Act now

This is a message in the series “Good counsel for a good life,” preached Aug. 25, 2019, at Edgerton United Methodist Church, Edgerton, Kansas, by the Rev. James Hopwood; from Luke 13.10-17


Some people – and you may be one of them, but I’m not pointing fingers – simply cannot drive faster than the posted speed limit. If the signs say 65, you’ll drive up to but no more than 65. Some people – and I hope you’re not one of these – make sure they don’t speed by deliberately going 5 miles below the speed limit.

These folks, frankly, drive me crazy. I suppose they do what they do because they cannot abide the notion of breaking the rules. Rules are rules, they say. If the sign says speed limit 65, that’s what it means. Speed limit. No more than 65.

Fine. Takes all kinds, I say. But sometimes rules are made to be broken.

Say you’re driving down the highway at no more than the posted 65 miles per hour, and one of your passengers becomes suddenly, violently, gravely ill. She’s choking. She can’t breathe. She is in great distress. Would you drive faster to get her to a hospital, if you could do so safely? Of course, you would. It’s a matter of priority. Hang the speed limit. The welfare of a human being comes first.

The traffic rule is relatively insignificant. Its value pales in comparison to the value of a human life. If you can safely break the rule to save a life, you probably should do it.

Jesus broke a lot of rules in his day. Today we’ll explore part of what that can mean for us in our day.

It’s the Sabbath – Saturday by our reckoning – and Jesus is teaching in a local synagogue. No doubt his reputation has preceded him, so the synagogue leaders are pleased to have him, but maybe also apprehensive about what he will say and do.

As a teacher, he has been known to say some pretty outrageous things. As a healer – well, healing is a wonderful thing, but he has been known to heal people on the Sabbath. Strictly speaking, that’s forbidden. It’s against the rules. And Jesus is known for breaking the rules.

Sure enough, into the synagogue comes a woman who has an obvious problem. She walks bent over, and the curvature of her back makes it obvious that she cannot stand up straight.

Several medical conditions could cause this kind of deformity, including severe arthritis. Just the other day, I saw a man who walked so bent over that he could not crane his head far back enough to see ahead of him. He needed someone to guide him so he wouldn’t walk into things.

This woman has suffered with her condition for 18 years. Our gospel says it was caused by a demon or evil spirit that had taken up residence in her. Most forms of illness in that day and age were attributed to bad spirits.

Whatever the cause, her condition ruled her life. Besides the obvious constraints it placed on her everyday activities, she also was marginalized, if not outcast, in the town. It takes a courage for her to walk into the synagogue this day and risk being politely ushered back out into the street. Because of her demonic possession, she’s considered unclean and untouchable.

As soon as he sees her, Jesus calls her over to him. That, in itself, is exceptional. She’s supposed to stay on the women’s side of the room. Then he says, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” Then he lays hands on her – another exceptional act. Miraculously, she is able to stand up straight, and she praises God for her cure.

The leader of the synagogue is aghast. Not once but several times, he tells the people, “There are six days of the week on which work can be done. He could have healed her on one of those days, not on the sabbath, when work is forbidden.”

His point is simple, and as far as it goes, perhaps accurate. If a person’s life is at stake, that consideration could overrule a sabbath restriction. But this woman has suffered from this problem for many years and is in no immediate danger. What is one more day going to matter?

To Jesus, even one more day of suffering is intolerable. “Hypocrites!” he says. “If your ox or donkey was thirsty on the sabbath, wouldn’t you untie it and lead it to water? It wouldn’t die without water for one day. But you would break the law to get the animal a drink, wouldn’t you?”

And then the clincher, as far as he is concerned: “Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for 18 long years, be set from this bondage on the sabbath?”

Part of what they’re arguing about is an interpretation of one of the 10 Commandments. There are two versions of the 10 Commandments in scripture, and they give different reasons for observing the sabbath.

The version that’s found in Exodus chapter 20 says: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. … For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh.”

God stopped working. So should you. End of story.

But the version of the commandment found in Deuteronomy 5 provides a different motivation. “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5.15).

In Deuteronomy, sabbath is a day to cease work in order to celebrate freedom. It’s a day of celebration as well as a day of rest. So in the mind of Jesus and others who interpret the law this way, it makes perfect sense to heal the woman on the sabbath. Jesus sets her free from bondage on the day that celebrates freedom from bondage. Glory to God!

Jesus sets her free from the ailment that has crippled her for 18 long years.

Jesus sets her free from the demon the caused her crippling.

Jesus sets her free from the shame of demon possession and marginalization within her own community.

Jesus sets her free from the state of ritual impurity that she has lived in because of her illness. By touching her, he reverses the contamination of her condition. Power flows from him to her, cleansing her and healing her.

