Live in Charity – Lectionary 08/11/2019

Isaiah 1:10-20

Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation— I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.
Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them.
When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Luke 12:32-40

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.  You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Sermon Text

The Church has a duty to every person who is in need. From our founding on Pentecost we have had two charges put before us – Love the Lord your God and Love your Neighbor as Yourself. These two overarching missions define everything we do. The Methodist Church has interpreted these two charges in its mission statement, “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the World.” This transformation can take many forms, but the most essential one is that there should be no need among anyone who lives near a church.

I will repeat that. There is no reason anyone within, let us modernize the metric, twenty-five miles of a church should be hungry. No reason that they should be cold at night. With how many people are in the Church in America. With every person who claims to be, “Christian,” there is no reason that anyone should suffer under poverty. To break this down, there are some numbers I would like to share with you all.

In the United States, there are – apparently – two hundred and fifty million Christians. The average income in the United States is somewhere around fifty thousand dollars. If everyone who identified as Christian in America gave 10 percent of their income directly to the causes of hunger and homelessness – then there would be neither and an additional trillion-dollar would be left to do good works every year. If every Christian gave 5 percent of their income, a bit more palatable – then there would be no homelessness, no hunger, and there would still be about 550 billion dollars left to do good work with. Now, here is the terrifying question. If we gave, just 1 percent of what we made direct to causes of hunger and homelessness. Then we could solve both, and still have seventy billion dollars to do good work with.

The most that the average Christian would have to give to the needy every year is $500 dollars. The more we have, the more this would go up of course. A billionaire would have to give more, but by the time you have a billion dollars you have no risk of going hungry by giving 1% of your income.

Now, we get scared when we hear we are to give our money. Money is how we live in the modern-day. Money has taken the place of crops or livestock for most of us, and even people who raise these have to worry about selling them. Money, as several songs will tell us, makes the world go around. To quote Ecclesiastes, “Money, can buy everything.” There is much to be found in scripture about money.

If you took the bible and cut out every reference to it, you would have a shredded document, entire chapters simply gone. Money, like it or not, does a great deal in the love. The problem with it is when we fall in love with it. Something so powerful definitely demands our attention, sucks us into its influence and leaves us feeling totally dependent upon it. When we put all the power of our life in money, then we give ourselves over to as Paul calls it – “The root of all kinds of evil.” I personally would translate the phrase more strongly, “The root of all things evil.”

The two passages we have tell us exactly what the cost of loving money is. It is the soul, the essence of all we are. The love of money renders us incapable of true worship, it prevents us from seeing God in others, and it leaves us unprepared for Christ’s return. We begin in Isaiah, and by way of Ezekiel we will come to the Gospel, weaving our way through scripture this morning we are going to find the straight and narrow takes more biblical literacy then we might think. Today the word of God speaks against Sodom, it speaks against Rome, and above all my brothers and sisters, it speaks against us.

The text from Isaiah introduces us to a shorthand for evil in the Old Testament. Sodom, much more than Gomorrah for some reason, is among those names which instantly mean the scripture has a critique for those reading it. To be compared to Sodom, the ancient city which ousted angels and threatened violence against them, that burnt under God’s wrath, that is a heavy accusation to weigh against anyone. Sodom has a specific charge which is always put against it in scripture, and it probably is not what you’re thinking. This is the problem we read about in Ezekiel chapter 16. In this, the people of Israel are once more compared to the ancient object of God’s wrath, now so alike to Israel that they are called one another’s sister.

Ezekiel cries out to Jews in exile and says to them, “As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it… Bear your disgrace, you also, for you have brought about for your sisters a more favorable judgment; because of your sins in which you acted more abominably than they, they are more in the right than you. So be ashamed, you also, and bear your disgrace, for you have made your sisters appear righteous.”

What was the sin of Sodom that has defined it in scripture – lack of hospitality. Inability to care for the poor. Whatever else the manifold sins of Sodom, this is the one that is constantly brought up against it. Sodom had more material wealth than it knew what to do with. Rather than give to the poor, and at the time those would be the people outside the city walls, they hoarded their money in their own treasuries. The wealth of Sodom was so great that the people inside the city had no worries, no need to be hospitable because all those who were anyone would already be living within their walls. When Lot welcomed the angels in, the angels would have stood out by humble dress as opposed to the richness of all those in the city. Lot was righteous because he shared his wealth, even though he had grown to be a rich man of note in the city – even though he was seated in the City Gate where all civil legal matters were handled.

This is also why, when Jesus tells his disciples to brush the sand of their feet when they have been turned away, that, “It will be better for Sodom on the day of Judgment.” Again, turning someone away who is in need is one of the most vile things you can do in God’s eyes. The help that you could have given but did not stains your hands as much as murder ever could.

That is why, through this winding path, we come to the Gospel reading for today. In this passage, Jesus tells us that we are not to keep our wealth to ourselves. “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom!” This is a Kingdom which is not to be built out of hoarded wealth, not to be protected by a lack of generosity, but one that is strengthened by self-emptying. Do you find yourself with an overabundance? Then share with the needy. If you do not see an abundance, take stock of what you have.

There is the amount which we all need to live a fairly comfortable life – to have furniture and clothing and transportation – but if the Christian lives in as much luxury as the non-Christian who makes the same amount then we must question whether or not enough has been invested in the needy. Again, the question is not as large as giving up our houses or our hot water, but it one that we must be careful to attend to. “Do I need to eat out today, or can I eat some of the food I have at home?” “Do I need to upgrade my phone when the lease is paid on it, or can I go on for another year or two without a new one?” “Do I need to buy a new outfit every fall and spring, or is can I live with what I already have.”

Then we can save money to protect ourselves, then we can make money with purpose. Above all though, being aware of the riches we have and how much we are holding back lets us give more fully. Twenty dollars a month to those in need, that’s not much. Fifty even isn’t much. Yet, if we all gave that, there would be no need in the world.

When we read that Jesus expects us to be ready, like attentive slaves, it is not just that we live a life worthy of Christ so that when Kingdom comes we may enter it, though this is true. Jesus is also begging us when someone knocks at your door or crosses your path on the street and they are hungry, that you feed them. That you clothe them or pay for their needs. The beggar who arrives unexpectedly is Christ, and Christ will not tell you when he is coming to visit. So be ready, because Christ is more often dressed as a pauper than a king and as St. John Chrysostom said fifteen hundred years ago, “If you cannot see Christ in the beggar on the Church Step you will not find Christ at the altar.” Seek Christ in those around you, attend to the needs of every person, give simply so that others may simply live, this is the witness of Scripture against us today. – Amen

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