“Unbound” Luke 10:13-17

            I am a fairly accommodating kind of person.  When approached about a conflict or criticism, my first instinct is to try to find a way of compromise.   In a perfect world, such compromise would leave all parties feeling satisfied, as if everyone had gained something.

            But this is not a perfect world. And so, more often than not when the road of compromise is engaged upon, we end up with a sense of “winners” and “losers” and imperfect solutions that leave all parties feeling less than satisfied.

            I was struck as I thought about this Gospel lesson, how conflict really does have a “posture.”   As I flipped through the images available for “conflict” on a google search, I was struck by how many of them had people “bent.”   Image

            Bent into arguments.

            Bent on destruction.

            Bent on outwitting or outlasting their opponent.

            We even have a convenient phrase that we use when engaged in compromise.  We might say, “we bent over backwards” ….to try to please, to solve the problem, or to do something for someone else.Image

            “Bent over backwards”….The phrase has really two connotations.  At its best, it means that we reach in an awkward way to do something.  

At its worst, it means to coerce or stoop to painful measures for the sake of someone else’s needs or will.

            Either way, “bending over backwards” is an unpleasant place to find one’s self.

            In today’s Gospel lesson we have a series of events that unfold, that curiously all have to do with “bending.”  Let’s review a bit.

            Jesus is teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath, as was his custom we are told in Luke’s Gospel.  This is Jesus’ “bent”, his direction.   Throughout Luke’s Gospel we find that Jesus is committed to being in a place of worship on the Sabbath.   So worship, keeping of the Sabbath and the observance of faith rituals is important to him!   This is where you will find him if you’re looking for him on this particular day of the week.

            A woman enters who we are informed is also “bent” and quite unable to stand up straight.  She has been this way for 18 years, we are told.  It’s not clear why she happens to be in the synagogue on this day.  If people know how long she’s been like this, it is likely that she is simply a regular in the community. 

There is no mention of her seeking Jesus out, but rather she comes to his attention, and he calls her over, and says, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment,” and then he touches her in such a way that she straightens up and stands, and begins to praise God.

            So, here’s a question for you.  What are you “bent” on right now? 

            Are you bent on hearing fine music from the pipe organ, or singing the songs or hymns you like to sing?  Is that your major reason for connecting to a church?

            Are you bent on meeting your friends?   Catching a little free time, relaxation?

            Is your personal “bent” a sense of obligation, or because you are a “regular church goer do you just go to church out of obligation?

            Are you bent over by the burdens of the world on your shoulders?  Looking for something to ease that load?     

Or are just bent out of shape over this thing, or that event?  Twisted up by the troubles of your own life and the pain of this world?

            I want you to think about that, ponder that for a moment, for in this Gospel what we are given is a very clear image.  No matter what you were bent on, or bent over with, it is Jesus who first notices you.

Despite the fact that Jesus has come here to synagogue for his own purpose today, he takes notice of those around him.    When he sees one bent over, he speaks particular words, peculiar words.

            He does not say to the woman, “You are healed.”  

He says, “You are set free…..”

            Just think about that for a moment.  No matter what you came in here with bent on, or bent over with, the words of Jesus to you today are “You are set free….”

            What is it that you would like to be set free from?

            What is it that you would like to be set free to do?

            Could you dare to imagine, that this is what Jesus has to say to you today?  You are set free! 

What would you do with such a word given to you?

            It is an amazing thing that we witness in this Gospel.  Here in the midst of the Synagogue a miracle takes place, a woman that everyone had known for years as the “bent over one” is now standing tall and straight and praising God.

            Could you imagine yourself joining in her praise?

Or would you see yourself more in the role of the leader of the Synagogue?

            Does he, do they join in her praise?  

No. 

As the story progresses the leaders of the synagogue in fact get more “bent out of shape” by Jesus’ actions.   They call it a “healing”, which strictly speaking is a work, an occupational task, something that should properly be done on the other six days of the week. The Sabbath is for rest, couldn’t Jesus have waited until tomorrow?  We’re told the leaders kept saying to the crowd their protest against healing on the Sabbath.  They were insistent in their sense of propriety, repeating the protest. 

To be fair, let’s not be too hard on the leaders of the Synagogue.  We can in fact sympathize with their concerns.  Jesus, is bringing way too much change, and when there is change to the established way of doing things, there is conflict!  The leaders of the synagogue are trying their best to “hold things together” in this rapidly changing world of Roman Occupation.  They have to pay the Roman taxes.  They have to bend their will to the “Pax Romana” which means they haven’t got a lot of autonomy in the way they govern, or who governs them, or what laws are enforced.

