2015-02-22 – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato – First Baptist Church Edmonton
Echo the Story #25 of 36: Kingdom Treasures
“In Search of Lenten Treasure”
We’re deep into the Jesus stories as we begin our annual Lenten Journey towards resurrection Sunday.
We’ve been learning of hope, healing and miracles…and more recently, we’ve learned more about Jesus’ mission…and it’s not just to his people…the Jewish community, we’ve learned that Jesus has a special (and surprising to some) softspot in his heart for the losers, the outsiders and the underdogs. He’s turning the economy of his hearers’ lives upsidedown, gaining lots of fans and influence, but also irking the establishment and giving them plenty of reasons to criticize, condemn and detest! [ooooh, we’re starting to hate this small-town, peace-lovin’ hippy preacher!]
And all the while he keeps on teaching and telling stories. And the crowds keep a-coming…at the beginning of today’s chapter we read: “Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak…first to his disciples….
Perhaps we can imagine a sunny, dry, breezy day in the Galillean countryside.
Jesus lesson plan of the day is full of “good cop/bad cop” fodder…
“Don’t be a hypocrite! I’m warning you…there’s nothing concealed that will not be disclosed! You know…the things you say in the dark and in secret, they’ll be shouted out from the rooftops!”
And as the look of horror grows upon the face of his hearers – – out of the other side of his mouth he says things like…
“I’m telling you, my friends, don’t be afraid!…. God doesn’t forget even the sparrows! He won’t forget you! God even knows how many hairs are on your head! You are worth more than a multitude of sparrows!
Don’t be afraid! I know it’s been a bit crazy lately…and the authorities are getting riled up about many things – – but the Holy Spirit will be with you! Even in the tough times, when you’re backed into a corner with the authorities breathing down your neck…the Holy Spirit will teach you and tell you what to say.
And just as some of the followers are breathing a sigh of relief, saying to each other, “Hey, following Messiah’s gonna be ok”… then Jesus launches off into another story…
But watch OUT!!
Be on your guard!! Don’t get too greedy! Haven’t I told you the story about the Rich Fool? He was a successful farmer and made himself bigger and bigger barns and then says to himself “you have plenty of good things, stored up for many years…take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry!”
But God said to him… “YOU FOOL! This very night your life will be demanded from you! If you die, who will get what you have prepared for yourself!?
THIS IS HOW IT WILL BE for anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God!
After hours of this kind of rollercoaster teaching, the crowd starts thinning out…people walk away bewildered…shaking their heads, throwing their hands in the air…confused, confounded…this isn’t really what I want to sign up for is it?
As dusk encroaches, Jesus’ circle of disciples has shrunk to a hundred.
His inner core of 12 is still there, and many of theirs friends and family have also hung in there…no one admitting how much gas they have left in their “low-fuel-blinking” faith-tanks…
Jesus has compassion on them…
He motions them to come closer and speaks in more hushed and gentle tones – –
“do not worry about your life…what you will eat, what you will wear…life is more than food, and the body more than clothes…WHO OF YOU, by worrying, can add a single hour to your life?”
“Consider the lilies of the field…they don’t labour or spin….yet I tell you that not even King Solomon, in all his splendor, was dressed like one of these! If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, how much more will he clothe you!”
“DO NOT BE AFRAID, my little flock. For it is your Father’s GOOD PLEASURE to give you the Kingdom.”
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh, don’t worry. Don’t be afraid. That’s the Jesus we like, thinks Peter as he tries to take a few deep, cleansing, breaths after feeling on the edge of his seat most of the afternoon. “Maybe it’s gonna be ok that I gave up my fishing boat and left the business for Lemuel…YHWH’s gonna take care of me…livin’ a life like Solomon? Mmmmm- ya! Women. Wine. The Treasures of the Nations… oh ya! – – everything’s gonna be alright in Christ.”
But his “bubble of bliss” is burst by yet one more “bad cop” outburst from Jesus…
“Sell your possessions and give to the poor!”
—- (Who me? Peter thinks to himself…me?)
