Healing Touch

 

Meditation on Luke 13:10–17

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

August 25, 2019

Jesus heals bent woman.jpg

       10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

 

***

My week started out pretty ordinary. On Monday, I did homework, housework, and a little yard work, just before dark. I hooked a plastic sprayer to my hose and sprayed thousands of beneficial nematodes on my yard. Have you ever done that? I had read an article about how they attack and kill white grubs. I thought it was worth a try.

My battle with grubs started when I saw dirt mounds appearing in my backyard a few weeks ago. I posted a picture on Facebook, asking what they were. Almost immediately, I got my answer. Moles! Friends offered all sorts of advice, including treating our yard for grubs, which moles evidently find delicious. If you don’t have grubs, the moles, I am told, will pack up and move on—maybe to your neighbor’s yard, if they’ve got grubs.

“If it’s moles,” said one friend, “get a 5 gallon bucket and turn it upside down over their run with a mousetrap under it baited with worms. They will come up as long as it’s dark and it will catch them just like mice.” Another friend said, “You can pour a solution of Dawn dish detergent, chili powder, and hot sauce mixed with a quart of water down the hole to chase them away.” Another said, “Get an outside cat.” That sounded like a good idea! Still another said her son kept a mole as a pet. Now, there’s an option-name and tame your mole! The funniest comment, though, was this from one of our near neighbors. “We’ve struggled with moles for years,” she said, “and we contacted an expert who said, ‘You know what works on moles?’ I said, ‘Tell me!’ and he replied, ‘Nothing.’ We have treated for grubs and tried a number of other remedies,” she went on. ‘No luck. Hope you have a better outcome!’”

 

***

 

Our gospel reading in Luke addresses a much more serious problem than moles or grubs. Luke stirs us to see the world, with God’s help, through a divine perspective, without allowing traditions of our faith, and long-held, comfortable misunderstandings of God’s Word lead us on the wrong path. The trouble starts when we interpret Scripture without love and the Spirit’s illumination, without faith in the God of grace. Scripture is sometimes used as a weapon to hurt people, with whom we disagree or dislike. We see this happen in this world—Scripture being used for hurt or political gain, instead of help, love and God’s glory. And, not surprisingly, it often happened in the world in which Jesus lived.

Today’s Scripture urges us to care about what is most important to the Lord—people, especially those who are suffering or otherwise needy. The characters and setting are important. A woman has been bent over, unable to stand up straight for 18 years. The community is gathered for worship in a synagogue on the Lord’s Day, on the Sabbath. Jesus is teaching, and we can guess the general message. For he tells the crowds who had followed him from Capernaum to a deserted place in Luke 4:43, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities, also, for I was sent for this purpose.”

In today’s reading in Luke 13, as he shares the good news of the kingdom, he suddenly calls out to a lady in the congregation, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment or weakness,” as some translations say. What a powerful way to share the good news of the kingdom, with a demonstration of healing! Christ has chosen an unnamed woman out of a whole host of people who very likely need healing, too. Notice that he uses the language of liberation! Being “set free,” rather than being “healed” of a sickness or disease!

In verse l1, we find the true source of her ailment or weakness. It’s not sin; as ancient people believed was the cause of certain illnesses or conditions. The author of Luke, thought to be a physician, says the woman has a spiritual problem. “She had a ‘spirit,’” he says in verse 11, “or a spirit of weakness,” in some translations, “that had crippled her for 18 years.”

The bent woman has come expectantly to worship, though it must have been hard to get there, if she is bent over and in pain. She has come to hear the Word of God preached by the One who has been healing, teaching, and casting out demons in synagogues throughout Judea, as he said he would do. In Luke 4, preaching in Nazareth, he says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”

He has chosen this place—the synagogue—and this day—the sabbath. For God wants us to know that healing and caring for the poor and needy is a holy service, an act of worship and not just a good work. And that the Lord’s House is a place not for greed, politics, and division and turning a blind eye to injustice; the Lord’s House is a place for the empty to be filled, for the broken and wounded to draw near, to experience God’s presence and healing touch; a place for God’s people to be made whole.

