Sermons That Work

I Heard the Story of…, Proper 13 (C) – 1998

August 02, 1998

In our Gospel today, Jesus says to us, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Recently, I heard the story of a older woman who, over the course of her life, had accumulated a large number of quilts. She had about 25 quilts, most of which had been handed down to her through her husband’s and her own family. A few of the quilts she had made herself. She was a widow who had never had much money and had always lived her life simply. Some of the quilts were tattered and torn, and, although she had mended them at several different times, she took care not to add any new fabric. Several of these quilts were very old, dating back as far as 1800.

To this woman each quilt told a story. They were treasures, not because of their value in money, but because each reminded her of someone she loved. She was a very faithful Christian woman and the church had been the center of her life, as it had been at the center of the lives in preceding generations of both families. Each quilt echoed the stories of her childhood, of the long generations of faithful people, who sewed and prayed and lived together as a family. Although these people are now gone from her sight, they are, to her, still visible in what she calls, “God sight.” They live with God but are also living and present in the old fabrics, the care, the patience, the tenderness, in the love that they passed along. We can see them, as God sees them, in that love.

As part of her town’s historical celebration, the woman was asked to display her quilts and other family heirlooms. She was very honored to have been asked and she chose the neighborhood chapel, where she had served faithfully over the years, for the display area. She worked a whole week in preparation, getting the quilts and heirlooms out of storage, cleaning them as best she could, displaying them and marking carefully their origin and pattern type. On the day of the celebration, people came from all over to see these treasured quilts. She enjoyed telling people the different stories and helping them see, with “God sight,” the different people who so lovingly made them.

At the end of the day, one of her last visitors took her by surprise. The visitor offered the woman a great sum of money for all of the quilts. The visitor was an antiques dealer, and very well-meaning. The woman was shocked and hurt. She said, “How can I sell these quilts, which are as much my story as the story of the people who made them? You missed the whole point of the display!” Afterwards, to a friend, she remarked that she found it peculiar that anyone would think of buying the quilts when they were intentionally displayed in a church.

In our gospel story we find Jesus face to face with someone who also missed the point. Jesus was teaching the people and sharing the story of God’s love and real presence in their lives. There is one person in the crowd who is too distracted by possessions to see and hear Jesus. He came to Jesus because one of his brothers was not sharing an inheritance and he knew that some portion was rightfully his. Although Jesus, the Savior of the world, was standing right there next to him, this person was missing the whole point because he was measuring his life in possessions. He missed the most important part of the story. And Jesus said to him, “Take care, be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions!” And, then, Jesus told the whole crowd a parable, a story about a rich fool who measured the value his life only by what he had. He, too, had missed the point.

The point of all of the stories this morning is to emphasize first and foremost that life, and all that we have, is a gift from God. Jesus doesn’t want us unnecessarily to do away with all our possessions. However, we must not define ourselves by them, be obsessed with them, nor should we reduce life to what can be bought and sold. Human beings, unfortunately, are all too prone to devaluing life, theirs and that of others, when we get caught up by our possessions. The young person who confronted Jesus about the inheritance could have lost the opportunity to receive the love of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We might all miss out on the love God offers us in our lives when we are distracted by possessions. We can miss out on the love and forgiveness of others. We can miss being seen and seeing others with “God sight.” With the eyes of love that gives us life eternal.

When the widow displayed her quilts, it was a reminder to herself and Others, that Christ had touched and blessed her from her baptism throughout her life. She have been loved, taught and nurtured by so many Christian people in her family and her larger church family. Her display was to be a witness to the faithfulness of the many generations that came before, and a sign of God’s nearness and blessing in her life. The antiques dealer did nothing wrong but, literally, missed the intention of the widow. Her job as an dealer is to buy and sell, and there is nothing wrong with that. But she failed to look up and see where she was and who was present with her. Present with her was a great cloud of witnesses to the loving and real presence of Christ Jesus in their lives. We, too, must be careful when we define our selves by our jobs, our possessions or our things. You see, as Christians, we are baptized into Christ and from that baptism flows our true identity. It is God’s view of us, through “God sight” that counts. We are not what we have, or what we can do, but who we are in Christ Jesus. And in Christ Jesus, we are reconciled, loved and redeemed. We are made whole, forgiven and set free. We are people who are the children of God, sons and daughters through Christ. We are God’s family and we are an integral part of God’s story.

Let our prayer be today that we can hear this Gospel story and respond to God’s love in our lives. Jesus helped the young man to refocus his attention and see with “God sight.” The young man who was grieving over his inheritance became an integral part of God’s story. The quits told the widow of her importance in God’s story. May we be reminders to one another of God’s loving and real presence in our lives. Amen.

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Christopher Sikkema


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