In one act, Jesus accomplishes so much to help this woman.

The leader the synagogue and his allies probably still don’t get it, but the common folk in the synagogue do, and they are delighted. In their eyes, Jesus’ opponents are put to shame for the shabby way they treat this woman.

If God gave this day to humans as a day of rest, Jesus reasons, it should not be made a day on which some humans impose new burdens on others.

For, he says, “The Sabbath was created for humans. Humans weren’t created for the Sabbath. Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord even over the sabbath” (Mark 2.27-28).

Doubtless, the leaders of synagogues did not set out to create new burdens for others, but that is the effect of what they did. What they were trying to do, most likely, is called “fencing the Torah.”

The idea comes from Deuteronomy 22.8, where you are told to build a parapet around your flat roof so no one will fall off it, get hurt and have cause to sue you. Similarly, the interpreters of Torah built fences around laws to keep people from breaking the laws.

In the same way, we build fences around our houses to keep errant drivers from plowing into our living rooms. Driving 5 miles under the speed limit is fencing the speed law to make sure you don’t break it.

The intent is good. Jesus himself builds some tall fences around the Torah. For example, he says, “You’ve heard it said, ‘Don’t commit adultery.’ I say, if you look at someone with lust, you’ve already committed adultery in your heart” (Matthew 5.27-28).

But problems arise when we mistake the fence for the law the fence is trying to protect. Problems arise when we make the fence into a new law and enforce it so rigidly that we lose sight of the intent of law itself. That’s what some religious leaders in Jesus’ time have done, and that’s why the gospels record so many spats between them and Jesus.

They confuse human and divine teaching, Jesus says, and they lay heavy burdens on the shoulders of others (Mark 7.7, Matthew 23.4).

Sometimes today we frame the argument like this. Which takes precedence: rules or relationship? The rules were designed to foster human relationship, so when the rules fail to do that, relationship must reign over rules.

Love, not legalism, must reign in our hearts and our lives. When we view the Bible as a list of rules we have to follow, we are missing the point of the whole thing. The rules are there to guide us into and keep us in proper relationship with God and others. It’s the relationship that’s most important, not the rules designed to foster the relationship.

Just as the sabbath was created for humans, not humans created for the sabbath, so rules were created for humans; humans were not created for rules. And Jesus is not only Lord of the sabbath. Jesus also is Lord of all rules.

Understand, I’m not saying that rules have no value. I once knew a fellow who violated a safety rule in a factory. His mistake could have gotten himself and others seriously injured or killed. He lost his job, but he now knows the importance of following safety rules.

But when we enforce rules that hurt others, rules that marginalize others, rules that belittle others, rules that trivialize others, we cannot simply shrug and say, “I’m just following the rules.” No, we’re allowing ourselves to be used for evil purposes, and we are using rules as an excuse.

One of the great tragedies of modern Christianity is the way that American evangelicalism has succumbed to the reign of rules enforced by male authority figures. The Pharisees of Jesus’ time might have been proud. I doubt that Jesus is.

What’s the practical application of today’s scripture reading? Simple. People come first. Rules come second. Rules serve people. People don’t serve rules. If you’ve got a chance to do good, don’t wait for a better moment. Do it now.

In his first appearance at a synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus announces his mission statement, which he takes from the prophecy of Isaiah. “The Spirt of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4.18-19, Isaiah 61.1-2).

The sabbath and the Lord’s Day are good days to do these things. But every day of the week is a good day to bring good news to the poor. Every day of the week is a good day to proclaim release to the captives. Every day is a good day to proclaim recovery of sight to the blind. Every day is a good day to free the oppressed and announce the time of the Lord’s favor.

Every day is a good time to proclaim the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ. Every day is now. The time is now – so act now, before it’s too late.


Keep alert

“Keep alert” is a message in the series “Good counsel for a good life,” preached Aug. 18, 2019, at Edgerton United Methodist Church, Edgerton, Kansas, by the Rev. James Hopwood; from Matthew 25.1-13 and Luke 12.35-40.


It doesn’t happen to most of us nearly as often as it might have in the past, so it’s always shocking when the power goes off. Suddenly, it’s a lot darker than it was, and in an instant the steady hum of the air conditioner or furnace or refrigerator is replaced by the sound of … nothing … except gasps of surprise and dismay.

Maybe you were at a dramatic moment in your favorite TV show, or you were making bread dough in the electric mixer, or straining your eyes trying to tie a tiny fishing fly or sew a button on a shirt, or reading a good book…

The list of common things you could have been doing is long. But now you can’t do any of them because you’re sitting in the dark, wondering when the power will come back on and hoping it’s soon because you have a lot of things you want to do – and if the heat or AC doesn’t come back on soon, you’re going to start to get uncomfortable.

