Blind wealth

Rembrandt_-_Der_reiche_Narr

The Pas                       1th Sunday after Pentecost – BAS Proper 18

Proper 13 – Ordinary/Lectionary 18 – Pentecost + 11

Year C

31 July 2016

Hosea 11:1-11

Psalm 107:1-9, 43

Colossians3:1-11

Luke 12:13-21

Lord of abundance,

you demand our life entire and whole:

lead us out from prisons of greed

to a place of riches uncontained and always new;

through Jesus Christ, our wealth. Amen.

________________________________________

How often do we, as Christians, look at how the world operates, and wonder if there is a better way?

In today’s gospel, we see a young man approach Jesus for a reason that really has more to do with society than how to love ones neighbour. Admittedly, he probably has trouble loving his brother, right now, but as Jesus points out there is more going on, in the world, today, than the accumulation of ‘stuff’, of possessions.

What we see today, however, is Christ urging us to be generous with the gifts with which we are blessed in this life.

And this is a huge shift, for each one of us. It’s a shift from what society tells us is important in and for life, and what Christ and the gospels continue to emphasize over, and over again.

Today, we acknowledge the losses of jobs across our province due to the lack of shipping to the northern ports. We acknowledge an oil spill that began at the Alberta-Saskatchewan border that has a realistic potential to see how our town not only receives its drinking water, but it also calls into question our role as stewards of all of creation and its resources, in the face of corporate influence at all levels of society, of life. Keep in mind that any interference on our part with the plans of corporations will be interpreted as criminal action, while their purely criminal lack of action robs us of a vital resource and necessary in order to protect their product.

Today, we remember an 85-year-old priest who was brutally murdered in the midst of a midweek Eucharist, in Normandy, because those who committed this atrocity didn’t like what he represented – the Christian faith.

Bishop John Watton, of the Diocese of Central Newfoundland offered the following meditation on the death of Fr. Jacques Hamel, this week, on Facebook. Bishop John said:

Tonight I share a devotion that comes from my time of prayer. God bless you all as you grow in Christ.

 Rev. Jacques Hamel, described as gentle and loving, was an 85-year-old priest, constant in serving [the] church and people as a pastor. To look at his gentle face and outreached arms on the internet is [at] first a blessing, which turns to sorrow when his fate is considered. His story has connected but not unified the world.

I was just preparing to enter my morning meditation when I read of how this older, faithful priest, who while offering an ancient prayer of Eucharist was forced to his knees by knife – wielding attackers who slit his throat. As part of my twice daily meditating in the Ignatian method, I pause and permit my mind bring to active consciousness images, voice or message. His face came to mind, and in my imagination a panorama of the faces of Priests in our own Diocese emerged. Each one of us taking Jacques place – victimized ,forced to our knees, and to die. My friends, filled with emotion… I prayed for you all.

As the attackers came out of the church shouting “Allahu akbar” (“God is Greatest”) they were shot and killed by police. News reports said they filmed themselves and proclaimed their gathering around the altar to be “a sermon in Arabic”.

It is hard to understand how any religion which claims to be in harmony with a loving and merciful creator could ever evolve to a point where violence is seen as justified and necessary in God’s eyes. We all know that on an escalating scale, it has. Why? The term “fundamentalism” was originally used to describe certain sects within Christianity. In our time this word became universally used to describe a strict adherence to doctrine in all major world religions. The word “terrorism” is a common adjunct and covers a wide spectrum of thought and seen as justified for a variety of reasons, including politics, physical, economic or gender oppression, and, yes, religion. 

Today, the word “Christian” resounds in a different way in our communities. That is partly because of forces beyond our control. We no longer enjoy a privileged place in society. That is due to changes in scientific knowledge about origins of life and our earth, creation; due to huge societal questions about human suffering, and shifts in attitudes about trust, commitment, and community.

 More likely however is that the Church’s sins, once hidden and enabled by privilege have been brought into the light of day. Our once lofty station has been cast down as “the mighty from their seat”; a lesson well learned by some. Still many (in every religion) still insist on a ridged understanding of what God demands, and proclaim it loudly and insist on specific absolutes. Who is right and who is wrong. Who is righteous and who is sinful? Who has authority, and who is the one to be followed? Are we blind to the movement of the Spirit in the world because of this? Did Jesus not come to fulfill Mary’s assertion that he would bring to reality the Father’s dream of exalting the humble and meek, and filling the hungry with good things? 

Father Jacques Hamel was very much like the Christians in our own diocese. You could refer to us as for the most part as “Via Media” people – those who are in the center of a movement begun by a carpenter who came long ago, to teach us how to love and belong. We are the “sensible center” of his community – called to be people of tradition, fellowship, and community, and to be found throughout the world in obedience to His command that we “Go”. We have struggled in this, but through the Spirit of Jesus have been changed, molded, filled and directed by God’s restless longing to love every person of every age. 