Jesus wants to address a spiritual problem in the faith community, not just in a bent woman. The religious leaders are indignant at what Jesus has done—angry that he is healing at all, let alone on the sabbath. So they are legalistically approaching God’s gift of holy rest to humanity to justify their cruelty and neglect of the poor and needy and reject the goodness of the Lord in their midst. The synagogue leader tries to hold back the crowd from approaching Jesus, who has interrupted the routine of the Sabbath service. That’s what happens when the Lord shows up on the Lord’s Day and starts healing and casting out demons.

“You hypocrites,” Jesus says, cutting to the root of the problem: sin. You untie and water your ox and donkey on the sabbath. “Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound for 18 long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” In other words, “Isn’t this woman more valuable than a donkey or ox?”

The woman’s mere presence at the service reveals her hope that maybe today will be the day that her suffering and struggle will end. Maybe today will be the day for miracles! But the woman doesn’t ask to be healed or speak to Jesus at all. She knows her place. The spirit inside her doesn’t call out to Jesus or challenge him like the demon-possessed man in the synagogue in Capernaum in Luke 4:33, who cries out, “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!”

Jesus has chosen this woman for healing, just as he chose the unnamed man with a withered hand in the synagogue in chapter 6. He doesn’t wait for them to come to him. He goes to them. Jesus lays hands on the bent woman; immediately, she stands up straight, praising God, her healer!

Christ’s opponents are put to shame. Their anger and resentment grow. How could this uneducated Nazarene touch and heal nameless, voiceless nobodies—the poor, marginalized, outcast and spirit possessed—and a woman, at that!—as if she has an important role in modeling a faithful life? As if she matters in the kingdom of God?  The crowd rejoices in all the wonderful things that Christ is doing.

***

In a few moments, you will be invited to come forward for anointing and prayer for healing. You who are hurting in body, mind, heart, or soul, today may be the day for your miracle, like it was for the bent woman in the synagogue! You who simply need strength and joy for your journey of faith, come.

Monday seems like such a long time ago, when I was making proverbial mountains out of mole hills. By Wednesday, the week was no longer ordinary. I didn’t care about grubs or moles. Mom called at 1:30 a.m. to tell me that my Dad had passed. “He looks so peaceful,” she said, feeling his skin still warm to the touch. “But I just miss him.” He had suffered for many years with serious health problems. Now he was at peace and rest. We mourn our loss of a good man, a loving husband, father, and grandfather, a gentle and compassionate person, who always had time to talk when we called or visited, to listen to our stories and problems, as if his family were the most important people in his world. And we were.

He never gave up hope that he would get better. When I visited a month ago, he was still trying to pack up his stuff and go home with Mom—the cards we gave him, the peanut butter cookies Mom had made, old photographs in frames. But instead, he went home to be with the Lord.

In our sadness, we still praise God our comforter and healer. For my Dad was touched by the divine: healed and made whole for the world to come. The time, the place—it was all God ordained, that he would drift off to sleep two days before his 85th birthday—and wake up in the heavenly kingdom.

I can imagine him sitting at the feast at the banquet of the Lamb, with the angels and all the saints, whose sins, by God’s grace through faith, have been washed away. No more wounds of body, mind, heart, or soul. Liberated from walker and wheelchair, standing straight and tall, Dad is singing God’s praise!

 

Let us pray.

Holy One, forgive us for when we have used your Scripture in ways that have hurt and fostered division, rather than helped and brought unity. Forgive us when we have sought to preserve human traditions and allowed injustice and oppression, rather than interpret your Word through the lens of your love and be moved to change ourselves and make the world a better place. We are grateful for Jesus, Your Son, whom you sent when we were perishing in our sins, and for your Spirit that lives with us now. Heal the sick, Lord. Take our pain and sadness. Mend our broken hearts. Make us whole and reconciled. Give us faith to see your heavenly Kingdom. And where vision fails, help us to trust in your love that never fails. Amen.