If the power is off long enough, you may want to dig in the closet for some candles and your storm lamps – those oil lamps you inherited from grandma with the cloth wick and the sooty smoke and the smell that lingers long after the lamp is put out.

It hasn’t been that long since the whole world was lighted that way, and much of it still is. To survive in our world, even if you have electricity, you need some sort of lamp to light your way.

Lamps and light are mentioned frequently in scripture. I’m going to focus today at two stories that Jesus tells about lamps, and about readiness for the unexpected. As we proceed, keep in the back of your mind the idea of the lights going out.

The first story Jesus tells is from Matthew’s gospel. It’s a parable – that is, a story in which one thing is set aside another for comparison, to make a certain point. In this story, the subject is the kingdom of God, and the story that’s set aside it for comparison concerns 10 bridesmaids.

Each has a lamp she will use to light the way for the bridegroom into the wedding banquet. It’s likely a small lamp that can be held in the palm of her hand. Half the bridesmaids think this through and carry with them a small flask of oil to replenish their lamps, should the night go longer than expected. Half the bridesmaids don’t think ahead and don’t carry extra oil.

Naturally, the bridegroom is delayed in arriving. When finally he arrives, everyone jumps up with their lamps to greet him. But the foolish bridesmaids who didn’t think ahead now realize that they don’t have enough oil to last very long. And the wise bridesmaids who did think ahead don’t have enough oil to share, so the foolish bridesmaids run off to buy more oil.

We could chastise the wise bridesmaids for not sharing, but this parable isn’t about sharing. It’s about being ready. The foolish bridesmaids pay the price for not being ready. When they get back to the party, the door has been shut, and they can’t get in. “Who are you?” the bridegroom asks.

So, Jesus says, keep awake, because you don’t know the day or the hour when the bridegroom is coming.

Jesus is the bridegroom, of course. He refers to himself that way several times. So if this story tells us something about God’s kingdom, it must be that we can’t know when Jesus is coming to usher in the kingdom in all its glory, so we’d better be ready at all times.

How do we do that?

The second story comes from Luke’s gospel. It begins with Jesus saying, “Be dressed for action, and have your lamps lit.”

Neither of these stories directly address the issue of being properly dressed. That comes up in another story from Matthew (Matthew 22.11-13). A king is throwing a wedding banquet for his son, and he notices a guest who is not wearing a wedding robe. He says, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” The guest offers no excuse, and the king has him thrown out.

“Be dressed for action, and have your lamps lit,” Jesus says.

The characters in this story apparently are household slaves. They want to be ready when their master returns from the wedding banquet, even if he is delayed for some reason. They’ll be happy if they’re alert and ready when he returns, even if it’s in the middle of the night, even if it’s almost dawn. And here’s an unexpected turn. If he finds them alert and ready, he’ll take off his wedding duds and put on his serving clothes, and he will serve them!

What’s up with that? We’ll return to that in a moment.

“You must be ready,” Jesus says, “for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

How unexpected an hour? Suppose that your house is broken into one night, and the thief quietly makes off with some of your most valuable possessions, and you sleep through the whole thing. What do you say the next morning when you discover the burglary? “I wish I’d been awake when that guy broke in! If I’d known he was coming, I would have stayed awake and stopped him!”

But he didn’t call you ahead of time to say, “Hey, I’m coming to rob your house tonight.” You didn’t know when he was coming, and you didn’t stay awake, and you got robbed. Well, you can’t stay up all night every night, can you? You’ve got to know when the thief is coming. You can’t stay on high alert forever.

You just can’t. It is physically impossible. If you try, you will wear yourself out physically and mentally and every other way there is, and you’ll suffer a breakdown.

Remember a few years ago when the country was in a panic about foreign terror attacks? There were five security levels: green for low, blue for guarded, yellow for elevated, orange for high, and red for imminent. The system was quickly abandoned because it was too complicated and too confusing, and it rarely dipped below yellow, so people were kept in a constant state of semi-panic, ready to jump to real panic and hyper panic at any moment.

On some naval vessels and imaginary starships of the future, the captain calls for Battle Stations when the threat of danger is high. But you can’t keep your people on high alert for very long. After awhile, you have to let them stand down. If you don’t, sheer nervousness is liable to lead to a tragic mistake.

So, if you can’t be on Red Alert all the time, why is Jesus telling us to be on Red Alert all the time?

Or is that what he’s telling us? I don’t think it is.

Be awake, be alert, be ready, he says. Be dressed for action, have your lamps lit, and have some extra fuel handy if my return is delayed. Which it will be, of course. Why else would he tell us to be prepared for delay?

The “thief in the night” story is powerful. Be ready, or you’ll be sorry. But that’s not Jesus’ primary message. His primary message is the opposite: Be ready and you’ll be glad.