The Synagogue is the one place where because of our laws of the Sabbath, our keeping of these rules, we can exert our identity!  It’s the one place left that is predictable, stable, unchanging, and the last place left where we can “call the shots.”

Oh, yes, I think we can resonate with the leaders of the synagogue!  We want Jesus, he does all things well, reads scripture well, teaches with authority, but setting people free?   Setting aside the tradition?   Shunting aside the long established precedents for how things are done here?   Now, wait a minute!  

Yes, Jesus could have waited for another day, sought the woman out later, not upset the flow of the synagogue worship, but then strictly speaking, Jesus never was so much interested in healing the woman, as he was in setting her free! 

Jesus hasn’t displayed much a knack for setting appointments, respecting conventions, or delaying actions throughout his ministry.  He is more of the “when the spirit moves” kind of a person, so here is the moment, here is the need, here is the opportunity, let it happen.

“You are set free.”

            Feel the incredible contrasts of this Gospel story!  A woman set free, praising God.

            Synagogue leaders, bending over backwards to try to keep things in line and running according to the rules of the day!

            Bending over backwards is indeed an unpleasant place to find one’s self.

            So can those who are bent out of shape be set free and unbound?   That is the question that this Gospel begs for us to consider.  

            What would it look like for Jesus to take notice of you and set you free?  What would we do with such freedom?   Praise God for it, or retreat into the comfort of our conventions?  What would you have to give up, throw away, embrace, or focus your eyes to be straightened up and set free?

            It is something for you to ponder, but only for a bit, because the real problem you have is that today, what Jesus does is seek you out and he does touch you!

            You are set free!

You are set free from the things that have bent you over and bound you up.  You are set free from expectations and the old wounds.   You have been touched by Jesus today, and are set free to change your posture toward things, your position toward things, you no longer have to be hunched over or hunkered down in the expectation of what “has to be.”  

You have been touched by Jesus today, and are given the opportunity this day to repent of the behavior that causes others to be bent out of shape.

You have the responsibility this day to speak to those who oppress and subjugate, or who want to maintain the status quo in the congregation, the community, the world, and say “enough!”

That is the promise of the resurrected Lord, who comes to touch us, to set us free and to make all things new.

            The question always, is what will you do now, with your freedom?

            Do you stand and praise God?

            Do you cling insistently to the comfortable?

            This Gospel cuts to the quick.

            Where do you find yourself today?   Where do you want to be?   Pray for that posture, and be straightened up and unbound to praise God for the power to stand and be set free.

Is It Hot Enough For You? Luke 12:49-56

Is it hot enough for you?   Whatever happened to that “Prince of Peace” thing that Jesus was supposed to be?  That’s what pops into my mind when I read today’s Gospel lesson.   

            I thought Jesus was supposed to bring peace?   That’s the predominant view we get of Jesus from Luke’s Gospel.  Born in a manger, gentle shepherd, delivering his sermon from the plain in a level place, this is the “mellow Jesus.”

            Right up until here, where he turns the heat up.

            We often think or have the impression that following Jesus is supposed to make life better, easier, more serene.  So, what is all this talk about him being the cause of division?   Why is he suddenly “stressed?:   What about this notion of him coming to the set of parent against child and generation against generation?

            This is one of those sayings of Jesus that we would just as soon skip over and forget about.      

            Of course, even as we are tempted to skip over it, we know deep in our bones the truth of this passage.   We don’t like to think about it, but trying to follow Jesus does divide us.   Throughout its history the church has had excellent arguments about very important things.  As early as the book of Acts you see arguments being engaged in about who the Gospel should be preached to, and what its limits should be.  Did Jesus really come for all people?  Gentiles, Romans, Tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes…how far out can we press that?  Who should we include?  How shall we organize ourselves?  House churches?  Larger assemblies?  Should we take offerings for the poor?  Are all foods really acceptable, can we let go of our Jewish dietary restrictions if we follow Jesus?

     Most of our current arguments in church about everything from sex to how to relate to our non-Christian neighbors are just extensions of conflicts felt long ago.  In our own congregation we have constant squabbles over how the budget should be prioritized, funds used, how to get volunteers, and who should be doing what tasks. In each and every case, the sides and battle lines were drawn (and there were many sides, many fronts to fight upon!)  Each would say that they were trying to follow Jesus.  Each would make an appeal to scripture for defense of their position.