Run the Race with Faith

 

Meditation on Hebrews 11:29-12:2

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

Aug. 18, 2019

Great CLoud

     29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.

     32 And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

       39 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

   12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Fix-Our-Eyes-on-Jesus

***

Have you noticed the weather growing cooler in the mornings and evenings? Fall is on its way! I can’t wait to see the leaves changing color and feel the brisk, cool air! We didn’t really have fall in Melbourne, Florida. It was pretty much summer, most of the time!

With the weather changing, it’s been even more enjoyable to take my walks in Coshocton. On Friday afternoon, while taking a walk, I ended up on Highland Blvd., a road not taken before. And I remembered how Debbie Clark said she lived on Highland and had invited me to stop in and see her. I couldn’t remember her house number, so I just kept walking, believing that if God wanted me to visit her, the Lord would show me where she lived.

I walked and walked. And then I saw her husband, Steve, out mowing grass! I waved and called out, “Is this your house?” He turned off the mower and came running to greet me. Soon, I was waiting for Debbie on their front porch. I didn’t go right into her house because Samson, their big, white dog, was fiercely barking at me from inside the front door.

Debbie came out to greet me and gave me a hug. She assured me that Samson, who was protective of her, had never bitten anyone. I was glad to hear it! She brought me a bottle of cold water, and invited me to sit with her in her Florida room. Then she shared a beautiful story. How she was 13 when she sang her first solo in her Methodist Church. How the pastor prayed with her before she sang–and she realized that this wasn’t just about her singing. Her singing was a gift from the Lord to be shared with the church. How happy that made her. She has had many invitations and opportunities to sing for congregations over the years, as she did for ours today. She is honored and blessed.

Her story encouraged and inspired me. She is one of the many faithful I have met in Coshocton who gladly use their gifts to build up the Body of Christ and keep us running the race–with faith.

***

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” the writer of Hebrews begins chapter 11. This book features some of the most elegant Greek of the New Testament. Scholars, says Thomas Long, a teacher of preachers, don’t know the author of the “Letter to the Hebrews,” but they are sure by the language that it isn’t Paul and by its form, it isn’t a letter but an early Christian sermon, written in the second half of the First Century.

What makes this book more relevant and fresh than ever is the pastoral problem of which the author writes. Long says, “His congregation is exhausted. They are tired–tired of serving the world, tired of worship, tired of Christian education, tired of being peculiar and whispered about in society, tired of the spiritual struggle, tired of trying to keep their prayer life going, tired even of Jesus. Their hands droop and their knees are weak (12:2), attendance is down at church (10:25) and they are losing confidence.” [1] Does this sound familiar, friends? The Church’s struggles are not new! Don’t be afraid of the challenges we face! They are nothing compared to what our ancestors suffered, and yet didn’t stop “running the race.”

You may be surprised when the preacher doesn’t try any of the modern attempts churches try nowadays to cure spiritual weariness. Long says, “The preacher doesn’t appeal to improved group dynamics, conflict management techniques, reorganization of mission structures, or snappy worship services.” He preaches on the nature and meaning of Jesus Christ. The root of spiritual weariness, according to Hebrews, is a lack of faith or misunderstanding of who Jesus is and what God has done through Him!

“Long ago, God spoke to our ancestors,” says Hebrews 1:1-2, “in many and various ways by the prophets, but in those last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created worlds.” The Old Testament prepares the way for the New Covenant in Jesus Christ, when the law of God would be written on our hearts, and God, in His grace, would remember our sins no more. “Christ our high priest, entered once for all into the Holy Place… not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption,” says Hebrews 9:11-12. “By a single offering,” he says in 10:14, “he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” The Greek word for perfected– Teleioo — means made whole and complete.

Old Testament exemplars of faith fill our passage today. We can hardly count how many times the preacher says faith! Moses and the Israelites, by faith, crossing on dry land, and by faith, marching around the walls of Jericho, blowing their trumpets. What happens? The walls come tumbling down. Rahab, by faith, hid the spies on her roof, betraying her own people for the God of Israel. Many other OT heroes endure suffering by faith, and then we come to an amazing statement at Hebrews 11:39–“Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.”