Or as my seminary preaching teacher Gene Lowry puts it, “position yourself to be surprised.”

“Look, I’m coming like a thief in the night,” Jesus says (Revelation 3.3, 16.15; 1 Thessalonians 5.2, 2 Peter 3.10). And if he catches you ready, what happens? He takes off his wedding duds and puts on his serving duds, and he serves you. Read the story in the 13th chapter of John’s gospel about Jesus washing the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper, and you’ll see an amazing parallel to this story in Luke.

Be ready, and you’ll be blessed. Be ready, and you’ll be happy.

That’s a far cry from the message you’ll get from popular, toxic, so-called evangelical Christianity. You’ve seen the bumper sticker or Facebook meme: “Jesus is coming. Look busy.” That’s supposed to be ironic, but it’s often taken seriously, as a solemn warning. Jesus is coming, and he’d better not catch you napping, so if all you’re doing is leaning on that shovel, at least keep one eye open so when the boss appears you can raise your head and pretend that you’ve been busy.

You ought to be aware that Jesus is not fooled by counterfeit Christian activity, and if that’s what you’re relying on to save you, you may find yourself pounding on that door, saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us” and hearing Jesus saying, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.”

Another thing. Don’t look for signs. I know that all the hack TV preachers love to go on about “signs of the end times,” and “signs that Jesus’ return is near,” and all that rot, but Jesus makes it clear several times in several ways that there are no signs.

That’s why you have to be ready. Like the thief who wants to break into your home, Jesus is not going to call you ahead of time and say, “Hey, I’m coming.” He’ll come when the time is right, and you want to be ready. You want to be ready not because he’ll slap you silly if he catches you napping. You want to be ready because if you’re napping, you’ll miss one big party where you’re a featured guest.

So how do you stay ready?

Let’s circle back to where we began, talking about when the electricity goes out. How do you get ready for that? Some folks have powerful generators that kick in the moment the power fails. Even those require a certain amount of maintenance, or they’ll just sputter and die, and what you sputter afterward isn’t for repeating in public.

If you don’t have a super generator at your house, you need to be ready for a blackout. That means you have some flashlights in easy-to-get-to places, and extra batteries. You don’t want to be like those foolish bridesmaids, after all. And you want to have candles and those oil lamps and extra oil in a place that’s relatively easy to get to in low light, so you’re not tripping through the basement in the dark looking for them. (I did that once. Never again.)

The point is, you don’t have to live on pins and needles. You don’t have to live on Red Alert. You just have to be ready in case it happens. And if it’s that simple to prepare for something bad happening, can it be any harder to prepare for something good happening?

The foolish bridesmaids were foolish in that they were not prepared to welcome the bridegroom. They thought they were, until the time came, and then they realized that they weren’t ready at all. How can we be sure we’re ready?

What does it mean to be ready? Read the gospels, and you’ll know. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12.30-31).

Keep short accounts, Jesus says. If you have a problem with somebody, make it right fast (Matthew 5.23-26). Or, as the Apostle Paul interprets it, as far as you are able, live peaceably with everyone (Romans 12.18).

I could go on, but I hope you’re with me. There is no room here for hatred or bigotry of any kind, especially bigotry that you think is protected by religious privilege. If you think you’re better than someone because you’re a Christian and he’s not, or you’re a better Christian than she is, or any other superiority complex you may have, I ask you to think again.

Think of the humble carpenter from Nazareth who gave his life for all, not just for the religious elite. Think of the one who promises that if he catches you alert and ready, he’ll make you the center of the party.

Be ready for Jesus’ delay, and be ready for his sudden arrival. Be ready, and you’ll be blessed. Be ready, and you’ll be happy.

And the power will never go off again.


Don’t worry

“Don’t worry” is a message in the series “Good counsel for a good life,” preached Aug. 11, 2019, at Edgerton United Methodist Church, Edgerton, Kansas, by the Rev. James Hopwood; from Luke 12.22-34.


I find this to be one of the most challenging passages in all of scripture. It’s one that some preachers and commentators approach wearing tap shoes so they can make a pretty show of dancing around it. I hope I am not doing that this morning.

You may have thought that you were challenged by last week’s reading, where Jesus cautioned against greed, and said, “Your life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

That’s challenging enough. But in today’s reading he continues meditating on our attitude about what is enough and what brings us true security. He has shown us that neither money nor possessions offer us security. Instead, they provoke the very opposite in us. They inspire insecurity. They inspire fear.

Today he essentially says, as that Bobby McFerrin song has it, “Don’t worry. Be happy.” Well, there’s more to it than that, and that’s where the challenge comes in. We live in a world of much worry and unhappiness. To get to a world of less worry and more happiness, we need a revolution in attitude. We need a complete change of mind. What we need to do, Jesus tells us, is learn to rely on God rather than on our own strength.

