July 31, 2016
11th after Pentecost, Pastor Bradley E, Schmeling
Audio is available at the symbol of the microphone.
My sister is two years younger than me. We often found ourselves arguing about who would split the last piece of a dessert. You know, if you’re divider, you can pick the biggest half. However, my mother, with the wisdom of Solomon, would always say, “Alright, you can split the dessert, but you have to give your sister the biggest piece.” In that moment, I became a mathematician, a calculator able to notice every millimeter of fairness, making sure that she did not have one more crumb than I did. For us, there was a link between crumbs and justice.
I hope we’ve grown up. I suppose we’ll find out when we get our inheritance. Otherwise, we might be just like the man who comes to Jesus to say, “My brother isn’t sharing! Make him give me the half of the inheritance.” Jesus, however, is not interested in this mathematical approach to sharing, calculating how much money we should rightfully have. He seems to know that so often our rhetoric of fairness and justice is really just a veneer for our greed.
“Take care, against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
What?! Come on, Jesus. This is America. We don’t really believe that. Well, maybe it’s true, but first let me get that new vanity for the bathroom. Seriously, Jesus. This is like my mother saying, “Take the dessert over to the neighbor. After all, you’ve had a dinner that was quite nutritious, and it will keep you healthy and strong, body and soul.” Apparently, the key to knowing God, to having a rich and deep life, is not in accumulation, but in letting go. You want to receive an inheritance, give your inheritance away. This is the logic of the kingdom of God.
This parable paints two pictures of the self. Recently, Phil GibbenGreen, one of the pastors at Edgecumbe Presbyterian Church around the corner, drew a picture of the two selves embedded in this parable. On one side of the page was a glass filled about a quarter of the way, with a straw inserted. It’s the image of the rich man. It’s how most of us consider our lives. We’re running at a quarter of a tank. We feel like we don’t have enough: enough money, enough time, enough patience, enough courage, enough happiness. We wish that we could have more. We would even be willing to be half-full kind of people if we could just have that much.
And then there’s the straw. It’s that that selfish brother that won’t share, ready to suck us dry. It’s our job, or our spouse, or our children. It’s this presidential election. It’s the demands of our perfectionism. It’s a body that isn’t getting better. It’s our awareness the days and years are moving on, that our time is running out. After all, today is July 31st, and there’s only one more month of summer. School is about to start. We might as well gas up the snow blower. Vanity; all is vanity. The personality of the quarter glass is defensive and protective. It’s overwhelmed, and it’s angry. It’s afraid, and it spends it’s time drawing plans for a bigger barn, or it just gives up.
Back to the pastor’s drawing. On other side of the page was a glass filled to overflowing with a faucet that gushed into glass. Water is everywhere. This is life that is rich with God. This is trying to take a sip from the fire hose. This is trying to take a sponge bath at Niagara Falls. This is God’s abundance, which cannot be stored. It can only be given away.
It would seem that the parable is asking us which of these pictures will be our guiding reference. Which of these images will shape how we divide the pie that sits before us? Which of these images will be the template for our own self-descriptions, or the way we understand our society? Which will we tell ourselves in the mirror and our children before they go to sleep at night?
What do you tell yourself when you look in the mirror? Do you see God’s extraordinary abundance reflected back to you? Do you see your life and this whole planet as full of grace and compassion? Can you see yourself as God sees you? Can you see those around you as God sees them?
Or are you convinced that you don’t have enough, or that you’re not enough, or that the people you love are not enough? Are you afraid that you’re only getting just a few crumbs from the dessert, or a few drops of water in your desert of a life, just a drop in the bucket.
But here’s the thing: with a few drops of water, today we will baptize two children. And we’ll announce that we’re holding them under a faucet of love and forgiveness that will not stop even on their dying day. If you have just enough strength to come up front today, we’re going to give you a crumb of bread and a glass of wine so small you can’t even get a straw in it. Hardly the feast our too-full stomachs were hoping for. But we will trust that in your hand, in your mouth, in your body, is our full inheritance, all the riches of God–all the love of the cross; all the love of Easter morning–the love of Jesus–filling every crack in our souls.
Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions, but it does consist in the abundance of God. I suppose we can only trust it, given the crumbs we live with. But I think the way to experience it is clear: stop accumulating and start giving away. Put your treasure, your inheritance even, in the places where you want your heart to go, which, my beloved community of fools and barn builders, is probably not best into ourselves, but in the neighbor across the street or the world, in the places where God is at work, in the places where God promises to be present.
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
By the way, my sister and I were right, there is a link between the crumbs and justice, just not in the way we thought. For that, we can only say, “Thanks be to God!”