              Whatever happened to the Prince of Peace?

             After World War II and through the 1960’s it was a cultural expectation that in America that you would go to church, or at least made sure your kids got to church.  Sunday Schools and youth programs were developed and supported to make sure we invested in the youth for “they were the church of the present, and the church of the future.”   Is there a parent here today who has not had a child at some point in time argue with them about church attendance.  “Do I have to go to church today?”    

            We cannot ignore this passage.   Jesus knows that his coming into this world will be a source of division.     

            I believe that is the first step toward understanding what Jesus is saying here.   Acknowledging that conflict on this side of the Kingdom of God is inevitable.  Conflict is part and parcel of  a world where Christ and the Kingdom is now, and also not yet; where God’s Kingdom is coming, but is not yet fully here.  

           Maybe that’s what stresses Jesus out as well.   He started his ministry out with that bang in Luke 4 of reading from Isaiah and saying, “Today these words have been fulfilled in your hearing.”   He was going to turn the world upside down.   The blind see, the lame walk, the poor have good news preached to them, the prisoner released, the year of jubilee.  Boom!  The world transformed.

        Yet, after 3 years he’s still mucking around with a dozen followers, and 70 willing to be sent out, and crowds that come looking for him because he’s got free bread.  No wonder he’s stressed out!   That is why Jesus says he is so eager for his “baptism”, his death and resurrection.  The sooner that happens the better, for that will begin to shorten the “in between” time of waiting for this Kingdom to come.

      And having said that, now look at what Jesus says.   To say that there will be no conflict in this world is hypocritical!  When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

      This is, you see, a corrective to the idealism that sometimes creeps into faith.   We sometimes piously say, “Oh, there shouldn’t be any conflict in the church!”  With the best of intentions we might even say, “If you are really following Jesus, you won’t have any troubles in this life, any cares or concerns.”  We mistakenly think that faith brings protection from disagreement and difficulty.

      Not so, Jesus says.   Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!         

            That division is something that Jesus sets out to bring!   It is a natural result of his coming.  Jesus’ very presence; his bringing into the picture the promise of the Kingdom of God sets into motion a re-interpretation of things.  Where Jesus comes near, you need to re-evaluate everything that occurs.

      You know how this works.  You have had an experience in your life where the presence of someone made you re-think everything you were doing. 

      Think back to your school days.   You and your friends eagerly and happily engaging in the kind of activity that school kids will naturally take part in, teasing, horseplay, it’s all in good fun and you are a part of it, right in the thick of it — and then suddenly the teacher or the principle walks around the corner. 

      Do you keep behaving in the same way?   Does not the group of kids who once were united in their actions suddenly become divided in their reaction to this new authority walking in?    Some become defiant. Some submissive, and others may become subversive, slinking away trying to be unnoticed.

      If we can figure out that the appearance of an authority figure, a principle or a patrolman, can changes our perspective on things, it should be no surprise that when Jesus shows up on the scene all kinds of things have to be re-thought as well. 

      Conflict will arise because of Jesus’ challenge to our old way of doing things.   

      Conflict will arise as people react to the changes we make in own our lives as we try to follow Christ. 

      Conflict will arise as we faithfully try to follow Jesus and try to figure out how to bring that word of his love and Grace into this imperfect world.

      Whatever happened to the Prince of Peace?   Well, it could be that we missed an important part of the title, the title of “Prince.”  For, when Jesus comes, and his Kingdom breaks in, it does bring about a new authority in this world.   Our ability to do whatever we please, or whatever just pleases us, is brought into question. 

      When Jesus comes near, there are certain old ways of doing things that suddenly look pretty incongruent with the kind of Kingdom that Jesus would have us be part of, and people will be happy to point that out to us!  As we face those things, or retreat from them, or even try to ignore them, there will be conflict.

      It may even be that we won’t be able to figure out how to arrive at a sense of peace about some things at all in this world.

      But thanks be to God, this world is not the only reality we will know, and not the only thing we hope for.   There is that baptism, that death, that promised resurrection, and that promise of a Kingdom brought to completion. 

      Oh, how Jesus wishes it were completed and here in its fullness!  So do we all!   For then, there would no longer be conflict, and we would know exactly what to do and how to do it. 

