Summit Presbyterian Church
August 7, 2016
Luke 12: 32-40
Kingdom’s Coming (Ready or Not)
Our scripture this week continues the theme of our relationship to money and possessions in light of the Kingdom of God. It’s a big subject, and I’d like to enter into it by talking about one of my possessions. Now, preacher’s aren’t supposed to use sermons to process their personal stuff. We’re told not to reveal Too Much Information as it can distract from the gospel message. I’m ignoring that good advice this morning. You’re going to have to listen to the story of my car. Or rather (sadly) my two cars.
As you know, until I came to Philadelphia eight years ago I lived in New York City and was a happy user of the subway, bus and train. Although I had a license, I never drove or owned a car. But I knew I’d want one in Philadelphia. It has a great bus system, but as a pastor I’d need to get around to lots of different places quickly. A few weeks before I moved I was walking in my neighborhood and saw a little white car parked at the curb with a sign in the window: Prius for Sale. Call Owner. I had already decided I wasn’t going to get a Prius. I didn’t like their funny shape. I didn’t like the dashboard that looked like a spaceship. I knew it was a responsible choice, but they were expensive and intimidating and had a pretentious air about them. But this car didn’t look like a Prius. It looked like a Corolla. It had a conventional looking dashboard and a couple of NYC dings on the front. It was very cute. It turns out the early Prii — (P-R-I-I that’s the official plural of Prius, in case you missed the Prius Goes Plural Voting Campaign of 2011) - the early Prii looked like Corollas. So I called the owner and after weeks of deliberation I bought it. I didn’t even look at another. The owner— a massage therapist, peace activist, and spiritual but not religious person who had a Buddha on the dashboard — had taken meticulous care of it. Every service record was in a folder. She was also a kind-hearted soul who drove it to Philadelphia for me, since I was afraid to do so.
I grew to love that car. I grew to love driving. I was proud of my 2002 Prius. It took me a long time to learn the routine of filling up the gas tank because I didn’t have to do it very often. I hoped to drive it for a long time. But that was not to be. About six weeks ago the Master Warning Light starting coming on. You know, the one that says take it to A Toyota Dealer Right Now or You May Die. So I took it into Conicelli, and was told I’d need a new Hybrid battery for $3,000. I was ready to do it, figuring it could last another 100,000 miles, but then they opened the trunk to get at it and found a disaster. The trunk was wet. Mold was growing and ants had invaded. The rubber gasket that lines the cover had dried up and gotten dislodged. Rain had gotten in. And since Prii electronics are all in the trunk it was a goner. Even the insurance company declared it “totaled,” calling it an Act of Nature.
My poor baby! I was surprised at the intensity of my grief. It wasn’t just that I had to shell out more money for a new car. I had become attached. I identified with it: environmentally responsible! Smart yet unpretentious. Rare and special - you don’t see to many First Generation Prii on the road. Just the right size. Or so I like to think of myself. When I went to the Conicelli parking lot to clean it out, and sat in the front seat, practically in tears, emptying the change drawer and collecting the 15 pens in the glove box along with an ossified chocolate chip cookie, I wondered if I had become too attached. I had put a lot of treasure into the car, and my heart with it. Didn’t Jesus warn against that? Didn’t he say to sell possessions and give alms? To make purses for ourselves in heaven, where thieves do not break in, nor moths consume, nor rainstorms destroy. To complicate matters — for someone who claimed to love their car, I hadn’t taken great care of it. I had it serviced regularly, but the interior was a mess, and there were a few ominous spots of rust. Truth be told, I knew something was wrong for a while. But not wanting to spend money or time I had ignored that funny smell and gone into denial. So I also felt a wave of regret, even guilt, as I bade farewell to my Beloved, on the way to the scrapyard, to be dismembered and crushed before its time.
And then I had to get another — with the daily rental car fee piling up, there was no time to waste. Of course no other car could compare to my first, and the fear of buying a lemon nearly paralyzed me. But I settled on a 2005 Prius with 73,000 miles, also with a single meticulous owner and a spotless service record. It’s not the same. It’s silver and has that funny shape. It has that annoying new key system where you press a button to turn on the car. But as I prepared to drive away, and surveyed the spotless interior; as I adjusted the mirrors, figured out the lights and gave the windshield a wash, I felt ready. Ready to drive to home. Ready to drive to church. Ready to drive to the hospital for some pastoral visits, ready to drive to the Presbytery meeting at Church on the Mall, ready to drive to my Mother’s house, ready to give my neighbor a lift to the store, ready to go to a friend’s house for dinner. Ready to drive to a voter registration center to see if I could volunteer. Ready to drive to State College for the Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light meeting in October. In short — ready, I hoped, for the Kingdom. Not the second coming of Christ, where the King will sit on the throne, sorting the sheep from the goats, with my woebegone Prius I standing to condemn me (and believe me, she’s the least of my worries!). I may never be ready for that. But ready for the Kingdom at hand, the kingdom of love, and justice and peace on earth. The kingdom that we’re invited to enter by giving generously to neighbors in need. The kingdom where we care for one another, in sickness and in health, in times of joy and grief and loneliness. The kingdom where we build homes for those without and all children have loving parents. The kingdom where we march or walk for a living wage, or climate action, or racial justice or a cure for breast cancer. The kingdom where we worship God. The kingdom where we eat joyfully together, inviting children and strangers to the table. That kingdom that may seem to be in peril, threatened by evil or indifference, but whose ultimate victory is assured. The kingdom where Christ greets us, at unexpected times and places, through unexpected people. So keep your lamps lit, your engines tuned and your gas tanks filled, said Jesus, for you do not know when the master will be coming. And blessed are all who are ready.
As twenty-first century Christians living in North America, practicing discipleship with our possessions and money is one of the biggest spiritual challenges we face. The temptation is great to put too much of our treasure and too much of our heart into things and bank accounts. We’re constantly told that the more we have the safer we are; that our wealth reflects our worth; that our “lifestyle” says something significant about who we are. Although this is not true for everyone, as a nation we share very little of our money beyond taxes — even Christians give only a few percent of their disposable income, mostly to churches and colleges. So when Jesus says sell your possessions and give alms, when Jesus says be rich towards God and make yourself purses in heaven, he’s speaking to us.
But that doesn’t mean to give away all our possessions and all our money. Very few Christians have taught that — not even monks and nuns and Mennonites. For money and possessions are also blessings. Blessings that keep us in good health, that provide shelter and strength and a measure of security. Blessings that give us leisure for learning and even fun so we can be refreshed for the work of Christ. Blessings that can help us be ready for the Kingdom. Ready to work for peace and justice and to love our neighbors near and far.
So that’s the challenge: finding the sweet spot, the right relationship to our money and stuff. And so I covet your prayers for me and my Prius. That I may receive it with thanksgiving, appreciating all who built it and the metals that were mined from the earth to make it. That I may care for it, keeping it in good form, ready to help me in service to the kingdom and keeping it out of a landfill as long as possible. But also that I save my love for God and neighbor. That I don’t confuse the Prius with myself, so I’m ready to sell it and give alms when I no longer need it. That I — that all of us — may trust in God and not in our stuff, remembering the words of Jesus: “Do not be Afraid.”