Sunday, August 29, 2010

August 29, 2010 "Like Cows in a Barn"

Luke 14:1-14

Jesus went to a Sabbath-day dinner party.
A nice affair, it was.
In the home of a prominent religious leader.
They’d all been to worship … now it was time to eat.

Everyone was watching Jesus.
What is he gonna do next?
What is he gonna say?

Jesus doesn’t waste any time.
He asks the religious leaders: Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?
They say nothing, of course.
Why should they?
Who’s Jesus to be asking THEM a question?
They reply with stony silence.
They give Jesus the cold shoulder.

Jesus then takes hold of a man in the crowd.
A man with dropsy.
A circulation problem.
Fluid builds up beneath the skin and in the abdominal cavity, around the heart and in the lungs.
Right then and there, Jesus heals the man.
Love doesn’t wait.
Mercy and compassion are always in season.

And with that, Jesus does some people-watching.

Ever go to a mall to watch people?
Or sit on a Venice Beach bench?
Tourists gawking and hip hop artists selling their CDs … psychic readers with Tarot cards and crystal balls.
Muscled women and men pushing iron in the outdoor gym … kids with chocolate ice cream dripping down their arms … a weary barefoot lady searching through a garbage barrel for some small treasure … a man with a haunted face asking for spare change.
Or a Dodger game, and there’s a lull in the action (and there seems to be a lot of lulls these days for the Dodgers), and ya’ sit back for a moment, sip some beer and munch a peanut, and look around at all the shapes and sizes and styles of people.
People watching.
It’s a lot of fun.

Jesus does a little people watching at the party.

And he notices folks pushing their way to the best seats in the house, places of honor – close to the host … where the food is served first.

I can only imagine Jesus standing back watching the commotion.

Like cows in a barn.
Donna’s Dad was a Minnesota cattle dealer … we’d go home to Minnesota, and I’d spend time in the barn with him … cows to move, from one pen to another … out to the yard for feeding, or into another pen for tagging and shipment.

A dozen or so had to be moved from one part of the barn to the other …
Through a doorway two-cows wide.
And they all try to go through at once.
Banging and smashing.
Grunting and bellowing …
The barn took quite a beating, but finally, shoulder-to-shoulder, noise and dust, they finally make it through …

It’s not in a cow’s nature to say, “After you.”
But always “me first!”

Like cows in a barn.
I think Jesus might have laughed at the dinner party.

Folks pushing and shoving their way to the front … like cows in a barn.

You’ve probably seen the bulletin by now - the cartoon I found … a crowd, pushing and shoving … and who knows what it’s all about …

A friend of mine entered a contest on the Internet and needs folks to vote for her … she wrote, “Until this contest, I never realized how competitive I am.”

Sure, we’re all competitive.
Whether it’s the best lane on the 405.
The quickest checkout at Trader Joe’s.
Or as my friend, the Vintner says of his former work with a huge entertainment corporation: what counted was your title, the size of your paycheck and the size of your office.
We’re all competitive.
And that’s what Jesus saw at the dinner party.
And it isn’t a pretty picture.

I wonder … what do we look like to Jesus?
What does God see when God steps back to watch you and me?

Jesus tells them:
Slow down, you’re going too fast.
Take a quieter approach to things.
If ya’ push and shove your way to the front, it won’t work.
You’ll only end up embarrassing yourself.
Trust the host to seat you properly.

I think of the egg man in the news these days.
Jack DeCoster …
What a tangled story …
Tainted feed, tainted chickens, Salmonella.
Terrible working conditions, environmental violations.
The local sheriff says: DeCoster’s been picked up "dozens of times" for driving without a license and "doesn't pay a lot of attention to traffic laws."…
The man has been repeatedly fined left and right for all kinds of violations … but he’s got the money … egg money, so to speak … to pay the fines and stay in business … until now!

I wonder about the egg business.
How does this come about?

And what about the people who work in those hideous hen houses?
What about the chickens? … God loves them, too … all creatures, great and small.
And the health issues for the nation.
The money and the power.

Jesus says:
Trust the host.
Trust the host to seat you properly.
Don’t push so much.
Hold the door open for others.
Make room, and do it right.
Don’t sell your soul for a seat at the table.
Trust the host.
Trust God!

