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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
August 11, 2019
Central Passage
Luke 12:32-40
Pentecost 9C

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: August 11, 2019—Pentecost 9C

Isaiah 1:1, 11-20; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40


Where Are Our Hearts?


          When I was in high school, I carried everything in my wallet. Driver’s license, pictures of classmates, cash, a receipt here or there, my Social Security card (which was unwise), my debit card, even a credit card. My friend Dustin would shake his head in disgust every time he saw it. “Fleener, you carry your life in that wallet!” And it showed. I had the manly imprint on the back right pocket of my jeans. I began having the manly nerve pain that came from sitting down on a full wallet! And being so overloaded, I’d have to replace my wallet every year or so. Cheap Wal-Mart leather just couldn’t hold up.


          When I read the Gospel for this Sunday, I thought of my cheap, overloaded leather wallet. Jesus’ exhortation to “make…wallets that don’t wear out” follows his appeal, “Don’t worry about anything.” Jesus tells his disciples, “…don’t worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. There is more to life than food and more to the body than clothing.” Why shouldn’t they fear about food or clothing or anything to do with this life? Well, Jesus begins by pointing to examples from nature. God feeds the ravens and clothes the lilies. But then, Luke records Jesus saying something unique to his Gospel. “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom.”


          Don’t be afraid. Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Make wallets for yourselves that don’t wear out—a treasure in heaven that never runs out. In these three exhortations, Jesus is calling us to examine where our treasure (and therefore our hearts) really are. What do we ultimately value? What is our ultimate concern? Jesus says the answer to those questions can be answered by what we do with our money.


          Now, a word of caution. This passage has been used for centuries to club people over the head about their giving to the church. To the contrary, I don’t think Jesus’ words have much to do with giving to the church at all (as important as that is!). At least it’s not about giving in and of itself.


          No, the point is both more simple and subtle than that. Jesus suggests that there’s an even correlation between what we do with our money and where our hearts are. Are our hearts in line with the values of God’s Kingdom? Or are they in line with the values of our own little “kingdom” of self-centeredness?


          Good Midwesterners, of course, don’t like to talk about money. I grew up in a town where I lived in the same neighborhood as a local banker, the owner of a lumber yard, a retired couple who drew their income from their many farms, a local lawyer, and the local pharmacist. They all did their best (well, except for the retired couple) to appear middle-class. I learned this first rule about money from them: If you have money, do not broadcast it (too much). The second rule is a corollary to the first: Money is a private matter. What I do with my money is my business and no one else’s.


          Except that’s false. We never use money in isolation from anyone else. It’s never just “our business”. The use of money, by definition, involves other people. For example, the community keeps the local coffee shop in business by spending money there. Think of where the money spent there goes. Some goes to Katie. Some goes to her workers. Some goes to electricity. Some goes to maintenance. Some buys food, which impacts a worldwide chain of food production, from CEOS to farmers. And some goes to coffee, which is itself a tangled, worldwide, economic web. A vast network of people are affected by every dollar we spend.


          The same was true in eight-century Judah. From what we hear in our first reading, the people were spending lavish amounts of money on the proper sacrifices. Many people were impacted by the purchase and sacrifice of animals, grain, and wine. Many must have thought their money was being used rightly. They thought they were keeping God happy by fulfilling God’s commands about sacrifice in Torah. But God thunders through the prophet. The peoples’ hearts are in the wrong place. Isaiah accuses the people of just trying to fulfill their religious obligations. They’re just going through the motions. They’re treating the sacrifices as ends in themselves. They’re not supposed to be. Religious duties and sacrifices aren’t ends—they’re means. They’re means of bringing people’s hearts in line with God’s heart. Of conforming people’s wills to God’s will. That’s not happening. Of the wide web of people who are enriched by the sacrificial economy, the most vulnerable of the land are left out. Verse 17 tells us this. “Seek justice: help the oppressed; defend the orphan; plead for the widow.”


The exhortation is simple, and yet profound. Religious observance, by itself, is useless. Insipid. Void. Hollow. Religion, like politics and money, is never a private matter. What we do in those realms of our lives overlaps with the lives of others. And in the case of faith, our religious practices always have a mate—living out the values of the Kingdom of God on earth. These values include showing mercy to the most vulnerable, advocating justice for those most oppressed, and making reparation to those we have wronged.


The good news is that we can live out these values because it is God’s delight to give us the Kingdom in the first place! We’ve been given citizenship in God’s Kingdom not because of our own goodness, or worthiness, or because we passed any kind of citizenship test. We’ve been given citizenship in God’s Kingdom simply because God wills it.


Because God wants to give us the Kingdom, these values change from “oughts” to “cans”. Because God gives us the Kingdom in Christ, we can live as ambassadors of it on earth. We can live as ambassadors of God’s Kingdom, who are more concerned about our wallets there—crafted by what we do with our wallets here. We can live as ambassadors of God’s Kingdom who can empty out the temporary worries of our hearts like I finally emptied out my overloaded wallet. We can live as ambassadors of the Kingdom whose faith is backed up by what we do for the most vulnerable. We can take those words of Jesus as sure and certain guidance: “Where our treasure is, there our hearts will be too.” Amen.


© 2019, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.