A sermon, the 4th in a series on choosing Sabbath, on Exodus 20:8-17 and Luke 12:13-34, preached on August 3rd, 2014.
I love old cartoons. The Warner Brothers ones from the 50’s and 60’s are my favorites. They’re simple but engrossing. Tom chasing Jerry, Bugs Bunny effortlessly outwitting Elmer Fudd, the sarcastic wisdom of Foghorn Leghorn. But if you ask me, nothing compares to the endless saga of Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner.
For those too young to have witnessed the majesty of the Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner chases, it’s a cartoon that keeps on going. It’s about the endless effort of Wile E. Coyote, a thoroughly worn-out creature who spends every day of his sad existence trying to catch a bird.
The Roadrunner is quick—much faster than Wile E. Coyote will ever be, and it frustrates the coyote to no end that this bird is so easily able to avoid all of his hair-brained attempts to catch it.
As the episodes go on, Wile E. Coyote, with one failed chase after another, becomes more and more fixated with the idea of catching the Roadrunner. He buys what must be hundreds of dollars worth of birdseed and thousands of dollars worth of ACME brand dynamite and giant mousetraps all in an attempt to catch this speed demon of a bird. He runs off the sides of canyons, blows himself up, and gets trapped in his own devices. He grows ragged trying to grab this bird. The Roadrunner effortlessly eludes him.
For the Coyote, the Roadrunner is that thing he wants but cannot have. The thing he’s always reaching for that’s always just beyond his reach. Wile E. Coyote’s anxious pursuit of the Roadrunner takes over his life—catching this bird becomes the coyote’s ultimate purpose. He covets that bird. Getting his hands around it is his idea of ultimate fulfillment and satisfaction, and until that day comes, the coyote refuses to rest and willingly looses himself to get it. The idea of acquiring this bird becomes a sickness—a kind of “GotToHaveItness” that even the Coyote doesn’t understand.
The chases of Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner are a fun but still very poignant example of our own endless and crazed pursuit for more. In one episode, Wyle E. Coyote once again fails to catch the Roadrunner and he holds up a sign that says,
In heaven’s name, what am I doing?
In our reading for today, Jesus is asked by a person in the crowd surrounding him to settle a dispute between he and his brother about money. Jesus sniffs out trouble and instead of playing arbitrator he replies with a parable.
The farmer in this parable seems to suffer from GotToHaveItness also. Look at the passage again in your insert, take one of the pencils from the pew and circle all the times the farmer refers to himself in verses 18-19. This farmer seems to think that his true security lies in stockpiling his crop. He expends great effort to keep it all for himself—building bigger barns to store it all. He piles his entire crop into these new, humongous barns and locks it all away for himself.
The farmer’s mistake isn’t that he’s yielded a huge crop. It isn’t that he’s rich—Jesus doesn’t speak against that. The problem in this parable is the farmer’s selfishness.
How many times does the farmer reference himself in verses 17-19? I counted 11 times. 11 times in 8 sentences.
This farmer is single-minded, self-focused, and shuts everyone else out, shutting his new barn doors and locking them up tight—stockpiling it all away for his own use. It does not to occur to him that an abundance of crop is God’s good gift, and maybe out of gratitude for his abundance he might want to share a portion of what he’s gathered with others, or at least thank God for it?
This man’s sin is that he’s stuck in his own greed. His true security lies not in God’s provision but in hoarding all that he has for his own use. The man suffers from a sort of “GotToKeepItness”—misplaced desire. After going to all those efforts, he dies, making all of his anxious stockpiling and barn building useless and foolish.
This parable should have us ask a couple questions of ourselves:
Where does our true security lie?
Is our idea of security something bigger than our own efforts to put something away for tomorrow?
What is our ultimate concern?
Where do we place our ultimate trust? And what is our true treasure?
There’s lots of talk in the news right now about the words, “In God We Trust.” The voices for removing that phrase from our money seem to be growing louder and louder. Many of these voices are from atheists who say the phrase doesn’t represent them.
What I’m more interested in are the voices from inside the Christian and Jewish faiths who are also calling for the removal of those words from our currency. Their reason, as you can imagine, is very different, and their point is quite simple: As a country, do we really trust in God? As a culture, does our ultimate trust and provision truly rest in God?
See that’s a striking question! What’s really striking to me is how easily I answer it.
My answer is No.
Over and over again, it’s reinforced by the choices we make that our country finds its security, trust and provision not in God but in the very money that the phrase “In God We Trust” is printed on. So, the point these Jewish and Christian leaders are making is a fair one: Shouldn’t we at least be honest with ourselves and with God and remove the phrase from our currency? It’s just not true, they say.
There are so many in our country who live like the farmer who stockpiles his crop. Who live to make money instead of making money to live, to keep it for their own purposes—who lock it away in their barns. Who find their ultimate security not in God but in their bank accounts, stock portfolios, and 401K’s. All their effort is sunk into making more and more of it.
Has the almighty dollar taken the place of the Almighty God? And if this is the case, these Jewish and Christian leaders argue, having “In God We Trust” printed on our money amounts to a lie we tell ourselves and God.
Jesus says at the very end of our passage for this morning,
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.
God cares about our relationship to money. God cares how we earn it. And there’s hardly any better litmus test to our faithfulness to God and to neighbor than how we spend money, save it, and invest it.
We could make the mistake of reading this passage and think that God doesn’t like it when put money away for retirement or our kid’s college tuition. We could take this message and say that God doesn’t want us to eat, drink, and be merry and enjoy what God has given us. But Jesus spent lots of time eating and drinking and enjoying his life with his friends. Jesus isn’t condemning money nor is he condemning rich people. If that’s what we get out of this passage then we’re misunderstanding it.
Jesus’ question is:
Where does our true security lie? In what do we put our ultimate confidence?
Do we, like the ravens and the lilies, put it in God’s daily provision? Or are we more like the rich farmer, spending our lives scrambling around, living restlessly, constantly chasing after all the wrong things, stockpiling everything away for our own use?
Do we chase after earthly treasure—the material things that surround and entice us—more than we chase after the Kingdom of God? Do we occupy ourselves with worrying about what we have or can’t have? And if this is so, then in Heaven’s name, what are we doing?
Does any of this anxiety and worry make us feel even an ounce more secure?
Sabbath is not only a day. It’s a choice we make to unchain ourselves from the shackles of anxiety and worry—to break away from that constant desire our culture has to forever chase after more.
It’s saying no to a life of GotToHaveItness and GotToKeepItness that leaves us self-focused, wearing us out, only fueling our anxiety and worry. Our culture’s focus on acquiring more is a distortion of God’s intention for our lives.
Sabbath is a way of breaking that senseless cycle, of shaking ourselves free from the grip of our culture’s greed and misplaced desire.It’s about trusting in God’s provision instead of anxiously chasing after more and stockpiling it all away. Choosing Sabbath means realigning our hearts to the heart of Christ and reinvesting our lives where our only true and secure treasure lies—to see along with the raven and the lily that it is God who gives us what we need, and that God’s provision is always enough.
All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!