I wonder …
What would a godly egg business look like?
If God were in charge of the eggs?
Christians, we need to put on our thinking caps.
We need to pay attention.
Do some people-watching.

What does it mean to “trust God”?

Right now, in America, we’re all a little edgy.
Folks are uneasy about the future.

Hoarding is on the increase.
Folks fill their basements and attics and bedrooms and dens and dining rooms and rented storage units with more and more stuff.
Every day, new ads: get this, buy this, use this …
Playing into our fear: will there be enough for us?
Just like the rich fool who thought bigger barns would solve his anxiety.

It’s a dangerous time for a nation.
Nations get goofy when they worry about the future.
Worried nations always find someone to pick on.

Look at France right now – deporting Gypsies.
Look at our own immigration issues.
And our reaction to the proposed Islamic Community Center in New York City.
Remember the “Red Scare” of the Fifties?
Joe McCarthy and Hollywood blacklisting?
Hitler and the Jews?
Nations get goofy when times are difficult.

But if nations get goofy, what about us?

Here we are in a place called Covenant.
The very word “covenant” is powerful.
An agreement.
An agreement between God and you and me.
I will be faithful to you, says God.
I will be your God.
My word and my Spirit are yours.
And you will be my people.
A covenant worked out in the blood, sweat and tears of the centuries.
And worked out in the blood, sweat and tears of Jesus.
At the last supper, lifting the cup of blessing, Jesus says to us: This cup, poured out for you, is the new covenant in my blood.
Covenant … Covenant Presbyterian Church.
A remarkable word.
Centered in God’s grace, we are.
God’s sovereign goodness.
God’s providence and God’s provision.
We are not our own, but we belong to a faithful Savior … in life and in death, body and soul, now and forever.
There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our LORD.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

What does it mean to trust God?
To trust the host for a decent place to sit?
To trust God:
When it comes to our paycheck and our Social Security?
Our investments and the way we live?
Our medical care and the end of our life?

Tomorrow morning … the world.
Back to work and back to all the stuff of life.
As it should be.

Tomorrow, we will work hard.
That’s life.
We will work hard and do our best.
We will make plans and chart the best course possible.
We will do some people-watching.
We’ll see some folks behaving just like cows in a barn.
And for a moment or two, we’ll be tempted to join in the basing and the bellowing.

But something deep within us will give us pause.
Because today, we have spent time with Jesus.

And that makes all the difference in the world! Amen and Amen!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

August 22, 2010, "Jesus Didn't Wait"

Luke 13:10-17

Do you notice anything unusual about the timing of this healing?

That’s right … on the Sabbath … and let me ask you a question, “Why didn’t Jesus wait until the next day?”
After all, the woman suffered her infirmity for 18 years … couldn’t she have waited 24 hours?

I imagine the synagogue leader taking Jesus aside later in the day, saying to him, What’s your hurry Jesus? This woman could have waited 24 hours. You could’ve healed her tomorrow, and everything would have been just ducky. Why did you did have to do it today, on the Sabbath? What’s the rush?

The synagogue leader is right.
Jesus could have waited.
The woman could have waited.
Everyone could have waited.
And the results would have been the same.
The woman would have been healed.
Folks would have seen it.
No rules violated.
No laws broken.
All would have been ducky.

Couldn’t Jesus have waited?

Of course, he could have waited.
Everyone could have waited.
24 hours.
That’s all.
I bet all the Gideon Bibles in the LAX Hilton that if ya’ had asked the woman, “Can ya’ wait 24 hours?” she would have replied, “Of course I can. I’ve been sick 18 years; one more day isn’t going to be the end of me.”

Jesus could have waited.
And everything would have been fine.
But Jesus didn’t wait!

And that begs a question.
[what’s the question?]

That’s right.
Children ask it all the time.

Why do waves crash?
Why does the sun shine?
Why do birds sing?
Why do I have to go to bed right now?


Why didn’t Jesus wait?

Because Jesus is God-with-us!
God in the flesh.
God, here and now.

Yes, just a man.
Born of Mary.
But God-with-us.
Who suffered rejection and humiliation.
Dying cruelly at the end.
At the hands of the State.
God-with-us on that cross.
Executed by Rome.
Between two terrorists.
God-with-us on the cross.

