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Luke #48 Treasures of the Heart

Treasures of the Heart

Reading: Luke 12:13-34

Introduction: Several years ago now, 1987 to be exact, movie actor Michael Douglas starred in the movie “Wallstreet,” in which Douglas played the character Gordon Gecko, a power hungry corporate raider. The most memorable scene in the movie shows Gecko making a pitch to the Teldar Paper Corporation extolling the virtues of his hostile take over bid. “Greed is good,” he says. “Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed--in all of its forms--greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind, and greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar paper but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.” I’m afraid the scriptwriters were more prophetic that we would wish. Greed, the desire to have more, is in fact at the center of the highest standard of living ever achieved in history. Twenty years ago it was easy to point fingers at billionaire Howard Hughes who was an 80-pound, malnourished, isolated weakling when he died, surrounded by more wealth than the rest of us could imagine. But the truth is that we live in a culture that for 100 years at least has been driven by consumerism, by the need to buy and accumulate things.

It is a social order that now demands that we buy more than we need because something better has been produced. A few weeks ago, I heard an executive for Tower Records talking about their success in foreign markets such as Japan. He said that what his company did best was provide huge inventories of merchandise for consumers so that when they came in they could always find what they wanted, even if they didn’t know they wanted it until they saw it. That’s precisely how it works isn’t it! Advertising is the process of convincing us that we need something we didn’t even know existed until we saw it. The desire to have more--the process within one that continually rationalizes wants and desires and turns them into needs--drives Saturday morning advertising, drives Christmas shopping, drives our economic system. For the most part we no longer ask if we have enough money at Christmas. Instead we try to figure out what to give to the people around us who already have everything! The need for more drives us to have the latest and the best. Our family owns a color TV set that is now 10 years old and works perfectly. We’ve never had a single problem with it. But recently we stored it in the attic because we needed a new one that was cable-ready, had stereo sound and a remote control, and above all had smart sound that stopped the commercials from being so loud. Where did we learn about smart sound? From the commercials!

In our consumer-driven economy, we long ago produced more than people needed. But the economic ladder could only be climbed if people believed that climbing it would somehow make us better people. More and better products would make us happier, better people. Advertisers stopped selling products on the basis of merit. Better products had to meet some sort of felt need within us. The automobile manufacturers stopped just selling cars and started selling sexy cars, power cars, status cars, sports cars. The not so subtle message was that people who are somebody drive a certain kind of car; they demand the best. Some cars were always advertised with either a very handsome man or a very sexy woman behind the wheel. Then came the all American family cars for folks just like us.

Perhaps more insidious yet has been the consumer advertising that began very subtly to claim that spiritual and emotional needs could be met with certain products. The right breath mint could fix one’s love life. The need for community, the ability to break down social racial and political pressures could be met by drinking Coca Cola. You remember the commercial that showed people from around the world standing together on a hillside with their candles glowing, singing “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.” Coca Cola is the real thing! Or how about the perfect koinonia--the perfect fishing fellowship just like the Peter and James and John--only it’s beer that makes one say, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

The advertising and the drive for more have produced hyper-activity that now reaches down into the lives of children in ways never before seen. In Nashville, one TV newscast recently ran a segment on stress and anxiety in children. They interviewed a thirteen-year-old girl who is in counseling to help her deal with the over-load schedule she keeps. There also was an interview with a 5th grader whose school and sports activities left him tired all of the time. The pursuit of more in order to be better people has engulfed children just as it has adults. We have been led to believe that if we can just compress and compact more into our schedule, then we can buy a few more things that will make our leisure time meaningful. Perhaps the greatest sales pitch of all these days comes in the things that will be the most fun for our leisure time, our escape time. Whether it is a two-hour escape to a movie, or a two-week escape to Hawaii, or a one-day escape to Disneyland, they all entice us by claiming to cure what ails us. We need that escape. We need that entertainment. We need that fun. We need to live in those new houses. We need to drive those new luxury cars. We need all sorts of things to make life easier and better. We have been told that the acquisition of the right goods will make us better, happier people. Deep down inside, we know that’s not true. In fact, we daily reject that notion when we talk about what’s really important. But we also can’t escape.

Because the accumulation of more is so intoxicating, we are absolutely amazed by stories we hear about families contesting wills of deceased family members because they don’t get their share of the inheritance. While money may not always be the issue, people often fight over who gets Grandma’s table and chairs, or who gets Dad’s tools, or more often who gets the money. More collectibles tell us who we are; money buys security; money buys more stuff. The more we collect the more secure we are, the more content we are, the happier we are. Is that what really happens?

Our story from Luke today begins with what at first seems an off-the-wall question in the larger context of Jesus’ conversation. This conversation with Jesus’ disciples began when great crowds surrounded Jesus and he reflected on his dinner with Pharisees and Lawyers, telling the disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Their hypocrisy was in claiming to be on the outside what they were not on the inside. They made a great show of their religion but on the inside they didn’t know God or the heart of God at all. They could not hide from God in the end. Everything covered would be uncovered; everything secretive and dark would be brought out into the light and shown for what it really was. Jesus then warns his disciples about another kind of hypocrisy, the kind that is born of fear and anxiety and insecurity about one’s life--the fear that comes from persecution and the threat to one’s physical existence. The days were coming when they would be hauled before kings and courts and it would be easy to say they were not who they really were, rather than believing that God’s presence through the Holy Spirit would take care of them.

