A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
By The Rev. J. Carr Holland
Rector of Grace Church in Newark, NJ
Sermon Proper20C: Amos 8: 4–7 (8–12), Luke 16:1-13
At first blush you might think the image from Amos
that would catch my attention is that of all of you
suddenly becoming as bald as I am, but alas it is this image:
“I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of Bread,
or a thirst for water, but of hearing the Words of the Lord.”
It seems a strange threat doesn’t it.
And yet I wonder sometimes if much of the world,
this country does not live in such a famine.
And as a more progressive sort, I know I wonder about this
from a different place then a conservative.
And when I wonder, I wonder
how we have let ourselves get where we are.
I wonder why it is masked so long as just a matter of business
when some corporation lies to the public and its employees,
uses their pensions to prop up life styles of the rich
and now infamous, the Enron guys?
And why it is a matter of business just to try & cover over.
I wonder why Martha Stewart thought she would not go to jail
for her quiet disregard of investment law,
and why the excuse was she is a scapegoat.
There are bigger and worse sorts to catch.
But what about daily self-vigilance?
I wonder, how are people to be able to buy health insurance
who make less then a living wage? …and there are many,
even if the government gives each household $3000.
And I wonder about the elderly who must be so poor
to even qualify for drug assistance,
while the Government takes care of pharmaceutical companies
and their profit margins.
I wonder how we ever thought we would have
a nice tidy little war in Iraq
when so many people’s lives were at stake,
both here and there.
What person stands before their home in ruins and says ‘Thank You?
Did anyone thank hurricane Charley or Ivan? A tidy war?
I wonder if we are forever just self-centered,
when we elect a government into office that seems to ignore
the poverty in our land, cut taxes so that the benefit goes to
the upper 20%, and grow our national debt so
later generations will finance our current way of life?
How is any of this different from what Amos saw in the life of Israel
which made him think about the judgement of God?
All the outward signs of religion were present in Amos’ world & ours.
The Sabbath and holy days were kept.
But it seemed even these where times
to use the silence to ponder ill gotten gain.
In Israel the poor and needy where trampled on,
sold into slavery like so many people living on unfair wages
in this country, the immigrant workers we under pay
who keep restaurants open, sweat shops working,
suburban houses and offices clean.
Why? So the rich could prosper or those who desire to be rich
Business was so corrupt that when you bought wheat --
the flour to make your bread,
you found it weighed down with the sweepings,
when you bought oil, the container was smaller then promised. Just regular business….growing dishonest to its heart.
Small things it seemed,
but the very things that show the character of a people.
I wonder if they were always dishonest, these businessmen.
Or did they begin as responsible,
optimistic members of their communities?
Did the dishonesty just seep in
perhaps as wealth became more and more important
or as they were less scrupulous about small acts…
and they saw they could get by with it?
Perhaps they just grew bolder when, -- thought no one was noticing.
But God noticed according to Amos …and God will not forget.
If you will cheat me on a pound of flour, on the cost of medicine,
where else will you cheat me?
If I will lie to you about the little things what will I do
about the essential things, the things of greater import?
What does this do to the fabric of society? To the Hopes of God?
Perhaps there are always parts of the land
that are in famine for the Word of God.
And sometimes it happens to mask itself as faithful religion.
Choosing to hate one thing, forgetting to do some essential good.
It is into this world of distorted religion and character
that not only Amos walked … but so did Jesus.
By this point in Lukes Gospel Jesus has turned to go to Jerusalem.
He knows that there will be important work to do there.
He has gathered his disciples, his followers,
and he is teaching them.
He has been teaching about God’s care,
a care that seeks whatever is lost,
the sheep that has wandered off, the coin lost,
the son who has left home to no good end, who then is found.
He has shown that at God’s heart there is deep mercy,
compassion, care, -- a watchful eye/heart looking for us.
God rejoices when we catch the vision and follow the way,
when compassion and mercy are integral to our life.
Then Jesus tells this odd story, a rich man…
clearly a story of God’s coming.
A rich man has entrusted much to his manager
….but he was not a good steward, a manager of the property.
He has defrauded in some way. But it is not clear.
Did he defraud the Master or did he defraud others?
There is at least the suggestion that
he may have over charged the Master’s clients.
By usury, interest he has dramatically increased their debt.
He may have pocketed the gain…an early Enron scheme.
“So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first,
‘How much do you owe my master?’
He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’
He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’
Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’
He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’
He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’
What kind of creative accounting is this?
The managers has aggressively applied the principles
by which he has lived – principles of dishonesty and cunning.
He has sought to turn “his Master’s” policies around…to gain friends.
He has reformed their bills so he seems a worthy friend.
That someone must lose is not in his vision…he may gain.
Jesus does not commend the manager’s practices,
but rather his insight into the connection
between resources and relationship.
It causes Jesus to wonder,
“What would the world be like if the Children of the Light – of God,
applied the principles of good with equal diligence?”
Why are we not more aggressive in the works of kindness, mercy?
Because it costs us?
It always has, whether we do them or ignore them?
That was Amos point and the point of Jesus life.
How might we use our resources to accomplish God’s good?
If we think our resources are peripheral to God’s reign
then we have missed the warning of Jesus
-- that it is impossible to serve God and Mammon.
We risk loosing the true riches in that bargain,
-- the graciousness of God, the reign of God realized
We need to hold this in mind in every political moment,
It is important that we hold our public servants to a high standard.
but we need to do more.
It is important that you & I seek the lost and share this house of faith.
It is essential that we are each creative in how we look
at the many who daily cross our paths, who enter our lives
-- in how we offer them -- the good effects
of our faith, our hope, our relationship to God.
We need 1st to bring ourselves daily to God, to keep the Holy days,
to allow the Word to feed our lives and our household.
to allow God to permeate our daily existence.
We need to invite others to join us, to share with them what feeds us,
to see what might fed them, to share this bread of God.
And it is also essential that we give of what we have received,
that we give our tithes generously
to support the work of the Gospel, this house of worship,
our efforts at giving service to God.
Our tithes are not negotiable, they are essential.
They keep us daily focused on how we participate in God’s work.
They remind us that material things
properly held and properly shared are ways of holiness.
We cannot serve God and Wealth, Jesus says.
One will always out master the other.
We can serve God and see that what wealth we have follows suit.
When we are faithful in our little, much happens,
almost just beyond our seeing, -- the reign of God takes root,
ministry grows into life,
mercy finds a new birthplace,
and we find the road to our true and eternal home.
The Children of light effect their time in History, to the glory of God.
May this be our vision and this be our journey.
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