Because Jesus didn’t wait.
Mercy can’t wait.
Love doesn’t wait.

God doesn’t wait to forgive and make things right.
God doesn’t wait to love us and make a way for us.
God doesn’t wait for us to get outta the way.
God doesn’t wait to heal the woman afflicted for 18 years.

Time and again, Jesus comes against the rules and regulations of religion.
Everyone’s upset.

What kind of man is Jesus?
What kind of a God is this?

Didn’t God institute the Sabbath Day?
Didn’t God create the rules and regulations that govern it?
Six days you shall labor, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On that day, you shall do no work. Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.
The Fourth Commandment.

But Jesus didn’t wait!

What’s up with God on this one?
Does God change God’s mind?
Does God contradict God’s own ways?

Or is it possible that we’ve misunderstood some things?
Is it possible that what God intends and what we do with God’s intentions are two different things?
That maybe we don’t always get it right when it comes to the things of God?

Remember Jesus in his hometown synagogue?
His first public sermon?
He spoke of God’s redeeming ways, of God’s love going to work, and everyone nodded their heads and said, What a good preacher he is.
And then Jesus began to speak about Elijah in a time of great famine.
That God sent Elijah, not to the house of Israel, but to the home of a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon, and provided food for her … and she was a Gentile.
And how there were many in Israel with leprosy, but not one of them was cleansed, except Naaman the Syrian.
And then all the people in the synagogue were furious.
They know what Jesus was saying: God’s love is bigger than you are … and they didn’t like that one bit.
They got up from their pews, then and there; they took Jesus to a nearby cliff and tried to kill him.

God-with-us is not always so easy to handle.
God-with-us says this is the way, this is the truth, and this is the life.
And it may not be our take on things.
God’s people frequently get it wrong.
Our ways are not God’s ways.
And that’s a hard lesson to learn.
Especially for God’s people.
Even when we are absolutely convinced that we understand God, it’s likely that we don’t.

God says Keep the Sabbath day holy.
And that means, totally devoted to God.
Don’t work for yourself – ya’ got six days for that.
But on the Sabbath, deal with God.

Jesus says to the folks there in the synagogue – if you have an animal tethered on the Sabbath, do you deny it water? Of course not! Ya’ untie it and take it to the well for a drink. And if you wouldn’t treat an ox or ass this way, why treat this woman this way and deny her the water of life?

Because our ways are not God’s ways.

The super-religious of the world have it wrong.
The Bible-thumpers and the go-to-hell preachers have it wrong.
And why that should be, I don’t know.
Why did the leader of the Synagogue miss the point?
Why did so many of the religious authorities in Jerusalem miss the point?
Why did so many professors of theology and so many pastors sign on with Hitler?
Why did so many Presbyterian pastors deny the humanity of the slaves and tell their folks every Sunday that slavery was a God-given mandate?
And why were women told to stay in the kitchen and let the men handle it?
Why were women denied ordination for so long?

There’s a lot of wrong in the church.
And there was a lot of wrong in Israel.
In the hometown where Jesus was raised.
In Jerusalem where he died.
God’s people are often the last people to get it.

That’s why God has to come against us sometimes.
Because God is always more than we are.
God is always bigger in love than we are.

To make a point: God’s love doesn’t wait.

Throughout my ministry, I’ve heard good and decent people say a common four-letter word … easy now … calm down … don’t head for the gutter … a four-letter word that begins with the letter “w.”
Hazard a guess?
That’s right.

Since 1976, the Presbyterian Church has been considering the question of ordination for gays and lesbians. And for many of those years, I waited!
I read and I studied.
And I waited.
It wasn’t clear in my mind, so I waited.

I’ve always been an open-door kind of a guy.
I knew some gays in college, and I was appalled at the words my friends used about gays.
I tried, in my own way to befriend the few gays I knew.
I said “Good morning” in the classroom, and I had lunch with them a time or two.

I was ordained in 1970.
It wasn’t a question then for most Presbyterians.
I sort of accepted the maxim: “The Bible tells me that gays are just lost, that homosexuality is wrong, sinful, and abomination before the LORD, and they’ll all go to hell when they die if they don’t repent.”
That’s what I thought the Bible said.
It wasn’t an issue.
So I could wait.

