As many of you know, I moved into my new home two weekends ago, which is very exciting. It’s been a great source of joy for me, and I have particularly enjoyed hanging my pictures up on the walls, sitting on my beautiful back porch, and yes, using a dishwasher for the first time in a couple of years (I mean I forgot how amazing it is to have one; I highly recommend everyone have one).
Unfortunately, moving into my new home has also proved to be a great source of unexpected stress for me. You see, it appears that I have a chain smoker who lives next door to me, and it also appears that there is a crack somewhere in the wall between my home and his, so lots of smoke pours into my basement room several times a day, which is unfortunate to say the least.
Since I am very sensitive to smoke, this has obviously been a problem, so over the last week, I have worked really hard to find a solution, and I think I finally found one. After a lot of trial and error, I have found the perfect placement for a number of activated charcoal, HEPA purifiers I have bought, and as of this day, the air quality in my home is much, much, better and I am very thankful for that.
Here is the trouble, however. I actually haven’t truly solved my problem. While all may appear well at this particular time, and while I may be lured into thinking that there is nothing more I need to do in this situation, the reality is is that I still have smoke pouring into my home several times a day.
In reality, the purifiers are just a band-aid. They do not get at the cause of the leakage of the smoke into my house. They do not prevent smoke from entering my home. They simply provide a temporary fix in the moment. If the purifiers break, I’ll have an issue once again.
Now, I am thankful for this temporary fix, but if I am truly going to solve the problem, I am going to have to identify where the breach between the houses isand I will need to repair that. I am going to have to get down to the heart of the issue. Until I do that, the issue will be ongoing, and the smoke will keep on rearing its ugly head, which will mean I’ll have to keep spending time and resources on its mitigation. Who wants to do that?
Better to get to the heart of the issue.
Well, when it comes to the passage in Scripture we read today, we met a man who also had to get to the heart of the issue. In the middle of Jesus’ teaching, a man who clearly wasn’t paying attention to what Jesus was saying, interrupted him to tell him of his own “smoke problem”. His issue was of course not literally about unwanted smoke, but was about a property dispute that was occurring between him and his brother. It was a real problem for him, and he wanted it resolved. So, he came to Jesus, a Rabbi, a teacher, one who in a position to render a judgement in a case such as this, and he asked Jesus to command his brother to divide his inheritance with him.
But most likely to the surprise of this man, Jesus did not engage the issue at all. Instead of asking for more information or to hear from the brother, Jesus continued to teach the people, but in light of this man’s demand, moved the conversation in a particular direction, a direction which allowed them to dive down to the heart of the issue.
You see, Jesus could have easily rendered a judgement in that situation that day, but He knew that if He did, He would just be placing a band-aid on a deeper problem. Jesus saw into the heart of this man and perhaps his brother’s heart, and what he saw was greed. Even if Jesus rendered a judgement in favor of one man or the other, the greed residing in these men’s hearts would keep on rearing its ugly head, just like the smoke that keeps on seeping through the cracks in my wall. The property dispute would be settled, but other problems would keep arising until the heart of the matter, these men’s greed, was addressed.
So, Jesus refused to engage the situation, and instead called this man and all those listening to him that day into a deeper work of the heart. He did this by telling a parable, giving a word of comfort, and issuing an invitation, and that friends is what we are going to explore in our sermon today.
Let’s first start with the parable that Jesus told. So, after this man with the property dispute came to Jesus on that day, and Jesus refused to address this dispute, he told a parable of a rich man. The story goes like this. There was once a rich man who had so many crops that he did not have storage for them. Now, while this man could have given some of these crops away to those who had little themselves, or he could have tithed a portion of them to the synagogue, instead this man built bigger barns to store them. It seemed like a good idea to this man. The problem was, however, that as soon as he accomplished his task of storing his crops, this man died, so all his labor and all his efforts to hold on to his possession were for naught.
Then Jesus wrapped up this story by specifically saying that this man had been foolish and had not been rich towards God, and for what end? Storing up his wealth couldn’t add one more day to his life or enrich it any way. How foolish had this man been, and by extension, how foolish is anyone who holds on to or covets possessions out of self-centeredness and greed.
So instead of solving the man with the property dispute’s problem, Jesus rather issued a warning to this man and all in the crowd who had ears to hear of the folly of greed – of always wanting more and feeling like one can never get enough.
Jesus, did not, however, end here. He then went on with his teaching to give a word of encouragement.
You see, the reality in that moment was that not everyone in the crowd listening to Jesus that day would have been wealthy. In fact, most of the people gathered would have had so few resources that they would have barely made it from day to day. One small issue in their life could have meant no food on the table for that day and perhaps even a loss of shelter. So, Jesus continued on with his teaching, this time addressing another heart issue – this time, anxiety, the fear of never having enough.
