Contributed by Dennis Sepper,
University Pastor, Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma Washington
Name one thing you spent money on this week. Why did you spend the money on that one thing? How did you feel when you laid down the cash and took possession of whatever it was that you bought?
No Strings Attached
A commuter student at the university where I work lost everything in a house fire. Thankfully, her family and the family pets got out of the house in time and were not injured but the entire house burned down. They lost everything, their treasured memories in pictures and souvenirs, their clothes and beds, their entire possessions. Our student even lost her books for the spring semester which, as a nursing student, was a very substantial loss. Certainly insurance will cover a good deal of the loss and the school has a fund which allowed our student to buy another set of nursing books, but insurance and the good will of others cannot cover everything and it cannot replace the personal items that each family member had collected and now lost.
These kinds of tragedies happen every day from accidents to natural disasters. It’s funny how we always think our possessions will be there. We become so attached to them that we deny that one day they could go away. Even though it happens every day, we still think that we will be able to hold on to everything that is ours. And should we come to the realization that what we have is transitory, we worry about it and so we invest in alarm systems and fire alarm systems and locked boxes all in an attempt to hold on to our possessions.
(Writer’s note: if you have a local example by all means use it. One could use a natural disaster too, such as the flooding in Australia, etc)
- Have you ever thought about losing all your possessions? How does that thought make you feel? What are the things you would miss most?
- Do you every worry about losing something or having it stolen? How does that make you feel?
- What steps to do you and/or your family use to make sure you keep your possessions?
Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, February 27, 2011 (Eighth Sunday after Epiphany
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
With today’s Gospel text from Matthew 6 we are still in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount. At the beginning of Chapter 6 Jesus warns the disciples against drawing attention to themselves through their piety around almsgiving, prayer and fasting. Jesus then turns his attention to money and to possessions. Jesus warns against “storing” up treasures here on earth and encourages us to store up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). Today, our text opens again with a warning against money. “You cannot serve God and wealth,” says Jesus in verse 24.
We may not think that we worship money in the same way we worship God but, if you take the time to reflect on it, we do come awfully close. Have you ever seen someone accidently rip a one, five, or ten dollar bill? If you look at the faces of the people around when that happens you would think that the person just blasphemed the Lord. We are taught at a very early age that money is sacred and that it has a power all its own. In our day there are a number of people who prefer to serve money rather thank God. (For a humorous and insightful treatment of this worship of money see Health, Money, and Love and why we don’t enjoy them by Robert Farrar Capon especially pages 87-91.)
From that point Jesus goes on to explore the root causes of our dependence upon possessions and money; we human beings cannot predict or see the future, therefore, we have a deep rooted anxiety about the future. We simply believe that money and possessions will keep us secure or can protect us from that unknown future. However, as can be seen in our opening discussion, money and possessions have no power to protect us, for they are as temporal as we human being are temporal.
The words of Jesus in Matthew 6:25-33 are addressed to his disciples who did leave everything behind to follow Jesus. Jesus reminds his disciples that they are of more value to God than the birds of the air or the lilies of the field. God has called them into this life of discipleship and God will care for them as God cares for all creation.
That message is valuable to modern day disciples too. One of the things Jesus came to show us is that all of our lives are in the hand of God—a gracious and loving God. It is interesting to note that the word “worry” comes from an Old English word that means “to choke”. That is certainly what worry can do to our lives. Worry can cause sleepless nights and paralyze us into inactivity. Jesus came to call us to action in the world and Jesus promises that God will take care of us so that we are free to serve God and neighbor.
While Jesus can be very hard on possessions and wealth, he isn’t saying that every disciple is called to life of poverty. Jesus simply wants us to keep our priorities straight. Even today, our lives are in God’s hands and God still continues to care for each and every one of us. Earlier in the chapter Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Our hearts should be centered on God for that is indeed a treasure no one can take away from us.
When Jesus speaks of not worrying about tomorrow, he is not advocating a “don’t worry, be happy” Bobbie McFerrin kind of attitude. Rather, he calls us to a sure and confident faith that the God who calls us his children and into the world will care for us today, tomorrow, and in the months and years ahead.
- Do you believe people worship and serve money? Give an example of something you have seen or experienced.
- What kinds of things do you worry about? Have you ever been so worried about something that it causes you not to take action?
- What are some other things that people do to try to be secure against the unknown future? What do some people do to try to control the uncontrollable future? (Think about athletes and coaches who have favorite hats or ties that can “guarantee” a victory)
- On the whole, do you have hope for the future or not? Why?
- Assemble a group of current newspapers, news magazines or, if you are in a position to have internet access, bring up the homepage of CNN or some other news website. As an individual or as a group look for news articles that would cause you or others to worry or be anxious about the future. After you have identifies several, as an individual or as a group write a short prayer for people who might be worried about that issue or news event. When we do this at our university we call this activity “praying the headlines” and we try to do it about once a month.
- Another thing you can do is link this week’s discussion to Luther’s explanation of the fourth petition of The Lord’s Prayer. Note how Luther says that when we ask God for “daily bread” God provides much more.
(Use the prayers from the above activity, “praying the headlines,” or the following.)
Loving God, we know that you provide for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field and indeed they are well kept and beautiful. However, even in the midst of such evidence of your care we still worry about so many things and sometimes that worry dominates our thoughts and actions. Fill us this day with your Holy Spirit, a Spirit of power and might. Install in us a sure and certain faith that we can cast all our worries and anxieties on you, knowing that you will give us your peace, a peace that will allow us to confidently walk into the future to serve you and our neighbor. In the name of Christ Jesus we pray. Amen