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Pentecost 19C Sermon
Amos 6: 1, 4-7,
1 Timothy 6: 6-19,
Luke 16: 19-31

September 25, 2016

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our father be with us, in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

A Jewish teacher once said, “If you like Amos, you don’t understand Amos.” Indeed, if any of us here reads any of these scripture passages and we don’t get a little uncomfortable then we really don’t know our status in the world! According to the website, “GlobalRichList.com,” if a person makes $11,880 per year – which is the poverty line for Ohioans – they are still in the top 14.5% of the richest people in the world! A person making minimum wage in Ohio, $8.10 per hour, for 40 hours a week for a year will make a meager $16,848, and still be in the top 5.8% of the world’s richest people. People making $20,000 are in the top 2%, $30,000 the top 1.2%, and $50,00 are in the top three-tenths of a percent of the richest people in the world! That person is number 18,652,583 on the rich list of the 7.4 billion people in the world! Amos mentions those who sleep in fancy beds, those who are able to eat meat regularly, those who have the time to sing songs, drink good drink (and plenty of it) and can bathe themselves and look presentable every day. That is a description of me … and probably most of you. Now, Amos doesn’t say that these things are evil, in and of themselves, but he does say that when we can do this AND we are not grieved over the lives that the other 90% or so of God’s creatures have, then we are in trouble. We have put our trust in our wealth and stature to make us better than anyone else, and by attaining more, we believe that we are achieving security. And that is just not true!

There is a thread running through all three of our scripture readings this morning, and if we boiled it down into one word, that would be “contentment.” All that we have is a trust and blessing from God. God promises to provide enough for our lives. Paul says to Timothy that, “if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.” The problem comes when we answer the question, “How much do you need to be content,” with the phrase, “just a little more.” In our Gospel reading, Jesus tells a parable about a rich man who lives a lot like the people to whom Amos writes lives. And he doesn’t even take notice of a poor, miserable, sickly man lying at his gate, picking up food scraps that had fallen from the table and having his wounds licked by the wild dogs. When his fortunes reverse – which is at his death – he seems to still think he is entitled to the privileges that he had when he was alive and wealthy – he thinks he can order Lazarus around through Father Abraham and manipulate either his own situation, or the situation in which his brothers live. It’s a bit of a joke when Abraham tells him that his brothers have Moses and the prophets to instruct them on how to live – the prophets like Amos! And the punchline of that joke plays out when he wants Lazarus to come back from the dead and go to them to convince them, to which Abraham replies, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even is someone rises from the dead.” Sound familiar?

From the book of Acts, we know that Luke was a travelling companion of Paul. He must have witnessed first-hand the lack of belief even at the fact that Jesus had come back from the dead to show them what true life is like! And what is that true life like? As Paul tells Timothy, it is to be rich in good works, generous and ready to share. By doing this we not only store up riches for ourselves in heaven, but we grab hold of life that really is life. So it’s that easy – be content with what you have, generous, share, and do good works. That is how we are to respond to the goodness of God’s love and blessings in our lives. But is it really that easy??

Last Tuesday our Bible study group gathered at the Heartland of Westerville so that our companion Kate Mawhirter could join us even as she recovers from her knee replacement surgery there. Around the table were gathered an interesting collection of about 6 of us from Clinton Heights, and about 6 folks from Heartland – it was an open invitation for anyone to join us. As we talked about the challenging themes of these readings, I shared with them something that I experience about every two weeks, which is how often I receive my paycheck from the church.
My wife and I put so much in our savings account, and so much in checking account; and we keep so much cash out. Some of that cash goes into a kitty called, “The House Fund.” Then, we each put about $60 in our wallet for the two weeks. I think in this day and age, that sounds like a reasonable amount to have for spending money.

My problem is that USUALLY, I spend about $55 in the first three days, forcing myself to make that other $5 last about a week and a half! And more times than not, I spend it on myself. Human nature to spend more when we have more seems to be universal – most everyone around the table could identify with me … and I bet most of you can too. One of the Heartland residents even quoted a passage from another one of the prophets with which I wasn’t even familiar – from Haggai 1:6, “You have sown much but harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and you that earn wages earn wages to put them into a bag with holes.” She made me wonder if that is my problem - maybe I need to get a wallet without any holes!!
On top of this, we add the reality that with credit cards so readily available, people tend to keep spending even when there is no cash in their wallets, trusting that they will have enough to support their lifestyle. As a result, people live way beyond their means and the credit card debt in our nation is astronomical and just keeps growing!

But none of it buys us security. Will someone committing acts of terror avoid the person who lives out of a greedy attitude toward their wealth? Is the person who has all of the latest and best gadgets exempt from cancer, heart disease or auto accidents? Is the family in the rich suburb guaranteed that their child will never overdose from heroin? No, in all of these things chasing after more wealth to secure a happy, fulfilled life is fruitless.

I like the Biblical commentator who said that in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, she most readily identifies with the brothers of the rich man. We have this tale of God’s justice playing out, where (as Mary sang in the beginning of Luke’s gospel), “the hungry are filled and the rich are sent away empty.” And those who are still without an ending in this story are the ones who the rich man was so concerned about – his family, who are still living and striving after wealth and trying to live good lives in God. We also have Moses and the prophets. We DO have the witness of someone who has returned from the dead. How, then, will we live knowing that true joy and fulfillment comes in contentment and not exorbitant amounts of wealth and possessions?

Well, as Paul writes to Timothy, it all comes down to using our blessings to do good works instead of to try to make sure we have more and more. It comes down to sharing out of our bounty with those who are barely able to survive. It has to do with taking hold of the life that really is life, that is placing more value on our relationships and loving our neighbors with all of our hearts, souls, minds and strength than on building out stock portfolio and getting that next promotion.
How much is enough for you to be content in life? If you are like me, it is probably less than you have now. Please join me in prayerfully considering how we can all be better stewards of God’s blessings. In the next four weeks, we will be entering a time of considering how to live simply. It will be challenging … but in the long run, if we all consider how we might be more faithful with the generous wealth that God has given us – on our own, through our congregation, and through organizations like Habitat for Humanity - our lives will be much more fulfilling than we can ever imagine! That is the life that really is life! My it be so, in the name of Christ our Lord; Amen.