Monday, February 28, 2011

Straddling the Fence

Matthew 6: 24-34

I wish I knew how to preach this text.

Sometimes, when you read the Bible, it just seems so clear what the lesson is—love one another. Love God. Don’t judge others lest you be judged. Easily said, not so easily done, I know, I have trouble with that too, but it’s not so hard to say what God is actually saying to us.

But this text is hard for a different reason. Don’t worry? God will take care of it all? Easily said, but then you look around and see people who are living lives that, compared to yours, are terrible. They’re hungry, they’re suffering or in great pain, they don’t have sufficient clothing or housing, and you think to yourself, God sure doesn’t seem to be taking care of them. The lilies of the field are a little better off, it seems, when you compare them with the people living under tarps on the sides of muddy hills during hurricanes in Haiti.

So, I have to go to people who are wiser than me. And they point to the first verse of the text, the one I almost dropped because it didn’t seem relevant, but it turns out to be the key to the whole thing.

When you are serving mammon, or wealth, you make certain choices. You wish to protect your possessions. You put your wealth onto barns, and then put those barns into barns. You put electric fences around those barns, and dig moats outside the fences, and put piranha and alligators in the moats.

But now, you’re having to pay for two sets of anti-termite treatment, one for each set of barns. You have a whopping electric bill from the fence, you have to pay, feed, and house a guy to ride around the fence to make sure it’s in good order, and have to replace the wire and the posts when they rot or rust. You have to feed the fish and the gators, and you have to buy stuff to put into the water to kill mosquitoes.

So who’s serving who here? Seems to me the wealth in those barns are now starting to call the shots. Seems to me that you’re working awful hard to maintain a bunch of bags of coin.

And it isn’t giving back.

There’s stewardship, and then there is slavery, and wealth doesn’t give back.

Now, imagine what happens when you serve God with that kind of energy and care. We’re guided by the Bible in how to serve God, the words of Jesus give us the clues we need. Love God, and love your neighbor. Wealth sitting in bags of money stays silent. God says go out into the world and serve it.

Now, in our modern life, there are certain things required of us. Car insurance both to help us pay for the times we have damaged someone else’s mode of transport, and to pay for our own, which is so necessary to our basic way of life in this modern world. Warm clothing because we live in a cold climate. Housing and heat for the same reason. All of these things are necessary, and it’s reasonable to expect that we provide for ourselves to the best of our ability, without to much infringement on the rights of those around us to live safely.

It’s a long way, however, from enough wood to burn each winter to cutting down the whole forest. It’s a long way from warm clothing to a $1000 coat. It’s a long way from safe transportation to buying a car because of the status of the badge on the hood. It’s a long way from safe, adequate housing to having arches, columns, pillars and fountains.

This isn’t to say that you should go overly Spartan, either—buying the cheapest thing because it is the cheapest, whether it addresses your needs not-that’s still worshipping wealth, it’s still a showy display. No; good quality stuff, made and expected to last and taken care of well is a stronger witness than buying either showy expensive stuff or cheaply made, disposable stuff.

Jesus, when he says these things, is not talking with his head in the clouds. He is human too, he understands that we do have material needs. He also understands that not all of us get to go to the sea and pick the required tax out of the fishes’ mouth.

No, his point is that worry can block our relationship with God the same as anything else, and his words to his disciples, his audience on that mountain, and really, to us too, is that we are god’s children, and if we act as if we are God’s children, are sensible, industrious, and generous, as we are called to be, we need not worry about all of these things.

Those folks sitting on the muddy hillside in Haiti during the hurricane are no less God’s children than we are—their plight is not evidence of their somehow being less children of God than we are. If anything, in this interconnected world, we should perhaps think about what our society has done to force them into a place where rain and earthquake impacts their life so harshly. If we are God’s children, and they are God’s children, then we are family, are we not?

How do we treat family?

This is why I don’t know how to preach this text. I worry too. I don’t know how I, as an ordinary American, affect people around the world. I can’t stand up here in this pulpit and say “you’re a sinner, repent!”, because I am one, too.

I straddle that fence between God and wealth, as we all do. God help us all, God guide us all, God forgive us all.

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