It is a learning process – and a long one involving many false steps forward and many tumbles backward. That’s how we learn, though, isn’t it? Through trial and error, mostly through error. It’s often said that success rarely teaches you anything, but mistakes offer major learning opportunities. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had plenty of learning opportunities in my life, and I continue to have them. God can use them all to tutor us to rely on God’s grace instead of our own insight.

I’m not sure I can begin to adequately imagine a state of non-worry. It may be close to what the Hindus and Buddhists call nirvana, which is a state of enlightenment that liberates you from the cares of this world.

Maybe it’s not that the worries of the world go away. Maybe it’s that we simply no longer worry about them. The difference is inside us. It’s not that we cease to care about our troubles or the troubles of others, or that we cease to fight evil and work for good. We still care deeply, and we still battle for God and for good. But we no longer suffer from anxiety about these things. We leave the outcome in God’s hands, confident that God will handle it.

Today’s reading is a continuation of the story we considered last Sunday about the rich fool. He thought the answer to his anxiety was bigger barns for storing his riches. He stored up treasure for himself, but was not rich toward God or neighbor, and he lost it all.

“Therefore,” Jesus begins. That’s the hinge that unites these two sections of scripture. That’s the setup for this lesson. “Therefore,” Jesus tells us, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.”

“Consider the ravens. They neither sow nor reap, yet God feeds them. Consider the lilies. They neither toil nor spin, yet how magnificently they are clothed.

“Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? If you can’t do such a small thing as that, why worry about the bigger things?”

This is hard for us to hear, but it was probably harder for Jesus’ original listeners. Many of them were tenant farmers. They had been forced into debt and then forced off their land by the rich. Now they live day to day, working for a wage so small it could barely feed one person, let alone a family. Their lives are full of anxiety. Some days they simply do not know how they are going to survive.

“Don’t worry,” Jesus tells them. How can they not worry?

I once was acquainted with a woman named Lorenza Smith. She was United Methodist clergy at the time. At her urging, her bishop in Southwest Texas appointed her to minister to homeless people, and so she did for several years, living on the streets as a homeless person.

She says there wasn’t a single moment of a single day that she didn’t think about where she was going to find food and shelter, where she was going to find a restroom, where she was going to get warm or cool off, where she was going to find a comfortable and safe place to sleep, where she was going to find a place where she could just relax and try not to think about things, and so on.

She tried to trust God that everything would be OK, but she could not shake the anxieties of her situation.

You’ve got to care. That’s part of the point Jesus is trying to make. If God takes care of the birds and the flowers, won’t God take care of you, you of so little faith?

Nor can any of us escape the anxieties of our situations. And it’s not escape Jesus is talking about. Not worrying about something won’t make it go away. Jesus is not telling us to cease caring about how things work out. That’s the attitude personified by the character of Alfred E. Neuman of Mad Magazine fame. His motto: “What, me worry?” No, he’s not one to worry about someone else. His is the attitude of the rich fool.

It’s a profoundly comforting thought, but many people don’t accept it. Our national anxiety level approaches the panic point. How do we deal with our anxieties? The leading cause of death of Americans younger than 50 is drug overdose – and two thirds of those deaths are from opioids.

We live in a society that believes there is a pill for every problem – and if there isn’t, there should be. That attitude is encouraged by the drug companies, of course, and by the insurance companies, which will pay billions of dollars for pills but hesitate to cover real remedies.

Speaking of hot, not to mention wet, the weather patterns are weird and unpredictable. Everybody knows that if we don’t change our ways, even worse days are coming because of climate change – but the Alfred E. Neuman in the White House and his shady minions are in full-force denial, for the same reason that the drug and insurance companies push pills. It’s good for their business.

What have we got to be anxious about? We’re in the midst of multiple trade wars that threaten to cripple the world economy, and threats of shooting wars are mounting in multiple hot spots, not to mention the daily carnage of shootings on our city streets.

Opioid addiction typically starts out as a prescription for painkillers after surgery or an accident. Then the painkiller becomes a recreational drug. That’s how we describe it, though there’s nothing recreational about it. The drug is an anxiety suppressant.

Still, polls show that the greatest contributor to our national anxiety index is as old as the hills: We’re worried about paying our bills. That brings us back to the issue of money and possessions.

I read a story the other day about a fellow named Doug Lynam. He grew up in a rich family where money was used to manipulate and hurt others. He tried to escape the clutches of money, first by becoming a Marine, then by becoming a monk. But money woes followed him. After he had served in a Benedictine monastery for 20 years, it went broke. Imagine the irony: You live in voluntary poverty and you still can’t pay your bills!

