Fear Not: A Reflection on Stewardship
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is God's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." + Luke 12: 32-34
My grandmother’s name was Nellie Caroline Myer. In her prime, she was a force to be reckoned with: tall, full-figured, and bold. She loved a good hat, a pretty dress, and fire-engine-red lipstick. Everyone called her “a real character.”
In the 1950s and 60s, with the threat of nuclear war looming like a storm cloud, Nellie stockpiled her basement with cans of tomatoes, tuna, and bean salad. During the worldwide sugar shortage of the 70s, she filled her kitchen cupboards with all kinds: brown, dark brown, refined, unrefined, and raw. And when the energy crisis came that same decade, she became obsessed with keeping the needle of her Buick’s gas gauge above three-quarters of a tank.
Every other day, she would wait in long lines to fuel up. My grandfather never could understand this, and the story goes that one day, he’d had enough. “My goodness, Nellie,” he said. “Do we really need to wait in line for gas again? We’ve got three quarters of a tank.”
Nellie answered with a line every member of my family can now recite, word for word: “Well, Jimmy, of course we have to wait in line. We’ve got to get that gas before the hoarders do!”
This story came to mind the other day as I wrestled a gigantic package of toilet paper down the stairs and into our basement - only to discover two identical, unopened packages already there. Minutes earlier I had been racing through the spacious aisles of Costco, hurriedly eating smoked almonds out of a fluted paper cup, convinced that we needed toilet paper, that we were about to run out, that there wasn’t enough.
It feels like that sometimes, doesn’t it? That there isn’t enough. With the wars and the rumors of wars plaguing Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, it feels like there isn’t enough peace. With all the racism and hate rhetoric in American politics, it feels like there isn’t enough kindness and respect to go around. With the rise of opioids such as heroin, morphine, and prescription pain relievers, it fells like there isn't enough hope and healing for individuals and families that are being torn apart, limb by limb.
A few years ago, I did a committal service for a homeless man in our congregation who had no family or loved ones to mourn his death. Standing over the broken earth and lowering down his ashes, a wave of fatigue came over me, and it felt like all the tenderness and compassion had drained out of the world. At times like that, in times like these, it feels like there just isn’t enough grace, and that all we have left are handfuls of dust and ashes.
And so, like Nellie, we wait in long lines, working as hard as we can to get ahold of as much as we can - before the hoarders do. It might be toilet paper, or clothes, or money, or status, or gadgets, or praise, or cans of bean salad. We wait, and work, and worry - because in this “not enough” wilderness of insecurity and pain, it can seem like the best we can do is cling to such things for security and solace.
Which brings us to Jesus. Just before the passage of scripture above, he delivers his most focused warning against greed, and then twirls a lily between his fingers, waxing poetic about ravens and the kingdom of God. And now he turns to us and says, "Do not be afraid! Sell your possessions! Be generous and free! Trust in God’s grace - for there is more than enough!”
And it’s not just Jesus beating this drum: he picks up on a rhythm that’s been ringing since the beginning of time. The good news of God’s abundant, sustaining grace is like a heartbeat animating the whole of scripture, from the Tree of the Knowledge in Genesis to the Tree of Life in Revelation, with those emerald green leaves that hold healing for the nations.
Fear not! Your God is the God of Genesis, who poured out her heart to create giraffes and dragon flies and forsythia. You don’t need to steal and eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge because this is all you need to know: the one who created you will sustain you, care for you, and never let you go.
Fear not! Your God is the God of Exodus, the God who hears you cry, who takes you out of slavery and into freedom, who feeds you with manna from heaven. You don’t need to squirrel away sugar for the bitter days ahead: God will provide.
Fear not! In the fullness of time, God was nourished in the waters of Mary’s womb, and became flesh in order to touch us, teach us, heal us, take our ashes right out of the ground, and bring us back to life. You don’t need to build bigger barns or stack toilet paper up to the rafters: all you need to do is trust in the grace of God.
If you had met Nellie Caroline Myer in her twilight years, you might've thought that aging was a terrible thief. She used to be a force to be reckoned with but, at the end of her life, all the hats, cars, lipstick, and canned goods were gone. Everything she owned fit perfectly into the standard-issue wardrobe of her double occupancy room at the nursing home where strong, kind people clipped her nails, wiped strawberry jam from the corners of her mouth, and transferred her three times a day from her plastic-covered bed to her wheelchair.
Sometimes, when the elevator delivered me to the fourth floor and I would find my grandmother looking small and insignificant, it would hurt my heart. But if you asked her how she was doing, she would tell you that she had everything she needed: people who care about her, a warm bed, and the inexhaustible grace of God.
Truth be told: that's all any of us need - people who care about us, a warm bed, and the inexhaustible grace of God.
In her final years on this side of glory, Nellie Caroline Myer was able to cast off all her possessions and, thanks be to God, those thieves, moths, and demons of scarcity were no longer able to hound her!
In those final years, she was able to store up all of her treasure in heaven which enabled her to wait - still smartly dressed with her lamp lit - not in a line this time, but for her master and her friend, the one whose gospel goes like this: Fear not! Fear not! God's good pleasure is to give you everything you need!