, in our care of the world and culture that surrounds us – to keep walking in faith despite all the disruptions that seek to keep us off track; looking forward to all signs of God’s faithfulness and love as we go.  “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” and just as it has been for countless generations of the faithful, what that means for us is that no matter how “round about” the journey has seemed to become for us, “we can depend on God to see us home… [because] the destination of the journey of faith is never in doubt.” (Mark Ramsey, “Today”)  We just have to keep walking.

I have shared with you before that one of my great heroes of the faith is the Rev. Dr. Fred McFeely Rogers, a Presbyterian minister better known, of course, to generations of children and families as “Mister Rogers” from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.  I could tell you about a hundred different things I loved about the man, but here’s the latest, something I just learned this week: did you know that whenever Fred Rogers made a speech to one group or another, or when he was on television apart from the “neighborhood,” and even when he was amongst Hollywood celebrities and accepting an Emmy Award for his work in children’s television, “never failed to end his remarks, not with ‘thank you very much,’ or ‘have a good evening,’ but always by saying, ‘May God be with you.’”  And not, by the way, ‘God bless you,’ because “he knew that God had already blessed them, couldn’t help but bless them, would always seek to bless them.”  No… it was always “May God be with you,” because Mister Rogers’ fervent wish, and indeed, his prayer was that each one of those hearing his words would be aware that God was with them in their lives and along their journey.

As the old song goes, “the road is long with many a winding turn.” So it is with faith, beloved… to walk in the presence of the Lord, never looking back but always moving forward, can often be a daunting task indeed.  You know, one thing that old guy in the pickup truck had right was that nobody ought to be walking alone, and there should be someone to walk along with us when we go.  But the good news is that in faith, we’re never alone on the journey. To quote another Presbyterian Church leader, the Rev. Mark Ramsey from Atlanta, “[Faith] knows the challenges of life and the strife of the world.  But God renews faith daily.  Faith gives us a home.  It gives us a road to journey toward that home.”  And as we keep walking on the journey, “God’s hope is persistent and lasting.  It goes eye to eye with hardship and keeps on hoping.”

My prayer for each one of today is that we’ll have that assurance of all the things we hope for, the conviction of what we can’t see… and that awareness of God’s presence with you along every step of the way.

May God be with you, beloved…. May God be with you!

Amen and AMEN!

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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Security Blankets

(a sermon for August 11, 2019, the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Luke 12:13-21)

(Note: an audio version of this message can be found here)

I’m sure that anyone here who’s ever been involved in the lives of very young children knows a little something about security blankets; because, as you also know, just about every child has one… and it matters!

Now, this might be an actual blanket, something along the line of that which Linus always carried in the “Peanuts” comic strips (and from which the very term “security blanket” became part of the language), or else it might be a favorite pillow, a tattered teddy bear or beloved doll.  But the form is much less important than its function: a “security blanket,” you see, serves as something tangible and comforting for that little one to hold on to during anxious times.

And I remember this well; when they were young all three of our children carried around with them some form of “luvvy,” as we referred to them in our house. And I’ll never forget because over those years I engaged in many a scavenger hunt for the sake of recovering a lost or misplaced luvvy!  In the wee hours of the morning, in the midst of torrential downpours, on family car trips turning around to go back home one hour into a three hour drive:  I remember once driving across town back to church on a Sunday afternoon through a blizzard just so I could dig around on all fours in a snow bank (!), all so Jake could have his luvvy and stop crying!  Because, as Linus himself once remarked after a struggle with Snoopy over his blanket, “The struggle for security knows no season!”

But it was okay… as a parent you know that if an old piece of quilt or a rag doll can bring some warmth and comfort to your beloved child on a cold, dark night, that’s what you want; and if it garners you a little bit of extra sleep in the process, so much the better! And besides, they’re only that young for a little while, right; and you know that eventually your children outgrow their need for a security blanket (of course, I’ve known a lot of college students who still quietly count those old stuffed animals as amongst their most precious belongings, but I digress!).

Actually, it seems to me that even as adults, most of us still have some kind of security blanket; it’s just that now they tend to be a whole lot more complex in nature than your average luvvy.  As we grow older, you see, our security blankets take the form of retirement accounts, 401k pension plans and insurance policies.   A warm and safe home, a good reliable car, enough money in the bank to see you through whatever rainy day comes your way: let’s face it; these are the things that most of us seek in order to give ourselves some modicum of security amid the transitory nature of life.  And there’s nothing wrong with that at all; in fact, it’s pretty much basic common sense and responsible behavior to build up an abundance to provide for the uncertainty of the future.  I know that every year when I get these statements in the mail from the Pension Boards of the UCC detailing the growth of our retirement account, I look at those numbers and always think to myself, “Well, there, at least I’ve got that.”  Whatever else is going on, no matter what our challenges might happen to be, there’s this small sense of security in knowing that once I’m retired there’ll be some money coming in.  Granted, by and large clergy don’t “retire rich,” (or at least this one won’t!) but at the very least there will be some level of abundance, right… and that does seem to me like a good thing!

I guess this is why our gospel text for this morning seems so jarring to our ears.  At the face of it, Luke is telling about a couple of brothers feuding over the family inheritance, one of whom who comes to Jesus asking him to settle the issue.  But you realize very quickly that Jesus has no intention of arbitrating the just division of the family estate (in fact, as The Message interprets Jesus’ response, he says, “Mister, what makes you think it’s any of my business” who gets what!); rather, Jesus uses the opportunity to teach on matters of greed and covetousness. “Take care,” Jesus says, “for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”  Fair enough, even if that’s not the daily message we get from Madison Avenue and a culture of affluence, though I do think that most of us realize that the pathway of enlightenment is not found while driving the same luxury car that Matthew McConaughey drives!  We know better; most of us know at some level that life isn’t about our money or our things.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there; he goes on to tell them all a parable about a successful businessman who has done well for himself; in fact, he has “produced [so] abundantly” that he needs to build new storehouses for all the extra grain and the rest of his goods.   He’s done well for himself and he’s provided amply for his own future, and it would seem as though he had earned the right, as he himself put it, “to relax, eat, drink be merry,” to retire securely and comfortably, certainly as any one of us would be wont to do.  Or, in his own words (via The Message, again), “I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well!  You’ve got it made!”

