“Treasures” Colchester Federated Church, August 7, 2022, (Luke 12:32-40) Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
As we continue exploring the Gospel according to Luke this summer I am tempted to say, “So you remember the sermon I preached last Sunday? Yeah, ditto to all of that, and let’s just move on with our worship service.” Because once again Jesus is warning people about possessions. This is not an attempt by your pastor to keep talking about this subject. The truth is that Jesus spoke about wealth and economic issues all the time. Though Jesus begins a little differently in Luke Chapter 12 with a tender reassurance, “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom.” Then Jesus launches into instructions for his followers to take to heart, “Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Make for yourselves wallets that don’t wear out—a treasure in heaven that never runs out. No thief comes near there, and no moth destroys. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.”
Luke shows that many of Jesus’ followers did, in fact, take this message literally. Peter says to Jesus a little later in the Gospel, “Look, we left everything we own and followed you.” Jesus reassured Peter and his other disciples who had done the same, “I assure you that anyone who has left house, husband, wife, brothers, sisters, parents, or children because of God’s kingdom will receive many times more in this age and eternal life in the coming age.” But what about the rest of us? What about those of us who still have some stuff and people who depend on us for their livelihood?
Perhaps the larger point is once again Jesus warning his followers about greed, warning his followers about worry, warning his followers about being prepared for what God has in store in our lives. Jesus instructs us to be like people who stay up waiting for their master to come home from a wedding, so that we can open the door when our master arrives. Jesus says that the master will in fact become the servant and will dress himself to serve, seat the servants at the table, and wait on them. We are supposed to be ready for the Human One to come at a time when we may or may not expect it.
Again, some Christians took (and still take) this literally as an admonition to be alert to a literal Second Coming of Christ. What may be more helpful is thinking about this as an invitation to be open to how God is at work in our lives and in the world. Because we are not going to always hear a voice from on high instructing us as to the next faithful step we can make on life’s journey. But if our hearts are open, we can hear the still small voice of God. We can see those God winks. We can recognize Thin Places when we encounter them. We can hear the echoes of God’s calling out to us.
Once again, we can hear this morning’s scripture passage, take it to heart, and ask ourselves what’s the point of our lives. What are we supposed to be doing anyway? We may feel this need to be successful, which too often in our society looks like accumulating more stuff, having a bigger house, more cars, you name it. But Jesus is offering an alternative way. Jesus reminds us that our lives are not determined by our possessions, even when someone is very wealthy (last week’s Gospel). And this week Jesus reminds us that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also.
I read this great book by NPR’s Eric Weiner called The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World. Weiner explores the concept of happiness in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Moldova, Thailand, Great Britain, India, and America. It is truly fascinating to hear peoples’ perspectives on happiness from all around the world. Weiner observes that the Swiss are happy because they go to great lengths not to provoke envy in anyone else. Many believe that envy is the great enemy of happiness and for the Swiss the worst thing you can be is a flashy winner.
Weiner encounters a sign in Bhutan that reads, “When the last tree is cut, when the last river is emptied, when the last fish is caught, only then will man realize that he cannot eat money.” He has this hilarious experience where a leader in Bhutan gently scolds him for writing in his notebook all the time. The leader tells this educated, forthright NPR reporter that he needs to experience, truly experience life. Put down your notebook and live a little! Meanwhile Eric Weiner is frantically writing every word, including you are always writing, you need to experience . . . when he looks up and sheepishly puts his notebook away and begins to have a conversation with the person right in front of him. Perhaps the journalist in him needed to stop working for a moment to let the human being just take it all in and have that face-to-face interaction.
Weiner relates that in Iceland there are no strangers really. The formal Icelandic greeting translates as “come happy.” When Icelanders part they say “go happy.” Happiness is wished upon one another day in and day out. When Weiner wants to experience happiness in Great Britain he goes to a pub, obviously. While there he observes, “Even in the inebriated atmosphere of the pub, the British remain economical with their emotions. Personal information is doled out judiciously, like premium chocolate or fine wine . . . so when a Brit opens up, exposes their wounds, where it hurts, this is more valuable, more meaningful, then when an American does it.”
This is a truly fascinating subject—what does happiness look like all around the world? What do different cultures value? What can we learn from other nations and other religions when it comes to living the good life? At the end of his journey, Weiner tries to sum up what he learned as he explored the geography of bliss. He summarizes by writing: “Only a fool or philosopher would make sweeping generalizations about the nature of happiness. I am no philosopher, so here goes: Money matters, but less than we think and not in the way that we think. Family is important. So are friends. Envy is toxic. So is excessive thinking. Beaches are optional. Trust is not. Neither is gratitude.”
Here’s the thing, if we want to be relatively happy in our lives it ends up that trust and gratitude are both necessary. Family and friends are really important. Envy and excessive thinking are actually toxic. And money matters, but far less than we think. While this is not an overtly religious book it can make us wonder about how the philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth shared over two thousand years ago can be in conversation with various philosophies and cultures throughout the world. Sometimes we hear a word of wisdom, and we instantly know it in our hearts to be true. Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there you heart will be too.” Yes. So let’s do our best to treasure people and experiences and life lessons and not stuff that a thief could steal and moths can destroy anyway. Or as that saying goes in Bhutan—we can’t eat money. Thanks be to God. Amen.