But rather than providing a warning against anxiety, Jesus provided a word of comfort.
He told the crowd to not be anxious, for true life doesn’t consist in owning a myriad of possessions; that this is not what makes life meaningful or good. Moreover, anxiety cannot add one hour to a person’s life. So why remain in that state?
Then Jesus reminded them of an important truth: God is in control and is a good, good Father who sees his people and knows their needs, and then cares for them and provides for them. He said, think about it: if God even cares for the birds and the wildflowers, creatures of God that we might not even notice exist most of the time, how much more will God see his people and care for them. So, Jesus told the crowd to not fear. God would provide. Therefore, there was a much better way to live than living in a constant state of anxiety, and that’s when Jesus issued an invitation to the crowd.
What would the solution to these people’s heart issues of greed and anxiety be? What would prevent these heart issues from rearing their ugly heads over and over again in these people’s lives?
The solution would be this:
- first, the people were to trust that God was a good Father who cares for His people,
- second, the people were to seek the Kingdom of God,
- and third, the people were to hold on to their possessions lightly and share their possessions with others in need.
This was Jesus’ invitation, and it was a good one, so good that it was clearly not just meant for the particular crowd that gathered before Jesus that day, but for all who would call themselves disciples from that time forward. It is an invitation to us.
And in an age where greed and anxiety often run rampant in our society, I believe this invitation is particularly important for us, so for the rest of this sermon, this is what we are going to explore. What does this invitation look like for us?
Well, first, friends, we are to called to trust God as our provider, our good Father who sees us, who knows our needs, and who gives us many good things. Of course, this can sometimes be easier said than done. We all have real needs, and sometimes we do not see God providing them in the timing and way that we had hoped, so we begin to worry and mistrust. Believe, me, I know all about this.
We also live in a fallen world, where many anxiety-producing happenings occur throughout our lifetimes, whether that be sickness, accidents, natural calamities, wars, or whatever. So, it would be very odd indeed to not feel a degree of anxiety in face of these things.
So, it does no one good to just say “Buckle down, don’t worry, and trust God.” In other words, “Just have more faith.” Any of us who have received such advice know that it just doesn’t work. We can’t force ourselves to not worry or to have more faith in the moment.
So what are we to do? Well, we need to do a deeper, sustained work of the heart, and that begins by engaging in regular practices that cultivate trust in our souls, practices that remind ourselves that God is trustworthy, that God provides.
There are many ways we can do this, but here are some that can help: For starters, we can regularly meditate on how God has provided for his people throughout time by reading the Scriptural accounts of such provision and by also reading the testimonies of Christians who have experienced God’s provision over the centuries.
For example, just this week, I was reflecting on how God amazingly provided for a pastor named George Mueller who cared for over 10,000 orphans in England in the 1800s. If you don’t know his story, go and read about it. It is an inspiring story of a Christian’s lack of anxiety and fervent life of prayer despite his great need, and it is of course a story of God’s great provision in light of this need. Hearing George Mueller’s story again this week inspired me once again to live life with more trust in God.
We don’t however, always need to look at other people’s stories. We can look at our own. We can learn to notice all the ways God has personally provided for us over the years. One of the most effective spiritual practices that I have found to aid in this process is keeping lists, whether mental lists or written down lists, of all the ways that God has provided for me and all the things for which I am thankful, whether big (like having a new home) or small (like in my case, enjoying a good cup of tea everyday). Keeping such lists has allowed me to see just how abundantly God has provided for me and has demonstrated to me how God has provided even in the most challenging times in my life, and believe me there have been great challenges. And I believe that keeping such lists can help you too.
You see, the more that we are reminded of God’s provisions in the past, the less anxious we feel when new challenging situations come along. And even when anxiety does pop up – which let us admit, will pop up – the less that anxiety will drive our decisions and actions. We’ll be able to acknowledge the anxiety, but then let it go and to let our trust in God direct our decisions and our actions.
And that brings us to the second part of the invitation: we are to seek the Kingdom of God. Our passage from today says that it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom. It also says, if we seek the Kingdom, all these other things will be added unto us. In other words, if seek the Kingdom, God will provide for our various needs, including our food, clothes, and shelter.
Unfortunately, we so often go about it the other way. We focus on caring for our needs and then if we perceive there is time and resources leftover, we then give those to God. Moreover, so often our lives are marked by a sacred/secular divide – we have our religious activities and we have our non-religious activities, the latter which seem to set the priorities for our days, months, and years.
But seeking the Kingdom of God overthrows this way of approaching our lives. For in seeking the Kingdom of God, we seek to create a culture of God’s presence, power, creativity, and love at all times and in all things and in all relationships.
This means doing away with a sacred/secular divide in our lives. Instead, it means doing everything we do, whether it involves our work, our families, our homes, our hobbies, our church activities, or whatever it may be, as a means to fulfill the greatest commandments to love God and to love neighbor. And I truly mean everything.