While the preacher doesn’t say specifically what the something better is, he tells us that we are necessary to the fulfillment of the long history of faithfulness. The Great Cloud of Witnesses that surrounds us includes us; it would not be complete without us! Our lives have been made holy and whole in Jesus Christ, who ran the race before us, a journey that took him to the cross. It is his faith that we claim for our own. He is the source, the pioneer and perfecter (there’s that word again!)–the one who makes our faith whole and complete.

God is still speaking to us through a Son, friends, as the preacher of Hebrews proclaims. Take heart! We are in the last days! Jesus is coming soon! The struggles of the Church today are not new! And they are nothing compared to what our ancestors endured by faith.

The cure for spiritual weariness is knowing Jesus, who he is for us in the New Covenant with God. “A single offering has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.”

Encourage one another with your stories. Tell what God has done

After Debbie shared her beautiful story, it was getting late. She offered to drive me home. Later, I thought of how those who are weary don’t always recognize when they are tired, but others see–and are moved to help them “lay aside every weight and shed the sin that clings so closely”; lift them up if they stumble and fall. Run beside them, cheering them on.

The Lord will continue to guide our feet as we persevere and run this race together. We have a Savior, who left his place in heaven and came to earth to be our model, the pioneer and perfector of our faith. And because of him — nothing can separate us from God’s love. Let us stir one another to see what cannot be seen, to hope against all hope, and to live as if today is the day our Shepherd will return for His Flock. If we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and the heavenly prize–to live for all eternity with God and the angels, and all the saints–how can we help but finish the race?

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for all the saints who have run the race before us and for the Great Cloud of Witnesses who surround us now, strengthening us for every step you want us to take, drawing us nearer to you. Help us, Lord, to endure all the trials and challenges of this world, and to shed the sin that clings so closely and gets in the way of our living with confidence, according to your will. Thank you for your Spirit that never leaves us alone, for your Word and the examples of all the saints and especially for your Son, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the pain and shame of the cross and is now seated at the right hand of your throne. Guide our feet and stir us to encourage one another to persevere, keep on running the race with faith. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

 

[1] Thomas C. Long, Hebrews, Interpretation:A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1997), 3.

Where Is Your Treasure?

 

Meditation on Luke 12:32-40

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

Aug. 11, 2019

     32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 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. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

     35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 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. 37 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. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

   39 “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. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

***

Not long after we first arrived in Coshocton, I told you about Jim and I taking Mabel, our Pomeranian to the vet. She has diabetes and, though Jim was giving her insulin shots twice a day, she was drinking too much and having accidents in the house. The kindly vet held her for a long time and gave his diagnosis, “She seems stressed.”

We were back to the vet yesterday, this time with Mabel and Melvyn, our cat. It was to be a routine exam; they both needed shots. But we knew, before the vet examined him, that something was wrong with Melvyn. We had noticed that he was looking at us with big, black pupils and struggling to go up and down stairs and climb up on our bed.

He hasn’t always been an easy pet. He had certain annoying habits. When he first came to live with us, we couldn’t leave out any food on any surface in the house, even in a box or bag, without Melvyn eating through the box or bag. Butter in a covered butter dish mysteriously disappeared. It took a while for us to figure out what was happening and we kept wondering why the container was so clean on the outside. Homemade banana muffins, a gift from a church member, had bites taken out of them through a plastic bag. Once, he stole a large loaf of French bread from the counter, dragged it across the kitchen floor and gnawed off one end. It was a Saturday night, and the bread was for Communion the next day. And Jim said we could just cut off the end and use it, but I said, “No! Not my Jesus bread.”  Melvyn was an early riser. He woke us up at the crack of dawn with loud yowling and knocking things off bedside tables. If we pushed him out of our bedroom and closed the door, he would scratch and meow, “Hawoo?” Until we laughed and let him back in.