      Right now, we are living in the in-between time.   We fumble and mumble and try out best to discern God’s work and will in and for this world, that is exactly what Jesus wants us to be doing.

      So then, in this in between time, Jesus says, don’t be surprised by conflicts, for they are sure to come!  Don’t lose sight of the Christ who knows they will come, and who promises to be with us all in the midst of them. 

      When all authority in heaven and on earth is finally under Jesus’ reign, then will conflicts end, and wars cease, and not before. 

      That is the promise, and one worth looking forward to. 

      Is it hot enough for you?  

      In the present time conflict is simply a part of life, particularly a life of faith as you live into this coming kingdom.   You can expect a little steam around the collar as we discern together what God is calling us into.

            Don’t let it surprise you.

            But don’t resign yourself to it either, for the Prince of Peace is coming, and his kingdom will be established forever. 

“Leftovers” Luke 12:32-40

            Okay, let’s face it, this has happened to you.   You’ve opened up the refrigerator looking for something to fix for dinner or to eat only to be confronted with that odd assortment of little containers.   You find a little of this, a dab of that, something that you’re not so sure about anymore.   You pull them out, line them up and try to figure out just what to do with them.Image

            I find this to be a personal challenge.   What can I make of this?  My imagination starts to churn as to how I can re-purpose and recombine to make something new and different.

            But not everyone has that experience. For some, leftovers are just an opportunity to reheat a mish-mash of things all heated in their separate containers.  They set out for people to pick and choose from as they find one or more appealing.

            Think of today’s Gospel reading as that, a bit of leftovers.   It seems to be a collection of “leftover phrases” that Luke has sort of fit into this section of his Gospel.  He reaches in to the collection of things he has recorded or heard, and slides them into one location.  Jesus, or at least Luke, seems to have piled up here a bunch of images and admonishments, lumping them together.

       It’s the Father’s good pleasure it is to give his flock the Kingdom is one bit.

       In another container you find directions for how to give alms, and the admonition to not pile up treasures.

       In another container you find servants left at home while the master is away at a marriage feast, and thieves coming at unexpected hours. 

       In still another there is a stern warning about keeping awake, and not knowing the hour.

       So w hat do are you to do?  Stack up the containers, mix and match and combine them, or let them stand alone?  What shall we do with these leftover teachings?  Are they meant to hang together?

       If you want to make one new dish out of these various leftovers, then the best thing to do is to look to see what frames all these leftover sayings.  What are the “parentheses of expectations” that surround Jesus’ words?

        “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.”  The opening Parenthesis is a promise!

         It is God’s good pleasure to give you the gifts of his Kingdom! 

         It is God’s good pleasure to give you what is necessary for life.  God does love you, and loves to provide you with all good things, including all the gifts of his Kingdom.

         The end Parenthesis of Jesus’ words today is an admonition or warning: “You also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

         If you see these two parentheses, the promise, and the admonition, then what comes in between seems to be practical directions on how to live in between them.

         Now you can begin to see the connection to the leftovers.

         When we are given a promise, our human nature loves to take over. 

            Human nature can sometimes take that promise as a license to do whatever it pleases.   We think to ourselves, “Hey, the Kingdom is ours because God wants to give it to us, so what do we have to do for it anyway?  Let’s just do what we please, no one cares, not even God, he’s just gonna give it to us anyway!”  

            Life becomes, if you will, like a smorgasbord.   Something that we can pick and choose from, a little from that, a little more from this… no thank you from that container, oh, and there is no hurry.  I can come back to that one later if I like.

            We take our freedom as license to take our time, do as we please and only what we please.

            That’s where the admonition comes in!   “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

            Leftovers do have a limited life span, even in the fridge!  They don’t last forever, and you can’t put them off or what you find the next time you open up that container may be something less than appetizing.

            In the same way, “life in the parentheses” has a limited shelf life.  The warning or admonition to be ready reminds us that Jesus did indeed come to make a difference in the lives of people, and most specifically your life.  You can’t just pick and choose, or ignore things, or put things off forever.  The teaching points, what Jesus has to say here, and elsewhere, does have a shelf life, and it is your shelf life!    You only have so much time in this world before that promised Kingdom which begins now comes in full, and you are to be a part of bringing that Kingdom in!

            And so Jesus gives the parentheses, “Fear not” and “Be ready” and then tells us that what we should be doing between them.   

And what is it that Jesus says?   “Go about your work.”

