There is an interesting grave in Jerusalem on Mount Zion. It belongs to Oskar Schindler, a member of the Nazi Party who used his enamelware and ammunitions factories to save the lives of 1200 Jews during the Holocaust.
At first Schindler was interested in the money-making potential of his businesses, but later he began protecting his workers without regard for the cost. Schindler saved them from being deported to the Nazi’s concentration camps where they would meet certain death by bribing the officers! As time went by, Schindler had to give Nazi officials larger bribes, and gifts of expensive treasures which he obtained on the black market to keep his workers.
For his bravery and compassion Schindler was named
Righteous Among the Nations by the Israeli government in
1963. When he died on October 9th, 1974, he was laid to rest on Mount Zion in Jerusalem—the only Nazi to be honored
in such a way.
Steven Spielberg turned a book about Oskar Schindler’s life into a movie titled Schindler’s List. We are simply going to watch the final scene where Schindler (played by Liam Neeson) is overcome by his inability to save more lives than he did. Listen closely as he asks himself why he didn’t let go of more material possessions to purchase more lives.
What’s interesting is that Schindler never created another successful business after the war, nor did he finish his marriage.
In his final years he lived off the charity of the Jewish persons he had saved---talk about storing up treasure in heaven instead of earthly treasure. When the cast completed filming the movie they joined the real persons they portrayed on the screen and left stones on Schlindler’s grave—Liam Neeson leaves a rose. (In the Bible, an altar is no more than a pile of stones, but it is on an altar that one offers one’s self to God. The most sacred shrine in Judaism, after all, is a pile of stones–the wall of the Second Temple.) Let’s watch:
As we listened to Jesus’ response to the rich man who wanted life with God, eternal life, Kingdom life—can we begin to see how rich, in God’s eyes,
Schindler was as we count the stones on his grave instead of gold…because he gave his life for others?
On the South Side of Billings there is a service organization called FRIENDSHIP HOUSE. Its purpose is to build friendships with the children and families who call the South Side home—to build them up in love. Friendship House has occupied their building space for over fifty years. But where did it come from?
It just so happens that there was an ecumenical group of
Christian women engaged in Bible Study in one of the member’s home on the South Side, and they were preparing for a study by baking drop cookies and bar cookies when the observed unsupervised children playing in South Park. The children were creating havoc as unsupervised children do! The women were all set to eat their cookies when Jesus’ words spoke directly to them. They had been studying the parable of the “sheep and the goats” when they heard “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.””—Matthew 25:40
These women understood that they had a choice. They could enjoy the treats they baked and continue with their weekly study as if the kids were not there---or they could do something about what they witnessed. Having taken Jesus’ words to heart, they took their cookies out to the children. This started a weekly tradition and soon they had kids lining up every day at the house waiting to talk to the women and eat their cookies. Under their direction and with the help of many, this simple ministry blossomed into Friendship House—which now houses all kinds of programs created and staffed by paid persons and volunteers—programs that speak to the needs of the neighborhood be it preschool or basketball or an open gym or counseling. Friendship House gives stability and hope to persons who might live their whole lives without either of these qualities or experiences.
As we listened to Jesus’ response to the rich man who wanted life with God—can we begin to see how rich, in
God’s eyes, these women are as we hear the stories and statistics from Friendship House—the number of persons whom they’ve taught to cook, the number of children who have meaningful relationships with safe adults, the number of adults who have had help with substance abuse? These women and their friends gave their time, talent and money for others.
What is wealth to you?
You know as well as anyone else that the answer to this question depends on who is doing the asking, correct? If it’s the world, well, we might point to all of those items the bank will take for collateral on a loan: our house, our cars, stocks, jewelry, and land.
But if it is God who is doing the counting, well, we are looking for different treasures. Jesus helps us understand that where God is concerned wealth isn’t reflected by the accumulation of stuff, it’s reflected in our ability to meet the needs of others—wealth is summed up in relationships with the living, especially the least of these. God has a tender spot for the poor—when we are in God’s eternal life—we understands that everyone is good and loveable, and the more we can give without expecting anything in return.
As you have matured, has God’s eternal life increased in you?
Stop and reflect for a minute on what you would place great value on? Do you long for time with God in prayer, are you more patient with people, are you more hopeful because you sense God’s goodness, do you practice charity—love for everyone---which translates into a deep desire to relieve people of despair?
As Jesus teaches the rich young man, we can’t have eternal life any other way. Compassion finds its soul mate in poverty, not abundance! Jesus had his best shot at becoming God when he was born into poverty. There was no competition for his heart.
“Sell you possession and follow me,” Jesus says to us in his answer to our search for God, “and let God do the rest.” What he means is that when we let go of what the world tells us is necessary in our outer life, and embrace what God tells us is necessary in our inner life, we find God. Our task is to let go of the image we are creating—so God can create us in God’s image. Like the fishermen Jesus gathered to follow him years ago—we become less interested in making a financial living and more interested in making time for God and neighbor. We become healers of humanity!
Have you found this to be true? Have you, over time, discovered that you are less impressed by stuff and status and more pressed (by what we do not know) to give yourself away— your wisdom, your possessions, your time? Have you discovered that more and more people captivate you? Your human family is bigger than your blood relatives; such a wide variety of persons call you friend? When love is genuine, the defenses are down.
A few months ago I officiated at a funeral for a lovely friend of Bev and Mark Owens. The man’s name was Jim and he lived with Down’s syndrome. So many people came to pay their respects for the life of this man. The wife of one of Jim’s brothers confessed to me recently that when she washed her husband’s pants she found a small picture of Jim in the pocket.
Jim was his treasure. He didn’t carry anything else that close.
The Good News in today’s gospel lesson is this: in the hands of God we can be something we never imaged we could ever be---healers of humanity, like Jesus. We can accumulate rocks, And Friendship Houses,
And small snapshots of persons more likely than not to go without much fanfare in the world. And God would say that this is the life that is eternal…
And then God would dare to challenge us to tell someone how it happened…that we learned to love everyone…and share without fear…did we do that…or did God?
Let us pray: Thank You, Life-giving God, for drawing out the best in us—a selfless heart, like Jesus. Amen.
(This sermon was preached by Reverend Dana Keener at Central Christian Church in Billings, Montana on October 11, 2015.)