Life that Really Is Life: Sermon for September 25th 2016
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost / Lectionary 26 / September 25th 2016
Amos 6:4-7 Psalm 146 1 Timothy 6:6-19 Luke 16:19-31
Life that Really Is Life
What a privilege it is for me to preach the Gospel, the Good News, about the promises of God to you, the promises that our Psalm assures us – God keeps forever. Everything must come to an end and you also are aware of the call committee at work and the change of pastoral leadership that will most likely soon bring. What a blessing this ministry has been and continues to be for me and for both of us co-Pastors and hopefully also a blessing for you.
Words in today’s Psalm and the lessons that really stick out in bold relief for me this time are: we want to live a life that is really a life. God’s promises are forever. And God says, “Give as I have given you.” That last one is from the sending song.
We want to live a life that is really a life – that’s the way our Timothy lesson puts it. So we might not lie on beds of ivory and drink from bowls of wine: but we do love Peete’s Coffee, Zachary’s pizza, Semi-Freddie’s bread, our lattés and bottle after bottle of red wine! We don’t drink two-buck chuck, as a graduate student used to call it – now it costs two-fifty – but we will spend from $5 to $8 a bottle. Can you imagine the way stock brokers and bankers used to spend over $500 for a bottle of wine at a dinner! There’s some new outfit called Danny Ghitis that will sell you a pair of sneakers for almost $1,000. That’s called conspicuous consumption: some rich people want to show how much money they have.
Amos puts down song writing. Mark and I love to write songs – but we hope to move people’s hearts with them, like old King David, composing psalms with his harp. Songs don’t have to get all convoluted in pleasure. They can, like today’s psalm, also point out that we have to be concerned about justice for the oppressed. Faith becomes active in love and love seeks justice. When they get pulled over by a cop, Black men now don’t know what to do and parents don’t know what to tell their children: they can have their hands up and they get shot; they can have their hands on the dashboard and they get shot; they can reach for their license and registration and they get shot. A video pointed out that a fellow can plant bombs in New York city and shoot at the police and they take him alive. A young White man can go into a Black church and kill the pastors and seven parishioners in a bible study and while taking him to jail, the police buy him a hamburger, because they shouldn’t let him go to jail hungry. I kid you not! But a poor Black man whose car stalls out in the street and flags down the police for help gets shot. He was taking a music appreciation course in a community college. Some White person asked: “Where did he get the money?” Can everything be taken against some people?
At the conference last Saturday, I believe our synod called itself a Black Lives Matter Synod, something I started. I wonder if we could follow suit and call ourselves a Black Lives Matter church – (I feel too old to protest out in the street with a hip implant and a bad knee.) – like we call ourselves a Reconciled in Christ church? Wouldn’t it be something if we had a flag out there which said, “We are a BLM church!” Of course calling ourselves that won’t make a difference unless we try to make a bridge over the chasm that divides the races in our country.
David did not merely write idle songs, but reminded us that God’s heart belongs to strangers, immigrants, refugees, all those in a helpless estate, one that we all are in when it comes to dying. As Paul says to Timothy: for we brought nothing into the world, so we will not be able to take anything out of it. But we could have big, compassionate hearts and people will sure miss us.
To live a life that is really a life has to be lived in the promises of God, who keeps his promises forever. So we have to keep an eye on the widows and orphans – those who are in a helpless estate – like Lazarus, whom people dumped outside the gate of that unnamed rich man, who refused to see him. How could he? He had purple robes on and celebrated sumptuously everyday – while Lazarus was covered with festering, red sores, that even dogs had enough compassion to lick, but the rich man refused to see, let alone dress and heal, or get a nurse or doctor to do so.
A billionaire and an abject homeless person wretchedly lying in a filthy doorway are two sides of the same coin. The one comes with the other. My congregation in Coney Island had welfare people in it. Some of the blue collar workers in the congregation became very angry with them. They had medical coverage, while one worker at the corner grocery shop was going bankrupt because of not being able to pay his medical bills. They got their medical coverage for free! “I have to work for a living! What do they do?” he exclaimed. I’ll try to answer him.
When I was working in Germany I still had a real chip on my shoulders, because being the 11th of 16 children, we were really poor. The poor don’t take vacations. But German pastors are well paid and I could afford taking a vacation there. On one vacation I went to the French Riviera and there were all these rich people! They had money in their investment portfolios. Like my sister worked for an investment company and you had to have two million for them to take care of your investment portfolio. Just a ten percent gain is $200,000 in income for a year, without a person having to do anything. But they are not the people our society scapegoats, but poor welfare recipients, whom one president called welfare queens.
I like the comedian George Carlin, that is, sometimes, he is often too coarse. He said that he worked and worked until he could finally take a vacation at a beach – and there he saw a six-month old baby sitting on a blanket, just like he was. He got furious, “because that baby had never worked a day in its life!”
But do you know that our micro-loans, our World Hunger Appeal and the very many more NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) have reduced the extreme poverty in our world by more than half: from 39% in 1993 to 14% in 2011. Extreme poverty is represented by those making less than $1.90 a day. Six million fewer children are dying a year. We could do better, but that is really a wonderful accomplishment.
If only John Kerry could end the deadly violence in the Middle East – we need to pray for him – he seems to be like Don Quixote tilting at wind mills – but we should pray for him to succeed, so dead children are no longer pulled out of the rubble of bombed buildings and the flow of desperate refugees stops and dead children no longer wash up on the shores of the Mediterranean.
Roger Dangerfield said that he went to an arena to see a fight and a hockey game broke out. What if in all the Middle East wars the threat of peace broke out? Imagine having the wish to live, to settle down and have a normal life, to fall in love, marry, and have the blessings of children: what a threat to people imprisoned in hate and bent on death and destruction!
Of course the love of oil-money might underlie some of that conflict over there. How much evil has all that wealth done?
Now the last words today that stirred me did not come from our lessons but from our last song: “God says: give as I have given to you!” Now even if we gave all our possessions to the poor, we would not have given what God has given us. God has given us our very lives. When we have given our lives away, we come a little closer. But we cannot match God even then. The quality of the life really lived by Jesus is way beyond ours and he gave it all away on the cross for us. But don’t you see? It’s in giving that we receive and in giving our lives receive fulfillment. It’s then that we begin to live the real life. The love of money will not give us that real life. Following our calling with a heart full of compassion and accomplishing the mission that God has for us brings that life. I also think that includes creativity. Creativity is so very fulfilling. Mark and I are having such a good time putting that Luther Musical together. In that life you live before God, you will find that you won’t just die and be buried, you will be carried by the angel to Abraham’s bosom. There you will be introduced to David, Jesus, Peter, and all the saints, because it is not here, but there where we receive the banquet, the marriage feast without end. Amen.
 “Lord of Glory, You Have Bought Us,” last line of verse 3: No. 707 Evangelical Lutheran Worship: Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006.
 Nicholas Kristof, “Best Kept Secret,” NYTimes, October 1, 2015, OP-Ed page: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/01/opinion/nicholas-kristof-the-most-important-thing-and-its-almost-a-secret.html?_r=0 and more recently
“Best Kept News You don’t Know” September 22, 2016, again NYT OP-ED page: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/22/opinion/the-best-news-you-dont-know.html