And then I read my first Bible study on homosexuality in 1976.
And my eyes were opened.
I was wrong about what I thought the Bible said.
I said what a lot of pastors said, “We can welcome gays into the church, but we can’t ordain them.”

So I waited.

In the early 80s, I had a funeral for a young man who died of AIDS.
I called on him in the hospital.
He was so bitter.
He was a gentle soul, an artist and musician, but the church had told him that we he was no good.
That he was going to hell.
The church slammed in his face every door it could.

I knew his parents and siblings, and they were a loving family … deeply and faithfully Christian.
I began to think all the more.
I began to teach.
It’s not gender that counts.
It’s how we live that counts.
That’s what the Bible teaches.

And then in 1992, an associate pastor came to work with me.
Her brother was gay.
Her parents were involved in PFLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and I had never heard of the organization.
We talked a lot.
I told her, “Wait!”
And Wendy said to me, “My brother can’t wait any longer. And neither can my parents. And neither can I.”

And I thought, and I thought, and I thought. And I waited.
I prayed and I studied, and prayed some more, and I waited.

And then folks like James Dobson and Chuck Colson began to weigh in on the issue … Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority … James Kennedy and Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale.
They didn’t wait.
They shouted, “We have the Bible on our side.”

And I said to myself, “No you don’t. That’s not what the Bible says!”

But Dobson and Colson didn’t wait.
And neither did Falwell and Kennedy.
They wrote and they campaigned against gays and lesbians.
And millions of Americans believed them.

The louder their voices grew, the more disturbed I became.
Why should I wait any longer on this?
Dobson and Colson and Falwell and Kennedy do not represent me!

I am a Christian, too, and I see things differently than they do.
They’re not quiet about it.
So why should I be quiet?
I have a message, too.
And the message deserves to be told.
I will not wait any longer.

God-with-us doesn’t wait to heal the woman.
Jesus doesn’t wait even 24 hours.
Jesus heals her now.
Love has to be now.
Mercy and kindness are now.

That’s the God who saves us, now.
That’s the God who loves us dearly, right now and here.
The God who doesn’t wait!

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

August 8, 2010 - "Where Do You Bank?"

Luke 12:32-40

I used to own some stock.
It wasn’t much, but it had my heart.
I logged on to my stockbroker’s page nearly every day, maybe even a few times a day … I followed the ups and downs of my stocks with fevered interest … if my account went down, my heart sunk; if it went up, I was elated and full of dreams.
In other words, where my treasure is, that’s where my heart is, too.

On another level, the wellbeing of my children.
I have lots of treasure there, and I bet you do, too.
I check on them all the time.
I wanna know how they’re doing.

And if they’re sad, I’m sad.
And when they’re happy, I’m happy, too.

Where my treasure is, that’s where I find my heart.

And, of course, Donna.
I cooked a good meal the other night.
She said, “I’ll keep ya’ another 12 weeks.”
That’s good.
Because I treasure her.
And she has my heart.

We treasure ourselves, too, don’t we?
We’re mighty important.
Get sick, and suddenly we’re pretty much the center of our world …
If we have a fever, we take our temperature every few hours.
If we have hypertension, we putt on the cuff and measure our blood pressure, maybe a couple o’ times a day.
If we’re trying to lose some weight, we’re on the scale every morning.

We’re pretty important.
We have a lot invested in ourselves.
When we’re happy, the world looks good to us.
When we’re sad, nothing much counts.

Where our treasure is, that’s where our heart is, too.
Things we value.
People we love.
Dreams we have.
The pride of work and achievement.

A teacher receives the accolades of colleagues … and is voted “Best Teacher of the Year.”

An engineer is given a bonus for devising new techniques in manufacturing.

A young mother gets a squeeze from one of her children, and the child says, “Mom, you’re the best mom in the world!”

Pride of accomplishment:

We come home at the end of the day, and we say to ourselves, “Today was a good day. I did it right, and I did it well. I’m proud of me today.”

Take a look at the things we treasure, and that’s where the heart spends a lot of time.

