This is the loose-ish transcript of a sermon I delivered at North Ryde Uniting Church (25/09/16). If you're the audiological type, you can listen here (you can also download by right clicking).
The readings were:
Jer 32:1-3a, 6-15
1 Tim 6:6-19
Economics, far from being a side issue, is a “core preoccupation of the biblical tradition”.
These words from Walter Brueggemann have been ringing around my ears since I looked up the lectionary readings for this Sunday. Actually, that’s not quite true – my first thought was “thanks Mata” way to leave me with all the money passages and warnings to the rich – just the kind of good news that a guest speaker likes to bring.
Well, my attempt will still be to bring some good news, bring the hopeful alternative to the foreground… but I don’t think we would do the Biblical witness justice if we went there without first hearing, and sitting in, its critique.
I think we should begin by walking our way through the readings…
What were some things that jumped out at people?
Ok, my turn…
· The Lukan reversal
Luke’s Gospel has a pronounced theme of reversals – of surprising subversions of the way we expect things might be. This begins in Mary’s Magnificat where she sings about what God will do through the babe in her womb:
“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty”.
Luke’s version of the beatitudes (6:20) is very temporally focused, honed in on the immediacy of situations and the way this may soon be reversed (read). When Jesus is in the house of a Pharisee and a “sinful woman” comes into the house and begins to bathe Jesus’ feet with her tears, he says of her (and his company) that those who have their many sins forgiven will show great love, whereas those to whom little is forgiven, loves little. It’s the gospel where greatness is measured by who welcomes the child, includes parables about abandoning 99 sheep to find the one that lost its way, where the humble will be exalted and the exalted humbled, and where some of the last will be first and some of the first will be last.
This theme of reversals is important, it paints a beautiful and hopeful, topsy turvey picture of the Kingdom of God, it reminds us of the surprising nature of God’s reign and realm – which is so different to the way of things now, where rich and poor is so ingrained that we assume it must be natural and inevitable, it challenges the assumption that the rich must be blessed and righteous, and the poor somehow to blame for their lot in life, and reminds us – that contrary to what the world will tell us every single day – the security of wealth is not where true contentment of the soul resides – read Luke 12:13-21
· A Great Chasm (now and then)
One of the lines that strikes me most in the parable comes after the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to cool his tongue and relieve his agony, Abraham says no for two reasons, first fits within the schema of reversals, the second is this line:
“And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us”
Two thoughts – 1) in an interesting way, the rich man still seems to feel entitled to order the impoverished Lazarus to serve him – as if this is (and must be) his role in the relationship. Just as the rich man never stopped to serve Lazarus and tend to the awful affects of his poverty even now, in agony and aware of his wrong, he wishes to use Lazarus to ease his burden. What might this say for the way that those in wealth and power treat or view those who are marginalised and lack the wealth to influence and impress?
The second thought is this “great chasm”… I feel like in many ways our current world is set up to maintain the kind of chasm here imagined in the world beyond. A chasm that the poor cannot cross because of generational poverty, predatory capitalism, the whole go with those you know clubs which keep the right people from the right families and right circles in places of privilege – that resist every effort to diversify and open themselves up to new voices, new influences. One of the beautiful pictures we have of the early Jesus movement (though lets not idealise it, they had loads of problems around this very issue) was the establishment of a new community, which cut through all levels and categories of social hierarchies and status. Jesus broke bread with all comers, and called a community into being that would overcome the chasms of our world, gathering all under the new banner of Christ crucified and resurrected.
· Something we already know
This is just a small point – where Abraham tells the rich man that he won’t send Lazarus to the brothers because they have Moses and the prophets – this speaks to the simple fact that we know what we need to know in order to live in such a way that uses our money, our gifts, our resources, and influence to help others, to live in such a way that doesn’t discriminate, doesn’t exploit the vulnerable, doesn’t add to the great chasm of inequality – we know from Moses, the Prophets, the Gospels, the epistles, and 2-something thousand years of tradition… we know what we need to know to live this way, and yet, so many of us, like the rich man – are waiting, still waiting for a “sign” for some sort of indication that we should act and live justly, that we should not hoard our wealth but use it to bring the kingdom… the sign has come, asking for more is only an excuse.
1 Timothy 6
· Wary of finding our hope or contentment in riches
I feel like I want to read the parable of the rich fool again… and since I’m up here I will – because this is basically the warning from the writer of Timothy is story form… (read Luke 12:15-21)
Timothy, paints a gorgeous picture of two types of relatedness to money and possessions (two ways of living really) there are those who, because they want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and give into foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. People who are determined to be rich and so value accumulation and financial security (read: abundance) over people, whether that is people in their community or people who make their clothes on the other side of the world. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. We cannot serve God (or our neighbour) and money.
Then there are those who are contented with food, clothing, and these basic materials, who use what is in addition to do justice through generosity, to be rich in good works. These people aren’t commanded to give all things away, but to not place their hope in money as they would God – because if your hope is in money and the things it can achieve, how can you ever give it away… no one chooses to diminish their source of hope.
· Acting in trust, embodying the alternative
Continuing that last point, place hope in God not money – value people over possessions – use what we have to overcome and subvert the great chasms here on earth.
This funny passage in Jeremiah provides a splendid little example of where to place hope. Jerusalem is under siege, God’s people are watching all that had come to represent the promises of God crumble and falter, they are about to be taken into exile… this is a time of catastrophic trauma.
And Jeremiah, following a directive from the Lord, buys a plot of land… he observes all the necessary filing of deeds and storing of documents… why? If Israel is out and Babylon is in, then these deeds will mean little – new rule in town. This is like someone buying property in the middle of war torn region with no hope that future governments will honour the purchase… but Jeremiah is not placing his hope in money or the property it can grant him.
He places trust in a God who will be faithful, God where true contentment resides. God who overcomes the fear of scarcity, that calms the fear that says, if this money leaves your hand who knows what you will miss out on, what you won’t be able to get, what happiness or security you will now not feel – hope in an abundant, generous God who gives all good gifts, who gives enough so that we may all live a true life overcomes the fear of scarcity – which really just the fear of death at a dress up party – and allows us to live true lives in the subversive, alternative, kingdom of reversals that we have been invited, and by our presence here today, mostly likely indicated our acceptance to join.
Trust in the abundance and faithfulness of God undercuts the fear of scarcity allowing us to embody a hopeful alternative which seeks to use what we have been gifted for neighbourliness and justice.