11 August 2019 - Climate Catastrophe: Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Reading: Luke 12:32-40
32 "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 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. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35 "Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be 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. 37 Blessed 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. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39 "But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."
Reflection: in my years training Lay Preachers, one of the things I taught students about was the Revised Common Lectionary. As well as the mechanics of the lectionary cycle, I would tell lay preachers that using the lectionary was a good discipline. Firstly it ensures that preachers don’t bang on about their particular hobby horse. But also, it makes you look at passages you’d rather not use.
After last week hearing that we should make our wealth available to the poor, I’m sure I am not along in hoping that we’d move onto another subject but no, the lectionary sets this reading which reinforces Jesus teaching from last week with Jesus telling disciples to ‘sell all your possessions, and give alms.’
There are a number of movements in this passage. The first part actually comes at the end of a passage where Jesus tells disciples not to worry about the basics of life because God will provide what they need. 22 Jesus said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!”
Instead, he says, ‘strive for God’s kingdom and these things (food, clothing etc) will be given to you. Then comes the delightful statement we have just heard, found only in Luke “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
These words are a promise about God. They ground God’s generosity in God’s desire. Jesus has just spoken about trusting God while also striving for the ‘kingdom’ and now he reminds disciples that the point isn’t to coax a grump God into being nice to us. Rather, he says, God wants the ‘kingdom’ – the flourishing of all of creation – to become the real, lived experience. That is God’s pleasure.
We come then to the second section of this passage – which is a reinforcement of last week’s teaching: ‘sell your possessions and give alms – that is give food or money to the poor. Luke finishes this short passage with the truism, ‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ Disciples must be single mindedly attached to God otherwise a lifetime can be spent building up earthly treasure, hoarding possessions, hiding money, stashing away food in a society when poverty is never far from the door.
In the third section, Jesus tells a parable about slaves who wait vigilantly for their master to return home. The parable speaks not of passive waiting but careful preparation. Luke’s point seems to be that faithfulness demands diligence. But included in this parable, there is a surprise – the master who chooses to serve dinner to his slaves. Normally the opposite would be expected. Even the slaves in this story seems to be caught unaware by their master’s hospitality, since they Does this preempt Jesus teaching about his coming to serve, not to be served? The inversion of social roles between master and slaves illustrates the new relationships envisioned through the almsgiving mentioned in the preceding verses (and explained in greater detail below).
In the final movement, Jesus continues to discuss the need for readiness, but the imagery shifts dramatically from what came immediately before. Jesus speaks of a householder who needs to remain alert because a thief will not let him know when the break-in will occur. If anyone has grown too complacent with Jesus being compared to a lord who serves dinner to his slaves in the preceding movement, now something about Jesus’ return resembles an act of breaking and entering. Surely Jesus’ emphasis here is on the surprise of a theft and not the violence attached the image of a thief, but that does not scour all the frightening connotations from the metaphor. This isn’t a surprise like walking into your favorite restaurant to discover all your friends gathered to throw you a fortieth birthday party. There is risk involved. Jesus doesn’t calm every fear. Some things remain fearful, theologically speaking. Security therefore remains elusive in this passage, at least if we define it as egocentrism or try to measure it by our usual terms and self-promotional logic.
There’s a lot happening in this passage, but as with last week Jesus’ focus on wealth and generosity is particularly relevant. There’s not much ambiguity here – giving away money and possessions and giving to the poor is the thing that results in security.
When Jesus declares “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” he says that we train our wills and our ways of thinking through the ways we use our money. Spend it all on yourself, guess where your heart will go. Give it to those in need, your heart will go where God wants it to go and your heart will find God in the process. For there is a sacramental aspect to charity, in which God becomes present to givers through those who receive and need their gifts.
There is another aspect of this reading that is particularly relevant to us. A couple of weeks ago I was watching The Drum. The panel was discussing what seems to be a flood of children and young people struggling with their mental health. Some of the reasons discussed were systematic wage theft, being priced out of the housing market, cost of living – all valid reasons.
But I thought they left out a major factor – we are facing a climate catastrophe. While many of us drift on either ignoring it completely, or hoping that a simple solution will be found, young people are looking at a grim future. So concerned are they that some young people are making the decision not to bring children into a world. Some are wondering if they’ll make it to an age when they might die in their beds. What seems to be an unavoidable Climate catastrophe is their world, and their reality.
This passage speaks to us in a number of ways. Firstly, when the treasure we focus on is possessions, it results in the compulsive behaviour of buying stuff which is directly driving the climate catastrophe which is engulfing us.
According to scientists, we in Australia are the 7th most greedy users of the earth’s resources, sitting among other rich nations. We use many more resources and cause much more pollution than the poorest countries.
July 29 was World Overshoot day. It is the day in which humanity’s demands for ecological resources – that is things like fish, forests, fresh water – exceed what the earth can renew in a year. July 29!! And we’ve still got 5 months to go before the end of the year. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Report in October last year warned that we have just 12 years go dramatically reduce our pollution and avoid catastrophic global heating and climate changes.
Do we take seriously that it is in such a world that God wishes to give us the Kingdom, or are we carefully averting our eyes from the rising waters and temperature? What might Jesus have to say about this?
We may be able to ignore Jesus teaching about sharing our money but the planet will not allow us to ignore its destruction. We are already feeling its effects…