I was out on my bicycle a couple of early mornings ago. As I returned home on my street, this caught my eye. Now it was the first of the month and the dwelling this pile of ‘treasures’ stood in front of is a rental, so I expect someone’s lease was up and they were on a deadline to get their things out of there so the next tenant could move in. I was tempted to go peek under the tarp but felt conspicuous enough just stopping to capture the image. More than that? Someone was laying claim to it with the presence of that labeled tarp… It really wasn’t mine to peek!
Either way, this pile of possessions at the end of my street led me right into thinking about the powerful words at the start of this week’s Gospel:
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:32-34)
Indeed, these words of Jesus and the ones which follow continue the sense of urgency we heard a week ago.
More than this, pay attention to what matters.
Know that your time is short.
So do what needs to be done.
And do it now.
So it is that this week in my congregation we are celebrating ordination anniversaries. We are blessed with an abundance of retired clergy and this summer one is celebrating 50 years of ordained ministry and another is marking 40 years. Each in their own way has been a blessing to our congregation in the time that they have graced our pews and our coffee hour, filling in at the pulpit and participating in Vacation Bible School, and initiating ministries which otherwise would be beyond this pastor’s reach. I thought to sit down with them in the last couple of days and ask about what has been ‘treasure’ for them in their lives as pastors. (For, in fact, as we all identify our own ‘treasures,’ we surely have a better chance of identifying the locality of our own hearts. Without a doubt, this must be the start of ‘paying attention’ and ‘doing what needs to be done’ so that we do, in fact, ‘make purses which do not wear out.’ So that our true ‘treasure’ is more than a pile of stuff labeled ‘not garbage’ standing on a street curb.) As I listened, this is what I heard:
One spoke of relationships. Of the powerful privilege of walking with people in the best of times and the worst of times. Of the weighty wonder of being the one to speak a word from God into sometimes unspeakable pain. This one also became especially animated as he marveled at what a gift it was to be part of helping people discover their own ministries. Indeed, he spoke with deep gratification at witnessing the last congregation he served as pastor continue to initiate new ministries after he left.
And the other spoke simply of what joy ministry had been. How he simply loved going to work every day. In particular, he offered that the varied nature of every hour of every day was gift to him. That he simply could not wait to see what would happen next. He told me, too, that he never much minded the church conflicts which were his to navigate. For one thing, his own call had been born of a church split many years ago. In addition, having been an umpire at ball games when he was young, he was accustomed to being ‘booed.’ This was just to be expected. Finally, when asked what wisdom he would offer pastors just starting out he urged, “Find your fun. The troubles will always be there. So find your fun first.”
Indeed, as I listened to them both, I could not help but think that in their reflections, they were especially offering thoughts on how they had spent their ‘treasure of time.’ And while this Gospel can be heard as a wisdom on how we are to live in response to what may more typically be considered ‘treasure,’ doesn’t how we spend our ‘time’ also mirror what matters most? Isn’t this how we are called to go about crafting our ‘unfailing treasure in heaven’? Isn’t this where we decide what is garbage and what is not? And oh, isn’t this where we discover our true hearts?
As I was on sabbatical these last couple of months, I had time to consider this deeply as well. And while, in fact, there may have been more profound moments than the one I offer now — ones I will probably find reason to share in the weeks to come — this one, though simple, comes to mind today. For this was so. One morning at home I stood at my kitchen window and watched as a robin bathed or played (or both) in the bird bath in my back yard. And I thought to myself that I could not recall ever pausing to see such as this before. Ever. And I thought to myself about how on so many days I am rushing from one task, from one urgent need, from one legitimate demand to another… Indeed, in that moment I thought to myself that how I am spending ‘time’ reflects on what I consider ‘not garbage’ or not. And that while my attention, legitimately and often meaningfully, is day to day pulled in so many directions, still perhaps I have been missing something vitally important if that is all there is. I am missing something if it all is not allowing time to pause at the kitchen window to watch a robin play.
- To consider how God is at work in the world in places and ways which have nothing at all to do with my contribution to it all.
- Indeed, to rest and revel, to celebrate and yes, to act in and out of this truth that God is simply waiting, with deep hope and great joy, to give us all that is good, as our Gospel has it now.
And you and I? All we need to do is start by recognizing this. And perhaps then all the rest begins to fall into place as well.
So with you I do wonder now,
- How is it that you and I recognize ‘what is garbage and what is now’ in how we make our decisions day to day — whether the treasure be actual ‘treasure’ or the ‘treasure’ that is time?
- What difference does it make to remember that God is waiting with hope and with joy to extend to us all that is good? What might it mean for us to actually live in response to this wonder instead of hoping to somehow ‘earn’ what God just waits to give us? What might it mean for you as one of our wonderful retired colleagues suggests ‘to find your fun first?’
- Where are you sensing God’s call to spend the treasure of time in your life and call? What best gifts has God given you which are pulling you to what matters most? And might it make a difference if in your deciding what it means to ‘make purses which do not wear out’ to first stand and watch a robin at play? To consider the ways in which God is at work with or without us? And then, somehow, to follow God’s lead with hope and with joy and with renewed courage?