Where is Your Treasure?” is a sermon on Luke 12:32-48 preached by the Rev. John P. Jackman on Sunday, August 7, 2016 – Trinity Moravian Church
Last week, we thought about what happens when some terrible tragedy or unexpected news or massive change slices though our lives – and changes everything. Changes all our plans. Last week we heard Jesus’ parable about the wealthy man who had a bumper crop. He thought he would pull down his crowded, too-small barns, build newer, bigger ones to hold all the bounty. But he did not know that he was to be called home that very night. All of that work, all of the possessions, the wealth, the riches, all that stuff would be someone else’s.
And that’s really the reality of life – and in fact, this week we understand a little bit more, Jesus continues this lesson, and in fact, He tells us to be ready, to be prepared, but most of all to be paying attention! Something most of us don’t do well with.
We have some wonderful children here, and I’m happy to say, some more coming along soon! When you’re a young parent, all the old folks tell you to “pay attention.” When our kids were born, everyone told us that – “It goes so fast –as soon as you blink an eye, they’ll be in college!” And like all young parents, we thought, “What a dumb thing to say!” Time sure didn’t seem to “fly by” when there were the long nights when the baby wouldn’t sleep and when changing the six thousandth diaper of the week. It seems to drag out forever – it doesn’t seem to pass very fast. But before long, you’re joining the people saying “pay attention, because it goes by so fast!”
When our Abby was little, we always talked about keeping a diary of the things that she said. Because she uses words in a very creative way – we called them “Abbyisms.” She still does this. We never got around to keeping a diary, but we wish we did, because now, twenty-two years later, it’s hard to recall some of the amazing and funny things she said, things that at the time caused us to roar with laughter.
One of the great wise men of our times, Dr. Seuss writes,
How did it get so late so soon,
It’s night before it’s afternoon.
December is here before it’s June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?
You know at some point, we can all relate to that. Life is really too short to waste. But we live in a world that encourages us to waste it. Not to pay attention to the things that are truly valuable. Life is really too short to waste on computer solitaire or pointless game shows. It’s too short to waste eating bad microwave pizza that tastes horrid but only takes seconds to heat, too short to read bad novels and watch bad movies (except of course the ones that are SO bad they become entertaining!). Life is far too short to have the most perfect lawn on the block or the cleanest gutters. Is that really the most important thing in our lives?
One of the things that Western Christians, especially American Christians, could learn from Eastern religions – I ought to piggyback on that here that we shcould learn this from most of the great Christian contemplative mystics as well – is to BE IN THE MOMENT, to pay attention to what is happening right now. In our culture, too many of us get caught up in planning what we will be doing next week, worrying about something we cannot now change three weeks in the past. And we live life completely distracted, not paying attention. And we let those wonderful moments that God has given us flit by without noticing. We don’t take the time to write those wonderful things in a journal so that we can recall it later.
We don’t take the time to pay attention. That’s what Jesus is saying to us – PAY ATTENTION. That has to do with the conversion of our minds from one that is obsessed with “I want, I want, I want,” and “I regret, I regret, I regret” to one that is calm and assured of grace, and able to focus on what God is giving us right this moment.
What could we accomplish if we were truly assured of grace, confident of grace, resting in the grace of God? Instead of wallowing in guilt or trying to prove ourselves or earn grace, we could be spending our energies on loving others! Has anyone ever really tried it?
The great reformer Martin Luther wrote that each Christian had to go through three conversions. First is the conversion of the HEART, to feel closer to God; the second is the conversion of the MIND, so that your thoughts reflect God’s love; and the third is the conversion of the PURSE. What Jesus is talking about this morning is paying attention, and placing our treasure in the right place. Not misplacing our hearts and our treasure at the same time. The conversion of the purse is about that moment when we begin to use our gifts and resources in the way that God would use them, rather than ion the way that some advertiser wants you to use them – to misuse them. We’ve got a lot of distractions this way in our society, our society is really built on tempting us to misuse our resources. Pushing things that we don’t need, distracting us with entertainment that we don’t need, and really isn’t good for us.
There was an article was written a while ago about the health effects of our passive lethargic video game culture, and the title of that was Entertained to Death – came out of a study that indicated that the next generation will be the first that will have a shorter life span than their parents, because of our many misdirected habits.
