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A Sermon about Zombies, August 4th, 2013, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church In Vallejo, CA

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Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, August 4th 2013

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 Psalm 49:1-12 Colossians 3:1-11 Luke 12:13-21

Sermon about Zombies

Often the Prayer of the Day helps me organize my sermon:

Benevolent God,

You are the source, the guide, and the goal of our lives. Teach us to love what is worth loving, to reject what is offensive to you, and to treasure what is precious in your sight, through Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Amen.

 

God, not our possessions is the source of our lives. Yes, the source of our lives is God, so the Holy Spirit guides and directs us in all we do and also makes us understand the difference between having much versus being much. You know how people say, “Get a life!” Through Christ, we really do.

A life that is buried in possessions is not a life full of the adventure that the mission of Christ provides. Why do all of us who are dead and buried six feet under our materialism refuse to lie down? We are the walking dead, like the zombies that rampage in our reality shows and movies. But ask yourself, are we spiritual zombies? Can those really be our souls and we all only wear this natural disguise? Why can’t we step out of our graves and into the new life that follows Christ?

The prayer encourages us to love what is worth having and to reject what offends God, like the idolatry of greed. We can actually believe that our life and strength does not come from God but from the abundance of our possessions. Luther’s definition of God from his Large Catechism states:

To have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart. As I have often said, trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true God. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God.[1]

 

Luther is saying that our utter attachment to our material possessions is idolatry. Don’t think that I am only preaching to you and not to myself as well. We are collectively caught up in this problem, which attaches us to our possessions rather than God, and I may not be a hoarder, but you should see my two-car garage! It is full. And I have about 3,000 books and I’m a slow reader! I have all these book shelves in our bedroom filled with books and should we have an earthquake, you’ll read in the newspapers that a pastor and his wife died buried in books.

So our prayer invites us to treasure what is precious in God’s sight, to become rich toward God and toward our neighbors, to become beautiful souls, instead of zombies. As beautiful souls, we become Christs to others and see Christ in those in need; for they need what we have and even what we are. Luther says that even our integrity does not belong to us, but we should use it to cover up the sins of our neighbor. Let me quote his words from Philip and my book, Luther’s Spirituality:

God’s possessions must flow from one person to another and be [held] in common. Each one should so accept the neighbor as if the neighbor were himself or herself. All good things flow into us from Christ, who accepted what we are into his life, as if he were what we are. These same things should flow from us into those who have need of them. In addition, I must place even my faith and righteousness before God for my neighbor, so that they cover my neighbor’s sin, and then take that sin upon myself, and act no differently than if it were my very own, even as Christ did for all of us. That, you see, is the nature of love when it is genuine. And love is genuine where faith is genuine.[2]

Our greed really offends God, because it spells our attachment to our money and possessions, our faith in the almighty dollar rather than in Good the Father, God’s Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. So we do not like to talk about money in the church, but remember that whenever you pull out your wallet or feel a sense of loss and hurt when you give money or possessions away, then your faith is really being tested. Do say you trust in God or are you really an atheist, practically speaking, because you are a taker rather than a giver.

Now God knows we have needs and we also pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” because they need to be filled. But when our needs are fulfilled, then having more and not being able to share, makes us less happy and not more so. Becoming rich in God means being able to give and receive. In his online commentary called CrossMarks, Brian Stoffregen tells of a study in which those who made too little money were unhappy because they were rather needy. At about $50,000 a year, people had enough to cover their needs and they could be happy. In this study they discovered that those who made $150,000 to $200,000 were not happier than those who made $50,000.[3] Greed never has enough, but always wants more and robs us the peace that surpasses all understanding.

He had another story about being rich in God. it was about

Florence Ferrier, [who was] a social worker in poverty-stricken Appalachia. [the story was] called “We Ain’t Poor!

The Sheldons were a large family in severe financial distress after a series of misfortunes. The help they received was not adequate, yet they managed their meager income with ingenuity — and without complaint.

One fall day I visited the Sheldons in the ramshackle rented house they lived in at the edge of the woods. Despite a painful physical handicap, Mr. Sheldon had shot and butchered a bear which strayed into their yard once too often. The meat had been processed into all the big canning jars they could find or swap for. There would be meat in their diet even during the worst of the winter when their fuel costs were high.

Mr. Sheldon offered me a jar of bear meat. I hesitated to accept it, but the giver met my unspoken resistance firmly. “Now you just have to take this. We want you to have it. We don’t have much, that’s a fact; but we ain’t poor!”

I couldn’t resist asking, “What’s the difference?” His answer proved unforgettable.

