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Sermon for Sunday 11 August 2019

First Reading                                   Genesis 15:1-6

1The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

Psalm                                                Psalm 33:12-22

12Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord!  happy the people he has chosen to be his own! 13The Lord looks down from heaven, and beholds all the people in the world. 14From where he sits enthroned he turns his gaze on all who dwell on the earth. 15He fashions all the hearts of them and understands all their works. 16There is no king that can be saved by a mighty army; a strong man is not delivered by his great strength. 17The horse is a vain hope for deliverance; for all its strength it cannot save. 18Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon those who fear him, on those who wait upon his love, 19To pluck their lives from death, and to feed them in time of famine. 20Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. 21Indeed, our heart rejoices in him, for in his holy name we put our trust. 22Let your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us, as we have put our trust in you.

Second Reading                           Hebrews 11:1-16

1Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. 4By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. 5By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. 6And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. 8By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. 13These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

Gospel                                                 Luke 12:22-40

22{Jesus} said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24Consider 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! 25And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 26If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? 27Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. 32Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 35Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! 39But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”


I heard a story the other day about the little boy who was asked by his kindergarten teacher where his heart was.  In response, he points to the seat of his pants.  “Why do you say that’s where your heart is?” asks the kindergarten teacher.  “Because,” said the little boy, “My grandmother is always patting me there and saying, “Bless your little heart.'”  As amusing as that story is, it really is a relevant question, “Where is your heart?”

I’m sure many of you here today will quickly say, your heart is with your family.  And you know me, I’ll not argue.  Our hearts ought to be with our families.  Even though many of us have transitioned into grandparenthood, our children and grandchildren remain our primary responsibility.  Sadly, not every family is perfect.  I read the story of bank robber Dwayne Leroy Bodell the other day.  Bodell has been in and out of prison for various crimes, mostly bank robberies since his twenties.  Now, at age 71, Bodell was finally set to be released from prison.

Two weeks before his release date, he was allowed to leave his halfway house to attend a family reunion.  Seemed like a nice idea.  The next weekend, Bodell tried to escape from the halfway house in a deliberate attempt to get put back in jail.  Bodell’s lawyer claims he wanted to stay in jail so he can “have structure, no surprises and not have to deal with family relationships.”  He got his wish.  Dwayne Leroy Bodell was sentenced to three more years in prison.  Family reunions can be difficult at times, but deliberately breaking the law to avoid family obligations seems a little drastic to me.  Family is, and should be, a central part of our lives.

One of the major discussions going on in our country today concerns what to do about the growing number of attacks on crowds.  Of course, any violent attack against innocent people is atrocious, but when that violence is directed at school students, that crime reaches a new level of heinousness.  In Sylvia Hewlett’s book, When the Bough Breaks, Chicago sociologist James S. Coleman makes an obvious but profound statement.  James says that family background matters more in determining student achievement than any other attribute of the formal educational system.  This bears repeating, family background matters more in determining student achievement than any other attribute of the formal educational system.  This statement should help you understand why Luther, and the church, stresses the need for family involvement in Christian education.

Coleman continues: “Unless we work together to strengthen the family, all the rest; the schools and playgrounds, public assistance and private concern, will never be enough to save our children.  No matter how elaborate our [governmental] family support systems are, they will do little to advance [our] children’s well-being if parents elect to spend little or no time with their children.”  We need to engrave that on a rock and place it front and center on every school ground in America.

Parents must be involved and must spend time with their children.  We must break the notion that we can have our careers, our hobbies and personal leisure, at the expense of our children.  As a society, as a church, and as responsible individuals, we have a moral obligation to do everything we can do to strengthen families.  Most of us will do our part.  Our hearts are with our families.  But there are others who will say that their hearts are with our country.  This too is good.

The majority today recognize that our country isn’t perfect, but it’s still among the best in the world.  Some of us have had family members and friends who have died for our country.  For this reason. when the flag is passing by or the national anthem is sung, we place our hand on our heart, for our heart is with this land.  We cherish the freedom and the security and the opportunity that it provides.  Former U.S. Secretary of Education, Dr. William Bennett, was asked this question by a seventh grader: “How can you tell a good country from a bad one?”  Secretary Bennett replied, “I apply the ‘gate’ test.  When the gates of a country are open, watch which way the people run.  Do they run into the country or out of the country?”  Based on the crisis we have on our southern border, I think we can say we pass the gate test.   Our country has a lot more people trying to get in than get out.  Our hearts are with our country.  Still others might respond that your heart is in your work.  This is a passion that seems to be “in” today.  