We have to pay attention to life. Of course, when we do that, we find there are gems in the moments of every day, moments to savor and remember and value – moments which very often we miss completely, whizzing on by in our distractions.
There was another article published a few years ago that intrigued me. It pulled together several studies about happiness, and found that (contrary to what we’ve thought), money CAN buy happiness – just not the way we usually try to do it. What they found was that people who take their treasure, and use it to create experiences rather than buying things with the money, were happier overall, had stronger relationships with family and friends. To buy experiences with money instead of things!
In rereading that article, I started to look around the house and think about the stuff we have. We’ve got a lot of stuff, we need to get rid of a lot of it. Maybe you’re in the same boat. But as I looked around the house, I noticed that a great many of the things we’ve kept have stories attached to them. Don’t you find that some trivial souvenir from a trip with your children is far more meaningful – because of the memories – than some very valuable or exquisite thing that you bought.
One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is that often the world has things really backward. The things they tell you to do are NOT the things that will really build your life – both in relationship with others and in relation to God. One of the things that has fascinated me over the years is to watch people going on mission work crews. From a worldly point of view, this makes no sense at all. A hard-working person takes a week of their valuable vacation, pays their own way to go — not to a resort — but to the smelly back end of some third world country, to work their rears off, sweat, and sleep in a the most uncomfortable bed they ever experienced. But in helping others, there is great reward. Over the years of organizing work crews, I hardly ever had a person come back who didn’t sign up to go on another – and often many more. And nearly all of them told me that they got more out of the experience than the people they were supposedly helping.
That’s sure not what cruise companies want to sell you! That’s not what the world sells.
Paying attention – being in the moment – putting your treasure and your time where your heart is can change your life.
I like what Dr. Brett Younger, pastor of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, NY has to say, I’m paraphrasing a little here:
- Life is short, so live every day as if it were your last, because some day you’ll be right.
- Life is short, so wake up, stay alert, be prepared, light the lamps, get ready. Listen for the knock, answer the call, serve where you’re sent.
- Life is short, so do what you love to do and give it your best. Whether it’s business or teaching or medicine, or the arts, give it you all.
- Life is short, so recognize that today is the only day you have, eat dessert first!
- Life is short, so listen to the people you love, tell them how much they mean to you, visit someone else’s mother in the nursing home.
- Life is short, so forgive. Look past the faults of others just like you hope they will do for you.
- Life is short, so be courageous, take a chance, live so that when your life flashes before your eyes, you’ll have plenty to watch – and not a lot to regret.
- Life is short, so celebrate God’s eternity, make time for the things that matter, don’t leave yourself regretting things you didn’t do.
- Life is short, so be an evangelist, tell a friend how God’s love has changed your life, be a person who talks about Jesus.
Buy Experiences, Not Things
On October 2, 1950, a new comic strip debuted in funny pages across the country – drawn by a young artist named Charles M. Schulz, the strip was called “Peanuts.” It was very different from other comics of the day, such as The Katzenjammer Kids, Nancy, or the yet-to-debut Dennis the Menace. All of them depended on children’s relationships with grownups for their story and gags. Shulz’ strip was only about the children, and their relationships with one another. When asked why there were no adults in Peanuts, Shulz responded “the daily strip is only an inch and a half high, and they wouldn’t have room to stand up!” Actually, he felt that the adults would intrude in a world where they could only be uncomfortable. “In earlier days I experimented with off-stage voices, but soon abandoned this as it was not only impractical but actually clumsy,” he said in a 1975 interview. “Instead, I have developed a cast of off-stage adults who are talked about but never seen or heard.”
The other thing that was distinctive about Peanuts was Schulz’ use of theology – Linus quotes the Gospel of Luke from memory, Charlie Brown confronts deep metaphysical questions while playing baseball, Pig Pen carries dirt from Bible times. The deep issues of life run through Peanuts, in the conversations of children. Robert L. Short even published a book called The Theology of Peanuts, which has had huge popularity. Through his pen-and-ink characters, Schulz has touched many lives. Many of us will watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on TV this month, a show where Schulz pokes gentle fun at unquestioning faith. Shultz was a Minnesota Lutheran, who was active for a while in the Church of God and later taught Sunday School in a Methodist Church. He would have been a good Moravian, for he wrestled with faith and resisted the easy answers. His wife Jean said that “he wanted to know what those passages really meant — his discussions with priests and ministers were so interesting because he wanted to find out what these people (who he thought were more educated than he) thought.” She continued, “When he taught Sunday school, he would never tell people what to believe. God was very important to him, but in a very deep way, in a very mysterious way.” He was a contributing founder of the “Fellowship of Merry Christians,” a group I belong to that seeks to bring humor to worship.
