HOARDING WHAT IS GOD’s
Joel 2: 1-2 & 12-17
MATTHEW 6: 9-21
March 21, 2021 – THE SEASON of LENT
Spring is officially here and even though we did not have the snowfall that we all needed for true happiness and joy this past winter, we now have officially entered the season of flowers budding, leaves appearing, and airwaves filled with the songs of an ever growing variety of birds. It is also the season of baseball … I quickly skip over the NCAA March Madness tournament because my bracket no longer has any legs whatsoever to stand on.
Baseball has been part of my life since I was 5 years old. I still have my first baseball glove and no I am not a hoarder but I am a saver of items that evoke memories; perhaps I place a value on historical items because of my undergraduate degree in history. If I had been alert enough to discover a Mickey Mantle rookie card in my early days and then kept it in pristine condition it would be worth millions of dollars today.
I have been thinking about baseball a lot lately in relationship to the season of Lent and the faith focus of individuals who travel the same highways of life that I do. Friends, have you ever wondered when you are at ShopRite what houses of worship other shoppers attend or what worship celebrations of God they are watching online where they lift up God’s name and praise God? When you drive down the highway and look at other cars do you wonder … what team are they on? Baptist? Presbyterian? United Methodist? Muslim? Jew? Roman Catholic? When you see scenes on television or binge watch your favorite series on Netflix or Prime or Hulu are you curious as to what verses from the Gospels the stars read on the day that show was filmed? Do you think about the families of St. Paul’s and smile but also wonder what our moms and dads are sharing from their faith experience with their children and perhaps even with their neighbors during this time of absence from our building? Are you curious about the upcoming Affirmations of Faith from our church family and are you excited to share yours?
Have you asked yourself out of curiosity how much time people you know who have sat in church pews with you or whose children have attended our Sunday School are devoting to prayer and the reading of Scripture? Do you wonder just how many people are willing to sacrifice their personal time … their valuable time … their precious time to do as the prophet Joel declared in this morning’s first reading, “”To return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, very patient, full of faithful love, and ready to forgive?”
Have you ever considered that OUR investment in time to do OUR things … to watch OUR shows … to giggle along with those who put down other human beings rather than giving equal time to the holy is actually our hoarding what is God’s? Our failure to give up our stuff … it really doesn’t matter though does it because we can’t see the face of God … yet … because we are alive and well … nothing can bring us down … oh wait, my friend Nancy died this week of COVID; she thought the crisis was over … that the wave of deaths from Coronavirus was all last year and that we could relax and be careless now.
We don’t really know when we will see the FACE of GOD up close and personal but we sure act like it will not happen in the foreseeable future …. We like hoarding God’s stuff don’t we! We like using our time for us and not for God. We like speaking out in ways that counter the lessons of Jesus. Makes us seem god-like.
“BLOW THE HORN in ZION!!! GIVE A SHOUT on my HOLY MOUNTAIN!! For the day of the Lord is coming … it is near!! BLOW THE HORN in ZION!!! Demand a fast!! Request a special assembly!! Gather the people … gather the children.” Oh dear Lord … have mercy on your people. “WHY oh WHY should they say amongst the peoples, WHERE IS OUR GOD?”
Why oh why … an interesting question. If we held a special assembly like an Easter sunrise service wouldn’t you think they’d come? You know … the church folk with the membership cards. If they knew that they could join in a parade in their community to celebrate God’s love and their love for all their neighbors … wouldn’t it be the priority for their schedules? Just an hour. If young parents heard that there would be a special assembly to get closer to God would they gather their children if they knew their children would witness the praising and celebrating of God’s love?
WHERE IS THEIR GOD the prophet asked … do you ever ask where is God? If you do don’t you realize that God is looking back at you in your mirrors because people of faith are the faces of God and Christ in this world … you and me.
So back to my thoughts on baseball. A million years ago when I was still playing baseball one of the skills I had was that I could lay down a good bunt that usually advanced the runner on base. Often that play in baseball is called a sacrifice bunt because the batter gives him or herself up for the sake of another player advancing themselves towards home. Bunts don’t show up in players’ statistics that “count” and they have rarely made the headlines because it is the homers …especially the grand slam that brings the cheers … rarely does a sacrifice bunter get a standing ovation from the crowd requiring a return to the field to tip the hat. As time has moved forward … players like society have become more and more self focused and sacrifice bunts last season were at the lowest percentage of Major League Baseball plays ever. EVER and actually the percentage has gone down each year for the past several years. The number of sacrifice bunts over all of Major League Baseball last year was one third the number from 1998. Players want the glory … humans don’t want to give up their stuff for the sake of others … others getting home. What do you give up for the sake of others getting home to Jesus? What are you willing to give?
And, Jesus said “Stop collecting your treasures for your own benefit on earth where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven … where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Uh … uh, so if we are blowing our horns and giving shouts to humans or human causes unrelated to Jesus’ teachings and God ‘s expectations are we revealing our hearts? To the world? To those around us? To our family members? To those lost from God?