In the late 1600s, a humble man named Brother Lawrence found that he could worship God while washing the dishes or repairing sandals, which is what he spent most of his timeing doing. In a collection of his sayings called “Practicing the Presence of God,” Brother Lawrence said the following:
“The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise of the clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees before the Blessed Sacrament.”
So if Brother Lawrence could do this, we too can seek the Kingdom at all times and in all places, no matter what we are doing – it just requires a change in perspective, and then we can let that seeking set the priorities for our whole lives, including giving to God and others first out of our abundance rather than out of our leftovers. This is our call friends.
And when we do this, everything else will then come together – no not necessarily in the ways for which we hope or for which we plan, and no not necessarily in ways that are free of all challenges and difficulty, but nevertheless, all things will come together; God will provide. He will give us the Kingdom, as He is delighted to do, and that will be far greater than anything for which we could have hoped or imagined. Our lives will be far more meaningful and rich.
And that brings us to our third part of the invitation: to hold our possessions lightly and to be generous with them.
Unfortunately, so often in life, we hold onto our possessions tightly – we let our possessions possess us. We work harder and harder to maintain or obtain things so we can build our own personal kingdoms. We so often view various possessions as mini-saviors, somehow as means to make our life meaningful and worthwhile, all the while letting our relationships with God and others suffer in all kinds of ways.
And there is no doubt that our current modern culture drives us in this direction. For example, all our advertising tells us if we just buy this one product, or spend money on this one trip, or have a lot of money or a big house or you name it, we will find a degree of salvation in this life.
But the advertisements lie, and they foster anxiety, greed, envy, and covetousness in our hearts, and if we don’t address these issues of the heart, they will keep seeping out into our lives and controlling us. We’ll have to continually take action to satisfy our greed anew or to keep our anxiety at bay. We’ll have to keep on putting various band-aids on the new problems and situations that arise.
On the other hand, if we are regularly practicing remembering how God abundantly provides for us, and if we are truly seeking His Kingdom – trying as best as we can to love God and love neighbor in all we do (even as imperfectly as we do that) – then we can uncover these lies and prevent anxiety and greed, envy and covetousness from seeping in our hearts again and again. Then, we can live our lives with less fear and more boldness, more freedom, and more joy.
And then we can see all our possessions for what they truly are – good gifts from God that indeed bless us, but are also meant for more than that – to be used in ways that bless God and bless others, to be used in ways that reflect the Kingdom of God.
This perspective allows us to cultivate a generosity of heart, of being rich toward God and rich towards others, whether we have a lot or we have very little. For you see, generosity of heart has nothing to do with how much we possess, but has everything to do with what we do with that which God has given us. Do we cling to our possessions and covet more or do we regularly thank God for what we have and share these things, enriching other peoples’ lives and using them to create a culture of God’s power, presence, creativity, and love?
Friends, God is inviting us to uncover the greed and anxiety of this age that keeps seeping into our hearts and is thereby controlling our actions and decisions. From time to time, He may even say not to our requests to him because He wants us to dig deeper and find the cracks that are allowing such greed and anxiety to seep in.
God does not want to put bandaids on our problems. He wants to do a deeper work. God is inviting us to seal the cracks that allows for such anxiety and greed with sealant that truly works, namely trust in God, love of God and neighbor, thankfulness, and generosity of spirit.
As a person from a family who is prone to great anxiety and also to sometimes unhelpfully clinging to possessions, I know that this is not necessary an easy journey, but I know that it is increasingly possible through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Mission Cincinnati, as we leave this place today, will we allow the Holy Spirit to do such work so that we may get to the heart of the issue and may become rich towards God and rich towards others. Mission Cincinnati, will we allow God to give us the Kingdom, which He is delighted to do, which is far greater than any kingdom we could ever set up for ourselves, even if we were to amass all kinds of possessions?
Friends, I guarantee you that the abundance found it His Kingdom is absolutely worth it – it looks different than what our culture says is abundance, but Kingdom abundance is far more rich and life-giving , therefore I invite you to seek this Kingdom and share it generously with others. Amen.
Here are some questions upon which to can reflect.
- How are you allowing greed or anxiety to drive your decisions and to direct your actions?
- What are ways you use to satisfy greed or keep anxiety at bay, without really getting to the heart of the issue, the source of the anxiety and greed?
- Have there been times when God has said “no” to you because he wants you to do deeper heart work and get to the heart of the issue?
- How have you allowed your possessions to possess you?
- How have you seen God generously provide for you?
- How are you regularly investing in the Kingdom of God – a culture of God’s power, presence, creativity, and love? How are you practicing God’s presence throughout your day?
- What are some tangible ways you can share the gifts that God has given you?