Prayer of the Day
O God, rich in mercy, you look with compassion on this troubled world. Feed us with your grace, and grant us the treasure that comes only from you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
1The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. 2At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, 3awhere King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him. 6Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: 7Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” 8Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.
9And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. 10I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. 11Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; 12and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. 13In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, 14Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. 15For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
1You who dwell in the shelter of | the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of | the Almighty—
2you will say to the Lord, “My refuge | and my stronghold,
my God in whom I | put my trust.”
3For God will rescue you from the snare | of the hunter
and from the | deadly plague.
4God’s wings will cover you, and you will find ref- | uge beneath them;
God’s faithfulness will be your shield | and defense.
5You shall not fear any terror | in the night,
nor the arrow that | flies by day;
6nor the plague that stalks | in the darkness,
nor the sickness that lays | waste at noon.
14I will deliver those who | cling to me;
I will uphold them, because they | know my name.
15They will call me, and I will | answer them;
I will be with them in trouble; I will rescue and | honor them.
16With long life will I | satisfy them,
and show them | my salvation.Prayer of the Day
1 Timothy 6:6-19
6Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 7for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; 8but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
11But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. 16It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
17As 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. 18They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.
[Jesus said:] 19“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house—28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”
Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove
Sometimes I see the growing wealth gap and I simply despair. I have no hope for the uber wealthy—they cannot help themselves the voice in my head goes. Then I read about people like Yvon Chouinard, founder of clothing company Patagonia, who made the news this week for giving his company away to help all of us.
This news was simply the latest in a remarkable history of a company with what Simon Sinek calls a just cause. Take for example Patagonia’s Common Threads Initiative. It includes a commitment to make high-quality clothes that will last a long time, so they don’t have to routinely replaced (which reduces waste); a promise to repair their products for free, so that people don’t throw them out (which reduces waste); a partnership with eBay, so that people can “reuse,” buy and sell secondhand products (which reduces waste) [and is part of the slow fashion movement]; and when a product finally does come to the end of its life, Patagonia will take it off your hands to recycle it rather than have us throw it in the garbage (which reduces waste).
Anyone who looks at a wealthy person and thinks, “well, it’s a forgone conclusion that he or she will always walk by the least among us” should consider Chouinard and Patagonia. There are many ways to walk on this earth as a wealthy person. And individuals and companies can make money if they are driven by a just cause, not the bottom line.
In Jesus’ words this morning, two very different lives are exposed with sobering insight. We dare not miss their wisdom. A life well lived is never lived apart from those around us. Blessings received are never meant to be enjoyed alone. It is only in caring for those around us that we live the life God intends. Someone once remarked that the only reason that the Dead Sea is dead is because it never let any of the water that entered it go out again. It kept it all for itself and in failing to share became stagnant and lifeless.
After two verses that set up the initial tension between the rich man and the Lazarus, who lives at the rich man’s gate, and, we can imagine, was visible to the rich man every time he left his home, both men died and find themselves with reversed fortunes for all eternity. Lazarus did not earn his fate but received compensation for misfortune and misery that were beyond his control. The rich man, however, finds himself tormented in Hades as the consequence of his own actions, or as a consequence of his inaction in regard to Lazarus.
The rich man’s first response to his condition is as self-absorbed as the life he lived. He calls to Abraham to release Lazarus with some water to cool his burning tongue. The fact that he knows Lazarus’s name means that he knew the name of the man he passed every day and to whom he would not give even his table crumbs.
Abraham addresses the rich man with the same term with which the father in the prodigal son parable addresses his elder son, “child,” and tells him that it is not possible for anyone to cross the divide. Abraham actually says, “Those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so,” perhaps implying that Lazarus would have done this deed of mercy were it allowed. The rich man, by contrast, is incapable of compassion for Lazarus, even in death.
But he does muster some compassion for his brothers. After he learns that his torment cannot be relieved, he asks Abraham to employ Lazarus as a messenger, again with no regard for Lazarus other than as someone to do his bidding, to his five brothers to warn them in order that they may avoid his fate. Abraham denies this request also. There will be no Christmas Carol ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future to warn his brothers.
Abraham holds firmly to the position that the brothers have Moses and the prophets, who are sufficient to convince the convincible to live their lives with compassion for the poor. From our perspective, we also have this story to add to our warnings. The rich man, who could not reach his brothers through Lazarus, has reached his brothers and sisters through the telling of the story.
The author of 1st Timothy reminds us that the love of money, and not money itself, is the root of much evil. Throughout the centuries of human experience with trade and commerce, humanity has found it difficult to have wealth yet not become possessed by it or love it. The practice of stewardship is central. Acting as stewards rather than owners can function like a riverbank that helps to keep our desires flowing powerfully where they belong. Or, remembering that we are stewards rather than owners can raise speedbumps for us when we have taken a questionable road in pursuit of “more.”
An explicit message in 1st Timothy is that communities need to pay attention to their desires. We would do well as a church to develop a vocabulary of attending to desires. Created as we are in the image of God, we are born to desire God and to care for one another. Disordering of desires can lead to worshiping things other than God and turning others into means to our self-interested, self-absorbed ends.
