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Monday, August 1, 2016

Building a Bucket List

Luke 12:13-21 and Colossians 3:1-11
If I actually had a bucket list, two items that would be sure to be on it would be taking a hot balloon ride, and going on an African safari – the kind where the only shooting that takes place comes from a camera.
So, when I came across this story, it really appealed to me.
A man named Danny and his wife took a hot air balloon trip early one morning while visiting Africa. Perfect!
As the balloon rose gracefully, they saw a herd of wildebeest running frantically across the vast expanse below. 
          As they watched, the herd suddenly stopped and began looking around as if they were confused. Danny asked their pilot why the herd had stopped so suddenly; what were they looking for?
          The pilot told them that the wildebeest, which migrate by the millions across the grassy African plains, are not good learners.  An entire herd will take flight at the slightest indication of danger. They run wildly for a short time, and then stop, forgetting why they began running in the first place.
          Meanwhile, lions, who are good learners, simply follow the stampeding herd at a leisurely pace and wait for them to stop. When the wildebeest forget why they are running, dinnertime arrives.
So I wonder, are we more like the wildebeest or the lion?
          Can you imagine running and running and running and then forgetting why you are running at all? 
          The truth is we all fall prey to this cycle at times, running here and there and back again, busy in our work or school, busy in our family, busy with our social and financial obligations, busy running to something, busy running away –  eventually overcome with our busy-ness, only to forget what it is we are running after to begin with, and why it was so important to us to be. So. busy.
This forgetting is more than the experience of walking into a room and failing to recall why we went there to begin with.
          Rather, in all our running and chasing after things that ultimately give way to confusion, we forget the things Christ has taught us about trusting in God, and about how we should live.
We forget the ways Jesus showed us about living in community, loving our neighbor, and forgiving those who have trespassed against us. We forget the priorities that God set before us – love me, love neighbor, love yourself.
We sometimes forget that caring for the outcast, the marginalized, and the sinner was at the top of the list of what Jesus taught us to do. Those were the things that were important to Jesus – connecting with, and caring for our neighbor. Sadly, when we forget this core instruction from God, our attention and focus naturally turns inward.
          The parable from our gospel today, shows us what happens when a rich man forgets that it is God who gives us all we need. We see what happens as he is consumed with running, running, running – amassing more than he can possibly use up himself, so that his “running” turns into building, building, building.
So, there is this telling conversation he has with himself, when he realizes that he has run out of storage space for his hoard.
The man thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops? I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” 
It is all “I, I, I, I, I, and my, my, my…..” This is his focus and his mantra – it is all about me, myself, and I.
          The writer of our first reading, from Ecclesiastes, calls this ‘vanity’ –it is “meaningless,” “useless,” and “absurd.”
          In the parable we see the vanity of the rich man who is obsessed with what the epistle to the Colossians refers to as the “things that are on earth”. These are fleeting things that we have a tendency to place importance on—everything from material wealth, to status, to power over others – the writer of the Epistle names the pursuit of all these things idolatry.  
While it is sensible stewardship of the resources God gives us that we save and reasonably plan for our future material needs, a component of stewardship as Jesus teaches it, is to trust that we are given ample resources to share and to use for the betterment of others.
Knowing that God provides for our daily needs, we are freed to trust that God also provides enough for us to share.
This message is at the core of all the stewardship stories in the bible, from manna daily given to the people of God in the wilderness, to Jesus teaching the Lord’s Prayer, which comes just before this text.
God carefully and lovingly gives us all we need. It’s the same message our own stewardship team diligently establishes in their messages to our community throughout the year.
However, there is more to this text than a message for the stewardship of material goods, as important as that is. For if we look at the beginning of the passage, we will see that this entire story begins with someone asking Jesus to settle a property dispute within their family. So this is also a message for the stewardship of human relationships.
Maybe you’ve known or witnessed the pain and turmoil that families sometimes experience when huge battles erupt over the inheritance of property upon the death of a loved one, whether a will had been left or not. Bitter divides form over such arguments, and lifelong scars and estrangements often result. So we can understand someone coming to Jesus and wishing for him to speak with authority on this matter.
But note Jesus’ response; “Be on guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Instead, in Christ we have been granted abundant life to share both now and in a future we cannot yet see.
So, according to Jesus, greed includes not only those things that we yearn for that we do not have, but also those things we already possess but would do just about anything to keep.
Greed is indeed a deep pit into which we fall and cannot, on our own, climb out of.
The epistle lists so-called earthly things that we run after. I wonder what other things we can name? Living in a consumerist world, what are some of the earthly things that we chase after, long for, and amass for ourselves? I suppose such a list would include
·        winning the lottery
·        money
·        food
·        clothes
·        jewelry
·        the latest technology
·        beauty
·        youth
·        travel
·        power
·        land, property
·        ‘toys’
·        popularity
In contrast, Paul’s letter to the Galatians picks up this theme and reminds us of the good gifts or fruits of the Spirit, which God provides; gifts that build human relationships, gifts that are godly. That list looks quite different. It includes things that reflect on the love of God in Christ Jesus and the things he modeled for us, which help us dwell in authentic Christ-like relationship with our neighbors:
·        love
·        joy
·        peace
·        patience
·        kindness
·        generosity
·        faithfulness
·        gentleness
·        self-control
The good news of the gospel is that as life in Christ truly includes a radical reorientation of our values as individuals and even more as community, we are freed by the grace of God in Jesus Christ from the need to run in circles, consumed with worry after the things that are on earth.
We are freed by the grace of God through Jesus Christ to know that as the love of God is limitless, we will always have enough to share, and are already forgiven for the times when we struggle to do so.
As followers of Christ we find joy when we willingly and happily share with our neighbor the material, physical gifts we have – food, clothing, shelter, money for utilities and gas but also of this grand pool of love and welcome that we have been given.
As we are freed to let go of the things and the greed that has previously driven us, we are enabled to reach out to our neighbor in authentic love and invitation.
Let us therefore embrace Jesus’ word, that we might be rich toward God who, by the power of the Spirit promises to give us eyes to see that all we have is a gift from God’s gracious hand.
Let us know the gift of this community of faith that reaches out to share the gifts we have first received – time, talent and treasure, that all may know the abundant life of Christ.
Through the Spirit and in community, undistracted by the vanity of pointless running, let us see and hear the very people Jesus saw and heard; the lonely, the disenfranchised, the weak, the poor, the powerless – our neighbor – all those we are empowered to love and embrace.   
Let gratitude and grace define us and define our lives. May we have ears to hear God’s call to remember that our lives are not rich because of what we have accumulated or done, but because of what God has done for us in Jesus, on the cross, and through the abundant life that begins in our baptism and never, ever, ends.
Let us remember that in this God-given abundant life there are always more people to invite in and to embrace with the love, joy, gentleness, patience, kindness, and generosity and all the rest with which we are gifted.
Let us pray that Jesus will continue to show us the way, for surely Jesus’ own bucket list must include his desire that this abundant life of richness toward God be the single possession and treasure that all people will one day share.


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