This was the third Sunday I was at the Mulberry and Arma United Methodist Churches. The Scriptures for this Sunday, the 10th Sunday after Pentecost (6 August 1995) were 2 Kings 13: 14 – 20, Colossians 3: 1 – 11, and Luke 12: 13 – 21.
As I began working on this sermon, I thought about the opening scene from the movie "Citizen Kane". The opening scene of what some call the greatest movie ever made has Kane on his deathbed whispering the word "Rosebud." No one there knew the significance of this word or why such a singular word would be the last word of the great man. At the conclusion of the movie, as the possessions of this great man are destroyed, we see the sled that he played with as a young boy with the name "Rosebud" written on it.
We are in a time where it seems like we are fearful of the future. Our relationship to other people is tedious at best. I look to the coming presidential election with a wary eye because there are signs that this may be one of the most hateful, most dirty presidential elections of all times. And even more frightening is the fact that the hatred is not be directed at the other candidates but at people in this country. We have already seen the signs of such hatred. It would also seem that people are seeking wealth and material goods because it will be the only defense against the uncertainty of the future.
And while my background may be in chemistry, it seems to me and what I know of history that these are the same conditions that preceded the Great Depression. I have my grandfather’s diary that he wrote while in the military and his description of the country at the time of Roosevelt’s inauguration in 1933 was a very bleak description.
From the title of this sermon, you can guess that there is some sort of connection to the game of Monopoly. Monopoly is a product of the period in our history we call the Great Depression. As you may now, once you own all the properties of the same color group, you have a monopoly (hence the name of the game) and you are permitted to put houses and ultimately a hotel on the property. As the number of houses increases, so does the rent the other players must pay should they land on them.
Boardwalk and Park Place represent the two most expensive properties in the game. And, for many players, the ones most prized. Yet, serious players of the game of Monopoly will tell you that if you want to win the game, you should try to get the properties at the 2nd and 3rd corners, the reds and greens. You see, analysis has shown that people are more likely to land on those properties than they are to land on either Boardwalk or Park Place. If you concentrate on trying to get the two most expensive properties and then try to get the appropriate houses and hotels, you may find that you end up losing the game.
Monopoly is a game where success comes from the acquisition of property and money. And there are people who feel that is the only way to be in real life today. Our society seems enamored with wealth and encourages all to seek more. We are nothing if we don’t have everything. Still, I saw a tee-shirt the other day with one of those great sayings "He who dies with the most toys, still dies." After all, despite all his riches, Citizen Kane died a lonely and unhappy man, wanting only the one thing money truly cannot buy, the happiness of his youth.
It might seem at first glance that a paradox exists between the readings in the Old Testament and the Gospel today. In the Gospel reading today Jesus warned us that to solely relying on material possessions was folly. Yet, Elisha got mad at Jehoash because he didn’t stamp the arrows enough. On one hand, we are warned against the gathering of materials solely to have them yet when given the opportunity we might get criticized for not taking enough. But the paradox is in not what we have in terms of material goods, but the priorities that we place on life.
As Paul points out, when we accept Jesus Christ as our own personal savior, our relationship with God changes. No longer can we allow the material things to drive us. We must turn our around our direction and completely follow Christ.
Elisha was dying and in his final moments he sought desperately to insure the kingdom of Israel. Even as he was dying, Elisha tried to save the country he loved and worked for. Yet, they did not have the faith that God would provide for their safety and security. The power of victory over evil was given to the Israelites but they did not take advantage of it. Elisha was angry with Jehoash, not because he didn’t stamp the arrows enough times, but because he did not have faith in God and would not take all that God would give him.
Jesus tells that no matter how much our material wealth is, if we are poor in Spirit then we have nothing. Tying up our lives in material things leads to nothing. Consider what happen when God took the Israelites into the Promised Land. Every day, He provided the necessary food and water. And when some took more than their share, maggots infested their food. When it was the day before the Sabbath, the Israelites were told to take enough for two days. If they didn’t, they had to would have to wait until the day after the Sabbath. God provided.
The amazing thing about God’s provisions is that it goes beyond the simple needs of life. It also includes the skills needed. Go back at look at all the times that God called a leader to duty. Moses said that he couldn’t speak so how could lead the Israelites; Jeremiah claimed he was too young. Even Peter denied the Lord. It seems like every time we are asked by God to do something, we try to get out of it. Yet, God has never left anyone whom He has called alone and without the necessary skills. When God calls for you to work for him, will you hesitate or like the verses of Hymn #593, will you answer "Here I am Lord"?
We are in a society that is going to place extraordinary demands on people in the coming years. There are those who argue against the technological changes that are coming because they will remove the human aspect from life. I would say that, when you look at live today, it may be that we have already done so. Be it at work or at rest, we have taken the soul out of our live. We no longer talk about hope and we rely on the material goods to make it through life.
Viewed from an earthly viewpoint, life on this planet may look rather bleak. It is very difficult to talk about heaven, to believe that Christ is the answer we so desperately seek when the world around us is so tied up in the very ways of life that Paul told the Colossians to forgo.
But if we change our life as Paul suggested to the Colossians, that viewpoint will change. In accepting Christ, our life is no longer centered on the gain of material things but rather is centered in Christ. Our whole live changes; our viewpoint of life changes.
When I began working on this sermon, all I could think of was wealth and associated images. Needless to say, I struggled with the sermon. But, when we focus our lives on Christ, when we let Christ direct and guide us, then life takes on a whole new meaning.
Boardwalk and Park Place are nice properties to have when playing the game of Monopoly but acquiring the most expensive properties is not necessarily the way we want to live our daily lives. And we stop to remember, Jesus does have some real nice property that has been bought and paid for with his blood. Consider what Jesus told his disciples on the night of the Last Supper.
"Set your troubled hearts at rest. Trust in God always; trust also in me. There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house; if it were not so I should have told you; for I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I shall come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also; and you know the way I am taking." (John 14: 1 – 5)
Doesn’t the palace with the many rooms seem a better piece of property?