In his life experiences, Lynam says he learned that selfish materialism is destructive and extreme poverty is painful. He sought a middle way and found a new calling. Now he helps people manage their money so they can afford to retire.

“Building wealth ethically isn’t about being selfish,” he says. “It’s discovering the joy of using money to make the world a better place without compromising your financial future.” ** 

That sounds exactly the opposite of what Jesus says, but I’m not sure it is. Jesus says, “Sell your possessions, and give alms.” He is not – at least not here – telling us to sell everything we have. Rather, he’s telling us to lighten the load of possessions we carry, and to share what we have with those who have less. The goal is not to impoverish everyone but for those of us who have more to live with less so that those with less can have more.

The Apostle Paul traces this attitude back to the formative days of Israel. He points to a scripture that promotes fair balance, so that the one who has much does not have too much, and the one who has little does not have too little. (2 Corinthians 8.15, quoting Exodus 16.18)

The scripture he quotes is from the story of the gathering of manna during Israel’s long wandering in the wilderness. God provided the manna every morning, and families were told to gather as much as they needed, but no more, because any extra would become infested with worms and rot. It’s an experience many people have had with wealth and an abundance of possessions. Get too much, and it rots.

The question is not, “How much do you want?” The question is, “How much do you need?”

I don’t think Jesus is telling us to stop saving for a rainy day or putting some aside for the kids’ (or grandkids’) college fund, or anything like that. He’s saying, don’t be anxious about these things, for anxiety leads to greed, and greed will enslave you. God has set you free, so live in freedom from worry, but don’t be a hoarder. Share generously what you have so that others who don’t have as much will have less to worry about.

Be thankful that you don’t have to be anxious about your next meal, or where you will lay your head at night. Be thankful that you’ve got plenty of clothing already, and you don’t have to spend major amounts of money on fashionable duds because it’s expected of you in your profession or social circle. Be thankful that you have enough, so you needn’t be anxious about how you’ll eat or what you’ll wear tomorrow. Be thankful for what you have, and enjoy the warm feeling such gratitude gives you.

Finally, Jesus says, “Your heavenly Father knows your needs, so strive for God’s kingdom, and your needs will be given to you as well as God’s kingdom.”

Here is key to it all. “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus says, “for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

What is God’s kingdom? The gospel of Matthew sometimes calls it “the kingdom of heaven,” and that gives some people the idea that the kingdom is a reward that comes in the afterlife. But Matthew isn’t talking about the next life. He’s talking about this one.

The kingdom of God can also be called the reign of God, the rule of God, the dominion of God. It’s not a geographic location or a place in future time. It’s a way of living where God’s people rely on God’s providence rather than on their own strength. It’s a dominion of love, where human hearts have been liberated by God’s love. And, despite some evidence to the contrary, we believe that the reign of God is growing and will keep growing until God brings it to fullness.

We need a revolution in attitude. We need a complete change of mind. We need to learn to rely on God rather than on our own strength. God can teach us the way. Jesus invites us to place ourselves under God’s liberating rule of love.

Because of God’s liberating rule, you are free not to worry. Because of God’s liberating rule, you are free not to be anxious about your life. Because of God’s liberating rule, you are free to generously share what you have to improve the lives of others. Because of God’s liberating rule, you are free to trust God, not worry, and be happy. So, just do it.


** “Building Wealth with a Higher Purpose,” Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, July 2019, 10. Ron Lieber, “The Monk Who Left the Monastery to Fix Broken Retirement Plans.” The New York Times, June 9, 2017. See also

Who’s welcome?

Hats off to the teachers in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, who pushed back at being required to attend a meeting at an anti-gay church.

Thanks to their protest, administrators moved the meeting to a neutral site.

The church’s website proudly proclaims that “homosexuality is a perversion of God’s natural order of one man for one woman.”

The church’s pastor says, “We welcome everyone.”

Really? Even those you say are perverts?

Is there a sign in front of the church saying, “Perverts welcome”?

Really, how much of a “welcome” can a homosexual expect at a church like this?

I would change the church’s proclamation to read: “Anti-gay evangelicalism is a perversion of God’s intent for Christianity.”

Invest well

A message in the series “Good counsel for a good life,” preached Aug. 4, 2019, at Edgerton United Methodist Church, Edgerton, Kansas, by the Rev. James Hopwood; from Luke 12.13-21, commonly called the story of the rich fool.


Oh, no, you’re thinking, he’s going talk about how we’re too attached to money, or how we have too many possessions. Well, whatever he says, I’m not giving up my Patrick Mahomes bobblehead!

No more than I will part with my John Wesley bobblehead!

Actually, what I’m thinking about today is investment strategy. My question is: Are bobbleheads a good investment?

This is another message in the series Good Counsel for a Good Life. It’s based on stories by and about Jesus while he’s making his last journey to Jerusalem.

