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Sunday, August 04, 2019

Where there's a will . . . .

A sermon preached at Old Christ Church, Laurel, DE
August 4, 2019 Pentecost VIII Proper 13 C

Note: Within 24 hours of each other, this country suffered two tragic acts of National Terrorism based on the toxic rise of White Nationalism, condoned at the highest levels of our government. I was tempted to scrap this sermon and preach on what happened in El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH, but, instead, I chose to begin the service with a strong statement about the tragedy and a request for a moment of prayer for an end to gun violence, for an increase in tolerance of differences and for God to open our eyes to see the spark of divinity that exists within all of God's people. 

As we mourn for those affected by these tragedies, I invite you to join in praying these words adapted from the Christian Reformed Church’s Office of Social Justice:

Lord, in our shock and confusion, we come before you
In our grief and despair in the midst of hate
in our sense of helplessness in the face of violence,
we lean on you.

For the families of those who have been killed we pray.
For the shooters—help us to pray, Lord.
For the communities that have lost members—their anger, grief, fear—we pray.
For the churches striving to be your light in darkness beyond our comprehension, we pray.

In the face of hatred, may we claim love, Lord.
May we love those far off and those near.
May we love those who are strangers and those who are friends.
ay we love those who we agree with and understand,
and even more so, Lord, those who we consider to be our enemies.

Kyrie Eleison. Lord, have mercy.
Heal our sin-sick souls.
Make these wounds whole, Lord.   Amen

Here is the sermon I preached:

It was 1997 and I had had an annual, routine mammogram which revealed a small lump. My doctor was not overly concerned but sent me to a surgeon for a consult. My surgeon was also not overly concerned but said, “You know, you and I will both sleep a lot better as soon as that lump is out.”

He was right. Now, before I go any further, the surgery was scheduled and done and the lump was benign and I really slept well after that. 

Before that all happened, our family had an opportunity when we were all together. After dinner one night, I let them know what was happening. They were concerned, of course, but as hopeful as I was.

Because they are my kids, they decided to shift the mild anxiety that was floating in the room with some humor. 

One of the kids said, “So, mom, if this doesn’t work out, can I have your car?”   

Someone else said, “No, I’m older, I get the car.”

It went on like this for a bit until my own anxiety kicked in and I heard myself say, “Well, wait. This may be a good time to talk about this, anyway. So, who wants the Lennox china?”

Crickets. Kids looking at each other, shrugging their shoulders.

“C’mon,” I said. “I bought that china place setting by place setting. Nobody?”

Uncomfortable silence. “Okay, the silverware. Someone wants that, right?”

The only thing I could hear were people shifting in their seats and shuffling their shoes. 

Finally, one of the kids piped up, “I know! I know! I want the Disney collection!”

“What?” I laughed, thinking this was more of their attempt at humor. 

“No, you know, all the VCRs of all the Disney movies. Those are going to be worth something one day. I’ll take those!”

“No,” came a voice, “I’m the youngest. I should get the Disney movies.”

“Okay, you get the DVDs, I get the VCRs,” said another. 

And then, suddenly - to my utter astonishment - all the kids were squabbling over the Disney movies. 

Not the Lennox. Not the silver. Disney movies!

We all have our ‘stuff’. Some of us have “collections” of this and that, from stamps or coins or special cut glass pieces, or toy cars or porcelain dolls or holiday decorations and ornaments – especially Christmas (I know that’s my biggest flaw).

I have one friend who lives in a small apartment with not a lot of storage space, so she actually rents a storage space a few miles from where she lives to keep all of her seasonal decorations for her home. Talk about creating space just to store your “stuff”.

That’s what this morning’s gospel story is all about, isn’t it? It begins with a squabble between two siblings over an inheritance. It’s a scene that clergy in parish ministry know well. 

Indeed, we have a saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a relative.”

Jesus then tells the crowd a powerful story about the rich man whose land has produced a bountiful harvest and instead of enjoying and sharing it now, he spends all of his time tearing down his barns and building bigger ones to store more "stuff." 

Jesus tells the story in order to caution the crowd not to pin their hopes on a future inheritance. It’s not that planning for the future is not important. It is. 

What Jesus is saying is that it’s not smart to place your hope in “stuff”.

Parish ministry also provides an interesting vantage point to watch the downsizing we all go through at various points in our lives. At some point in our lives, the things we’ve collected become more of a burden than a joy as they lose the significance or value they once had.

Churches that operate thrift shops or have rummage sales are often the recipients of the products of that winnowing process which includes furniture, dishes, Christmas ornaments, sports equipment, electronic devices, etc. 

And, clothes – lots and lots and lots of clothes – some of which really ought to have gone into the rubbish. It’s funny, but even more than ornaments and collections, people have the hardest time letting go of their old clothing. I’m not sure why that is; I only know that it’s true.

It’s also true that every day, people here and around the world are victims of tragedies like floods, fires, hurricanes and tornadoes. They lose their homes and all their personal belongings. 

When they are interviewed on the television, we see their grief, but so many of them also say, “We were left with nothing. We are going to have to rebuild. But, we have our lives. We have each other. Things are replaceable. People are not. Thank God we have our lives and each other.”

Sometimes, it takes the crisis of a tragedy for some of us to get our priorities in order. That’s really the message Jesus has for us this morning. He’s telling us to be rich in the things that really matter. 

St. Paul gives us the short list: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is that which is invisible to the eye, as the children’s story of the Little Prince reminds us.

It is love, of course. In the end, it really is all that matters.

I often tell grieving Hospice families that they are their loved ones greatest legacy. It’s not the ‘stuff’ we leave behind. It’s not the schools we were able to attend or the degrees we were able to achieve. It’s not the positions we held or the awards we won.

The real value – our real, lasting legacy – is the love we have created that lives on after we have left this earthly plane. 

That is what makes life worth living – the memories of the love we create and which lives on after we die. There is no dollar amount anyone can put on that love. 

No one can ever take that away from you.

So, yes, plan for the future. But, do not put your faith in your stuff. Trust in the gift of love, for scripture tells us that “all love is of God”. 

The love which God gave to Jesus is meant to be shared the way Jesus shared His love with us: abundantly, sacrificially, lavishly, and wastefully.

It is the wise person who stores up and invests in the inheritance of God, for that investment will not only yield great rewards, it will be blessed with a love that lasts through eternity.


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