Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Make for yourselves wallets that don’t wear out—a treasure in heaven that never runs out. No thief comes near there, and no moth destroys. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too. (Luke 12:32-34 CEB)
Our scripture today mentions wallets, and so I am thinking about wallets. I have my wallet here. You are carrying one too in your pocket or purse. We carry wallets with us because they contain important things we need to have with us.
Here is an identification card, a Michigan driver’s license. We have identification cards in our wallets because each of us has an identity, an identity we may need to verify.
Here is a medical card. We carry medical cards because each of us has a body. We want to take care of our bodies as best we can.
Here is a bank card. (There is also money in a wallet, but let’s allow the bank card to cover that too.) We carry bank cards because we have property; we have wealth.
Here is a picture. This is a picture of Linda and me at Lake Tahoe. I carry it in my wallet. We have pictures in our wallets (or our smart phones) because we have family.
There are more things in our wallets, but let’s stay with these four I have mentioned because they cover the basics: identity, body, property, and family. Each of these things is important; each is necessary; some, like family, can be precious. But none of them is permanent. All four are temporary.
The body is temporary. My body is my oldest friend. But one day my friend will give out on me and let me down. All bodies quit eventually. Medicine can do great things, but really all medicine can do in the end is give me more or less time. My body will wear out.
And with it will go my identity since identity and body are intimately connected. Actually, my identity may start to vanish before my body quits if I have dementia or memory loss. My identity is temporary.
My property is temporary. Wealth gets used up and evaporates, as much as we try to hang onto it. I read a story of an old man no one liked but who had a lot of money. He wanted to take his money with him when he died. He left instructions to his family to take all his money and put it in a metal box and put it in his casket after his funeral so that it could be buried with him. After his funeral, a family member went forward and put a gray metal box in with his body in his casket. Then they closed up the casket and took it away. A family friend, who knew the man’s request, went up to the one who had put the box in the casket. “You didn’t just do that, did you?” “Why yes, it was his request.” “You mean you put all his money with him in the casket?” The other said quietly, “We decided to write him a check.”
Finally, my family is only temporary. As precious as they are. Family eventually becomes memory when a family member leaves us.
There is a beautiful line in a Jewish funeral liturgy. I used it in Carl Nelson’s funeral on Friday. “All that we prize is only loaned to us, and the time comes when we must surrender it.” So true. All that I prize and cherish in my life is only on loan to me. I do not truly possess these things. And the time will come when I must give them back. All of it: identity, body, property, and family.
Jesus knows this. He knows how vulnerable we are here. He knows how scary it is for us to face the loss of these things. He knows that there are thieves and moths out there that will take these things away from us. A thief that will slip in and steal them, moths that will slip in and eat them away. (illness is a thief, for example) He knows that our wallets wear out, and the things in them disappear. He doesn’t want us to be afraid, though. He assures us that God is great giver who delights in giving us good things. And Jesus wants us to have new wallets, wallets that don’t wear out, wallets that contain the wondrous things God can give to us. He wants us to make new wallets.
How do we make new wallets? He tells us. “Sell your possessions, and give to the poor.” That’s the secret. That’s how you make the new wallet. You no longer live a grasping life, trying to hold onto things that aren’t really yours to hold onto; but instead you live a giving life, opening your hand to give to those in need. You see, when I grasp, my hands are closed; my life is closed. But if I release what is in my grasp, my hands are open and free to help those in need; and in that opening, my life itself opens up to the gifts that God wants to give me. By releasing my grasp, I open myself up to God.
Here is an example of this kind of life. Albert Lexie worked for 30 years at Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital. He was a shoeshine man. He charged five dollars to shine a pair of shoes. People usually gave him a tip of a dollar or two, perhaps more during the holidays. Albert Lexie gave every tip he made to the hospital, to a special fund for poor parents who would not otherwise be able to pay for the care. He also gave to that fund a third of all he earned. Over the course of his time there, Albert Lexie gave $200,000 to the Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital. Amazing. His is a wonderful example of a giving life over a grasping life. He didn’t grasp, he gave. And in his giving he opened his life to the marvelous gifts of God. He received immense spiritual blessings as a result of his generosity. He is a great model of the kind of life Jesus speaks of. He spent 30 years stitching his new wallet, a wallet that will never wear out.
Here are three simple ways you and I can follow in this way. 1) Give up one meal a week. Put the money you would have spent on it in an envelope. Do the same the following week and the following. After a month or two, bring the money to church and have it put in the Emergency Needs Fund that helps people when they can’t pay their bills. 2) Are you thinking about a new purchase? Not something you need, but something you want. Don’t buy it. Instead, give the money to United Methodist Relief, which does wonderful relief and disaster assistance around the world. 3) Do you have a bag of cans to return to get the ten cent deposit on each one? Don’t return them. Put them in your car, and when you see a homeless person in town, give the cans to them. That is a way the homeless make money, by finding cans to return.
These three ways may sound small and simple, but they are all examples of giving over grasping. If you make a habit of things like this they will become your way of life. Each time you do one, it will be like another stitch in your new wallet, a wallet that won’t wear out. In fact, your life itself will become the new wallet, and because of your open, generous way of being, God will fill your new wallet with precious things that can never be taken away.
For family (the picture), God will give us a new family, the family of God. The family of God is as big as the universe and as old as time. This becomes our new family.
For property (bank card), God will give us a new possession. “Do not be afraid, your Father delights in giving you the kingdom.” In the Bible it is called the kingdom, or it is called eternal life, or it is called paradise. I call it God’s unfailing love for each of us. And it becomes our possession, our property, and it will never be taken from us.
For the body (medical card), God promises us new bodies. There isn’t time to go into it here, but read 1 Corinthians 15, and you will learn about the new creation and our new bodies.
For identity (the ID card), God gives us a new identity, our identity as a beloved child of God. “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter; with you I am well pleased.”
This new family, new property, new body, and new identity take their place in our new wallet, a wallet that doesn’t wear our. These things become ours forever and always.
So let go… Let go of those things that you cannot hold onto forever. Release your grip on them. This will enable you to open your hands to help those in need. And in that opening, your very life will open up in a fresh way to the living God, the greatest Giver, who delights in giving us good things that will never go away. Amen.