St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Pentecost 11 Sermon 2010
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Corby Varness

“Treasure or Trash?”  All week long I tried to make this choice as I stuck price tags on a mountain of rummage.  Every year, on the day of the sale I find that I don’t know the difference between treasure and trash.  Some glowing customer is thrilled to find the very object of her desire marked at just 25 cents!  Oops, guess it was a treasure after all.

Luke tell us in today’s gospel: “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  What do you treasure?  I think that most of us would make the ‘right’ responses: we treasure our families, our homes, our church, our faith.  Those would be my first responses.  If, however, we define treasure as something we think about a lot, or something that consumes much of our time and energy, perhaps the answers would be different. 

So honestly, what do we wish for, what consumes our thoughts? Perhaps what we really treasure, what we really hold foremost in our hearts, if we’re honest, is a little less admirable.  For example: how would you end this sentence?  “I would really be happy if only I .........” “Had more money?”  “Lost 10 pounds?”  “Looked younger?”   “Fell in love?”       “Had more friends?”

Jeff has been asking Kevin and I what we would do if we won the lottery, ten million or maybe one hundred million dollars.  Do you all wonder about this?  It’s a fun fantasy and maybe it can help us understand today’s gospel.  So you all think about this for a minute.  What would you do with all that money?

I’m quite boring.  I want enough money so that Kevin and I can retire in a small, one story home in a warmer climate.  I want Jeff to be able to attend any expensive university of his choice.  I want to give money to my favorite charities.  Then I run out of ideas.  Isn’t that pitiful?   Don’t really want a new car, I love my van.  Don’t really like fancy jewelry.  I can’t think of much stuff that I want.  So it seems that I treasure security for me and my family.  Maybe I need to understand that one can’t buy security.  One can’t buy a long life or good health.  Money isn’t the only path to the things I treasure.

Now I do buy lottery tickets but only about twice a year. There are two reasons why I play so seldom: 1) I understand that I have a better chance of getting hit by lightning than wining the lottery, 2) Despite knowing this, I’m so crushingly disappointed when I don’t win!

There is a recent documentary, called “Lucky”, which follows several people who have won huge lotteries.  Two of the winners handle it well, continuing to live pretty simply, helping family and friends and giving to charity.  Two of the winners lose their friends and waste the money on lavish homes, clothes, private planes, and TONS of stuff.  They seem very unhappy and one admits that winning the lottery was the worst thing that ever happened to him.

This documentary also follows a woman named Verna, whose life revolves around playing the lottery.  Every day she goes to the store in the morning and buys tickets then goes back to the store after work to buy more tickets.  Verna spends an average of ninety dollars a day on tickets and has done so for thirty years.  Jeff figured out that she would have been a millionaire if she had put her money in the bank instead of playing the lottery.

What disturbed me about Verna wasn’t the waste of money but the waste of her time and energy.  She spent hours each day choosing her numbers, buying the tickets and then calling the lottery office to see if she had won.   Her life was consumed by her lottery dreams.

I have to be honest and confess that like Verna, I spend an awful lot of time thinking and dreaming about the future.  During the week, I’m often looking forward to the weekend.  In the spring, I’m looking forward to the summer and making plans for my garden and all the fun we will have then.   I look forward to having my next surgery and hopefully getting back to walking better. I spend too much time looking forward to Kevin’s retirement.  I should know better: I think that God laughs when we make our tidy, careful plans for the future.  We forget who is in charge!

When Kevin and I met we were living seven hundred miles apart.  We tried to be together as much as possible.  After months of zooming back and forth between our homes, Kevin said, “We’re wishing our lives away.”  He was right.  All our days were consumed by wishing we could be together.  So I moved.

Every moment wasted wishing for some moment in the future is just that: wasted.  Verna is wishing her life away on dreams of winning big money in the lottery.  I’m wishing my life away thinking too much about the future and not paying enough attention to today.  Don’t wish your life away. 

It’s easy to spend a lot of time worrying about the future, wishing for our lives to change or even getting hung up thinking about the past.  When we live this way, when we are too invested in ourselves and our dreams we can’t be ready to meet Christ. Where your heart is, there will be your treasure.  If your heart is mired in the concerns of this world, your treasure will also be stuck in this petty earthly realm.  We can draw our hearts up to heaven by moving beyond a focus on petty worries or material things.

Today Jesus tells us to wake up, be alert, be dressed for action.  He tells us that we must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.  These are urgent words.  WAKE UP.  Focus on truly important things.  Sell your possessions, give alms.  Be alert.  Be ready to meet Jesus every day. 

When I was going through a very dark time and it seemed that everyone around me was dying, I had an overwhelming sense that I needed to stay awake, stay engaged, even though it was so painful.  My dreams of the future had been smashed.  I knew with great clarity during that time that the only thing that mattered was the present moment and how I lived it.  As a result, I look back on that time now and I don’t have any regrets.  I know that I was paying full attention, not living in the past or the future but doing my best to be fully present in the NOW.

I love how this gospel starts: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  Our father is eager to give us the kingdom.  Jesus is not just talking about the kingdom we’ll see when we die and go to heaven, some distant future dream.  He is talking about God’s kingdom in the world now.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes about “how the second coming of Christ was an idea cooked up by some church father with only two fingers.  The truth is that Christ comes again, and again, and again - that God has placed no limit on coming to us here and now.  The only thing we are required to do is to notice, to watch, to keep our eyes peeled.” If we are awake and paying attention and living according to God’s will we can find that kingdom around us today.

We can live in the past, wishing we could go back to the good old days, we can live in the future, worrying and planning for what may never happen.  Or we can live now.  Today.  How do we do this?  Our closing hymn gives us good advice:

“Go to the world.  Go into every place.  Go live the Word of God’s redeeming grace.  Go seek God’s presence in each time and space.  Hallelujah!  Hallelujah!” 

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