One of my favorite hymns is “God of grace and God of glory.” As I thought about our topic for today, one of the lines from that hymn rang in my head “Rich in things, but poor in soul.”
The whole stanza is a prayer that goes like this:
Cure thy children’s warring madness;
bend our pride to thy control.
Shame our wanton, selfish gladness;
Rich in things but poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal.
Lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal.
In the last few weeks we have been talking about faith in action and faith in contemplation; about who we are and where we came from and where we are going. All important things to talk about. But it feels like today Jesus wants to make sure we put it all in the right context. Why do we do justice? Why do we love mercy? Why do we walk humbly with God? Why do we testify at all?
Plain and simple, it’s because it’s an investment. Now not everyone in this country is good at investment. A recent study found that many families don’t have $400 in savings and are one big medical bill, or unexpected auto repair away from being in financial trouble. Some of us just don’t have much money to invest. Some of us are like the grasshopper in Aesop’s fable, eating and drinking and being merry while the sun shines—not planning for the fall and winter of life. Some of us expect to die young. Some of us haven’t thought about the future much.
Investment is hard because there isn’t always instant gratification. Investment is hard because it usually takes a long time to realize your nest egg. Investment is hard because it isn’t glamourous, or showy. It requires plodding and consistency and determination and sacrifice.
And that’s just financial investment.
Let’s listen to the latest installment of the “Not Quite Ready for Prime Time Players at UPC.”
[Insert “My Barn is Bigger than Your Barn”]
Voice One: I’ve got the biggest barn you’ve ever seen.
Voice Two: Bet you haven’t.
Voice One: Bet I have.
Voice Two: Bet mine is bigger than yours.
Voice One: Bet it isn’t.
Voice Two: Bet it is.
Voice One: I bet I can get more grain in my barn than
you can in yours.
Voice Two: I bet I can get all your grain in my barn as
well as all of mine.
Voice One: I bet I can get all of yours, all of mine, and
all of our neighbor’s.
Voice Two: I bet my barn is big enough to get all your
wheat, mine, the neighbor’s, and the entire country.
Voice One: Well, I can get all of that in my barn plus the
tractor that cut it.
Voice Two: I can get that, the tractor, and a combine
Voice One: I’ve got room for two combine harvesters.
Voice Two: I can get a whole fleet of combine harvesters
in my barn.
Voice One: And a jumbo jet.
Voice Two: Two.
Voice One: Three.
Voice Two: An airline.
Voice Three: But does it feed the hungry?
Voice One: I have enough grain to feed a whole country.
Voice Two: I have enough grain to feed a whole
Voice Three: But do you? Do you bring life with what
Voice One: I am so rich I have the best life in the country.
Voice Two. I am so rich I have the best life in the world.
Voice Three: But do you? Are you rich in love?
Voice One: Love? But you can’t store up love in a barn?
Voice Two: Not even one of our barns.
Voice Three: That’s right, you can’t store it up. You can
only give it away.
Voice One: But we’ve just built the biggest barns in the
world. They’d be permanently empty.
Voice Two: What will we use them for?
Voice Three: It’s not the size of your barn that makes you
rich. It’s the size of your heart.
Today we are being asked to think about soul investment. In the rush to check off all the boxes on our to-do lists, in the frenetic pace that we keep—both physically and on the internet, in our quest to keep up with the Jones or the Kardashians, in our 21st century lives, are we rich in things but poor in soul? Could we gain something from looking at our spiritual lives in somewhat financial terms?
Have we ever thought about having a “Soul” IRA account (let’s call it an IHA—Individual Heaven Account)? Do we take some of our time, our talent, our treasure, and mark it as SAVE FOR OUR SOUL? Do we make regular deposits into our IHA, or do we figure that sporadic sums will be sufficient? Are we in it for the long haul, or do we think we will have time to play catch-up? Do we see it as a necessity or as a luxury? Jesus reminds us that there will come a time for all of us, where “our lives will be demanded of us,” where we will have to present the balance in our IHA accounts.
Today’s parable urges us to consider our lives, how being “rich in things” might even get in the way of being “rich in soul.” Can we simplify? Are there things we can give to others? Do we put value on gifts of love, intelligence, service, time? Do we take regular opportunities in our schedule to invest in our church, our community, our neighbors, those in need?
I don’t want to misunderstand what Jesus says. I know that sometimes the lilies of the field portion of this passage is seen as poo-pooing the importance of providing the basic facts of life—of elevating the more “Mary” Godly acts, while suppressing the more “Martha” chores of everyday physical and emotional needs. But if we see Jesus’ words coupled with the parable, I believe Jesus is pushing us to reorient how we see things—to take a Kingdom view of the world.
We spend so much time and money trying to make ourselves look just right. Aren’t the lilies of the field and all the other flowers gorgeous in their simplicity? That’s how God judges beauty, Jesus says. We spend so much time and money and energy worrying that we will be the best, be the brightest, have enough (more than enough) of what we need. And what does all that worry get us? Probably less of what we want and more chance of an ulcer. Look at the birds of the air (even the lowly ravens!), says Jesus. They don’t worry about being the best and brightest. They are beloved creatures of God, part of God’s creation and plan. And they are content. Be like them—you already have the most valuable thing of all—God’s love.
We spend so much time and money and energy on things that are not eternal. Jesus suggests we make ourselves rich in things of the soul. And this goes for us as a church as well as us as individuals. It is important to talk about who we have been, who we are, who we wish to become. But we must never allow our own striving to overshadow or downplay the bedrock on which we stand. “Jesus loves us, this I know.” And in this love, we are set free. We don’t have to participate in the clawing our way to the top; we are already beloved. We don’t have to worry about making the grade; we are already known by name. We don’t have to keep up with anyone; for God holds us in the palm of God’s hand.
Jesus’ last words to us this morning are “Strive for God’s kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” Which is echoed another of my favorite hymns—“Seek Ye First,” maybe you will sing it with me.
(Hymn #175 “Seek Ye First”)
“Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and its righteousness. And all these things shall be added unto you. Allelu, Alleluia.
Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened unto you. Allelu, Alleluia.”
May it be so. Lest we miss the Kingdom’s goal. Allelu, Alleluia.