27 Sep A STRONG WARNING FROM A LOVING FATHER – Proper 21, September 25, 2022
Preacher: Rev. Stephen McPeek
INTRODUCTION – THE VISION
Last week I preached on the Divine Economy – Merciful, Sacrificial, and Loving Generosity. I tried to offer a vision of God’s merciful, sacrificial, and loving generosity towards us and his whole creation. I wanted to make the point that when we are touched by this God, it sets those same characteristics free in us and we begin to emulate God and live differently.
LIVING IN THE BEAUTIFUL & PEACEABLE WAYS OF GOD
This week’s readings challenge that notion and make clear that some of us need a louder warning about the implications of NOT living in the beautiful and peaceable ways of God. We see on so many levels currently, what happens when the peaceable order of God is continually violated.
- We see it in creation – for years, voices have been warning us that the earth and the atmosphere that we as humans need to thrive will deteriorate if we continue to be driven by greed. As a child, I would have never thought that humankind would have the power to push creation out of its God ordained order.
- We see it in the Russian aggression towards Ukraine where basic human dignity is being so blatantly violated. The result it that waves of uncertainty are being sent around the whole world and we are threatened with wider scale destruction.
THE OUTCOME OF NOT LIVING IN GOD’s ORDER
These outcomes are not punishment or judgment from God but rather the outcome of our collective refusal to remain within the bounds of a good, loving, and peaceable order that has been established by our Creator.
Is it not the same when it comes to merciful, sacrificial, and loving generosity – another part of the good, loving, and peaceable order of God? If we continue violating this order as we have done for decades, at some point we begin to see the outcome. If we continue hoarding and living selfishly, the gap between the very wealthy and the poor becomes wider and wider and social upheaval is inevitable. In my estimation, this is the loving but forceful warning being given to us in our readings today.
THE WARNING – GOD’S CALL TO LIVE IN THE DIVINE ECONOMY
Amos continues to warn us of the danger of living in prosperity at the expense of others and challenges his listeners to compare their prosperous lives with the lives of the less fortunate. Amos is warning his people against pride, moral indifference, and self-conceit.
In our Epistle reading, Paul is writing to Timothy and first gives him a vision of the Divine Economy: godliness combined with contentment. Then he challenges the status quo, reminds his people that not even the richest person can take anything with them when they die, and he warns against the love of money and how it is the root of all evil. He goes on to warn his people about how the pursuit of wealth can, if driven by the love of money, can lead to ruin and destruction.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus tells the parable of a rich man and a poor man who died at the same time. The rich man ends up in hell and the poor man ends up in heaven. The rich man who has no name in this story pleads with God to have the poor man, Lazarus, come to him to comfort him, and to go to his siblings to warn them of what will happen if they don’t take heed. God tells him that he had his comfort while on earth and must therefore suffer now while Lazarus is comforted.
In the first moment, it seems like this is a black and white judgement – everyone who has too much will end up in hell and everyone who has little to nothing will end up in heaven. I don’t think this is what Jesus is saying or warning us about. In fact, in issuing this warning, he calls the rich man “child, or son.” Instead, Jesus is making a point about the kind of lifestyle he is calling us to. And Jesus is warning his beloved children, rich and poor alike, of the implications of not heeding his call. We see this call throughout the Gospel of Luke.
WE ALL GIVE BY THE SAME MEASURE
Let’s be honest. Both rich and poor can be greedy, both rich and poor can be guilty of loving money. All of us are called to the same Divine Economy, whether we have little or whether we have a lot. This is why the concept of the tithe is important – giving 10% as a minimum measure.
In the Divine Economy, €1 is as generous of a gift as €1,000,000. If you are blessed to received €10, giving away €1 is just as generous as someone who received or earns €10 Million and gives away €1 Million. It is so easy to think that those who earn more should give more. It is easy to think that your €1 doesn’t matter if that is your tithe. But in God’s economy, your €1 is just as important and powerful because your sharing keeps you anchored in blessing.
If we follow the principle of the tithe, we all give by the same measure. I have had times in my life when I stopped giving because I thought I didn’t have enough, but I would always be drawn back to this call to live in the Divine Economy.
RESPONDING TO THE CHALLENGE
This week, I attended our Convocation Clericus, a bi-annual event where the clergy of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe are invited to come together to learn, pray, and fellowship. Bishop Mark Edington invited Rev. Mpho Tutu Van Furth, daughter of the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu to facilitate the retreat. We meditated on our Gospel passage from today and once again, I was strengthened in my own desire and determination to live in the Divine Economy. One of the questions that Rev. Mpho asked us to answer as we meditated on the
Gospel passage and shared our thoughts in small groups was: “In light of this Scripture, what I’ve shared, and what I’ve heard, I believe God is nudging me to…
This was my answer:
I believe God is nudging me to be challenged and shaped personally by the Divine Economy, and to continue calling my congregation to and modeling for them the Divine Economy which is Merciful, Sacrificial, and Loving Generosity.
I wonder how many of you followed up with my challenge to you in last Sunday’s sermon. I challenged you with 4 questions. The last question was:
What is one thing you could do this week that would demonstrate merciful, sacrificial, and loving generosity?
Whenever I challenge you with something, I can assure you that I challenge myself. I was challenged to act on two things:
- I had lent a substantial amount of money ($8,000 to be exact) to someone years ago who was in a precarious situation and in danger of losing his house. He was sure he could start paying it back within a year but that was not possible. So this debt kept hanging over his head and over our relationship. Through meditating on our readings and the principles of the Divine Economy, I decided to cancel the debt and I let him know. The lesson to me- only lend money that you are willing to give away.
- Last week, I talked to you about the (poor, homeless) man who has started coming to eat with us downstairs in the last weeks. Last Sunday, I went to the Undercroft and was standing at the food table and this man came rushing to the table right next to me to get food. I knew I was being challenged by my own words. I turned to him and said, “Hey- what’s your name?” He turned to me, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “My name is Flori.” Something happened in my heart in that moment, and I went outside to meet his wife, Maria. We talked about their plight (sleeping in the park and it’s getting cold, having no money for food, and being separated from their children) and how they were trying to get back to Romania to be with their children. In situations like these, language is a barrier and it’s hard to get the whole story, but it became clear to me that I should help them get back to Romania. So I will.
Did any of you follow my challenge and what was your experience?
My siblings in Christ, dear friends, God is so generous with us and God’s generosity is seen all around us in creation. Let us hear the call of God to live in the Divine Economy together, no matter whether you have much or little. Allow your status quo to be challenged. I end with the same modified question posed by Rev. Mpho at our clergy retreat:
“In light of the Scriptures we have read, and in light of what I’ve heard, I believe
God is nudging me to…
O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.