12th Sunday after Pentecost

12th Sunday after Pentecost
7 August  2016
Text: Luke 12:32-40

“Do not be afraid little flock.” It is an interesting beginning. The start of this chapter showed Jesus speaking to thousands but in the midst of this larger lesson he seems to have shifted his focus toward his core group, his little flock. It makes me think he is speaking directly to his group of eighty-four, the seventy-two sent out to prepare the way and his twelve disciples. Add in the various women that were never included in the count and we have nearly one hundred people out of this larger mass. I can easily be see Jesus referring to them as a little flock both out of mild sarcasm and genuine affection.

Last week I called this section of Luke’s Gospel Jesus’ rant and this week we find ourselves right in the middle of two of his major points: possessions and preparedness. It begins, as we saw, with Jesus being asked to settle a dispute about a will and he turns that question on its head with the parable of the rich landowner. “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” He then goes on to the next section which the lectionary skips over for another time. “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouses nor barn, and yet God feeds them.” Striving after what you should eat and wear is for nations of the world. Focus instead of striving for God’s kingdom.

Then we open up with today’s lesson. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” The kingdom of God that the seventy-two were sent out to bring to the countryside is given to us. It is not a nation of conquest over others it is a conquest over ourselves. “Sell you possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven …”  The take away from last week was the no so optimistic “don’t plan to enjoy the fruits of life later because you could die” and this week he sums up his statement by giving this directive. We are called on once again to give up our stuff, something that is very difficult and has been so from the moment he spoke this message. We are not the first era of followers to have problems with this message. As we see in the book of Acts we don’t even make it a full year past the ascension before hypocrisy over giving money rears its ugly head. We don’t even make it to the crucifixion before someone takes a look at this message and thinks “he could do better.” Judas Iscariot gave up the location of his teacher not because he disagreed with his message but because he felt Jesus didn’t go far enough. I know it is said that Judas was skimming off the top of the money basket but I can’t see it especially since we don’t even get a consistent statement about his death. Those profiteering off of a leader do not blow the whistle, they keep finding ways to further the movement for their own good. The whistleblowers, the ones who straddle the fence of perception between patriot and traitor do so because they are not convinced that whomever or whatever they are following is not longer being consistent with their own message.

But if we are not supposed to see this as a call to sell our homes and live on the streets then what are we supposed to do? The text continues, “Make purses for yourself that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure house in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” How do you build treasures in heaven? The same way you build treasures on earth.

I am a rather proud member of what we call the Nintendo generation. I grew up playing video games. Instead of climbing on a dirt bike, riding around the countryside jumping off cliffs and then pulling out a shotgun and shooting clay targets from the sky like some of the guys I work with, I grew up doing all of that virtually. It was far cheaper and far less likely to see me injure myself. I am, after all, a man who managed to get a concussion while doing laundry and a separate concussion reaching for paperwork in a library. One thing being a gamer has taught me, however, is the value of gold farming. Gold farming, or loot farming depending on the game, is a rather simple task. You load up an area where you know that your character cannot die unless you do something really and truly stupid and then you run around picking up all the gold and treasure that is in the area. Then you leave and go right back in and do it again. Why? Most of the gold and loot is there again. Games, especially early ones, are simply computer programs. Loading up an area in a video game is like loading up a word processor. All of the things the programmers want you to have is there at the beginning and all you have to do is go and get it. It is boring, it is repetitive, and in some cases mind-numbing but it works up until the point where the item you want to purchase is so far past the amount of money you can get in this area that you move along. What does this have to do with anything? Well, Discovery channel just spent a year or two filming people going out to the lands of the Klondike gold rush, bringing in new equipment that miners didn’t have back then, and going over the land once again. They were literally farming for gold. It was boring, repetitive, and mind numbing but it worked until the cost of running the equipment became more expensive than the return they were getting.

How do you build up treasures in heaven? The same way you build up treasures on earth. You do the same task again and again until the reward is no longer worth the effort. It is where we get the rosary. It is where we get the liturgy. We say the same prayers year after year, we say the same introductory psalms and canticles Sunday after Sunday, we celebrate the resurrection and ascension of Christ because it works. Whenever we say the Venite or the Jubilate at the beginning of the day we are farming for spiritual gold. Whenever we close out our day with “Our Father who art in heaven, holy is your name” we are doing a task over and over again because the value it brings is important even if we do not see it in this realm. We are repeating a task that brings us spiritual wealth in heaven.

This brings us to the next question: why should we bother? What is it that inherently makes creating spiritual wealth important? Jesus gives us two reason. The first has been mentioned: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” When we focus our existence on our possessions we are directing the majority of our time and effort towards them. Jesus told his followers to sell their possessions and give alms to shock them into recognizing that once you come to grips with the fact that these are unimportant then your effort, your time, your heart can move in a different direction.

But Jesus does not stop there. Why should we bother? For Christians the answer comes back to that same, not so wonderful, viewpoint that we could be using those treasures a lot sooner than we expect. Let’s skip ahead to the end of the lesson. “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. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Jesus does not want us to become complacent about trying to focus our attention on building treasures in heaven especially when we can do so with ease.

Is saying a prayer going to change our life the same way as selling all our goods and moving India to feed the poor like Mother Theresa? Not at all. The goal, however, is not to try and send a one-time giant payment. The goal is the slow, methodical, sometimes boring routine of depositing a small coin in our spiritual treasure house.  It is saying the simple prayers over and over again. Eventually, you may find that your work doesn’t feel like it is quite enough. Then you move on to the next level and if you are uncertain of what that next level is then that question becomes the new prayer you add to your daily routine. Building a spiritual balance is not as hard as we tend to think it is. The amount may not be great in the beginning but the process becomes the important part. Eventually you look back and realize that you have been slowly building a not so insignificant amount of treasure in heaven by doing small, simple repetitive things.