He is teaching one day when someone pops up and says, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”

If you’ve ever been involved in an inheritance dispute, or know someone who has, you know that it’s among the most bitterly contested and hurtful experiences a family can endure. Jesus has no intention of getting involved in this one, especially when the man tries to triangle him in public against his brother.

“Friend,” he asks, “who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”

Then he moves directly to the heart of the matter, which is at the heart of so much human heartbreak and misery – and that is greed. “Be on guard against greed in all its forms,” Jesus says, “for your life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

It doesn’t? Somebody ought to tell the advertising industry! Billions of dollars are spent each year to convince you that you are nothing without the right possessions, and your greatest possessions of all are your health and your beauty. Even if you die tomorrow, you want to make a gorgeous corpse that will be the envy of all your friends.

You can’t take it with you. We all know that. You’ll never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer chock full of items necessary for the afterlife. But you will occasionally hear about the guy who’s buried with his T-Bird. Talk about greed! No one else will ever get any use or pleasure out of that car. Fun, fun, fun till daddy takes the T-Bird away!

To illustrate the problem of improper attachment to mere stuff, Jesus tells a story. Of course, he does. He loves to tell stories.

It seems that a rich man’s land produces a bumper crop – so much grain that he doesn’t know where he’ll store it all. So he thinks to himself (happily, Jesus takes us inside his head) – he thinks to himself, “I know what I’ll do! I’ll tear down my barns and build larger ones, and then I’ll have plenty of space to store all my crops and all my other stuff.

“And then I’ll say to my soul, ‘Soul, you’ve got it made! Time to relax, eat, drink and be merry.’ ”

But God has other plans. He says to the rich man: He says to the rich man: ‘You fool!’

Strong language from God, right?

‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And all of your stuff, where will it go, whose will it become?”

“So it is,” Jesus concludes, “with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Adam Hamilton, pastor of Church of the Resurrection, cautions you to realize that sooner or later, all of your possessions will wind up in somebody else’s garage sale. Unless some of it happens to land in a museum or in the trash, all the possessions you cherish now will be sold for a pittance in a rummage sale.

Your most beloved stuff may be passed down for a couple of generations, but then one of your descendants will say, “I tired of looking at this junk,” and away it goes.

Well, didn’t you do the same with that hideous vase that was lovingly left to you by your Aunt Matilda? It’s her you want to remember, not the vase, and the vase does not inspire good memories.

Have you ever wondered why some homeless people are constantly pushing around a shopping cart with all their possessions piled onto it? It’s because they have no place to keep their stuff that’s safe from theft. So they have to keep an eye on it at all times. They’re homeless, see. One definition of a home is a place to stash all your stuff.

Some of our homes aren’t big enough, so we rent storage units, and when those are full, we rent bigger storage units. We take comfort knowing that it’s there, though sometimes we have to drop by just to make sure it is, in fact, still there, and someone hasn’t run off with it.

There is said to be big money to be made buying the contents of storage units that have been abandoned. You bid for the contents sight unseen, so you never know what kind of trash or treasure somebody may have left behind.

There are two counter-trends today. One is the tiny house. There are projects in Kansas City and elsewhere to build neighborhoods of tiny houses for homeless veterans. It’s an innovative and humane approach to a national problem.

Meantime, a surprising number of people are abandoning the sprawling suburban manse for a tiny house on a tiny lot. How tiny? Some houses are smaller than 400 square feet. That’s smaller than most so-called “studio” apartments. Forget about the bobblehead collection. No room for it here!

Some tiny houses are built on trailers so they can be moved easily when the scenery in one spot gets boring. (I wonder why they don’t just buy a camper?) Some tiny homes are even made from recycled shipping containers. Go over to the Intermodal and pick out your new home! If you don’t want to remodel it yourself, you can even buy one premade on Amazon.

The other counter-trend is decluttering. The queen of this is Marie Kondo, whose Kon Mari method has swept the world. Go through everything you’ve got, she says, and ask yourself, “Does this make me happy?” If a possession doesn’t bring you joy, pitch it.

It’s an interesting philosophy, and I’m sure we could all benefit from trying it out. My wife, Linda, and I are constantly playing this game. We have accumulated far too much stuff, and we need to get rid of much of it. My idea would be to back up a trailer and start throwing stuff in. Linda wants to be more methodical about it. Methodical is too slow, I say. Get rid of it now, and be done with it.

I’m at the age when I’m ready to engage in what’s called “Swedish death cleaning.” Basically, it’s getting rid of all your excess stuff so your kids won’t have to do it when you die. Tell them you’re doing it now, and they’ll thank you for it, now as well as later.

