Walter Brueggemann once said, or wrote, “I will take no bull from your house.” Speaking, of course, for God. In both the Isaiah passage and the Psalm, this is what God seems to be saying, “I will take no bull from your house.” God tells the Israelites that observing purity laws and making sacrifices isn’t enough--that God isn’t even interested in these outward signs of an interior and invisible grace. God is asking for real moral lives that include caring for the poor, the hungry, the marginalized-which in Isaiah’s and Jesus’ society were orphans and widows and the poor who were often strangers in the land. As Lance Ousley noted: “Holistic stewardship in addition to financial stewardship is what today’s readings are talking about. Stewardship of life.”
Last week Corby talked about the man with the bumper crop and his plans to build larger barns. Jesus’ follow up with his disciples was, “The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.” (This is from The Message as will other Bible quotes I mention.) So, where is my treasure? Where do I most want to be?
Right now, I am excited about heading to Sedona so we can have time with Jim III and Oliver and my sister. And, we will have some time to rest and relax, see some beautiful places and visit some friends on the way home. But my treasure is not in Sedona. I enjoy our national treasures: National Parks and monuments and we plan to visit a few on our trip. Cedar Breaks on the way there and we want to take Oliver to see the Grand Canyon. But my treasure is not there.
I have some keepsakes that are important to me and we enjoy our home, though it could be just about anywhere--as we have proven over the years. We don’t have much money put away so that isn’t where my treasure is.
Our family is important to us. I have been nurtured both spiritually and emotionally by family. I recognize “the other” in my family members but I also recognize part of myself. Because of this, I want to spend time with my family--I want to BE with them. My family is why I wish to stay alive as long as I can. I don’t want to miss anything!
I am also like the people in Hebrews: “They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home.” In all of today’s readings there is this promise of a place to live with God, and my hope lies there. God is the treasure we can’t contain or quantify. God is the treasure that connects us all. And, ‘with God’ is the place I most want to be.
Also, though, when I read the passage in Hebrews about Abraham, I was reminded of the folks who live along the riverbank in Aberdeen and up Bear Creek Gulch and in River City and all the other out of the way nooks and crannies. “When he left, he had no idea where he was going. By an act of faith he lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents. Isaac and Jacob did the same, living under the same promise.” Abraham’s treasure was abiding with God-where God told him to go. The people who are living in tents in Aberdeen and Hoquiam often have a real connection with God and have deep faith that God has brought them through hardships. They also have created their own families from those who live around them. Their physical treasures are few but the things they have are important to them. They help one another out when and if they can.
So, in what way and when can we be with God? Both in Isaiah and Luke, we are told we can be with God if we are generous with the poor and disenfranchised in our midst. In Isaiah: “Say no to wrong, learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless.” Isaiah and Jesus were observing the same kinds of corrupt systems in their lifetimes--the same kind we see in our times. Those who needed help the most were being ignored because there was a social cost to providing aid. Those who benefit from the plight of the poor are not happy when it is pointed out. The landlord who charges exorbitant rents, who appeals to the court to get what is due from those who can’t pay, and who feels no remorse for lives destroyed because he is acting within his legal rights. A person has a right to make a living. No matter that properties are substandard and need repairs. This is the type of injustice today’s texts are addressing.
I believe we can be with God now by standing with those in need and by being aware of how we live and the impact our living has on other people and our environment. “The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.” Standing with, standing alongside, and listening to the voices of those no one wants to hear is standing with God. We won’t be able to solve every problem, but we can pray and we can remember the stories and we can speak about what we have heard and observed.
Where I most want to be is doing God’s work. That is easy to say and easy to wish but it can be hard to do. Even on the rare occasion when I am sure what God wants me to do, I don’t always follow through. Often, though, when I see or feel a need, I am able to go along and be that presence that points to Christ--so many times it isn’t planned ahead and sometimes others point ME in the right direction. It is the place I most want to be and it is often where I end up.
Nine years ago I wrote about a beautiful place I love to go to: Fidalgo Island and a campground on the Swinomish Reservation. I talked about the beauty of the place and all the time I have spent there walking the beach with people I love--friends, family, church colleagues and the Swinomish people and their hospitality. And, the rocks on the beach.
The rocks there are worn smooth by the tides. It is my hope that some day I can be worn smooth like these rocks--that my rough edges that cut and poke people are broken away and tumbled in the tide to smoothness. Then I can tumble in the tides with my neighbors without harming them. That is a place I most hope to be--God in the midst of us--tumbling in the tide together without harm. “The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.” One can hope!