Sunday, June 10, 2012

Treasures in heaven

Luke 12:32-34 (NIV)

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Did you ever see that episode of “Night Court” where Bull gets struck by lightning? His heart stops beating for a few minutes, but he comes back to life and wants to get back to work. Believing he’s heard the voice of God telling him to sell his possessions and give to the poor, he proceeds to do just that, dispensing his entire savings account ($27,516.37) to a parade of misfits readily found in Judge Stone’s courtroom.

As the bald deputy put it: “God said, ‘Bull, your work’s not finished yet. Give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasures in Heaven.’ “

You haven’t seen that episode? You’re in luck — I found it on YouTube!

The punchline, for those of you who don’t have 22 minutes to waste, is Bull didn’t hear the voice of God, he heard the voice of Art, the maintenance guy, speaking through a walkie-talkie. They’d been running computer cable through the building. Art actually said, “Give me some more, I’ll shout when it measures eleven.”

After Bull learns the truth, he’s pretty distraught. But when an old man asks for bus fare to South Carolina so he can be there when his son returns from military service, Bull gives away his last $100. Then he has a chat with Judge Stone and later, left alone in the courtroom, addresses God saying, in part:

“I been talking to you all my life. It made me feel so good to think that, just once, you talked back. Aw, I guess I should know by now you don’t work that way. But sometimes I wish you could give me a little sign, just so I know you’re listening.”

And while the moral of the episode is linked to the personal gratification Bull experiences through his altruistic generosity (and perhaps that would have made a more compelling post for tonight), I would not be surprised to find people identifying with those few sentences where he simply wants his talks with God to be an actual two-way conversation.

As I begin to teach my children about prayer, I think “how we pray” is a much easier lesson than “why we pray,” at least in terms of what I expect them to be able to understand. Children generally are awash in worlds of fictional characters. Be they from books or TV shows or animated movies, or sometimes from more than one platform, we (as a society here) tend to encourage kids to be imaginative and creative and enjoy fanciful things such as talking mice or wise-cracking rabbits or any number of oddities. Kids suspend disbelief almost out of habit. This is why younger children tend to lose their stuff at theme parks when they get to meet Snow White or Daffy Duck or whatever. They’re not bothered at all about the difference between two-dimensional animation and the real world, they’re simply in a state of shock that Cinderella is RIGHT THERE ONLY FOUR FEET AWAY CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?

One of our favorite kid’s shows is the Imagination Movers, and last year a recording of one of their live concerts aired on TV. Jack watched the recording on what seemed like and endless loop. He was 7 at the time, and we had a few conversations where it became clear that, to him, the Idea Warehouse was a real place he could go. After all, the Movers are humans — not cartoons. He’d never asked to visit Bikini Bottom. Complicating matters is my penchant for honesty. When he asked if the Movers are real, I said yes — because they are real people and those are their real names and they are really in a band and they really performed that concert. For him, seeing them in costume but outside the context of their studio show must have tripped the balance in his mind form fantasy toward reality.

All of which raises the issue of how children perceive God. Sadly, I have no recollection of the evolution of my own perceptions. I do feel of late I have a better sense for when God might be trying to reveal His will, but that’s really only within the last six months or less, and I think more than anything it has to do with me learning how to listen (a hard skill to teach, mind you).

At the end of the “Night Court” episode, a city official arrives to offer Bull a settlement so he won’t sue for liability. It’s in the amount of $27,500, essentially restocking his savings account. (Also God sends a message through Mac’s newfangled computer and then delivers the last line of the episode. TV magic, everyone!) In real life, begging God for a sign usually doesn’t play out so well. I’m inclined to suggest asking God for a sign He’s listening isn’t exactly the show of faith God would like to see from His people.

But then again — we’re only human. As I’ve written, we cannot begin to comprehend God. Think about that. Anything we think we know will pale in comparison to what can only be known by the unbound spirit. So I’ve got no problem with Bull’s monologue. He’s just being honest with the Lord. And if you can’t be honest with God, well, you can’t be honest with anyone. That’s its own problem.

A prayer for June 10:

Lord, I thank you for calling me to a more active prayer life. I am amazed at how my world view is evolving as I spend more time thinking beyond myself. I know I ask this a lot, but please help me teach my children how and why to pray, that they might understand the importance of a life lived deeply beneath the surface. I thank you also for the promise of treasures in Heaven, and I pledge to keep my heart and mind on that kingdom that will never fail. Amen.

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