Suddenly a man in the crowd asks Jesus to serve as executor of the family estate. Dad has died and these brothers are squabbling about who gets the furniture, and this brother thinks Jesus is smart enough to decide in his favor. Jesus not only rejects the position of executor, but he also attacks the attitude that produces such family feuding. It is covetousness, greed that demands my share of the stuff. Jesus tells the famous story of the man who placed his security and his future in the abundance of his harvest, having earned himself the leisure to eat, drink, and be merry. But there was no security in his crops and his barns, and there was no time for leisure. Because there is more to life than this earthly existence, he had nothing to take with him when he died.

But the hardest words to hear for us today are those that follow. ‘Don’t be afraid of those who can kill the body, but then have no power over you,’ Jesus said earlier. Now he says, "Don’t be afraid for the materials cares and concerns of this life." When life itself was threatened, Jesus reminded his disciples that God knows when every sparrow falls; God knows the hairs on your head. God will take care of you--trust God. God takes care of those birds; God takes care of the grass; God takes care of the flowers. God will take care of you. Put your faith in God, not possessions. Find rest and security from the anxieties of life in God, not in collecting more stuff.

I want to respond to all of this, “I believe--help my unbelief!” How do I get out of this maze, this need for more? None of us here this morning are in a position to suddenly sell out. We hear the advice, “Seek his kingdom and all these things will be yours,” and our first thought is to say, “Well, it’s because I’m a Christian that God has granted me all this stuff.” Every week, we pray over the contribution and thank God for blessing us above all others in the world. Then we go buy more, and search for more, and run faster, and keep right on entrusting our sense of identity and well-being to our standard of living and our fashionable clothing and our social circles.

If all Americans tomorrow decided to sell their possessions and give to the poor, our economic and political system would collapse. If just one of us put everything up for sale tomorrow and started giving it all away to the poor, family members would have us institutionalized. So we find ourselves paralyzed, unable to believe this text or take it very seriously, explaining most of it away, as we think about the next car we will buy, the next piece of furniture we need in the house, the latest video game that we really need to buy, the latest restaurant now open for us to try. The lifestyle of Jesus seems so foreign, so remote, so ideal, so impossible, that it’s not worth even trying.

I want to suggest this morning, that to be a follower of Jesus in 1995 in materialistic America, we must try. We must start to break out. We must search our hearts and see where our treasure really is and we must pursue the life of faith in God, not in our socio-economic system. We must help our children to break out, to stop needing every new toy that is made, to stop needing to see every movie that comes out, to stop needing the name-brand clothing in order to be cool. We must find faith again. I believe this third hypocrisy is by far the greatest risk to you and me this morning. We claim to have faith in God when, in reality, our faith is in our socio-economic status and our procurement and collection of more. Yes, we have trouble with the inside not matching the outside like the Pharisees sometimes. No, we basically have no fear in this country, or at least we didn’t use to, that we will be hauled before authorities because of our faith. But we are horribly anxious about what we shall wear, where we shall live, what we shall eat. It’s not the fear of having none at all, it is the fear of not having enough, not having the newest or latest or most convenient, or most fun. Oh, to be like a bird whose clothes just come with it! Or a flower who never asked the question, “Am I pretty yet? Am I still handsome? How can I fix myself to be more attractive?”

So where do we start? We start one advertisement, one television show, one product, one day at a time, don’t we. We start heeding the voice of Jesus who says, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” Don’t sell out--you can’t! But we can stop buying what we don’t need. We can set a limit on lifestyle pursuits; we can decide on a standard of living beneath our income rather than just beyond credit card range. And we can find ways to give to the poor.

You all have had more than your share of crises in the past 18 months. I know you have been instrumental in offering flood relief and earthquake relief to hundreds and thousands of people. In our area at least, Disaster Relief Effort reaches out to the masses in crisis. But when normal comes, the work’s done and it’s time to move on. We get calls and visits weekly--even daily--from people needing assistance with electricity and rent and gas bills and clothing and shelter. Most of those needs we do not even try to meet. By “meeting their needs” I don’t mean giving a quick handout. Someone needs to provide genuine help to these people.

I close this morning by sharing a story told by Mike Slaughter, in a seminar that he offers on the use of small groups in ministry. Mike tells of the time 16 years ago when he challenged a church of 90 people to adopt needy families at Christmas time. It wasn’t to give each child a toy or a Christmas basket of food. The challenge was, whatever you would spend on yourselves spend on others. So he and his family adopted a mom and her two kids. They spent $200 on themselves and $200 on this other family. It was an incredible experience for him until after Christmas, when it seemed to him that God just kept screaming, “So you cared about them for one month, what about the rest of the year?” Ever since then, their family has taken care of that hurting family in the same way they care for themselves. They have purchased school clothes and a washer and dryer and Christmas presents. His congregation now has more than 2600 people attending on Sundays. Everyone in a leadership position gives at least 10 percent to the church, plus being involved in the needs of other peoples’ lives. Maybe none of us is being called by God this morning to do that, but all of us are called to give more than just to ourselves.

Whatever it is, we all need to take that first step. None of us can hide and say it is those people who ought to give, they are the affluent ones. The question this morning is, do any of us really believe the words Jesus? If we believe how will we respond? Where is your treasure this morning? What fills your heart? In whom or in what have you placed your faith and security? Who will decide this morning to seek his kingdom instead of the material kingdom of American consumerism?

Delivered at Brentwood Hills, March 12, 1995 a.m.




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