Harrowing Of Hell
October 8, 2017

Our Regular Programming

Preacher: Holly Boone

Let me introduce this stewardship season with just these few words: Let’s get ‘er done!

Halloween candy is in the stores. Pumpkins are on the porches. It must be stewardship time at Epiphany.

As they say on public radio, the sooner we get through with our pledge drive, the sooner we can return to our regular programing. It’s our regular programming that brings us here to Epiphany, and it’s our regular programming that I feel moved to speak about today. Specifically, what this programming teaches us about treasure.

“For where your treasure lies, so there also lies your heart.” You must have heard these words of Jesus from Matthew many times. They are not in today’s cycle of scripture readings, but I invariably think of them when I hear the word “stewardship.” Maybe you do too.

I have always understood these words to mean that wherever we toss our dollar bills, our hearts go scrambling after them, like children grabbing candy from a busted piñata. I understood them to mean our hearts “follow the money.” But don’t you think Jesus must have meant them as though he had flipped the words and said, “For where your heart lies, there also lies your treasure.” Material treasure, the treasure meant in this context, has no heart and no will. It must lie where our hearts decide to put it.

Stewardship season seems a good time to ask what we think about our treasure and where our hearts are putting it. What is our treasure, and, what do we do with it?

For sure our treasure isn’t only dollar bills. It isn’t only a nice home full of nice stuff or more cars than can fit in the garage. Lots of people in Houston can tell us that kind of treasure can quickly end up by the curb as a pile of moldering garbage.

It isn’t only a big savings account or investment portfolio. A handful of crooks on Wall Street—or in Seattle’s former Washington Mutual Building—can leave you holding pennies.

Anyone who’s been intimate with death, either the death of a loved one or a personal close shave, knows that our real and greatest treasure is the very life we live right now, here in the bodies we’re walking around in. This treasure includes not just the life of our bodies and brains, but also the warmth of our hearts and depth of our souls.

Also, the skill of our hands, a good head for numbers, an eye for color, a green thumb, the gentle manner in which you speak to children, a knack for putting a good meal on the table, the habit of a sincere smile, your grit and gumption, a good work ethic, the skill of bringing order to the potential chaos of a classroom. In short, our greatest treasure is every quality and scrap of consciousness that makes us who we are.

And who we are is the treasure that God has given us. All the material stuff and comfortable living we manage to accumulate flows from the life of abundance first given by God. Our self-improvements, our education and success in whatever sphere of life we choose to operate. Those things and everything else we achieve are just the derivative extras, cherries on the whipped cream, the compound interest on a principal supplied by God. God is the original and primary stakeholder in our lives. To use the metaphor of Isaiah, we are the vines planted by God. We are his vines, and so are all the grapes.

So what do we do with this treasure? Maybe the question to ask at stewardship season, to ask at least once a year if not daily, is not how we spend our money, our derivative treasure, but how we spend our great treasure that is our life itself. How do we spend these lives in a way that is pleasing and rewarding to our primary stakeholder?

A steward, remember, is someone charged with caring for something that belongs to another. Are we good stewards of these lives we commonly call our own? It’s my life, we sometimes defiantly say. Really? If in truth we belong utterly to God, we are only stewards of what we call our lives.

While we’re at it, we should also ask, are we adults good stewards of the hearts and minds and bodies and souls of the children we are charged with caring for? Children belong only a short time to their parents, but belong eternally to God. Therefore all of us adults who run the world are charged with caring for everyone’s children. In the Kingdom of God, every child is our child. In the Kingdom of God, there is no life we should not care for as though it were our own.

So how are we to be good stewards of this treasure God has charged us to care for? What is the best way to spend this treasure we call our lives?

Everything that I have read or heard indicates that God expects us to keep giving ourselves away to each other. Each of us is meant to be a good gift to others, and gifts must be given away. How else is God able to bless us? Unless coming as much-needed rain or a beautiful snowfall, blessings rarely drop on our heads like pennies from Heaven.

Isn’t it true that many of the things we commonly count as our blessings come into our lives through some person or human agency? Children certainly come into the world through human agents, sometimes a lot of human agents working skillfully in a neonatal ICU.

You might have been blessed by parents who read to you and filled your home with books. A wealthy family’s foundation that sponsored your college scholarship. A friend who knew your character and skills and who put in a good word for you so that you got the good job with stock options. The boss who saw more than a big mistake and so gave your father the second chance that made all the difference in his career and your comfortable childhood.

We have no idea how many people have shaped our lives, how many agents of God’s blessing have nudged us along. If you wonder if God really does depend on mere human beings to do the work of his Kingdom and be instruments of blessing, just recall that to carry out his work of salvation, Christ had to become the human being Jesus.

God depends on us to pass the good along. What if we could count on being blessed by every person we meet in a day? What if others could count on being blessed by us? If we look for the blessing in each other, we might actually see it and gratefully accept it as the blessing meant for us. Water that doesn’t flow becomes stagnant and nothing we would want to drink, even with a nifty filter from REI.

So how do we become good stewards of our lives? How do we learn to spend well our treasure and let God’s blessings flow? How do we train ourselves to love and care for others who belong to God as we would have them love and care for ourselves?

We are not born knowing that we belong to God. Or if we are, a necessary veil quickly dims our understanding. The knowledge that we are God’s can’t be hard wired into our consciousness. We must choose to acknowledge that we are planted by God in his vineyard and that we are his. We must always choose God. God never insists.

Which brings us to Epiphany’s regular programming. Let’s say that the good news that every single person is God’s beloved treasure is in fact Epiphany’s regular programming, the way ESPN is all about sports. Don’t you think that’s the programming the world is dying to hear?

When we meet here to worship and pray and study and mutually bless each other with our lives, the blessings of God are multiplied and amplified and flow from us into the world. Together our blessings work like a powerful signal broadcasting love and welcome and kindness and compassion and service.

So let’s return to our regular programming as soon as possible. Let’s get this stewardship thing done. Let’s bless each other and the world by blessing this church, which of course is really us, a community sincerely seeking to conform our lives to will of God.

Certainly let’s bless Epiphany with a good portion of the material abundance by which we ourselves have been blessed. It’s the hope of the stewardship team that Epiphany is at the top or near the top of the list of charitable organizations you support each year.

Let’s also bless this church with our lives. Let’s worship God here together and teach Sunday School and mentor the youth and iron altar linens. Let’s study scripture and creation and C.S. Lewis. Let’s pray for those reeling from life’s large and small disasters and send them comforting notes and flowers and a simple meal. Let’s give so that others can receive, and receive so that others can give. Let’s spend our lives with an extravagant generosity of heart, knowing we are planted here in God’s vineyard and that he is expecting the good grapes of justice and righteousness.

Where and how we choose to spend our lives, where we let our hearts lie, there sufficient dollars are sure to flow. So let’s give our hearts to God and to each other in this church and let our treasure, all sorts of treasure, flow abundantly into the world.

Let’s get ‘er done.

Sermon Questions:

  1.  What or whom do you count as the chief blessing of your life
  2.  Who might have been God’s agent in passing this blessing to you?
  3.  How have you been blessed by Epiphany? How might you bless Epiphany?