Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
We haven’t had cable TV or Satellite TV channels in more than a decade now. And to tell you the truth, I never miss it. Occasionally there might be a quality program like Gerry Springer’s Family Reunion or Lady Hoggers or Storage Wars that we miss out on. You’ve heard of that last show maybe? It’s about people who rent a mini-storage and then skip town or simply can’t afford to keep all their stuff stored at the compound. The company eventually cuts the lock off the locker and they have an auction to sell off all the stuff in said locker. The company recovers some lost rental income and the lucky bidder gets all the sweet treasures inside. Film it all and you have a new hit reality TV show! The only real catch with the show is the bidding itself. It’s more or less a blind bidding as you have no idea what’s in the storage locker you are bidding on. They open the door and you can look in, but that’s it. You can go rummaging through it to see what’s really in there. It’s truly a gamble to see if there is value in there or just a bunch of junk. Sometimes they spend hundreds or thousands of dollars and get completely skunked with bags of dirty laundry and empty paint cans and other times you find thousands of dollars worth of jewellery and Elvis records. It’s anybody’s guess!
It all comes down to this concept of value. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. But what is it worth? We tend to think about value and worth in terms of money in our society. We think that people like Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook or Jeff Bezos from Amazon or Elon Musk of Tesla who as having a lot of worth because they have 600 zillion dollars. But if they were all stuck on a deserted island with no smartphones, computers, food or water, would all that worth be of any value? I’d hazard to guess no! - Unless of course any of them went to a Lutheran Church. Because then their Pastor would show up on the island in a New York Minute to rescue them and collect their tithes and offerings! - But in all seriousness, do billions and billions of dollars mean anything if you can’t buy things? Stuck on a deserted island is, well, stuck.
And this, spiritually speaking, is where we all are. Stuck. Jesus says in the Gospel reading today “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (MK 8:37). We see value in the wrong kinds of things. Stuff. Money. Possessions. Fancy cars. Luxury. Our Lord offers us this sobering thought: “For what can a man give in return for his soul?”
Our soul and it’s eternal destination is and ought to be our most prized possession. This should be the number 1 investment in our lives. Just like our body, the soul can be built up and strengthened, fed and nourished or it can be neglected, weakened and die. And what is this pearl of great price worth?! Absolutely everything! And yet today in our culture, it isn’t even on the radar. The populace remains stuck and transfixed in the worldly realm of life.
This is what always struck me about the Church Fathers and monastics who gave up all worldly connection to pursue the spiritual life. They would go off and live in solitude, often in a cave in the desert or in a little shack in the forest. No luxuries. No pursuit of money and storage lockers full of stuff they don’t use. Instead they seek the well being of their soul and spiritual lives. They pray all the time. They read and sing the scriptures. They devote themselves to repentance, fasting and helping other people. They take very seriously Jesus’ words: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (MK 8:34-35).
But do you have to be a monk or a nun to heed these words? Do you need embrace a monastic life of solitude to value the soul and spiritual depth? Is it possible? After all we have commutes and jobs and bills and kids and stuff going on! But here’s the thing. God gives every single person the same 24 hours every single day. That’s 1,440 minutes. 86,400 seconds. And this is the same for everyone. When we take a step back and look at the big picture, how much of that normally fast paced day is squandered? How many precious minutes and seconds that could be used for silence and prayer and Bible reading are just wasted on scrolling smart phone photos of what other people are eating on social media, or listening to the negative, depressing, fake-news mainstream media or driving hither and thither with radio ads blaring at you?! Smart phones now give you a weekly report about how much time you are wasting on games, TikTok, Pintrest and other junk that doesn’t matter! Check yours and see the glaring truth for yourself!
The obvious answer to the question is no, we don’t need to be monastics to heed the words of Christ. Lent reminds us of this by confronting our failures and diagnosing the sinful condition. Have we wasted the precious gift of time God gives us? You bet we have! Every single day we squander what He gives. Precious time we could be devoting to our spiritual lives is eaten up by non-sense. But the invitation still remains. Pick up your own cross and follow. Probably our arms are already full, carrying too much stuff to do that. So we need to put some things down. How about the smart phone? How about the TV remote? How about everything else that tells you “I just don’t have the time….” - It’s all lies, friends. We all have the exact same allotment of time. We simply prioritize it wrongly.
Our Savior put on flesh and came into this world to show us that He prioritizes us. He looked into the abandoned storage locker of earth and our lives and slapped the money down in full to show us how much He values us. He saw the sin, the shame, the junk piled up, the dumpster fire of our wrong priorities and how much we squander His gift of time. And with outstretched arms on the cross, He takes away our sins. He shows us exactly how much value we have, so much that He would die and rise for us. We are worth His suffering, His pain, His blood. This is amazing grace, dear friends. This is how much God values you.
Empty your hands. Pick up the cross. This is the life of a disciple who is not ashamed of Christ or His gospel. Our soul, our faith, this pearl of greatest price, this is what has ultimate value and worth. Our Lenten companions remind us of this and reinforce in us this value. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These three, they are smack dab in the middle of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that we reviewed on Ash Wednesday. They are all right there, precisely placed, because they are central to living the Christian life.
We see that the Christian life is directed towards these three focal points: God, our neighbours and our soul. Prayer orientates us towards our Lord. Almsgiving turns our gaze to the needs of our neighbours. Fasting directs our attention to our our spiritual life.
We can use the time God gives us to pray. To be with our Lord in the quietness. We can use the time God gives us to serve our neighbours with an outward focus. This is the remedy for selfishness and even depression. Be concerned for the needs of others and show them the amazing value and worth they have in the eyes of our Messiah. And finally, we can use the time God gives us to “polish the pearl” of our soul. We can fast from all the media distractions and feast on the scriptures which make us wise for salvation.
Our Lord values us, so incredibly that He endured the cross and grave for us. He invites us to pick up our cross and follow Him. We do this when we become stewards of our time and value what our Lord values in us. To our God be the glory now and forevermore. Amen!