Jesus must have read his mind because he says it again….this time with a little more chutzpah…
“Sell your possessions! Give to the poor!”
And then he adds:
“Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.”
(But what of my Solomon-ian treasures I was just dreaming about!)
Jesus looks the disciples in the eyes and says:
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
“Blessed are the poor in spirit…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
– – – – – – –
The kingdom of heaven, is filled with Kingdom Treasures.
And that’s sounds like a beautiful place, but like the theologian NT Wright always says… “but what about now?” If Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is here…and if it’s been here for 2000 years…then where are all the kingdom treasures? [not locked up in some future, gold-street laden, pearly-gated community!]
They are in our hearts!
Awwwwwwwwwww…ain’t that sweet?
But again, I think we need to keep on pressing in and saying…this isn’t some pie-in-the-sky “heaven is in my heart” love ballad…
It’s here and now. The stuff of earth.
And it fits with the season of Lent because it’s a season where we start with the real earthy stuff of life. We take oil. We burn ashes from last year’s dried up palm branches (a symbol of hopes, dreams, enthusiasm that’s run out of life and green-ness!)…and then we rub these earthy, ashy, elements on our foreheads/forearms and say “remember you are dust! And to dust you shall return!”
And our humble hearts and our honest (and sometimes feeble?) intentions become the place and presence of kingdom treasures.
Where our treasure is, there too, are our hearts.
And the GOOD NEWS of today’s story is that the genesis of our heart-treasures comes from the bounty of God’s heart.
We don’t conjure these treasures up in our own strength…
“Do not be afraid, little flock….for it is your FATHER’S GOOD PLEASURE to GIVE…”
And in that place of believing/recognizing that we have been given much, Jesus exhorts us to makes the treasures of our hearts “touch-able” & tangible…
“Sell your possessions! Give to the poor!”
And that’s where I’d like to invite us to pause for a few moments…as we are in the early days of the Lenten journey…
How do the verbs “sell” and “give” sit with ours heart?
Somehow…selling our possessions and giving to the poor….is the way of the kingdom…it’s the way of our hearts becoming a place of the treasure-house of God.
When I reflected on this “sell-give” exhortation from Jesus, it made me think of:
GIVING – – 2 directions – – –
GIVING UP (in the best sense of the phrase)
As we live out of this Jesus-story today, GIVING UP might be the act of looking at the landscape of our possessions and asking ourselves…do I own them…or do they own me? Am I willing to hold my possessions with open hands and let them go [give up on them, or give them up], as God leads me to do so?
e.g. Amanda talks about 40 bags in 40 days Lenten practice.
Or part of our Lenten journey can be paying attention to the places/people where God is inviting us to GIVE AWAY. Give away $$, give away time, give away kindness, forgiveness, mercy, grace…
e.g. Catholic priest James Martin (the Jesuit guide to almost everything: spirituality in real life) says that instead of giving something up, give something away…. Essentially he’s saying “Give away kindness” – – “BE KIND”…..i) don’t be a jerk [don’t pass along your misery!] ii) honour the absent iii) st. Ignatius “always give people the benefit of the doubt.” It’s a lot harder than giving up chocolates!
What might Jesus be inviting you to give up? Think possessions! Or think of giving up on your possessions as a way of finding life…it’s foolish is it not?
What might Jesus be inviting you to give away? Think resources…think of the poor.
The GIVING is born out of the promise…
“Do not be afraid, little _____ [insert your name here, or your church name here]. . . for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give…”
We give, because he first gave to us!
A Lenten Prayer:
O God, within this strange and quickened dust
The beating heart controls the coursing blood
In discipline that holds in check the flood
But cannot stem corrosion and dark rust.
In flesh’s solitude I count it blest
That only you, my Lord, can see my heart
With passion’s darkness tearing it apart
With storms of self, and tempests of unrest.
But your love breaks through blackness, bursts with light;
We separate ourselves, but you rebind
In dayspring all our fragments; body, mind,
And spirit join, unite against the night.
Healed by your love, corruption and decay
Are turned, and whole, we greet the light of day.