This is root of the rich man’s sin—he puts his trust in the world, not God. And this is something anyone can do—rich or poor. That this is at the heart of our scripture verses today means that these texts apply to all of our lives.
Few of us gathered here will have the opportunities of Yvon Chouinard and Patagonia. Most of us, when it comes to love of our neighbors and care for the land, are going to have an impact by acting in our local context. I can think of few other great guides for this than Wendell Berry, the Kentucky farmer, essayist, poet sometimes called the prophet of rural America.
He recently published his latest book. Here are a few lines from a review I read this week, “Now in his late 80s, Berry writes from a singular perspective, drawing on a lifetime of experience. As in all his work, he returns to fundamental questions about how people might live together in ways that heal and nurture all members of a local community.”
Writing about the local economy some time ago, Berry wrote, “So far as I can see, the idea of a local economy rests upon only two principles: neighborhood and subsistence. In a viable neighborhood, neighbors ask themselves what they can do or provide for one another, and they find answers that they and their place can afford. This, and nothing else, is the practice of neighborhood. This practice must be, in part, charitable, but it must also be economic, and the economic part must be equitable; there is a significant charity in just prices.”
A realist, Berry adds, “Of course, everything needed locally cannot be produced locally. But a viable neighborhood is a community; and a viable community is made up of neighbors who cherish and protect what they have in common. This is the principle of subsistence. A viable community, like a viable farm, protects its own production capacities. It does not import products that it can produce for itself.” (Orion Magazine)
The rich man of our parable would have been hard-pressed to fit into Berry’s economy, but Chouinard could have. So could the prophet Jeremiah, who we heard from again today.
The LORD instructs Jeremiah to purchase the field, because the prophet has the right to redeem it. This well-known practice in ancient Israel involved the purchase of land by the next of kin, usually when a relative had died, in order to keep property within the clan (cf. Ruth 4). The significance of this action is profound given the historical context of the second Babylonian siege of Jerusalem.
In the middle of city’s impending destruction, Jeremiah makes an investment in the future stock of Judah’s eventual restoration, when “houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” This symbolic action of hope does not cancel out the word of judgment that Jeremiah had already proclaimed. The judgment of the LORD was certain. The fate of the people was sealed. In fact, it was being fulfilled even as Jeremiah was signing the deed of purchase.
Babylon would destroy Jerusalem and Judah and carry off its inhabitants into exile. The prophet, however, activates the future in the present through a symbolic act of purchasing a field. God’s people would be restored and would again thrive in the land (verse 15). Perilous times require the faithful to put into embodied action the hope that God has announced, which is already here, but not yet.
As we sort through the specific issues of justice and mercy in our time and place we are reminded to really see our local economies, to look into the eyes of our neighbors, and to gaze deeply into the waters and soil and landscape of Southwest Idaho or the places where we reside.
We have the word of God passed down through generations to warn us, guide us, and give us hope. Here, to close, are a few stanzas from Wendell Berry’s A Poem on Hope.
Found your hope, then, on the ground under your feet.
Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground
underfoot. Be it lighted by the light that falls
freely upon it after the darkness of the nights
and the darkness of our ignorance and madness.
Let it be lighted also by the light that is within you,
which is the light of imagination. By it you see
the likeness of people in other places to yourself
in your place. It lights invariably the need for care
toward other people, other creatures, in other places
as you would ask them for care toward your place and you.
No place at last is better than the world. The world
is no better than its places. Its places at last
are no better than their people while their people
continue in them. When the people make
dark the light within them, the world darkens.
Prayers of Intercession
As scattered grains of wheat are gathered together into one bread, so let us gather our prayers for the church, those in need, and all of God’s good creation.
A brief silence.
O God, rich in mercy, fill your church with righteousness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Empower the baptized by your Spirit to be rich in good works and ready to share. God of grace,
hear our prayer.
Protect the earth and its creatures. Provide water, food, shelter, and favorable habitats, especially for endangered species. Preserve threatened ice caps, glaciers, parks, and beaches. God of grace,
hear our prayer.
Increase justice in nations, local governments, and courtrooms. Guide lawyers and those who hold public office to act with compassion and discernment (local authorities may be named). God of grace,
hear our prayer.
Give food to the hungry. Set the captives free. Lift up those who are bowed down. Watch over the stranger. Tend to those who are ill (especially). Stir us to act in the best interest of our neighbors. God of grace,
hear our prayer.
Enliven our praise. Inspire musicians, artists, poets, and all who create beauty in this place (those who plan and lead worship may be named). God of grace,
hear our prayer.
Here other intercessions may be offered.
Enfold the saints who have died in the arms of your loving care. Grant that the holy angels accompany us and bring us to eternal life with them in the light of your presence. God of grace,
hear our prayer.
Gathered together in the sweet communion of the Holy Spirit, gracious God, we offer these and all our prayers to you; through Jesus Christ, our Savior.