An interesting study that I would love to conduct and it probably has been done before … is to take a group of people associated with a church … each one would be asked to inventory their time usage over 30 or 60 or perhaps let’s say 40 days since there are 40 days in Lent. Each person would maintain a record of written and spoken words both in public and private. Each person’s reading habits would be noted … how many minutes reading social media … reading novels …. Reading God’s Word. How much time in prayer versus watching tv? Would you join such a study … a study to determine how effective the shouts of HOSANNA!! GOD LOVES YOU!!! can be. And just how connected God is and God’s causes are to people from a church’s life … this would help determine whether or perhaps why people are asking WHERE IS THEIR GOD?
Would you join that study? Would you be willing to have your name posted along with your month’s activities? Do you know of people who don’t go to church who ask WHERE IS THEIR GOD because those “church people” or church leaders sure don’t follow their Jesus’ teaching … they don’t adjust life to fit God in … I know I hear those voices almost daily. People saying “they go against Jesus is all they do” why should I follow Him?
GRACE YOUNG … no she is not a baseball player. GRACE YOUNG is a relatively new friend of mine; she is an accomplished chef, cookbook author, and television producer. She is right about my age and if you want to know what kind of WOK you should own GRACE is the woman to ask. Last May, Grace was walking on the streets of New York City as she often does when a group of men in their 20’s or 30’s approached her. They surrounded her … and then they shouted GO BACK HOME! GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM!! WE DON’T WANT YOUR TYPE IN OUR COUNTRY!! TAKE YOUR FLU WITH YOU … YOU DESERVE TO DIE!”
Needless to say Grace thought she might be killed or beaten … she is a thin woman who can cook up a storm but in a fight against several young men … well Grace is a third generation Chinese-American. Her place of birth was San Francisco but for her entire adult life; home has been New York. Her parents were both born in the United States … her husband was born in the United States … her children were born in the United States but to these emboldened young men she wasn’t white like them … in her beauty she reflects her Chinese heritage so for her to go back home it would be to her residence in New York and to go back where she came from it would have been San Francisco but she wasn’t about to fly there. Since that event her husband has been shouted at and one of her children accosted by individuals using enflamed hate-filled language refusing to call COVID 19 or the Coronavirus by its proper name all in a desire to cast blame on someone unlike themselves. A social media friend from my former church last week used that same language in a meme that was posted only a day or two before the Atlanta shootings … she and her family attend church regularly here in South Jersey … at a church I was a pastor of … taken up in the storm of human directed attack language.
Are we willing to sacrifice our place in the human strata for the sake of bringing others home to God for Jesus Christ or is our place in the human wasteland more important? Do we value our worldly words of division so much that we are using them and storing them up on our social media or using them in our conversations because of their value to us here and now …. And then do you wonder why others ask WHERE IS THEIR GOD?
If you saw last night’s prayer e-blast you will know I lost two friends this week … one to COVID and one to CANCER. That makes 9 people I am close to or rather was close to who died from COVID 19 in one year. Life is precious.
We are taught from a very young age to achieve … to get wealthy … to fit in … as the 21st century has entered its third decade it seems we as a global society are putting more and more value on us … eliminating the we because we can’t agree with the other half that would make up the we so we have increased the venom to such a level that fear permeates our world and disgust is all around us. Young people want bigger and better homes and brighter and newer toys … perhaps older people do too.
And, in this season of Lent the question arises whether we are willing to return to the Lord our God who is merciful and compassionate very patient, full of faithful love, and ready to forgive.
We will again pray the prayer Jesus taught his inquisitive disciples … a prayer of such value that both Matthew and Luke recorded it and millions of people around the world have it memorized. The OUR FATHER … The LORD’s PRAYER … we pray it but in this era when we have to decide whether we give up some of ourselves for the sake of the heavenly kingdom …. When we have to decide whether we put aside some of our worldly lusts and allegiances sacrificing our satisfaction for the sake of bringing someone home safely for God and thereby creating a heavenly party do we choose the God part? Are we the examples for the children or is a bright sunny Spring morning with a chance to hit the beach minus any Bible or prayer time more important to us?
The Lord’s prayer includes a personal sacrifice that Jesus clearly points out is a requirement to get the benefits. When you pray the prayer … when you pray it today … when you prayed it the last time are you honest with God or are you hoarding what is God’s for yourself hopeful that you get a better hour or morning no matter what the eternal cost.
We pray … OUR FATHER WHO IS IN HEAVEN … UPHOLD the HOLINESS of YOUR NAME. BRING IN YOUR KINGDOM so that YOUR WILL is DONE on EARTH as it’s done in HEAVEN. FORGIVE US FOR THE WAYS WE HAVE WRONGED YOU JUST AS WE ALSO FORGIVE THOSE WHO HAVE WRONGED US. And, DON’T LEAD US INTO TEMPTATION but RESCUE US from the EVIL ONE.”
That’s it … well almost because Jesus added an exclamation point that we need to remember in this time of me me me … we expect God to forgive us; we say God forgives our sins and God does but Jesus reminds us, “If you forgive others their sins, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But, if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins.” Consider today, the answer to the challenge … WHERE YOUR TREASURE IS THERE YOUR HEART WILL BE ALSO. AMEN