According to many business consultants, the key to success is to develop a passion for your job.  This is of course not difficult for some of us, we have the job we’ve always wanted.  For others, it’s not so simple.  Some folks work in industries with little or no opportunity for advancement, or where the work and responsibilities are out of proportion with the pay and career benefits.  Yet these people feel trapped because other opportunities are limited for a variety of reasons and the responsibilities they have at home won’t allow for them to seek a better career path.  This of course dulls the joy we receive in our work life.

Musician and storyteller Doug Lipman once worked as a guitar teacher.  Like most teachers he had every beginning student go through the same repetitive finger exercises and skill pieces day after day.  It was boring for him and for the student.  But one day, a new student begged to be taught to play her favorite song.  Lipman was sure that this piece required far more skill than the student possessed.  But he agreed to teach her.  The child learned the piece in a surprisingly short amount of time.  Because she loved the song, she was motivated to learn it.  From this experience, Doug Lipman changed his teaching techniques.

Lipman began encouraging his students to find music they wanted to play, even if it was beyond their skill level.  The students improved their skills much faster when they could choose their favorite music.  When you think about it, this isn’t some great secret.   We will generally work harder at tasks we enjoy.  I wish everyone could be in a job that is meaningful to them.  It must be awful to hate what you do, to feel locked in, to feel trapped with no way out.  Unfortunately, not everybody can be in a satisfying line of work, and I’m grateful that there are people who can look beyond the dissatisfaction they feel and think of their families.  I’m also thankful that a good many people do feel passionate about their work, provided they don’t fall victim to becoming a workaholic.  Don Dwyer, in his book, Target Success, says that the first quality he looks for when he selects an employee is passion.

Don shared a strategy he employed in the past.  Don said when he needed to hire someone for his newspaper distribution business, he would drop by the local playground and ask a group of kids if they were interested in earning extra money.  Of course, all the kids said they were, that is until they found out what was involved; getting up early in the morning, delivering papers in all weather conditions!  He said once he shared this, he’d lose most of the group.  He also said, the kids’ questions usually identified which ones had desire.  

It was fairly easy to tell the winners from the losers, he says.  For example, the boys he wouldn’t hire would ask these questions: “How many hours do I have to work?” “How heavy a load do I have to carry?”  “How far do I have to go?”  “Do I have to work if it’s raining?”  Less often, he’d hear these questions, which, he says, only winners asked: “How much money can I make?”  “When can I get started?”  “Will you teach me what to do?”  Obviously, the winners were the ones that had the desire, and by recruiting them and leading them, he was able to build the largest circulation distribution business in the history of the New York Daily News.  With a force of two hundred delivery boys, he signed up more than ten thousand homes!  Desire made it happen.  And ever since, he’s looked for desire.  What is it that we’re passionate about?  For some of us, passion may be reserved for a hobby or a sport.

Joe Jacoby of the Washington Redskins was once quoted as saying, “I’d run over my own mother to win the Super Bowl.”  To which Matt Millen of the Oakland Raiders replied, “To win, I’d run over Joe’s mom, too.”  There’s something about taking up a sport of any kind that brings out a radical level of commitment even when we’re not very good at that sport.

Two men were chatting casually at work.  The conversation turned to golf and one asked the other, “Do you play?”  “Yes, the younger man replied, “I used to, but I quit because I wasn’t very good.  I consistently shot in the lower seventies.”  There was a long, low intake of breath, then the other man said, “Lower seventies, huh?”  “Yes,” his coworker said.  “Consistently?” asked the other man.  “On every hole,” the man said with a sigh.  Baseball great Hank Aaron once said, “It took me seventeen years to get three thousand hits in baseball.  I did it in one afternoon on the golf course.”  I for one I can relate to all these men; I stink at golf.