It didn’t take long for us to realize that Melvyn wasn’t really our pet. We were his servants! Whatever his need, we would try to meet it, usually with love in our hearts. Even Jim, who has never had a cat before Melvyn and vowed he never would, grew to love this orange and white stray, cuddly and affectionate, a peacemaker, wanting no more than his meals and to climb into our laps or lie on our legs, purring loudly as we stroked his head.

On Saturday, the vet confirmed our fears for his health. Our cat is losing his sight. The vet spoke in a soothing voice, explaining that it is probably from old age and could not be restored. He told us how most cats can adjust to blindness. As he talked, I just kept thinking about all the years Mel has been with us, since that day he followed me home from church–a stray that someone had neutered and declawed before he was dumped in a Minnesota field and left to fend for himself. How he cried in our shrubbery in the rain that first night. In the morning, I opened the door, he walked in, and I fed him. He slept in our bed, purring so loudly that we worried he had a breathing issue. He has lived with us as an indoor cat, happily, ever since.

I can see the grace of God in the life of Melvyn, an outcast, who has brought us much comfort and joy in three different states, never complaining during the long car rides and hotel stops as we moved from Minnesota to Florida, then Florida to Ohio.

Mel on catnip

Mel playing with his catnip.

***

Being ready–prepared for our Lord’s return at an unexpected hour–is the message of our gospel in Luke 12. This is a continuation of last Sunday’s lesson, a warning to guard ourselves against greed and loving stuff too much. This is part of preparing ourselves to meet the Lord, face to face.

Being ready for Christ’s return means living by faith, trusting God our Father, and letting go of fear and worry. As Jesus says 12:22, just before today’s passage, “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or about your body, what you will wear, for life is more than food and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens, they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds then. Of how much more value are you than birds? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”

Jesus tells us that if we want to live a godly life, we can’t be conformed to this world in our thinking or behavior. “The nations of the world,” he says, “strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need these. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Today’s reading begins, then, at verse 32, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Isn’t that amazing–that Christ tells us to strive for the Kingdom, but has already given or entrusted it to us, just as Ephesians 2:8 assures us that by grace we have been saved, through faith. It’s not our own doing; it’s a gift from God!

Yet, there is something that can get in the way of living the Kingdom life now and hurt our witness to those without the hope of Jesus Christ. We are back to worry, fear–and stuff! “Sell your possessions, and give alms,” Jesus says, “Make for yourselves purses that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.”

Are you wondering how we make these purses that never wear out? By nurturing our faith through Word and Sacrament, worship and prayer, serving and giving; it takes faith to give and when we give, our faith becomes stronger. It’s up to us to choose how we respond to the gift of the Kingdom. What do you value most? Where is your treasure?

Jesus is speaking to all of us when he says in Luke 12:34, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Much more can be said about this intriguing parable, but for now, I hope that you will recognize that Jesus is talking about us in this story with layers of meaning! We are the servants or slaves–it’s the same word in Greek (doulos). We are the blessed ones. Our job is to be faithful, keeping our lamps burning brightly in the darkness. We are those whom the Master will, with the Spirit’s help, find alert; we are the ones who will be waiting in hope when he comes again, trusting in Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, and not in ourselves or the things of this world that won’t last and won’t satisfy.

When the Master comes again, at an unexpected hour, though he will come with power and glory to judge the living and the dead as we say in the Apostles Creed, he will also come to serve us with love, nourishing us for all eternity.

***

I held Melvyn tightly in my arms on the way home from the vet, trying to comfort him, saying, “It’s OK. It’s OK. I love you.” But I am not sure that it IS OK with me that he can’t see. I am sad for him. Isn’t growing old hard enough without going blind? And we can’t even tell him what is happening and why. He must be frightened and confused.

Jim reminds me, not for the first time, that Melvyn has had, these 6 or 7 years with us, a very good life. And we will continue to care for him with love for all his days. I truly can see the grace of God in Melvyn’s life–how he came to us not just when he needed us, but when we needed him. He has always managed to adjust to whatever life holds, the ups and downs and joys and struggles, and remain a sweet, loving creature. He is an example to us of a life lived in gratitude, with grace. Thankfully, he hardly ever wakes us up at 5 a.m. anymore.