So Jesus says:
Be sure about your treasure.
Don’t weigh yourself down with too much stuff.
Get rid of a few things and ease up a little bit.
Pay a little more attention to God.
And not so much about what you’re going to eat and what you’re going to wear – life is a whole more than that.
And if you’re ready for some adventure, seek the kingdom of God.
That’s a good thing.
Stock in the kingdom of God never goes down.
Moths don’t eat holes in it.
Thieves can’t take it’ from ya’.

Jesus is clear.
Since Jesus knows a lot about us.

Jesus knows that this treasure business has a dark side to it.
And when we slip into the dark side, we’re not much good for the good things of life.

The famous Christmas story tale by Charles Dickens, featuring our good friend, Ebenezer Scrooge.
When we’re on the dark side of things, we’re not much good for the good things of life.

Scrooge didn’t like Christmas – “bah humbug.”
He didn’t have friends.
He sure didn’t like children.
He was grumpy and miserly.
And he treated his employees cruelly.

When we’re on the dark side of things, we’re not much good for the good things of life.

But things changed for Scrooge.
It took a supernatural intervention.
And sometimes it does.
Grace has to take us by the scruff of the neck now and then and give us a good shake.
A few ghosts to startle us.
To awaken us to the things that count.

A lesson we need to learn a few times every day.
Keep things in perspective.
Stay on the light side of things:

A friend wrote recently: “I just finished a jigsaw puzzle in six months – on the box, it said, 4 to 6 years.”

A friend of mine owns a Lompoc Winery.
He used to be the IT guy for a major international corporation.
Recently, he said, "There were three things that counted at work: your title, the size of your paycheck and the size of your office. Now," he says, "I have no idea what my title is; am I the owner or the truck-driver; I haven't seen a paycheck in a few years; but this for sure, (walking with us over a hilltop through his vineyards), my office is really, really, big."

Over the last few weeks, we’ve spent a lot of time in the Gospel of Luke.
We’ve read and pondered what Jesus says and does.
The picture is growing clear.

Jesus knows us well.

 Be careful of greed, says Jesus.
Ya’ can’t have it all, and don’t even try.
No matter how big your barns are, they’re never big enough.
Get a hold of yourselves.
Don’t build your house on the sand; build it on the rock, instead.
Practice generosity.
Be kind.
Keep things simple.
Be dressed for action and keep your lamps lit.

Jesus talks a lot about being ready.
Ready for what?
Ready for life!

Ready for the people who come our way, and maybe we can help them.
Ready for just causes – we can write a letter and cast our vote for a better world.
Ready to learn … like Mary, when the Rabbi came to her home – she got outta the kitchen and sat as his feet.
Ready to follow … like Peter and John when Jesus stopped by their boat one day … the got outta the boat and followed him.

Ready for life.
Ready for God.
Ready to serve.
Ready for kindness.
Ready to help.
Ready to give.
And ready to love.

The Prophet Micah says it well:

      “With what shall I come before the LORD,
      and bow myself before God on high?
      Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
      with calves a year old?
      Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
      with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
      Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
      the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
      He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
      and what does the LORD require of you
      but to do justice, and to love kindness,
      and to walk humbly with your God?

To seize the moment and make it count.

Like a fisherman on the Santa Monica pier – baited hook, hand on the line, waiting to feel the strike … 

A photographer out and about in the late afternoon … the golden hour, when the light is just right … ready to capture the beauty of a flower in full bloom …

A surfer, alert and ready to catch the next good wave.

Be ready, says Jesus.
Ready to make a difference.
I can do it.
I can serve.
I can volunteer.
I can join in and join hands.
I can make a difference.

We never know when the hour comes, says Jesus.
The moment to decide.

So be ready.
Pay attention.
Be alert.
Stop, look and listen.
And know this little flock.
It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.

Dear friends in Christ,

Enjoy the day, it's the day the Lord has made for you.
You will meet people who test your spirit.
You will meet people who surprise you with their love.

You will meet yourself, coming and going.
You will read something good.
You will eat something delicious.

You will hear a bird sing and be delighted.
You will see a face and see the face of God.
You will say something profound and wonderful.

Someone will thank you.
Someone will bless you.
Someone will give you a helping hand.

Such is life ... 
To God be the glory ...
And to all, a good day!

