Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Above All Things.

Sermon 7-31-16
Grace to you and peace from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, amen.
Here we go again, Jesus. Taking about hard, challenging stuff. Again. I’m sure you’d all much rather I give my sermon on funny things I found on Facebook this week instead. Like the 11 year old boy who wrote out his own version of the Ten Commandments. According to him, they are:

1.     Don’t use up all your money.
2.     Be kind.
3.     Listen to your parents.
4.     Give to charity.
5.     Respect God.
6.     Don’t abuse video games.
7.     Don’t kill anybody.
8.     Play outside more
9.     Do the Nae Nae – if you don’t know what that is, ask your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or neighbor’s kids,
10.                        (Remember this is coming from an 11 year old boy) Punch Hitler in the face. (Normally I don’t condone violence, but… maybe we can give that one a pass...)

Would this particular young man pass our confirmation class with these answers? Maybe. But really, this kid is not all that far off. Though not in the right order, he’s got some the basics. Play outside – take a Sabbath from things like video games. Be kind. Listen to your parents. Don’t kill anybody. Respect God.  

Though, if you would like to have instant access to the ACTUAL Ten Commandments, and also Martin Luther’s explanation for all of them, I have good news for you. Augsburg fortress, the ELCA publishing company, recently came out with a free app of a downloadable Small Catechism. And you thought your smart phones were only for Facebook, GPS, Pokemon GO, and watching Bill Clinton adorably having fun with balloons.

When you do download this wonderful tool, you too can look up the “real” First Commandment – which of course is “You shall have no other gods” – and also Luther’s explanation of that commandment – which is, “we are to fear, love, and trust God about all things.”

Above. All. Things.

I think that this 11 year old boy was also onto something, when he put as HIS first commandment, “don’t use up all your money.”

I’ve seen a couple episodes of a really interesting show called Tiny House Nation. There is a small movement that ‘s been gaining momentum, the push toward drastic downsizing, of scaling back, and decluttering our lives… though, of course, we made it into a reality TV show! But… this idea is so fascinating because it is so foreign to us. One episode showed a farm couple from Wisconsin who wanted a pared down life that went with their vocation as farmers. Can you image living in a 170 square foot house with your spouse, a dog, a cat, AND your stuff? Well, they did, and they are making it work, and so far they love it!

Now, contrast the couple on Tiny House Nation with the farmer from Jesus’s story. While the couple are choosing to scale back, pare down, and simplify, this farmer is SUPER-SIZING. And why not? The land he owns is producing the bumper crop to end all bumper crop, and his current barns are filled to the brim. What do to, what to do?

SO he consulted himself – this guy seems to talk to himself a lot! – and came up with a great idea! Built bigger barns! Store the bumper crop away, save it for another day. What a great plan….Except that this farmer forgot about something. He seemed to forget the rest of that saying we all know… you know, the one that goes, “Eat, drink, and be merry for….. (Tomorrow we die.)”

And that’s exactly what happens. God comes to visit him in the night, not to TAKE the life of this man… but to reveal to him the truth of his situation… it is actually his many goods that have demanded HIS LIFE.

This is a parable of warning. Don’t be like the farmer. But… I think many of us would like to be in the farmer’s shoes… except for the dying part, of course. Many of us, myself included, would love to suddenly see a windfall come our way. Though our sudden payouts might look like getting some extra hours in at work, a tax refund, a raise, or a Christmas bonus.

And so our bigger barns look a little less like those big red buildings on my parents’ farm, and more like this… like an extra dresser I might get to put all the  cheap clothes I could buy . Our bigger barns look like the newest iPhone or smart phone gadget. They could even be in the form of the latest Fitbit or video game system. Or they could be a larger house in order to fit all of our stuff and our kids’ stuff, or a bigger garage, because we can’t even fit our car in there anymore.

But more and more, I think, our “bigger barns” look like this. Your innocent-looking, common, everyday credit card. This is our bigger barns. And if we’re not careful, these will demand our lives.

Because nowadays we don’t even have wait for that windfall to come in before building bigger barns. Everything around us tells us to spend, spend, spend, to get more and more stuff… and get deeper and deeper into this kind of debt. Suddenly our lives become bound to our stuff, and we become prisoners of this little piece of plastic.