The thing that Peanuts has always reminded me of is the fact that our children have a whole social life – and spiritual life – that exists apart from us, their parents. Peanuts helps us remember that they too are wrestling with the great questions of life – of good and evil, of right and wrong, of meaning and meaninglessness. When we dismiss their childlike questions or ignore their need for understanding, we do a terrible thing – for the answers (or lack of answers) that start growing when we are children are the foundation for the answers (or lack of them) that we may experience as adults. We want our children to be a part of worship, to ask hard questions, to know about suffering and service and grace. The children’s sermon in our worship isn’t there to entertain the adults – it’s there for the children themselves. We cook and clean and plan and organize LOGOS not because none of us have anything else to do every Wednesday – we do it because we love the children of our church and neighborhood and want to give them the best foundation they can have to live life.
Shortly after Schulz’s passing in 2000, Peanuts was reported to be printed in 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries in 21 languages. Through pen and ink, and inquisitive mind, and simple drawings, Schulz brought comfort and challenge in a special gentle way to millions – and reminded us that our children aren’t just toy consumers. They are spiritual beings, children of God, wrestling with the same things we face as adults.
From It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! ©1966 CBS, publicity frame used with permission.
What a wonderful summer! August was a month of bubbling activity on our block and among the churches of the Salem Creek RCC! We started the month with our group of churches holding a joint Vacation Bible School, which was hosted by Trinity and Home Churches. Volunteers from Home, Messiah, St Philips, and Trinity helped make activities for all ages come to life as we studied the Bible as a library of books — and we were proud to have the Trinity youth volunteer to sing the 66 books without missing one! The strangest feature of the VBS was a mysterious “Bible Clown” who showed up briefly at the start of each program. Little Ann Workman found him quite terrifying. Several children noticed that they never saw Bible Clown and Pastor John in the same room at the same time – hmmmm!
Many of our members contributed school supplies to assemble the backpacks that were given away at the Anthony’s Plot block party, which had the theme “All Things Good in Our Neighborhood!” That block party was a smashing success, with almost 450 attending. Many Trinity members were present as volunteers, making the day happen smoothly.
The next day, August 17, the Salem Creek RCC sponsored a Children’s Festival at Bethabara Church, a celebration of the “children’s renewal” of 1727. Families from many outlying churches drove in to spend the afternoon at Bethabara park, enjoying games and crafts, and finally a wonderful children’s lovefeast in the sanctuary of Bethabara Church. Many Trinity youth were involved in serving the lovefeast, and the Trinity Puppeteers helped to present the story of the day, under the leadership of Jeannie & Tripp May! One of the puppets looked suspiciously like it might have had Carter Gentle’s hand guiding it. Pastor John, Doug Rights, Bishop Sam Gray, and Thomas Baucom led the singing during the lovefeast with guitars and Bishop Sam’s unique “wheelie keyboard!”
On August 18, the wonderful Trinity Zimmer-Lewtak pipe organ was featured in the “Sounds of Summer” organ series. We had over 160 people attend on a rainy Monday night to hear the concert — a great turnout!
The month closed with a special Vacation Bible School at St. Philips Church, specially designed to coincide with the week that the school lunch program is on hiatus. Volunteers from of group of churches came together to have a wonderful program for school-age children in the Bon Air and surrounding neighborhoods. Many folks contributed food, and in addition to joyous activities, the children had a hot lunch every day – which many of them would not have had without our work!
My heartfelt thanks to all the people who put in many hours of volunteer work to make these events happen! You’ve touched many heart with grace, children with fun and Bible stories, and fed some very hungry tummies! This was the busiest August I remember for many years, and it was fantastic!
- Pastor John