Amen and Amen! 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

August 1, 2010, "What Should I Do?

Luke 12:13-34

“Houston, we have a problem!”

The immortal words of Tom Hanks … actually, astronaut Jack Swigert, Apollo 13, April 11, 1970 … an electrical problem, an oxygen tank explodes … a series of life-threatening failures … quick thinking and lots of jury-rigging saves the crew – though unable to land on the moon, they successfully return to earth.

“Houston, we have a problem!”

Our story begins simply enough …
Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem, large crowds all around.

One man steps forward: Tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.

Something gone wrong.
Something unfair.
A family in distress over the inheritance.
“Houston, we have a problem!”
Jesus, can you help me?

I thought of an earlier moment in the Gospel of Luke.
Remember when Jesus visits in the home of Martha and Mary?
Mary sits with Jesus.
Martha fusses and frets in the kitchen, until she can take no more, and angrily comes to Jesus and asks, Don’t you care that I’m left with all the work while Mary talks theology with you?
Don’t you care?

Care about what Martha?
The pots and pans in your kitchen?

There’ll be time enough for that Martha.
Right now, there are other things more important.
Now is the time, Martha, to talk with me.
We’ll take care of the food later.
For now, let’s talk about God.

Jesus is not sympathetic with Martha’s frustration.
Nor is he sympathetic with this man’s family dispute.

Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbiter over you?

I’ve seen families in dispute over money.
It’s not a pretty picture.
It’s ugly and frightening.

Years ago, a funeral counseling with a family – the mother had died long ago, and now the father died, too.
I was called to do the service at a local funeral home.
I didn’t know the family.
They came to my office, so I could learn a bit more about their father.
Two brothers and sister … 
And before long, I knew that something was seriously wrong.

I thought there’d be a murder right in my office..

We got through the visit, and off they went.

I did the service two days later.
And afterward, stood by the coffin as folks walked by to offer their final respects, until everyone was gone,  except the two brothers and one sister were and the funeral director.

It didn’t take long for them to get in a brouhaha right next to the casket …

A family feud.
Hard and sad.

Some of us have gone through something like this … about as tough as it gets … brothers and sisters, cousins and uncles and aunts – everyone gets into it … years later, no one even remembers how it all started.
All anyone remembers is the bitterness.
The sadness.
The pain.

“Houston, we have a problem!”

But there are problems, and then there are problems!

A knight of the round table set out on a mission, and in the course of his travels, the knight had to cross through a valley.
Setting out across the valley, the knight is attacked by a fierce dragon.
Every attempt to cross the valley is blocked by the dragon.
This went on for days.

And then one day, the knight decides to simply watch the valley.
Early in the morning, the knight sees a small man come out with buckets of feed.
Feed for the dragon.
Every morning, every day, the dragon is fed.

So the knight does what knights do.
He meets the little man with the buckets of feed, and kills him.

Sorry, that’s the way the story goes.

And, then, in a few days, the dragon is hungry … so hungry, the dragon goes away.

The knight crosses the valley safely.

“Houston, we have a problem!”

There are problems and then there are problems.

Jesus understands that the presenting problem is never the real problem.
Martha’s frustration with being left in the kitchen isn’t the real problem.
Her problem is embarrassment about Mary’s boldness.
Maybe Martha is even jealous.
Maybe Martha wants to sit at the feet of Jesus, too.
But she’s a prisoner of her own rules and regulations.

It’s not the pots and pans.
The real problem is her soul.

That’s always the real problem.
The disposition of the soul.

“Houston, we have a problem!”
It’s our soul.

So Jesus turns to the crowd and warns them about greed.
Greed of every kind.
And then Jesus tells a story.
About a wealthy man.

The man was blessed by God.
A year of great harvest.
The man thought to himself, What should I do?”

I know what I’ll do, I will pull down my old barns and build new barns, bigger, better and brighter.
And then I will say to my soul, ‘Now you’re safe.’
‘You finally have enough … sit back and relax … eat, drink and be merry.

“Houston, we have a problem!”

Let’s see if we can probe the story a little bit.

Jesus grew up in Northern Palestine – Galilee; then, and now, the breadbasket of the middle east – fertile and pleasant and productive.