“When you can give something away, even when you don’t have much, then you ain’t poor. When you don’t feel easy giving something away even if you got more’n you need, then you’re poor, whether you know it or not.”

I accepted and enjoyed their gift and treasured that lesson in living. In time, I saw it as a spiritual lesson, too. Knowing that all we have is provided by the Father, it seems ungracious to doubt that our needs will be met without our clinging to every morsel.

When I feel myself resisting an urge to share what’s mine — or when I see someone sharing freely from the little he has — I remember Mr. Sheldon saying, “We ain’t poor!”[4] So far this story.

So as you see, getting a life and filling it with meaning and quality relationships involves seeing the world the way Jesus did. Those that always want more and cannot share even when they have so much are really poor. And those we consider poor, but who share the little that they have are really rich in the sight of God.

Let me just insert a Japanese proverb, which relates well with our lesson, because I forgot to include it in this sermon: My barns having burned down, now I can see the moon!

A fellow came in to see the pastor. He had been a tither, meaning he gave 10 percent of all his income to the church. He explained that he had gotten a large promotion and a much higher salary and he could no longer afford to give that much money to the church anymore. The pastor said, “Let us pray. Oh Lord, please reduce this man’s salary so that he can give more!”

Back in my ministry in Coney Island, Bessie Baldwin was a member from whom I learned a lot. She was White, but her father was American of African descent and in the church register a parenthesis followed her name, which said (colored). She always wore a kerchief so people could not see that she had kinky hair. Now our church is based on the freedom of a Christian. We can inform consciences, but we do not tell members what to do. Of course, some of our pastors could also be dictator types, but by and large, Lutherans know that grace or being accepted by God as unacceptable as we are, so making us acceptable, is our way and our tradition. Coney Island Gospel Assembly was not that way. The preacher would say, now everyone has to make a $100 offering and members were expected to come up with the money. Bessie lived in the projects among many of the members of that church. When their food ran out before the end of the month, they would come to her door and ask for help. She would give it, but when it came to not being able to feed her own children, she would stop. She gave but measured the need.

I’m full of stories today. My mother would tell a story about a rich man in a town, who was so stingy, that everybody hated him. Meanwhile there was an old shoemaker and everyone knew, that you could go to him for help and he was always ready to give. Well, the rich man died and no one went to his funeral, but his family. The people of that town said, “Good riddance to bad rubbish.” But when they went to the shoemaker, he could no longer help them. “Why have you stopped helping us?” they asked. He explained, “The rich factory owner always gave me the money secretly, so I could help everyone, but he did not want anybody to know.” The left hand should not know what the right is doing.

So there are many of us poor folk who are not very giving and there are the Buffets and the Bill Gates who give away 90% of their fortune. We struggle to tithe, trying to give 10%. We need to reorient ourselves, so all we are and all we have is oriented toward God and our needy neighbors and so that we become rich toward God.

Let me finish by looking at this problem from just one other angle. When a woman died a few doors down from where we live, we saw people coming out of her house with all her belongings: like you don’t take it with you: Sometimes people fight over it before you’ve even died. Well, when we’re baptized, it is into the death of Christ and we have already died to the old life and live out of the strength of Jesus’ resurrection. We have become heirs of eternal life and all that we have and all that we are is now there for others and their needs. Now we guide ourselves and what we have in the same wisdom that Bessie Baldwin showed, but suddenly we are no longer in an economy of scarcity but abundance. There is really all those clothes and all that stuff, just like in that woman’s home, that no even wants anymore. So our baptisms open us up to share from the abundance of grace with which God has blessed us. And around the table of the Lord, we experience the abundant economy with the Kingdom of heaven that Luther described near at hand: “God’s possessions must flow from one person to another and be [held] in common.” But we also pray, “Thy Kingdom come.” When the mutuality of being Christ to our neighbors and seeing Christ in our needy neighbors takes place then very near at hand, indeed, is what Luther describes in the Freedom of a Christian as our wonderful freedom as subjects of God’s reign, where the circulation of grace brings about the common good that opens up the joyful economy, of abundance, not of scarcity, but abundance, perhaps not so much in material, but in wonderful, spiritual possessions that make us rich toward God. May God bless us, each and every one of us, with God’s richest blessings. Amen.


[1] Tapperts, Book of Concord, p. 365. In German: „Worauf Du nu (sage ich) Dein Herz hängest und verlässest, das ist eigentlich Dein Gott.“

[2] Philip and Peter Krey, Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2007), pp. 89-90.

[3] Brian Stoffregen, CrossMarks, http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/luke12x13.htm

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Written by peterkrey

August 5, 2013 at 11:41 am

Posted in Selected Sermons

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