Sermon - 19 Pentecost
Sermon: PENTECOST 19, September 25th, 2016
In the Name...
A minister addressing a Boy Scout gathering told some anecdotes that he wanted to use in his Sunday sermon, so, he asked the reporter present not to repeat them in the newspaper. The next morning, therefore, the whole town read, "The Revd. Jones told the Scouts a number of stories which we cannot print."
The parable in our Gospel has rather a satisfactory ring about it. The arrogant rich man comes to a bad end and the humble poor man is exalted. It seems a case of getting what is deserved and few will shed tears for the man who shed none for his neighbour in need. But, it would be a mistake for us to get too complacent about this parable because this parable is a warning to all of us, not just the 1%, but, the 99%, as well. The parable is not about the number of our possessions nor what we do with the ones we've got. The parable is about what we do with our lives.
Last week, we heard a parable about a manager who was suddenly called to give an account of his books. He was caught short because he had been neglecting what he should have been doing. And, again, today, the parable is about someone else whose only crime was that he was neglectful. Notice, the parable doesn't say that the rich man was a bad man. He didn't do anything to harm Lazarus. But, he didn't do anything to help him, either. He just ignored him and Jesus says that was as bad as if he had abused him.
Now, there are lessons for us, here. On one level, there is an appeal for those of us who have to share with those who have not, and that is a good Christian teaching. I think everyone of us would agree with that, as St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, "while we have time let us do good to all men." A good teaching, but, not the one I want to take away this morning. I want us to take away the other lesson, the one that has to come first before we start talking about feeding the hungry or housing the homeless or advocating for the disenfranchised, or whatever charitable and justice works we can think of.
Our Old Testament scripture from the prophet Amos paints the picture of a people eating and drinking and taking their ease - basically, just coasting along through life. And, Amos' message is, Hold on folks, What's wrong with this picture? What's wrong is that these are God's people, but, they're not leading godly lives in the sense that they're living well, but, they're not living to make the world well. They're not extending God's kingdom on earth. They're not grieving over "the ruin of Joseph" which means they are so focused on the state of their material affairs that they have no concern for the state of their spiritual affairs.
They are neglecting and wasting, not their goods – but, their souls, and avoiding this was the concern raised by St. Paul in his letter to Timothy. Indeed, Paul commends four specific things for Timothy to do to take care of his soul and those four things are summed up in four words, four action verbs, as we used to say in school - flee, chase, fight, and grab.
Flee. Run away. From what? Harmful desires, evil. To use the word "flee" implies that something is chasing us. I don't think we think that. I'm sure we all agree that there is evil in the world, but, do we ever consider it's chasing us? We often talk about resisting temptation. When you think about it, though, if we have to resist it, that means it's already caught up with us. So St. Paul says, stay ahead of it - like a Florida resident ahead of a hurricane. Get away before you have a problem.
Well, O.K., so we flee. But, where to? We need to have a goal, since we're running, so St. Paul says pursue, chase after, righteousness. That is, pattern your lives after Jesus' teaching and example. But, patterning our lives after Jesus' teaching and example isn't something which comes naturally to most of us because it means more than just doing good.
Doing good is easy. That doesn't take much effort. Doing righteously means forgiving our enemies, helping those who treat us badly, not seeking the limelight, putting others first. This is something that we have to work at achieving because it's always a step ahead of us. Righteousness is life and, like life, it's always on the move and it can slip away if we're not careful, if we become complacent, lazy. So, we have to be always on the move to keep up with it.
And, then, we fight, but, we don't fight evil, or evil things or evil people. The good fight of the faith of which St. Paul speaks is a conflict which is within ourselves. We fight our selfish nature, our natural inclination to take it easy. We fight to stay faithful to the righteousness we're chasing. We can't begin to fight the evil in the world until we've first won the battle within ourselves. As the saying goes, we have met the enemy and they is us.
And lastly, we grab. Grab what? Eternal life with God. I emphasize the last two words "with God" because, as we have seen, there are two places where eternal life can be spent and we need to be sure we're holding on to the right one.
So, there we have it. It doesn't matter if we're thin and poor, fat and rich, or pleasantly plump in-between. We all need to live active lives, fleeing, chasing, fighting and grabbing. It's not about how much we give or who we help. It's about giving ourselves to help God. It's about remembering that we are in this world for a greater purpose than ourselves. It's about the Good News of God in Christ, and the even more amazing news of Christ in us.
And, that should be a news story we can share any day.
In the Name...