Sunday, August 8, 2010

11th Sunday After Pentecost: Those Right Things

Isaiah 1:1,10-20, Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16, Luke 12: 32-40
Preached @ St. Barnabas’ Church, Temple Hills MD, 8/8/10

Our Collect for today sums up today’s Scriptural readings in a very concise manner. Listen to the Collect again: Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will…… These readings we have today can strike at a very soft spot within our human psyches. Our Scripture readings are meant to remind us of a need to be ever vigilant about some of our base-human-propensities.

In our Gospel, Jesus is teaching his disciples something challenging, threatening almost. When we are threatened, we as humans want to hold tight-to whatever it is that we have. Jesus is telling his disciples not to have fear: fear of death nor fear and anxiety about possessions. These two seemingly disparate ideas are actually quite tied together. Jesus says that we should not fear either of these, death or the loss of possessions because God’s treasure is what we should be focused on. Jesus is talking about an expectation of living into the kingdom that he is announcing. As part of our Christian existence, our lives should be centered on this expectation of living into the kingdom, being ever watchful and attentive.

This redirection of our efforts that Jesus points us toward can make us anxious. This call by Jesus for us to sell our possessions and give alms is very provocative. Think about this directive by Jesus…take a moment and think about selling all we have…provocative to say the least. This call by Jesus to rid ourselves of possessions and give generously in almsgiving is something deeply rooted in rabbinic teaching and literature and would have been very familiar to his disciples: perhaps not so much to us. And being provocative can make it something we chose to ignore. But just because something is provocative, or makes us squirm a bit, does not mean it should be ignored.

Like so many things Jesus says, perhaps taking this statement metaphorically as opposed to literally would be helpful. Most of us have possessions we do not need and yet we still hold on to them. Jesus is instructing his disciples, and us, as the Body of Christ in the world today, to actually live into the values and precepts of our faith by ridding ourselves of things unnecessary.

There is an ancient Roman proverb, which says that money, and possessions are like seawater, the more you drink the thirstier you become. For many people, the more possessions we have the harder it is to let go of any of them. In particular in these very difficult economic times, hoarding, holding on to what we have, is a basic human instinct….more than an instinct, there is and can be a real need too. We are called today to seek the balance between what we need, really need, and what is superfluous.

This Gospel we have has two distinct tracks, one clear, one less so. The Gospel clearly has to do with being ready for Jesus’ second coming and our being ready for his arrival. The second, and less clear is how our actions can make us God centered, ready to accept God as intimately a part of our individual lives. This Gospel has to do with finishing tasks yet to be completed….the Gospel is directing us to do those things that are right and not letting “other things”, possessions for example, get in our way of the creation of the kingdom Jesus is proclaiming.

But how do we know what is the right thing to do? We are gifted with a possible answer in our reading from Isaiah today. The prophet Isaiah is quite clear, in fact always doing what is right is defined for us in these verses. Isaiah begins by condemning the ritualistic public worship being practiced by God’s people: the sacrifice of animals, the burning of the blood and fat of rams and bulls and lambs and goats. Now Isaiah is not condemning public and communal worship: he is saying that if that is all there is, if that is all we as a people do, well that is not enough. Isaiah than clearly says: Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean…cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

Think about our Collect: grant us the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, and our asking God to enable us to do them. Jesus recognized how hard this is for us. Isaiah recognizes how difficult this can be. The writers of our ancient Collect also recognize this basic fact about our humanness. This is hard. But think about those simple instructions Isaiah gives: seeking justice, rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan, pleading for the widow…..pretty straightforward instructions for us to follow… to guide us in doing that which is right.

The billionaires, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates have founded an organization called “The Giving Pledge” where 59 billionaires so far, have publically pledged to give at least 50% of their wealth to charities. Warren Buffet has gone further, with a pledge that by the time he dies he will have given away 99% of his wealth. In a letter to the public Buffet says some things that tie directly to what we hear in Scripture today. He says:

Some material things make my life more enjoyable; many, however, do not. I like having an expensive private plane, but owning a half-dozen homes would be a burden. Too often, a vast collection of possessions ends up possessing its owner …. The reaction of my family and me to our extraordinary good fortune is not guilt, but rather gratitude. Were we to use more than 1% of my claim checks on ourselves, neither our happiness nor our well-being would be enhanced. In contrast, that remaining 99% can have a huge effect on the health and welfare of others. (Now that is a different definition of tithing!)

This is a great public start by industry leaders who have made substantive amounts of money in their lives, and is an attempt to improve and alleviate the suffering in our society and world. This is a good model for us in thinking about possessions, almsgiving and doing that which is right. God recognizes that we are human with all our human abilities of procrastination and rationalization. Jesus’ life on earth proves to us God understands these proclivities of ours, but that does not stop us from being pushed and urged to continue to try to live into these instructions Jesus gives us in furthering the kingdom’s creation. Perhaps we may feel it is too late, that there isn’t time, or perhaps we mistakenly believe we do not deserve God’s all embracing love. Think about the ending of our reading from Isaiah: even though the prophet has been hollering at his audience about their own sinfulness he reminds them:

though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.

By these words we are reminded that there is always a way back, a way into the kingdom. We are reminded that seeking justice, rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan, pleading for the widow should be used as exemplars for our doing that which is right…. and that it is never, ever too late to start. That is our challenge today….to take our collective worship here and that love that we know through our faith that God has for all us… take that out into the unknown future and be enabled to always do those things that are right. We cannot change everything that is wrong in the world around us, but we can and we must act, to make this kingdom God has gifted to us a reality. We need to, without anxiety or worry, rid ourselves of those things in life that get in our way of calmly reaching out to help those we encounter on our journey and make a difference to those individuals. That is making the kingdom a reality, here and now. A provocative challenge we are given today. And one we are all capable of effectuating….God’s speed.


Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful! I love the part of Warren Buffet's quote, "too often, a vast collection of possessions ends up possessing its owner..." Great nuggets of thought, as always!