September 25th, 2016: "The Good Fight of Faith"

Text: Jeremiah 32:1-3a,6-15; Psalm 91:1-6,14-16;     26th Sunday in Ordinary Time        Sandy Nuernberg

1 Timothy 6:5-19; Luke 16:19-31                    19th Sunday sfter Pentecost               Pastor

Title: “The Good Fight of Faith”                      Evangelism Sunday

1st Presbyterian Church                           Sunday, September 25th, 2016          Pardeeville, WI

 

Won’t you please pray with me, Lord, in thanking you for our many blessings this day, we ask that your Spirit comes to us in recognizing, through your Word to us, the true values and virtues of our faith in you. Help us to share in giving our gifts from you to others. AMEN. 

 

            In reading this week’s lectionary we are reminded that there are definite divisions between the haves and the have-nots. We live in a time when there are two very different worlds; where do we find ourselves? For you, it might be noticing others your age, or education, where they live and where you live, or retirement, and what they are doing, what’s important to them, and you. For me, now, in my second career, I am wondering what other pastors are doing. In seminary some time ago, I wondered what my professors were doing teaching with a ‘Rev.’ placed in front of their name. Why weren’t they in a church after being educated as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament? I found out that more than ¾ of my graduating class in 2003 were in non-church ministry roles.

 

Now, I’m wondering who is still working in church ministry and who of my colleagues are retiring on that desert island reading their favorite books and eating bon-bons? Our seminary female President, Rev. Cynthia Campbell, had come into her academia of teaching from church ministry in Kansas previously, and was actively pursuing students, teaching classes on campus, and traveling in pursuit of gifts from alumnae and others for our school (McCormick Theological School, Hyde Park, Chicago, ILL); I learned she was a C.E.O. that indeed was a ‘fund-raiser’ and it was who she knew, not so much what she taught that kept our seminary solvent. (For the most part, with a new president at MTS it is still true—Cynthia is retired!)

 

But for me, a student, there was one area she taught that involved the biblical understanding of riches, specifically, that we’d be required as pastors, like Jesus did often, to talk about the responsibility of our possessions---a rather ‘fancy’ way of saying our money. Words I remember her using were, ‘talk about it but don’t touch it.’ I listened up and took copious notes from Cynthia and other professors on this topic; I asked myself in all my listening, and being warned that talking about money in the church was especially uncomfortable for the pastor as well as the listener, how was I going to respond when the time came? Today’s text are just one example!

 

I asked at school then, at my home-church then, and I ask pastor’s now their ideas on this topic; some have never had a class, or preached on it---they didn’t write sermons or use the lectionary, either. Yes, I was in shock! But one friend in ministry told me “it’s like discussing gracefulness; God’s rich blessings we receive continuously, help us to respond like majestic waters, and ‘flow them’ in the direction of others.”

 

It sounds like our texts, huh? Nothing about money as a term, but direction towards the good fight of faith in the use of our possessions in the lives we live! Today’s text is similar to last week’s in that they both speak about managing our wealth; the lost and found along with the rich and poor. They ask us to ask ourselves, how much is enough? Where are our boundaries? What these texts ask us, really, is ‘how concerned are we in the faithful stewardship of our goods? In our faithful stewardship, where do we define our clear boundaries of what is mine and what is not mine? I think God is asking us, ultimately, to look, listen, watch in our good fight of faith and respond to one another.

 

I believe we have to be very careful here. It really sounds ‘preachy’ when Paul is talking to Timothy about family, faith, and godly instruction; he tells him to not slack off, but to tell those rich in the world to quit being so full of themselves that they can’t go after God, ‘who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—like being rich in helping others, being extravagantly generous.’(The Message, 1Timothy 6:17-19, p. 1644).

 

 Yes, there are two worlds in Luke’s text; the detesting world of a poor, hungry man named Lazarus, on this earthly life full of sores sucked by dogs, and going to the ‘angels.’ Another wonderful world is of a ‘kingly’ rich man who was buried, tormented in ‘Hades.’ Yes, there are boundaries here of the rich, poor, and we, you and I, certainly want to identify with the rich. But their positions change in a reversal of roles here. We find Abraham, the prophet, responding as God in Christ, telling the rich man in essence, that he is the ‘ultimate’ steward of his riches. 

 

            In life and in death, we choose what is ours and what is not ours. If we don’t listen, how can we respond well? Words of scripture tell us, where our treasures are, our heart will be also (Matthew 5:21). Also, ‘the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil’ (1 Tim. 6:10).

 

            “Good fences make good neighbors,” says the poet Robert Frost. (“Mending Walls,by Robert Frost, from ‘The Poetry of Robert Frost,’ 1979, p. 33-34). In our clear boundaries between the rich and the poor, Frost asks us in our building walls between us, who we are willing in and who are we walling out? It’s a great question. Here is the last part of that poem, where he has talked about the cows, others who are ‘fenced in’:

 

      “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

                                             That wants it down” I could say, “Elves” to him,

                                             But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather

                                             He said it for himself. I see him there,.

                                             Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top

                                             In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

                                             He moves in darkness as it seems to me,

 Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

He will not go behind his father’s saying,

And he likes having thought of it so well

                  He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

 

            I prefer to think we are, in life, sometimes building walls in our relationships, not with each other, but with God. Aren’t we so comfortable with ourselves sometimes that we become uncomfortable in wanting to know God better? We worry so much about God’s wrath that we aren’t able to find a way to embrace God’s love, and we find that fence between us and God. We draw a boundary line or a wall between us and God, so to speak.

 

            Yet wasn’t God, in Christ, the one who was hungry and thirsty, like Lazarus, and ‘separated’ from society and imprisoned, and taken to the cross because he was ‘different’ from others? He lived and breathed on the boundaries of life, and in his good fight of faith he was marked in limits of being with those who had and those who had not. Jesus saw those who were suffering; he was with those on the margins of society.

 

            Our message is certainly how we live and breathe the good fight of faith; it’s who we are seated with, with whom we’re in communion. Jesus comes to us to find if we are listening to those around us; he knocks on our door often, to see if we will respond in seeing in our world what he saw in his area of the world. Isn’t God in each of the faces we see, rich or poor? Jesus asks us if we can accept both or are we ‘tainted’ by one from another?

 

            Ultimately and fortunately, finally, we are asked as Christians, you and I, to sit at God’s right hand as sheep, not goats, in inheriting the kingdom; in feeding the hungry, giving drink to those thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting those in prison (Matthew 25:31-46). ‘Truly I tell you,’ says Jesus, ‘just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it unto me.’ Let it be so.

 

                                                                        Thanks be to God.               AMEN.

 

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