Sermon: Sunday, 29 September 2013

Sermon for 29 September 2013, Proper 21, Year C

The Rev. Sandy Obarski

A printable PDF file of this sermon is available here: 20130929 - Proper 21, Year C - The Rev. Sandy Obarski

During the last few weeks I have heard about two incidents involving people who returned money to strangers who had lost money. A homeless man found a backpack containing various papers involving investments and more than two thousand dollars in cash. He found the backpack lying outside of a building. The homeless man gave it to someone at the entrance of the building and it was returned to its owner. The homeless man was living in a shelter and said he didn’t need the money.

The second incident involved a nineteen-year-old manager of a Dairy Queen in Hopkins, MN. He was handling an order for a blind person in the serving line inside the restaurant. When the blind man dropped a twenty-dollar bill from his wallet the lady behind him in line picked it up and put it in her purse. As the blind man was leaving, the manager told the lady he would not serve her unless she returned the twenty dollars to the blind man. She became very upset and left the restaurant without returning the money to the blind man. When the blind man was outside of the Dairy Queen the manager went outside, took a twenty-dollar bill out of his wallet and gave it to the blind man telling him he had dropped it.

Both stories were reported on the TV evening news and in the major Twin Cities newspapers. Someone who was in the Dairy Queen reported that incident on Facebook and it became national news.

After I heard these stories I thought about why these incidents had drawn the attention of the media and the public as much as they did. Perhaps it is because we hear in our daily news and in our daily lives about people whose main goal in life is trying to gain more money for themselves with no concern for others. The ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor has become one of the most discussed issues in our society.

Luke clearly tells us that the parable we heard in this morning’s gospel was said to “lovers of money”, so it was a direct message to them. Apparently Jesus wanted to reveal through this parable that they loved their money more than people, their possessions more than the poor, their clothes more than compassion, and their extravagant feasts more than sharing food with the hungry. Perhaps Jesus had been a guest at one of his listener’s homes and had witnessed a scene similar to the one with which he began his parable. Jesus started the parable with the words, “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.” This surely would have heightened the interest of the Pharisees when hearing Jesus’ words.

Of the three prominent societies of Judaism at the time of Jesus, the Pharisees were by far the most influential. They were found everywhere in Palestine, not only in Jerusalem, and even wore a distinguishing clothes as to be easily recognized. They were an organized group, very loyal to the society and to each other, but separate from others, even their own people. They pledged themselves to obey all facets of the traditions to the smallest detail. They despised those whom they did not consider their equals and were haughty and arrogant because they believed they were the only interpreters of God and His Word. It was inevitable that they bitterly opposed Jesus and His teachings. If they despised the Herods and the Romans, they hated Jesus’ doctrine of equality and claims of Messiahship with equal anger.

At one point earlier in the gospel of Luke, Jesus denounced the Pharisees while having dinner at the home of one of them. Jesus said, “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect JUSTICE and the Love of GOD. It is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the other.” It is after this they began to be very hostile to Jesus.

Luke includes the parable of Lazarus in this gospel because it continues the theme of the dangers of riches and self-centeredness it encourages. Lazarus is a poor man who lay at the rich man’s gate covered with sores and satisfies his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table. The rich man showed no sympathy toward him and made no effort to relieve his pain and help Lazarus.

We occasionally hear and read about organizations and individuals giving large amounts of money to charities and non-profit groups. Many of us seek to have comfortable lives as we try to lead Christian lives within our families, congregations, and workplaces. Does having money make us persons falling short of a standard that is satisfactory for Christians? No, it is how we use our money and how we truly care about other people that is important and can make us different than the Pharisees.

How do we react to the homeless people we meet in our lives? Do we treat them as children of God and as equals in our lives. When walking on the streets or skyways of downtown Minneapolis we may encounter homeless people asking for money. It is important to treat them with respect by greeting them with a smile. We don’t need to give them money. You can tell them if they need food they are welcome to come to our food shelf, the Shelf of Hope, on Wednesdays from 10AM-1PM. If you tell them to come to the church with the red doors on 4th some of them will know exactly where that is located.

Our congregation is a member of Downtown Congregations for Ending Homelessness. This is an organization made up of fourteen downtown faith communities; eleven churches, one synagogue, and 2 mosques, who work together to advocate for the availability of more low income housing in Minneapolis. The group works together to educate all of the faith communities about ways to advocate for the homeless in our surrounding neighborhoods. Anyone who is interested in knowing more about the details of what this group is doing please speak to our priest, Theo, Lou Schoen, or me.

In our reading this morning from the first book of Timothy, written by an unknown author who used Paul’s name, we are told some of the advice given to some of the congregations started by Paul.

“As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure for a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”

We as a congregation are blessed with much wealth. I am not only talking about the amount of money we have, but the blessing of a Christian community doing the work of the Lord together. It is important that we not only pray and care for one another, but also for those outside of our church doors. We as Christians are called to act with justice for all and share the love of God for all in our words and actions.

AMEN.

This sermon was created by The Rev. Sandy Obarski for The Episcopal Church of Gethsemane, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Sources are credited where applicable.

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