A land of peasants and powerful landlords.

Rembrandt’s picture, on the front of today’s bulletin, says it well …
Look at the man’s face.
I like him.
He’s a wise and prudent man who’s parlayed his lot in life into a very comfortable existence … he’s invested well and made good decisions.
And this year’s harvest has been particularly good.

What should I do? He asks.
Look at the picture … he’s holding a coin in his hand … mesmerized by its beauty … I kept thinking of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” … Gollum’s enslavement to the ring of power … his precious …
Entranced with the coin in his hand, he asks, What should I do?

Let’s put on our thinking caps.

What happens to food prices when the harvest is good?
That’s right, food prices go down.
Today at Vons or Ralphs …  or in First Century Palestine, market forces are always the same.

Big harvests, lower prices.

So the man decides to build bigger barns and store the grain.

That’s right … drive up prices …
He’s not going to eat all that grain … he’s got tons of it.
More than enough for his family.
It’s market manipulation.
Sound familiar?

 “Houston, we have a problem!”

God calls the man a fool.

Psalm 14:1, fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’
The rich man turns from God, and that’s why he’s a fool.
He thinks his investments are his own decision.
His wealth, the result of his own intelligence and labor.
Turns to the coin in his hand, and thinks:
You’re mine, all mine, by the labor of my hand and my shrewd decisions.

What should this man have done?

He might well have remembered Israel’s time in the wilderness.

The people were fed every day.
Manna from heaven – collect just enough for yourself and your family, and share with one another as needed … don’t hoard it … trust God … there will be manna for you every morning …

Some folks tried to hoard the manna, and it only grew wormy and moldy.
They had to learn to depend upon God.
Every day … give us this day our daily bread!

There will always be enough …
God’s pie is really big.

What should the man have done?

Leviticus 19 …
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the every edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien; I am the LORD your God.

What should the man have done?

The man is a fool not because he’s greedy.
The man is greedy because he’s a fool.
He has forgotten God!

The God of the harvest.
The God of abundance.
The God of mercy and kindness.

Jesus knows this is the real problem.
For all of us.
Rich or poor.
Makes no difference.

When I was a pastor in West Virginia, early 70s … the poorest county in the poorest state at the time … I worked with community organizing, and I saw poor people fight like cats and dogs with one another who was going to be the president of the local development group, who was going to drive the van and be the treasurer – of a huge some of money, a grant of $500.

Rich or poor.
Makes no difference.

Except one.

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded – Luke 12:48.

God has blessed the rich man with abundance, and because of the abundance, the rich man has the greater responsibility.
The LORD of the harvest entrusted to this man enough grain to feed hundreds and maybe even thousands.
More than enough for him, and more than enough to go around.

Yes, we all have responsibilities.
But to those to whom much has been, much will be required.
The welfare Moms of this land will face a lighter judgment in the kingdom of God than the women and men of great wealth who manipulated the markets to their own ends and built bigger and better and brighter barns.
Jesus reminds us all: use well what is given to you.
It’s all given by God.
Use it well.

With that, Jesus goes to the heart of the problem.

When we feel anxiety coming upon us, there is only one recourse that works: turn to God …
The God and Father of our LORD Jesus Christ.

Do not worry … God feeds the ravens, and they’re dirty birds, but God feeds them anyone; think how much more God cares for you.
Consider the lilies of the field … not even Solomon was as glorious as they are … and if God cares for the lilies, think how much more your Father in heaven cares for you.

Do not be afraid little flock … it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

When you’re tempted to build bigger and better and brighter barns, have a great big garage sale instead, and give the proceeds to the poor.

Jesus is not asking us to get rid of everything.
No, no, no, no …

Here’s the point:
We just don’t need bigger barns.

Live well within our means.
Be generous and kind.
Practice charity.
Enjoy the blessings of God for sure.
Keep a kindly eye on the poor.

And think about God, says Jesus.
Think a lot about God!
The love of God. The providence of God.
The ravens and the lilies.
Let God be the treasure of your heart, not the coin in your hand.
The coin can’t save us.
God already has.
Where your treasure is, your heart will be there, too.

“Houston, we’ve solved the problem. We’re on our way home!”

Amen and Amen!