Friends, I pray that, when Jesus returns for His blessed ones, to serve and nourish us to eternal life, the Master will find us loving and caring for all the creatures–human and animals–whom God has entrusted to our care.

May the Lord, when he comes back at an unexpected hour, find us faithful.

 

Let us pray.

Holy One, we witness and experience so much struggle and suffering in this world, and yet we always turn to you during these times for comfort, wholeness, and strength to endure. Thank you for your faithfulness. Help us not to be distracted by possessions, the things that don’t last and don’t satisfy. Give us hope and courage to light our lamps and be dressed for action, and not become too comfortable or complacent with the way things are. Lead us to do the things you have planned for us. Speak through us your words that bring life and health to others. Teach us to give generously, with a grateful heart, and live so that we might reveal your peaceful, loving Kingdom to a hurting, broken world in desperate need of healing. May we become the people you are recreating us to be–the blessed faithful, through your Son, in whose name we pray. Amen.

 

Life Isn’t About Stuff

 

Meditation on Luke 12:13-21

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

Aug. 4, 2019

 

parable-of-the-rich-fool

 

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

 

***

 

It’s good to be back with you! I am grateful to Reverend Hoover for preaching and leading worship last week so that I might visit my parents in Florida. This time, I traveled by air, so my first challenge was packing the suitcase. Does anyone else have trouble packing the suitcase? I blame my mother. It’s all her fault. When we were kids, and we were getting ready for the annual Florida car trip to visit our grandparents, Mom used to make each of us a packing list. Mine included: an outfit for every day–shorts, shirts, underwear and socks, bathing suit and cover up–and then dress clothes–slacks and a dress– for going to a restaurant and church. Assorted toiletries and a sweatshirt for cool nights walking on the boardwalk. A cardigan sweater, because the air conditioning in public places in Florida is always on full blast. Several pairs of shoes–sandals, flip flops for the beach or pool, sneakers and dress shoes. Then we each brought our pillows for napping in the car and sleeping at Grandma’s. Library books, cards, drawing paper, pens and other things to occupy our attention during the 15-hour car ride, which can seem like a REALLY long time when you are a kid, trapped in the back seat with your siblings. Mom took care of packing snacks and drinks. When we got cranky and bored, “Mom, are we there, yet?” She would bribe us with red licorice.

And now that I am grown, I have even more stuff to bring. I pack my own snacks and drinks. Money and ID, medication and vitamins, makeup and jewelry, Hair dryer. Extra clothes for exercising. Shoes to match my outfits. Shoes can really add weight to a suitcase!

Pink shoes fashion

 

And then there’s electronics– phone, laptop or IPAD and the cords and chargers. Earphones, if you want to listen to movies or music on the plane.

And I still bring my pillow with me, even though my parents have lots of pillows. Does anyone have a special pillow?

I was so proud of myself when I got it all into one large suitcase on wheels–AND it came in at under 50 pounds, so I didn’t have to pay extra at baggage drop.

I had to change planes in Atlanta–and that’s a fun place to hang out for a little while. People complain about Atlanta airport, but really, it’s a great, big shopping mall. I don’t usually shop but I did stop at a bookstore. I only planned to be in there a minute. But I took too long choosing my murder mystery. When I got back to my gate, the plane doors had already been closed. The flight attendant said I was 5 minutes too late.

So my perfectly packed suitcase, filled with everything I needed for the journey and back was on a plane headed for Daytona. And I was still in Atlanta.

At least I had a good book to read, while I waited for the next flight. But I couldn’t concentrate and was filled with anxiety, not just because my poor mom would be picking me up at the airport at midnight, but because I kept thinking, “What if my suitcase is lost?”