The reason I am showing you this card, which I’ve closed, is to tell you something you probably won’t hear anywhere else. That you are not using these, but they are using YOU. They want you to think they’re helping you. But they are not. They are actually digging you a hole. And this hole just so happens to be six feet deep. Which is exactly where that farmer ended up finding himself.

This farmer was on top of the world, with everything going for him, and so he forgot all about God. He only consults with himself, is only concerned with himself and his own future comfort. He made plans to secure his future without any reference to God or to other people. He was only rich toward himself. And so his fate became “death by stuffication.”

This farmer could be a poster boy of Luther’s definition of sin- to be curved in on oneself, until that becomes all we can see, so that we not only miss out on sharing God’s gifts with others, but completely miss the fact that all things come from God in the first place.

Our own money, our “real” money, ironically enough, constantly reminds us, “In God we trust.” Not in money. Not in stuff. Not in bigger barns. Not is securing our own future. But we trust in God. Fear, love, AND trust, to be exact, at least according to Luther’s explanation of the first commandment. And God does not demand our life in an unfillable hole of debt and death. God is the source of all life, is the giver of life, the giver of OUR lives and all that we have.

Life is not about our belongings, Jesus said to crowd. Instead, life is about WHO we belong TO. We belong to God, who claimed us in our baptisms as beloved children. Which means that we are all brothers and sisters in the family of God. And our inheritance is life itself, eternal life, abundant life, here and now and in the time beyond our death, when we too will be raised, along with Christ. God gave us a peek of this inheritance when Jesus was raised from the tomb on the third day. Jesus, still being persistent in his mission to the point of being annoying, especially for those who wanted him to stay dead.

 Even when our desire to stay curved in on ourselves cause us to try to ignore Jesus, Jesus keeps showing up, keeps telling us the hard stuff, keeps giving us new life as God’s children and keeps getting us out the door to share these gifts with one another.

Sometimes our best teachers of being children of God are actual children. The 11 year old writer of that funny set of Ten Commandments reminds us to not “use up” all our money, and also to give some of it away to charity. Another little girl I know is deeply passionate about saving her pennies for the St. Jude’s children’s hospital, so when she had her first communion, instead of buying her a gift, I made a donation in her honor. Our own kids who came to vacation Bible School got to see the efforts of their generosity grow with their own eyes as they put up sections of a pretend irrigation canal they were raising money for.

These kids get it, when many of us have grown up and forgotten, being too distracted by setting our minds on things that are on earth rather than on things that are above, as Paul writes. We have a new self to put on, one that is made in the image of the one who created us. Which might mean doing some house cleaning or downsizing – ala Tiny House Nation style - on many of the things our old self loved, and still does love to cling to, like trusting in things rather than loving and trusting God.

We grownups forget, as the farmer forgot, what another Facebook post says, “If you are more fortunate than others, it is better to build a longer table than a taller fence,” (Or a bigger wall). Or, as Jesus might have added, it is better to build a longer table than bigger barns.

As always, Jesus leaves us with some hard things to think about – how we downsize our barns that block our generosity, and elongate our tables for welcome and sharing. We as a nation have a long way yet to go in the realm of table-building and inclusion instead of fence building. There are too many barns, too many fences, and not enough seats at the table for all. But we can help change that, one fence, one barn, one seat at the table at a time. Jesus hands us the hammer and the nails, and invites us along in his work.

So what’ll it be? What are we building today?


Or tables? 

1 comment:

  1. I love the image of a long table juxtaposed to the big barn! What is move lovely than laughing, learning and being with people who help us feel more connected to God? It also makes me wonder if many of us will ask ourselves at some point in our lives, "Why did I spend much of my time at work, on the screen and accumulating stuff?" In 1989, my family decided to hold an estate sale after my grandmother died. She lived in her home for 44 years and accumulated things like photographs, tools, magazines, newspapers, radios, flashlights, etc. After sorting through everything, I noticed that the family took a few specific mementos and maybe a piece of jewelry or of furniture. And while some of her things sold to strangers, most everything else ended up on the curb. It is true, we cannot take it with us.