Theoretically, all this effort gets you down to only possessions that you admire – comfortable and attractive furniture, good books and music, some artwork that delights you, maybe a few tools you enjoy using. You want to get down to things that are useful and good for you. But this is a purely materialistic approach to life, isn’t it? It ignores an important question: Can things really make you happy?

Jesus says your life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. But don’t we spend most of our lives in pursuit of more possessions? Possessions are like money. Apparently you can never have enough. It’s more, more, more till your creditors take the T-Bird away.

I think there are three basic attitudes toward money. Poor people are afraid they can’t get by with the little they have. Rich people are afraid that they’re going to lose the pile they have. People who are neither rich nor poor are afraid to get comfortable with what they have because they know how hard it is to get and how easy it is to lose.

Notice that these three attitudes have a common denominator, and that is fear. We think that money will give us security, but no matter how much of it we have, money never provides security. In fact, money creates insecurity. Money creates fear. Some of us are more comfortable than others in our fear, but we’re all afraid.

Jesus would say that your life does not consist in the amount of money you have in the bank, or invested in stocks, or stuffed in an old sock, or buried in the back yard, or wherever you keep it. Sure, money can make life a lot easier in many ways. But remember this: Jesus, who was probably the most joyful person who ever lived, was dirt poor all his life, and at the end all he possessed was what he wore on his back.

What did the rich man get wrong, and what do we so often get wrong as well?

Is there anything wrong with being happy when you have a bumper crop? Certainly not.

Is there anything wrong with trying to find a good way of storing the grain from that bumper crop? Certainly not. Letting it go to waste would be poor stewardship.

Is there even anything wrong with tearing down old barns and building bigger new ones? It might be more efficient to simply build some new barns rather than demolish perfectly good ones and replace them with bigger ones. But this is hardly a capital crime.

Where does the rich man go wrong?

Is it when he says to his soul, “‘Soul, it’s time to relax, eat, drink and be merry.” Some people find it hard to accept that notion, but it’s biblical enough. “This is the gift of God,” Ecclesiastes 3:13 says, “that all people should eat, drink, and enjoy the results of their hard work.”

So what’s the problem? Simple. It’s greed. The rich man is focused totally on himself. He cares neither for God nor for neighbor. He stores up treasures for himself, but he is not rich toward God, nor toward his neighbor.

Jesus steers us another direction. He says: “Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them.

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6.19-21, Luke 12.34)

Where’s your treasure? Where’s your heart? What’s your lifetime investment strategy?

You can surround yourself with stuff, the collection of a lifetime. Or you can invest your life serving God and others. You’ll find some satisfaction with your stuff. It’s OK to eat, drink and be merry. But these things aren’t what’s most important. What’s most important are the relationships of your life. People are your treasure. People are where your heart should be, not stuff.

What do people always say when their homes and all their possessions are swept away by flood, fire, or tornado? “Those are just things. They can be replaced. Thank God no one was hurt.”

Your friends and your loved ones are worth far more to you than your bobblehead collection. When you invest in people, rather than stuff, you’ve made an investment in heaven. Invest well, Jesus says, and you will reap a bountiful return.


Spinning wheel

I had a profoundly unsettling experience this week.

On Tuesday morning I was pulling weeds in our south garden, which is sloping and has rock terracing. After about 20 minutes, I started to feel dizzy. I worked a little longer, then decided I needed to quit. By this time, I was so dizzy that I didn’t feel confident standing. I crawled up the rock terracing to level ground and was able to walk the rest of the way inside.

I figured that I was dehydrated, so I spent the rest of the day indoors, guzzling water.

Wednesday was rainy, so I stayed indoors most of the time. Early that evening, as I was sitting in the living room, the world started spinning. I’d had vertigo before, so I wasn’t alarmed – but then things escalated.

I felt hot and clammy, then was overwhelmed by nausea. I couldn’t make myself stand up, so I fell forward onto the floor, then crawled to the bathroom. I made it just in time and felt a little better afterward. In the middle of the night, powerful nausea awakened me, followed by more sickness.

I had another attack Thursday morning, so it was time to see the doctor. Happily, Linda had bailed on a commitment and stayed home to care for me. The doctor (actually, he was a physician’s assistant) told me that the vertigo was caused by an infection in both ears. The infection probably was caused by allergies. If I take my medicine, I should be better in a week or so.

Wednesday night (or was it Thursday morning?), I kept wondering, “How can my head be spinning and I feel like I’m falling, when I’m lying flat with my eyes closed?” And, “I don’t remember ever feeling this awful before.” And, “What’s wrong with me?”  

Can you imagine how comforting it was to hear that it was caused by an ear infection?

Praise God, it was nothing worse. It feels great to walk without fear of falling. It feels great to read without the words bouncing around. If feels great to be alive, and healthy. Praise God, indeed!