      5“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

            Jesus knows that we often make living our faith far more complicated than it needs to be.   We sometimes find ourselves worrying if we are religious enough, if we pray enough, or if we give enough.  When we try to be “more religious” we feel like hypocrites, as if faith was just a mask we wear.   We know deep down we’re not really like that.  We look over what God has to offer us and find ourselves alternately salivating and turning up our noses. 

        We sometimes wonder what it is that God thinks of us?

            The parentheses tell us what God thinks of us.  Here are the parentheses.  It is God’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom, …..but be ready!  And between those two parentheses, do the work you are called upon and gifted so to do!

            If you are a teacher, teach well.  A nurse, care well.  An executive, administer justly and with the needs of all in mind.  If you are a parent, parent well, or retired, attend well to the precious relationships you have gathered over a lifetime and care for one another. 

        Living between the parentheses things includes the whole of life.  If you are a child play and learn and grow well.  And those who are retired, now is the time to share with those who will follow you, letting your wisdom and encouragement prepare a new generation.

            Be dressed for action, turn the lights on, and get to work, and don’t worry about God’s expectations for you, or about the end of the world.  Those two parentheses are already taken care of.

            The Kingdom is yours because God intends to give it to you.

            The end will come at an unexpected time, so no use fretting over it or trying to second guess when it will come.  Instead, be found faithful in what you are called to do, and the gifts of the Kingdom will come your way as promised.

            Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.  Live therefore as one who is assured that God is gracious and merciful, and really does want you to have the gifts of his Kingdom.

Elevators and Cathedrals Luke 12:13-21

I am confused, or maybe just conflicted. 

            You see, I grew up in the heartland where the matter of “barns” and the storage of crops was both wisdom and necessity.  I’ve seen bumper crops come in that get dumped on the ground because there is no place to put them, and the spoilage that happens when storage is not available.

            So, what has Jesus got against “bigger barns?”

            I had a professor in college who once remarked that “Grain Elevators are the Cathedrals of the Great Plains.”Image

            He was arguing for much more than just architecture.   He was making an observation about community, identity and values.

            Medieval towns radiated out from the great cathedral they constructed at the heart of their community.  The Cathedral was a daily remind to them of the need for God, and it became for them a storehouse for their treasures.  No one owned anything much personally in feudal society.  Life was hard and short, but the Cathedral or church in the center of town embodied their hopes for the future, the inheritance to be passed on to the next generation, the thing that would stand long after the builders were forgotten.

            In the same way on the Great Plains, the Grain Elevator came to symbolize the shared wealth and identity of the community from which the town and farms radiated out.    Many of them bore the names of the town.   Farmers brought their grain in, mingled and mixed it with the grain of their neighbors.  Of course a personal account was kept of the bushels brought in, and its condition, but it all flowed together and stood as a reserve and store for the community.  It was a legacy of shared wealth to be passed on and drawn upon in the coming year, or sold to provide for the common good.

            So, when this rich man is blessed with a bumper crop and has his internal debate about building a “bigger barn,” that looks like wisdom to me. 

            I’ll bet it does to you as well. 

            The Stock Market is up right now, and I just got my statement, and after years of lagging it is finally back up there where I need it to be as I plan for my retirement, and I can tell you what I’m talking to myself about.  I am saying to myself, “Self, how can you invest this better for those years ahead when you will no longer be able to work and will need this income?”

            I would wager you have a similar thought process. 

            But it could be that you are not in that world of laying things up for the future.    Many are not, and not though any fault of their own.   They have experienced job loss, divorce, death of spouse, a shifting economy, a changing world and they are asking themselves how they can scrape by. 

           What does this Gospel lesson have to say to the people I met a few days ago as we handed out backpacks of school supplies?

            What does it have to say to the grandmother whose home had been condemned, foreclosed upon, and padlocked shut so that she could not go back inside to get anything that belonged to her or to her grandchild?   The backpack was one small step along the way to the need to rebuild everything.

            What does Jesus’ warning and parable have to say to the person I helped move out of an apartment recently, whose abundance of possessions had become a sudden burden.  Homeless now, and unemployed, she was putting it all into storage while she re-started and reprioritized life.  A strange combination of too much and too little as we packed and hauled and tried to decide what to keep and what to donate and what to just leave behind.

            So, I’m confused and conflicted.

            Is Jesus stern warning against greed and this parable meant to say, having too much is bad?   Am I supposed to just give all possessions away, and so become one who has nothing and is dependent upon others?