One nice morning, Don and Bob were out golfing.  Don slices his ball deep into a wooded ravine.  He grabs his 8-iron and proceeds down the embankment into the ravine in search of his ball.  Don searches diligently through the thick underbrush and suddenly he spots something shiny.  As he gets closer, he realizes that the shiny object is, in fact, an 8-iron in the hands of a skeleton lying near an old golf ball.  Don excitedly calls out to his golfing partner: “Hey Bob, come here, I got big trouble down here.”  Bob comes running over to the edge of the ravine and calls out: “What’s the matter Don?”  Don shouts back in a nervous voice: “Throw me my 7-iron!  Looks like you can’t get out of here with an 8-iron.”

I know a good many people who are passionate about their golf game.  Others are passionate about football, or NASCAR, or hiking or dancing or gardening.  Some people will invest far more in leisure time activities than they will ever give to the church.  It really is an important question to ask ourselves, “Where is my heart?”  Jesus’ teaching is very direct on this point: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21).

This may mean that by looking at our checkbook or our credit card statement, we could probably tell where our heart is.  Some of us would be embarrassed about what our financial statement would reveal about our priorities.  Where is your heart?  Is it with your family?  Is it with your country?  Is it with work or your favorite sports or leisure activity?  There’s nothing wrong with placing an emphasis on any of these, that is when we keep them in their proper perspective.  But we can only have one top priority.  We can only have one place where our heart truly is.  Thankfully, there’s no question where Jesus’ heart lay.  His heart lay in doing God’s will, and in accomplishing what He had been sent to do.  His heart lay in extending God’s love and mercy to you and to me, no matter the cost.

Just before these two verses, we read these words from our Lord: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”  Jesus’ heart lay with the kingdom of God.  Jesus’ heart lay with the reign of God in human lives.   Jesus’ heart lay in doing the will of the One who had sent Him.

When Dr. James M. Woody’s son was a little boy, there was a delightful game that they used to play.  Dr. Woody would ask, “J.J., how much do you love daddy?”  Even when he was very young, about 18 months old, the little boy already knew how to tease his dad in this game.  “J.J., how much do you love me?”  And the little boy would hold out his hands very close together.  “Is that all?”  Dr. Woody would ask, “that’s not enough!  How much do you love daddy?”  The little fellow’s hands are spread a little farther this time.  “Is that all?  How much do you love your daddy?”  Finally, his son would throw his arms open wide, “This Much!”  “Yes, that’s good,” his father responded.  And Woody would throw open his arms and say, “Daddy loves you that much too.”  And they would hug each other tightly.  Ask Jesus how much God loves you.  What answer do you receive?

“How much Master, does God love me?  This much (hands close together)?”  “No,” the Lord replies.  “This much (hands a little farther apart)?”  “No,” the Master answers.  “Let me show you,” says Jesus. “This much.”  And we see one hand stretched out, a spike driven in.  “This much,” and there we see the other hand stretched out another spike driven home in excruciating pain.  Arms outstretched wide upon on the cross, this is the depth of God’s love toward us all!  We know where Jesus’ heart lay.  We see it exposed on the cross of Calvary.  

Jesus’ heart lay in doing the will of the One who sent Him.  Jesus’ heart lay in showing us how much we are loved.  Such love and obedience gives us courage in difficult days.  Such love and obedience compels us to be Christ-like toward all people.  Such love and obedience reminds us to bow before God in humble adoration.  We know where Jesus’ heart is.  And He said that this is where our heart should be as well.  So, where is your heart, at home, at work, with your country or with a sport or leisure activity?  Or, do we earnestly seek after God’s kingdom?  Does God reign in our life?  Do we, in all things, seek the will of the One who created and sustains us?  Where our treasure is, that’s where our heart is.

Actor Martin Sheen plays the President of the United States on the television series The West Wing.  Sheen is known as a hardworking professional on the set.  But acting is only one priority in Martin Sheen’s life.  Sheen is a devout Roman Catholic who practices his faith every day in his social activism.  Sheen is actively involved in ministries to the homeless.  Once a week, he volunteers at a California restaurant for the homeless called Bread and Roses.  He has become personally involved in the lives of some of the people he’s met there.  As he says, “Acting is what I do for a living, but my social justice work is how I stay alive.”  Jesus said, “do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried.  For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them.  Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.  Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions, and give to the needy.  Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”


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