If you wish, you can hear this sermon as it was preached in the pulpit of the United Church of Jaffrey. Simply click to the play button below.
Delivered at the United Church of Jaffrey.
April 29th , 2018
These days, on Sunday Mornings I come to church.
This afternoon, we will celebrate our community, this community –this place — all of you.
I can’t tell you how honored I am to be here with you, in this place.
For a number of years, before I started coming to church, I had a different Sunday morning ritual.
Every Sunday, before light, a caravan of trucks and vans pulls into a big pasture just outside of Hadley Massachusetts, and… if you are there early enough, you can watch as, before your eyes, the pasture turns into a flea market.
And if you are there early enough — before the crowds who are sleeping in on Sunday Morning, you get your pick of the best stuff.
(sung) Stuff glorious stuff
Cheap needle-nose pliers made in China
Framed Elvis in velvet
An old VHS copy of the the Lion King
Barrels of rusty spades
Display cases of old baseball cards
A chipped china gravy boat
An tenor banjo minus two strings…
There’s all kinds of stuff.
It’s not just at the flea market…
It’s everywhere you look.
But stuff is not always that easy to figure stuff out.
Stuff can be very confusing.
But modern Americans?
I’d say most of us are pretty good at figuring it out.
We read consumer reports
We scroll through the amazon reviews.
We clip coupons.
We do comparison shopping
We know our stuff.
Or do we?
Fruit of the Vine
Dax just read us two gospel passages.
One was from the Gospel of John.
The other was from the gospel of Luke.
Both of these passages are about stuff.
Actually, I think it would be more accurate to say that one of the passages — the one from Luke — is definitely about stuff,
but the other passage — the one from John, is not.
In the passage from the fifteenth chapter of John, Jesus speaks of himself as the “true vine.”
“I am the true vine” he says, “and my Father (God) is the Vinegrower.”
Later, Jesus extends the metaphor by saying: you are the branches.
Jesus is the vine
God is the farmer.
We are the branches.
Vine. Farmer. Branches.
The farmer (who, in this parable, is God) may lovingly tend to a vine, and may pay careful attention to the branches of the vine, but the whole reason the farmer does all this, is not for the sake of the vine or the branches.
A healthy vine and good strong branches produce a good yield.
A good yield of fruit.
The metaphor Jesus uses in this parable directs all its energy to one thing: fruit.
Jesus would not neglect such an important detail.
“Those who abide in me and I in them” he says “bear much fruit”
But what is fruit?
We’ve been talking about “stuff.”
Is fruit the same as stuff?
Some interpreters of this passage have made this argument.
Fruit equals stuff.
This interpretation seems to be strengthened by another thing that Jesus says in this passage:
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
Wow, did you catch that?
…ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
That sounds less like Jesus, and more like the genie from Aladdin’s lamp.
Whatever I wish?
Does this passage suggest that I could simply ask God for a Cadillac, and God would give it to me?
I find that hard to believe.
It doesn’t line up with my experience of human life.
In my experience, you have to work hard for things, and sometimes you might get what you wish for, but more often than not you won’t.
But there are fabulously popular Christian ministers, like Joel Osteen, for example, who are quite fond of this idea — this Aladdin’s Lamp Jesus.
Osteen, who’s TV ministry that reaches more than 7 million viewers, recently wrote, in a letter to his followers, that: “God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money, to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us.”
Sounds like God likes stuff too.
Is God a stuff-ologist, just like the rest of us?
The other passage that Dax read to us — the one from the 12th chapter of the Gospel of Luke — begins with a “man from the crowd” who asks Jesus for help.
The man complains about his brother who, it turns out, is trying to cheat him out of his inheritance.
Sensing that Jesus is someone with authority, the man asks Jesus to intervene on his behalf.
The man’s request sounds reasonable enough…
Why should one brother get everything and the other brother get
That’s not fair!
The man’s brother is being selfish and greedy.
If the man from the crowd approached me I’d advise him to Google a lawyer who specializes in Estate law.
I think the Estate lawyer would tell tat man that his case is a “no brainer.”
As long as he can prove that he is indeed his father’s son, the greedy brother has no legal ground to deprive him of his inheritance.
But the man in the crowd did not ask my advice.
He asked Jesus.
Jesus did not live in 2018.
Instead of supporting the man’s claim against his greedy brother, Jesus said:
“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
Christ’s judgment is not based on Estate law.
Jesus does not apply the kind of fairness that we are used to.
The kind of fairness we are used to is a fairness based on the world of stuff.
Instead, Jesus takes the opportunity to say that the true life is not made up of the things you own.
Jesus is saying that the world of stuff is not the true life.
The man in the crowd is interested in stuff.
Jesus, is not interested in stuff.
Jesus is interested in true life.
Jesus is interested in ultimate value.
Things that Breath
So what is this true life?
If it’s not stuff, what is it?
What is the fruit of vine?
What is this ultimate value?
The answer is simple.
Imagine you wake up in the middle of the night, and you smell smoke.
For some reason, your smoke detectors did not go off.
The house is filled with smoke, and you realize immediately, that the situation is grave.
You only have a few minutes to get out of the house.
There is a computer in the next room. On the hard drive of that computer are all of your financial records, including all of your retirement investments. You have been working on a novel for the last five years, the only copy of which is also on that hard drive. But do you waste any time thinking about that computer?
There is a vintage Gibson guitar from the 1930’s that your wife bought you for your fiftieth birthday sitting in the living room. You have spent your entire life wanting that guitar, and you finally have it. It is by far the nicest guitar that you have ever had, and it gives you great joy to play it. But do you waste a moment thinking about that guitar?
You have a collection of rare first editions of novels by Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Faulkner. You recently found a rare first edition of a book of poetry by Robert Frost.
Those books, even now, might be on fire. But do you waste an instant worrying about those beautiful books?
Crisis reveals, with absolute clarity, what has ultimate value, and what is just stuff.
All those amazing things – the computer, the guitar, the rare first editions – it’s all just stuff.
In the five minutes you have to get out of the house, none of that stuff will even enter your mind.
That stuff is not the true life.
That stuff, no matter how precious it is, has no ultimate value.
The only thing in your mind, during those five minutes that you have to get out of your burning house, are things that breath.
Your spouse and your children.
If you have a dog or a cat, those enter you mind too – but not until your spouse and your kids are safely outside.
Imagine a World!
In response to the man in the crowd, Jesus told a parable about a rich man who tore down his barns and built new, larger barns to store his abundant harvest.
God calls this man a fool.
But is it foolish to think ahead and plan for the future?
Is it foolish to build up your assets so that they can have the capacity to contain your anticipated wealth?
If you have earned wealth through you own hard work and careful
planning, shouldn’t you expect to be able to rest a little and enjoy it in your old age?
If that is foolish, then a lot of Americans are guilty of being foolish.
The farmer in the parable is just managing his wealth – what else is he really guilty of?
His business is thriving, and he is strategically improving his investments.
He’s living the American dream.
But Jesus doesn’t care about strategic investments. To him, all that was just stuff.
Andrew Carnegie once said that the man who dies rich dies disgraced.
Carnegie, who, in his day, was the richest man in America, knew that, in the end, it’s not how much you own that counts.
You can’t take it with you anyway.
Ultimately, your value is not based on how much you have, but how much you have given away.
Imagine a world in which the ultimate value is not profit.
Imagine a world in which the ultimate value is human well being.
This is the religion of Jesus Christ.
A religion that insists on seeing the person, not the Product.
(sung) “And in the end,” the Beatles sang, “the love you take, is equal to the love you make.”