            Is there some message of wealth sharing that I’m supposed to get here, the inheritance thing, don’t be greedy but don’t be stupid.

            I “get” that I shouldn’t be like the rich man who blindly stores up treasures for himself, but what I don’t “get” is how to find the balance in life.

            How much is enough?

            How much is responsible?

            How much should I share, and if Jesus isn’t in the business of helping me figure out how to leave or collect a legacy (Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance, remember?) then how do I figure this all out?

            Maybe I am even more so than others because I have two other things bumping around in my brain.  

            I have Martin Luther’s quote that seems to fit here.   “We are all mere beggars, telling other beggars where to find bread.”   That is how Luther describes life, and particularly the life of faith.   Sharing faith is about telling someone else who is hungry where you have found sustenance.   And Luther’s last words scribbled on a scrap of paper just before he died affirm this. “We are beggars, this is true.

            So, if we are beggars, what is Jesus talking about in his last words here.
How does one become “rich toward God?”   If we’re all beggars, how do we ever get rich?

            I think the key may be found in what prompted this comment and parable in the first place.

            “Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me!” someone shouts from the crowd, and that prompts the warning about greed, and this parable.  Jesus refuses to be the arbitrator between two brothers, and rightly so.  Why?  Because the two of them ought to be sort this out with each other, and not be asking for someone outside to decide it for them.

            Here’s the deal.  If you’ve ever been involved in a family squabble over inheritance or money, you quickly realize that the issue is usually not really the inheritance, is it?

            No, it’s usually about what someone did a long time ago.  Some old wrong, some old slight that has gnawed at the family for a long time.

            Someone did something that put someone else’s nose out of joint, and they haven’t gotten along ever since.  The matter of the inheritance may be the presenting problem, but the real issues about why they can’t resolve this matter may go way back, perhaps even generations.

            Congregations can be like that as well.  The presenting problem that causes division is often not the real issue.  The real wound, hurt, concern may be something far different, it’s just that the current matter has brought it all to the surface.

            When Jesus refuses to be the arbitrator, he throws the situation back into the brother’s lap, and then the warning and the parable stand as a commentary of what to think about as you work this out.

            The real treasure is not the inheritance, it is the relationship.  Don’t miss that!

            Looked at through those eyes the parable takes on a new perspective.  Who does this rich man talk to about his dilemma?

            He talks only to himself, and the conclusions he reaches has had no input from anyone around him. We might even wonder if there is anyone else around in his eyes.  No one else enters the picture until God shows up to call him “Fool.”

            Which is what got me thinking back again over the words of the professor.  “The Grain elevators are the Cathedrals of the Great Plains.”

            The treasure of building the cathedral in Medieval Europe was found in the working together to make it happen.  There was conversation between craftsman, artists, plain folks, clergy, guild leaders, and on and on.   This building became the storehouse for their treasures. It was a record of who and what they were as a people, and it was preserved in stone and stained glass to be passed on.  You can have a dialog still with a cathedral; centuries later.

            The treasure of the grain elevator was not just the commodity that was stored inside.  It was the place of exchange.  It was where the farmers met to exchange their knowledge, to encourage, cajole, inspire and help each other out.   By the counter in front of the scales, in the unloading bay, and in the feed store, the kind of exchange took place that made a difference in the lives of those who were struggling with soil and sky and seed.   They learned, they shared, they mingled as their grain did, adding value to each other along the way.

             Could it be that is what Jesus us to “get” here?  To be rich toward God we have to invest in one another.  We have to put in time to share, to forgive, to live together.  To be rich toward God is to stop thinking only of our own needs and concerns, and to begin to see the neighbor.    It is to recognize that we are all beggars, it is true.  But for a different set of circumstances I could be where my least fortunate neighbor is, and now how do we engage in conversation that helps each of us discover what it is we have to pass on to each other.

            In short, we are sometimes too eager to ask Jesus to fix things for us, when the answer lies not in demanding of him, but rather in conversation with our neighbor.

            I am richer because I took the time to listen to the stories of those who came seeking backpacks.  I am richer because I took the time to sweat and carry when my sister was weary and could not do it herself.   These are the treasures that make us rich toward God.   These are the lasting legacies we leave, and pass on to another generation.

            Being “Rich toward God” not about barns or cathedrals or grain elevators.   It is about what we build together, as we listen to each other, and work to bring out the best in each other.   That is what Jesus is trying to tell the brother set against his family.   That is what Jesus is trying to remind us.