But then, as Jesus tells the story, God intervenes and utters words that rip through this man’s self-satisfied plan like a clap of thunder on a hot summer night:  “You fool!  This very night your life is being demanded of you. And these things you have prepared, whose will they be?”   And so it will be, concludes Jesus, for all those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.

So much for retiring rich!  

I don’t care who you are, God’s words come off here as harsh and cold; tonight you die, fool, so what good is a 401k plan gonna do you?  And the worst part of it all is that this so-called “rich fool” really was no different than what you and I would at least aspire to be someday!   I mean, who among us does not want to be “set” financially, at least for a few years; truly, most of us work for a lifetime precisely toward that kind of goal!  So the question becomes, how do you and I make the transition from what we consider to be  good and prudent common sense to that which makes us a fool in God’s sight?    When is it that our “security blankets” offer no security at all?

Well, first off, this parable is a not-so subtle reminder that our lives will not go on forever.  I’m reminded here of a “Far Side” cartoon from several years back in which a woman in widow’s garb is looking out of the picture window of her house at a large cloud in the sky; and as she’s watching, a TV set, golf clubs, piano and even a dog are flying out the door of the house and up to the cloud.  And the woman says, “Aaaaaa… it’s George.  And he’s taking it with him!”  Well, life is not like that; our lives will come to an end and we can’t take it with us.  Our possessions, no matter how impressive, are no hedge against the ending of our lives.  All those things to which we cling, all of that which we fleetingly hoped would secure ourselves against our own mortality; it doesn’t work, it’s a lie.   So Jesus is right:  life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions, any more than wealth can be the source of our well-being.  That’s the mistake that the rich fool made: this assumption that however savvy he may have been about his life and about his financial situation, somehow he was in control of things. He wasn’t.

God is in control of things, and you and I had best figure that out now; for not only, as the parable suggests, is the knowledge of it the difference between life and death, but it’s the place where the kingdom of heaven dwells.

A few years ago at a former parish, I was asked by a man who was not a member of the church if I might come to his home and meet with his wife for the purpose of planning her funeral.   By this time she’d been ill for a number of months, and she clearly knew her time was short; so there were things she wanted to discuss with me before she died, which not only included what she wished to have happen at her eventual memorial service, but also a few things that she was quite adamant not happen!

Actually, as I recall, despite the subject matter the conversation turned out to rather pleasant and quite lively as she proceeded to grill this local pastor about hymns, scripture passages and the theological and social significance of all the various and sundry traditions that go along with such gatherings in the church!  Eventually, however, she began to talk about other matters as well; telling me about things she was doing in these waning days of her life, as well as expressing concern as to some things she felt she needed to do in the time she had left.  Notice that I didn’t say what she wanted to do, but what she needed to do; as evidenced by a long list of tasks, both large and small, that she’d written very neatly and carefully on a folded piece of paper and to which she referred often as we spoke.

For instance, there had been an old friend with whom at one time she’d been very close, but since a falling out years before, had hardly spoken. She’d long regretted what had happened; but now, finally, she’d sought out her friend to apologize and make things right. Her list was filled with things like that, and so much more; most prominently a series of mostly small promises she’d made to her children and grandchildren over the years that she was intent on honoring, as well as bits of wisdom and words of love she was determined to share with husband and family and friend alike.

It was with great enthusiasm and, dare I say, a distinct tone of joy in her voice that she described to me these crucial tasks that lay before her.  And as I listened, it suddenly occurred to me that I was sitting in the lovely living room of a beautiful house, surrounded by a huge yard with a swimming pool in the back; this was clearly everything this woman and her husband had worked so many years to have and to enjoy.  And yet it was also clear that there was not a single item on her list of crucial things to do that had anything at all to do with her home, her yard, her pool, her wealth or her “things.”  Everything on that list had to do with the people she loved; it was about setting things aright; about extending as much love and care as she possibly could in whatever time she had left in this life.  She was determined to make it all happen; and even as frail as her body had become, there was nonetheless a lightness to her heart and a brightness about her spirit that was a true inspiration.

In the end, you see, in her own way this woman had found that which Jesus said had alluded the rich fool, and which alludes so many of us besides: the true treasure that comes in being rich toward God.

Why is it that it takes a reminder of our own mortality to wake us up to the fact that our only true “security blanket” comes in following God?   How is it that we hear this “good news” spoken to us time after time but we fail to truly receive it as our own, preferring instead to cling to so much that ultimately means nothing to us?   Make no mistake, we’ll still make payments toward our retirement accounts, and make sure our life insurance policies are up to date and adequate for our needs; dreaming of the day we might be able to sit back, for once, not worry and take it easy.

And we should… we should be doing all of that.

But here’s the good news of the gospel:  that even as we seek to secure ourselves in this world we know so well, Christ is calling us to live as part of another world: the real world, a place and a way of life where life does not consist in the abundance of possessions, buy where loving God and neighbor is wealth indeed.

Christ calls us now to follow him, and walk in his ways, that we might find that place that we might know what true security is.

Will you follow, beloved?

Consider this as we come to the Lord’s Table, and may our thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN.

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2019 in Family Stories, Jesus, Life, Ministry, Sermon

 

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