 

***

 

It strikes me, at first, as kind of funny that a stranger in the crowd would ask Jesus to tell his brother to share his inheritance with him. Why should Jesus care about such things? But as we read on, it helps to remember that Jesus often has conversations with rich people–and this person has probably been raised in a wealthy family if he is coveting his brother’s inheritance. One of Jesus’ conversations with rich people ends with him telling his disciples in Matthew 19:24,  “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Ever notice that Jesus talks about money and things more than he talks about many other topics, including prayer? The Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 6:10 will also warn against greed, writing, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

Whenever Jesus talks about material things, he does it with the underlying assumption that everything and everyone belong to God. This is a foundational belief in the faith in which he was raised. Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” We know from the New Testament that this foundational belief continues with Christianity. For in the Early Church, there was no private property. The writer of Acts 2:44-45 says, “Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need.” When Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 sell a piece of property, but keep part of the proceeds and lie about it to the faith community, they are severely punished.

It’s interesting to me that Jesus doesn’t immediately take on this man’s cause in Luke 12. Why shouldn’t the brother be made to share the inheritance? Isn’t he the one being greedy if he refuses to share? We don’t know if it is a large amount of money and property. With Jesus’ warning against greed and the parable he tells about the foolish rich man who needs a bigger barn to store his grain so he can eat, drink and be merry in an idle lifestyle, we are probably talking about a lot of money and property. But it doesn’t have to be a lot of stuff before stuff becomes a problem for us.

Author Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, dean and president of the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, TX, suggests that this parable be renamed, “A Place for Your Stuff.” She reminds us of the late comedian George Carlin’s monologue about stuff. “You got your stuff with you? I’ll bet you do. Guys have stuff in their pockets. Women have stuff in their purses… Stuff is important. You gotta take care of your stuff. That’s what life is all about, trying to find a place for your stuff? That’s all your house is, a place to keep your stuff. If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time. A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you’re taking off on an airplane,” he says. “You look down and see all the little piles of stuff. Everybody’s got his own little pile of stuff.”

So this man who approaches Jesus in Luke 12–he wants his brother to give some of his stuff to him so that he will be the proud owner of stuff, too. Do you wonder why the man doesn’t just ask the brother himself for the stuff? This is where this story reminds me of Mary and Martha. Do you get the feeling that the man has already asked his brother to share his stuff? And what did the brother say? No, in no uncertain terms. Or the man wouldn’t have asked Jesus to help him. Now the two brothers aren’t talking, anymore!

That’s why Jesus asks, “Friend, who set me to be judge or arbitrator over you?” The Greek word translated “arbitrator” is literally “divider.” Stuff and money has come between two brothers and destroyed their relationship.

This is a warning to all of us, who like our stuff. We don’t have to have a lot of stuff to fall to the temptation of liking our stuff too much. We actually don’t have to have any stuff  to make stuff an idol. Rich and poor and in between. Everyone has the problem of liking and worrying too much about stuff.

Jesus is saying to us, “Life isn’t about stuff.” It’s about love–love of God. Love of people. “One’s life,” Jesus says in Luke 12, “does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” “I came,” he says in John 10:10, “that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

***

Returning from my visit with my parents, I didn’t once think about the contents of my suitcase, though I admit, I did have even more stuff in the suitcase on the return trip than I did going there. But I didn’t get caught browsing too long in a bookstore or any store at Atlanta airport.

I fought back tears as I said goodbye to Mom at Daytona airport. I had already said goodbye to Dad at the nursing home with a lump in my throat, wondering when I would see him again–and how his health would be the next time I see him.

“I miss you so much!” I said to my mom, giving her a hug as an airline employee prepared to roll my big, blue suitcase away, taking with him nothing that cannot be replaced or lived without.

For life isn’t about stuff. It’s about love.

 

Let us pray.

 

Heavenly Father, why do we love our stuff so much? Forgive us for our idolatry. Please help us so that stuff doesn’t become the root of jealousy and greed and destroy relationships with family and friends. Teach us how to live without idolizing stuff and money and never being satisfied with what we have–always wanting more and then needing a bigger place to store our stuff. Stir us to let go of stuff and money and give generously so that no one will go without, as they did in the Early Church. Empower us by your Spirit to love as your Son showed us love and to call all people our friends. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.