Old Testament: Isaiah (1:1, 10-20)
The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation— I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
The Response: Psalm (50:1-8, 23-24)
1 The Lord, the God of gods, has spoken; *
he has called the earth from the rising
of the sun to its setting.
2 Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, *
God reveals himself in glory.
3 Our God will come and will not keep silence; *
before him there is a consuming flame,
and round about him a raging storm.
4 He calls the heavens and the earth from above *
to witness the judgment of his people.
5 “Gather before me my loyal followers, *
those who have made a covenant with me
and sealed it with sacrifice.”
6 Let the heavens declare the rightness of his cause; *
for God himself is judge.
7 Hear, O my people, and I will speak:
“O Israel, I will bear witness against you; *
for I am God, your God.
8 I do not accuse you because of your sacrifices; *
your offerings are always before me.
23 Consider this well, you who forget God, *
lest I rend you and there be none to deliver you.
24 Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me; *
but to those who keep in my way
will I show the salvation of God.”
The New Testament: Hebrews (11:1-3, 8-16)
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.” All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
The Gospel: Luke (12:32-40)
Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. “But know 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. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
by the Rev. Mike Kreutzer
The late New Testament scholar, Douglas Hare (Matthew, page 71), observed: “One of the most notable characteristics of the human species is its proclivity to collect things.” If you have any doubt about that veracity of that statement, just take a look inside our Fellowship Room, Choir Room, Lounge, and the back of church, and see all the stuff we have accumulated for this Saturday’s Yard Sale. Over the years, many people have commented that, after each year’s sale, you would think that we would have run out of things to donate; but obviously we haven’t.
People do collect things – and then try to figure out what to do with them – and sometimes why they bought them to begin with. Some people accumulate a lot of things, while others tend to be more minimalistic. It seems that some folks, for whatever reason, feel better about themselves when they buy more things and continue to collect more stuff. For them, having lots of things seems to serve as a status symbol, maybe meant to impress themselves as much as other people. “If I have a lot of stuff, that means that I have been a success, that I am important.” What a curious notion!
Having a lot of things can, of course, backfire. When the Great Recession began back in 2008, one of the largest losses occurred in the housing market with a record number of foreclosures. Subsequent studies showed that the largest number of foreclosures, at least here in the greater-Dayton area, came not among those living in modest homes in our core city, but among those living in the more expensive, newer, larger, more prestigious homes in the suburbs of the surrounding counties. Other metropolitan areas across the nation experienced the same thing. Now that our nation has been in a recovery for ten years, one hopes that people haven’t forgotten what we should have learned.
Our gospel reading last Sunday addressed the accumulation of things with Jesus’ story about the man who had prospered financially but was concerned only to keep it all for himself. Then he died the next day. There’s no indication in the parable that he had cheated anyone or stolen anything in order to get all that he had. Apparently, it was all perfectly legal. But God still calls him a “fool.”
In the first part of the gospel passage that we heard today, Jesus picks up that focus on wealth and on our use of wealth. First of all, he reminds his audience that none of these things can buy them happiness and fulfillment: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” The source of true happiness and fulfillment comes as a gift. Then he continues by issuing the challenge: “Sell your possessions, and give alms.” At first hearing, it seems from this and other passages, especially in Luke, that Jesus is insisting that all those who want to follow him have to give away everything and live in poverty and trust.
But that is not the way that Luke and those who first heard his version of the gospel and his second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, would have heard it. Sure there are some who sense themselves called to do that. Think for example of some of the religious orders that eventually emerged in the life of the church. But for most people, including those portrayed in the New Testament as true disciples of Jesus, the real question is not whether you have wealth, but what you do with the wealth that you have.
Take, for example, the group of women from Galilee who are portrayed in the gospel as following Jesus throughout his ministry, providing for his needs, and who were present at his tomb on Good Friday and again on Easter morning; they obviously had the resources to be able to travel and to support their teacher and were willing to use them to enable him to accomplish his ministry. Think about Luke’s own patron, Theophilus, to whom the opening lines of the gospel and of Acts are addressed; he was obviously a person of means who used generously what he had as a local leader of the church. And think also about Tabitha, whom Acts calls a “disciple” and describes (9:36) as “devoted to good works and acts of charity.” All these and others are held up as model followers of Jesus, not because they gave away everything they had, but because they used whatever they had to serve the needs of others, especially those who were not as financially fortunate as they were.
But in that opening section of today’s gospel reading, we have another important statement that we sometimes forget or choose to ignore. Jesus declares, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Didn’t he get that backwards? Don’t we first have to get our heart in the right place and then let that lead us to use the gifts of God to do the work of God? That seems to be a frequent approach that people take; but maybe it’s just a subconscious attempt to keep from doing what we know that we really need to do.
As I’ve mentioned before, Jesus’ approach to forming disciples is not one that calls people first of all to learn a lot of things, to memorize a set of catechism questions and answers, and then later to consider putting Jesus’ teachings into practice. Instead, he takes the opposite approach. His consistent M.O. is calling people, “Come, follow me.” “Come, do the things that I am doing. Come, live as though the kingdom, the dominion of God, has come. For it is in doing what a disciple does that you learn to be a disciple.”
Jesus espouses the same “live in order to learn” approach in regard to using whatever resources God has entrusted to us. He calls his followers to put their treasure where God calls them to put it – in serving those who are in-need, in doing the work of God in the world. And then, once they have done that — consistently and perhaps over an extended period of time – then they will find that that is where their hearts have journeyed also.
We certainly want to choose wisely where we spend or contribute our money, as well as our time and whatever abilities we have. That, too, is part of faithful stewardship. But if we want to live in the reign of God here and now, we cannot wait until we decide that we are “ready”: that, to use Jesus image, our heart is in the right place. We learn by doing. We come to understand and to experience and to live in the reign of God by living in it day by day, week by week. For where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.