Most weeks the various committee meetings or other parish gatherings will begin with a prayerful reflection on the Sunday gospel. Hearing the word of God, those who are present have the opportunity to share what this particular passage means to them. By sharing faith in this manner the scripture becomes a living word with resonance and importance in one’s everyday life here at St. James. However, this is the fifth Sunday of the month and there were no parish meeting this week so the preacher (ahem) did not get to hear what stood out as important to reflect on in this community at this time. Should we reflect on greed? Jesus tells us to avoid greed in all its forms for one’s life does not consist of possessions. There are three big storage facilities within five blocks of here. What’s that all about? But everyone knows greed is a bad thing so let’s just check that one off. Another possibility: a famous fourth century preacher used this passage to reflect on justice. He asserted that instead of storing his surplus harvest in larger barns, he should be placing it in the bellies of those who are hungry. Again, a good theme but one we reflect on with some regularity. So without the wisdom of the faith-sharing group, this preacher falls back on what struck him: namely, how are we to approach, think about, prepare for our deaths.
Death, like politics and weight and the games of a certain ball club on the north side of the city, is not something to bring up in polite company. Our culture, according to one sociologist, can be characterized by a “denial of death.” Speaking of death makes one something of a Donnie Downer. The Bible, though, has no reluctance to talk about death. In the Old Testament lesson the author basically says death is coming but don’t get your knickers in a twist about it. St. Paul says, “You have died.” Kind of news to me but his point is that the things that really matter, the things we should be attentive to all abide on the other side of death. And Jesus in the gospel tells us that since death is inevitably coming, we should “store up treasure in what matters to God.” So the Bible suggests that we should factor death into the calculus of our daily life. Instead of whistling past the grave yard we should understand that we all possess an expiration date. The way we live, the values we hold, the behaviors we practice should all be shaped by the fact that the clock is ticking. So how can we weave this awareness into our everyday lives in a way that leads to hope and joy?
During the recent big lottery the TV news was doing “man on the street” interviews about what you would do if you won. It reminded me of an old joke. Some people approached the pastor with a situation. “We’re holding the lottery ticket our Dad bought and it turns out he won several million dollars. We’re afraid to tell him because he has a weak heart and we think he might have a heart attack when he hears the news.” The pastor said he knew how to break it to him gently. “You know Mr. Jones,” he began, “sometimes God gives us blessings. What do you think you’d do if the Lord blessed you with a lot of money?” “I’ll tell you, Father. I’m an old man and don’t have any needs. My children are prosperous. I think I’d give the money to the Church.” So the priest had a heart attack. By the way, if you are holding the billion dollar lottery ticket I’m willing to risk it.
Well, Church, the truth is, we’ve already won the lottery. We’ve won the gift of time: all the days we have to live. We don’t know yet how much are winnings are, how many days we have left, but we do need to have some ideas on how we are going to spend them. Whether we have a few left or many left we should be very intentional about how we use up this precious prize of time. If you won the Mega Millions you’d consult a financial advisor and investment counsel about what to do. Since we won the lottery of life we know where we turn in order to have a good plan; we consult the Bible to set out our course of action. First thing the Bible says, stop worrying. It is vanity, the Old Testament lesson says, if “at night [our] mind is not at rest,” as if we were in control. Jesus told us to “stop worrying” because our Heavenly Father knows what we need. In the lottery of life worrying won’t add a day or an hour. We use our gift of time wisely by letting God be God.
Second, don’t get involved in those activities that will drain your winnings away. Just as you wouldn’t take your mega-millions to the casino and fritter it all way, so we must not fritter away the lottery of life. St. Paul tells us what to do: “Put to death the parts of you that are earthly” and “think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” Get rid of the earthly parts like impurity, greed, lying which are a waste of precious time we have. Rather, think of “what is above,” which the Apostle suggests happens when we recognize the “image of the creator” in everyone, particularly those who don’t look or think like me, since “Christ is all in all.”
This leads to a third way of using winning the lottery of life well – focusing on relationships and not on stuff. In the gospel account, Jesus implies if the brothers feuding over an inheritance had realized that what was really valuable was each other they would have been better off. Our treasures are not our house, car or clothes. Our real treasures are the people we love and the people who love us. Invest in them and we’ll become rich beyond our wildest dreams. We are mega-millionaires when we love.