Today all sincere faiths are being held hostage to hatred, bigotry, narrowmindedness and judgementalism. The very foundational words of our faith have been twisted and distorted into something that doesn’t look anything like the core values of Jesus Christ.

Every religion is facing the same crisis, and it is a time when the world really needs witnesses. Simply put, all world religions have been taken hostage by extremism, and for us Christians it is time for the grassroots followers of Jesus to pay attention, [to] gather together, and as followers of Jesus SHOW the world, by our love, something that looks like Jesus’ dream of unity, love, healing and acceptance for every nation. 

If we insist on TELLING the world, bent on proving who is right, casting dispersions on those in the body who we see as wrong, nothing will rise up within us but anger and self-righteousness. It is in those moments…and they are far too many, that the world rightly sees within us exactly the same motivating evidences that we are fundamentally focused people acting out of immovable human pride and the self-deception that we completely know the mind and will of God. When others look at us, the see the violence of our words, the lack of grasping the pain we cause one another, and perceive that we are standing on the same foundation as those sincerely convinced people that took a knife to the throat of a Child of God. 

May God help us who would follow Jesus, proclaim a way of being Christian in this age that actually looks something like Jesus, and actually enables everyone to hear the words of Love from the Cross. May we SHOW Jesus to all people.

In the final movement of my imagination, I saw every person of faith gathered in one big circle, hands joined because we all saw the potential in God’s dream for this world. We had gathered to risk, to trust, to love, and to hope. In that moment, everyone…holding tightly to each other let everything go and falling silent. The reverend Jacques Hamel, and many like him were with us, hand in hand and God spoke. Can you even begin to ask or imagine, what our world will be when we allow God….to be God. The very least we can do to move closer to that reality is listen to each other with gentleness and respect.”

So, I ask, today, what is important? Is it the accumulation of ‘stuff’ as we see in the anger of the young man? Is it the building of larger barns and storage facilities as we see in Jesus parable?

When Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, prepares to begin her international adventure, she rents a 10×10 storage unit and she is amazed that her whole life fits into such a confined space. The manager of the unit points out that it’s a common practice for many to never come and reclaim their ‘whole lives’ from that 10×10 space.

We can hope that these individuals have found a better life than the one they left behind in those storage units. We can hope that they heard Jesus parable, in the depths of their hearts, of the man whose life is called upon at the height of his acquisition of ‘stuff.’

In the gospel passage, today, Jesus urges us to be generous with our lives, with the contents of our lives toward God. At the same time, God calls upon us to be good and faithful stewards of the earth. And I wonder, how far do you think we would get as individuals, as a church community if all we did was take, and take, and take some more without giving anything back to the community?

This is the same world, in which we raise our children and try to teach them that greed, hoarding, and destruction of creation are bad things while the advertising agencies promote the newest ad the best of the latest fad products.

Many years ago, now, Remi and I started a small business, for the purpose of paying for our wedding. At that time, we were struggling. I was in university, work wasn’t coming easily, and bills needed to be paid. In talking about this with members of the church we were attending, we were advised to tithe a portion of our net, net profits.

Now, with a start-up company, the net, net profit is used to acquire and begin the next job, and the advice we were given was to give 10% of that to God. And I know what you’re thinking; that this is a lot to ask of a brand new company; it’s a lot to ask of anyone with tight finances. But we did it. We gave that 10% to the church, not in our regular giving’s envelope, but in its own, under the company’s name, and if we ever go back, then there are people who would still hire us to do work for them.

In last week’s gospel, Jesus teaches us, how to pray. Part of that prayer, that we recite, is “give us today our daily bread.”

In the past few weeks, I’ve been going through my marriage preparation course a lot, as several couples prepare for their ‘big day.’ One session focuses on how to live Christ centered lives, and that focus is on living our relationship with Christ, with each other, and to the world around us. It encourages us to find opportunities to bring our time and our talents to bear for the betterment of the world.  One question asks what kind of a spiritual legacy do we wish to leave behind? An example given is a family who decides that one of the couple will go out and get a job to support the family, while the other uses her talents in the neighbourhood to help alleviate attitudes and an atmosphere of stress in what was an inner city neighbourhood with all of its societally imposed disadvantages.

Whether it is living our faith to the fullest, like Fr Jacques Hamel, or whether we follow the examples of, say, David Suzuki and his striving to bring the world to better ecological responsibility; or whether we step out of our comfort zones and volunteer to bring the love of God to one person at a time, there is so much for the people of Christ Church to do, not only in The Pas, but in the wider world.

Jesus words “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions;” is still very much a counter cultural message, today. But it is a counter cultural message that is worth living, every day.

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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