Abundant life is about who you treasure, not what. Because God treasures you, and all God’s children, and will help you do the same.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 18 C
Text: Luke 12:13-21
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
This is a familiar pain.
A beloved parent dies, and the children become hyenas, fighting each other over the carcass, wanting all the scraps they believe they deserve. It’s ugly and heartbreaking to witness or experience, especially when such a fight would break the parent’s heart. That’s what’s happening here. Our friend thinks Jesus should arbitrate this family dispute, force the brother to share the inheritance.
The tragedy in these situations is that the family ceases to be a family. Siblings become opponents, enemies. People don’t speak for years, decades, sometimes never reconciling.
What this brother treasures is the inheritance. What he needs more than anything is to treasure his brother, treasure the relationship, treasure the family. No inheritance is worth that.
Until our friend understands that life abundant and worth living is about who you treasure, not what, Jesus can’t help him.
Treasuring the whats gets us into trouble every time.
Jesus speaks today about the desire for money, because it’s money our friend treasures. But what causes all the pain and suffering in this world, and even in your life, is when people treasure the what, not the who. Sometimes it is money. Sometimes something else.
If you treasure being right, then when you disagree with loved ones someone will be a winner and someone a loser. Someone you love is hurt because you treasured the what, not the who.
If you treasure safety and comfort, then when you make buying decisions, when you vote, when you live in the world, you will support systems that provide you what you want at the cost of your neighbors. Someone suffers because you treasured the what more than the who.
When our society treasures ideas and opinions more than people, laws trample over people, crush them, kill them. Polarized political fighting happens when people forget the who – that is, the people who are deeply affected – and treasure the what – being right, getting their way, not having their privilege challenged, denying their own prejudice and bias.
Everything that ails our society, our culture, our personal lives, can be traced to treasuring a thing rather than a person. No thing is more valuable than a child of God. No inheritance, no perceived right, no need to win, no stubborn refusal to learn and grow, no principle, no doctrine. That’s what Jesus keeps saying.
The last time this summer someone tried to get Jesus to give him what he wanted, Jesus focused on love of God and love of neighbor.
He taught that eternal life isn’t a thing to be received, it can only be lived, right now, in love of God and love of neighbor. Because love of God and neighbor also isn’t a what, a thing to be believed. It’s a way of life that, when lived, focuses you and me on what really is valuable, what treasure really matters to us.
We start with love of God because God is the first Who we can truly treasure.
God is not a what to pontificate about or to define or to fight about.
The holy and Triune God who made all things is a Who, who loves you and the whole creation enough to die for you and the whole creation. Who came in person, in Christ Jesus, to show you, and me, and all people, the face of God, the heart of God’s love. To give tangible proof that you, and I, and all people, and the whole creation, are beloved.
That’s the Who you want to treasure first: the God who loves you beyond death itself, who will always be with you and give you life. Treasure God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength, because God treasures you with all God’s heart and soul and mind and strength.
Treasure that. Lean into that: you are God’s beloved.
And when you treasure the God who treasures you, you are changed.
The Word of God’s love for you and the creation wraps in and around your heart, and you are transformed into someone who loves in the same way, who treasures the who, not the what.
This Meal Christ gives works its way into your cells, your bones, your breath, and transforms you into someone who treasures your neighbor as you are treasured.
This Spirit God fills you with stirs in you and shapes your heart and your mind and your soul and your strength and creates a new person who loves and treasures all God’s children.
If our friend today really wanted Jesus’ help, he could have asked, “Teacher, could you help me and my brother reconcile? I really miss him.” Jesus would have loved to help with that.
And when this value system, this treasuring, spreads throughout the family of God on this earth, no oppression or suffering or systems or laws will be able to withstand it.
We can help each other a lot in this.
If our conversation and lives – whether personal or communal – start focusing on things, protecting institutions, defending points of view, being right, or whatever, we can say to each other or to ourselves, “who is it we’re not treasuring right now?”
If our life together starts veering into abstract things we think and argue, even about God, we can say to each other, “where is God in all of this and how can we treasure God’s presence here? How is God’s love shaping us and our lives?”
Abundant life is lived with whos not whats. And God deeply desires you to know abundant life. And me, too. And all God’s children.
That’s something worth treasuring, for the rest of your life.
In the name of Jesus. Amen