Saturday, August 10, 2013

Where your heart is... Proper 14C

Luke 12:32-48
32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell 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. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be 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. 37Blessed 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. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39“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. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
41Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?”42And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? 43Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. 44Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. 45But if that slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk,46the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. 47That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. 48But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.

I have been reading a book called The Underground Church by Robin Meyers, a UCC pastor
in Oklahoma City.  I thought I was a liberal until I read his book!!  But I found much in that book that resonated with my own approach to Christianity and the Church.  However, I find that he sets up too many polarities for the kind of peace that Christ promises in the Kingdom of God.  What Meyers does do is reset and clarify the vision of what it means to be Church in a time of changing priorities.  

First of all, he reminds us all of how we of the Church have been duped by the 'World', as we used to say.  Jesus was one who was subversive in the Roman Empire which had undermined the Jewish nation and culture.  He was teaching a people how to resist the oppression of the Empire by adhering to the principles of the Mosaic Law but not to the letter of the law that had been manipulated by those who would 'make nice' with Empire.  I truly believe that the reason for Jesus' mission was to 'show us the Father'--to reacquaint people with the Holy One of Israel and Judah.  

The early Christians were pacifists, conscientious objectors,  communal in their living, and tended to buy from one another than through the Empire marketed good.  They were the Amish of their day.  And such Gospel readings like today's reading show us that to be a Christian cost the Christian much.  It is interesting that the Lectionary for Episcopalians does not include the second half of this reading.  There is a good chance that the second portion of the reading was a later addition but it always good to wrestle with the whole of the text.  

We don't like to hear of slave beatings, or punishment from God.  But it was the way that era understood what God would do if the laws were not obeyed.  We also don't want to hear of Jesus telling us to 'sell all' and 'gives alms'.  It messes with our sense of hard work and reaping the harvest for what we have sown.  But Jesus saw that in his day that the people who were supposed to be following the Law of Moses had forgotten their tribal respect and
care for their people.  They found loop-holes in the Law so that they did not have to do the right thing.  That is the reason that 'lawyers' or scribes caught most of Jesus' wrath. 

That final verse of the larger passage is one that has always made me stop and look hard.  I believe I have been given much in my life.  I have an above average education.  I have a good pension and along with Social Security I can live a decent life in community.  I have been given much.  Therefore I understand that much is expected of me.  But what?  What does our God require of those of us who live decently?  Jesus says at the beginning of this passage to 'Sell all' and 'give alms'.  (I have talked before about my garage and the divesting is still going on.)  But what is it that God calls from us?

I had the gift once of sitting at Mother Theresa's feet when she said 'Give until it hurts.' when asked what could we young people could do for the sake of Christ.  She didn't advise going out and joining the convent or monastery.  She recommended that we give until it hurt so that our suffering would be redemptive.  Meyers suggests that we keep that Christian community of Acts that held all things in common as a model for our living today.  It is one way to address the Empire living to which we have become accustomed.  It is the way that we can keep from being overwhelmed by the Empire which inures us to something other than profit margins and getting ahead.

After living in community both in the convent and in a family (all families are pretty much communal, no matter how right-wing we might be), I know that holding all things for common usage is difficult.  And even religious communities now have evolved out of holding all things in common with personal ownership and separate living more the norm.  We have allowed the Empire to overshadow what it means to live radically what it means to self-less and self-giving in a world that needs us to conserve.

Christians in today's world are told that communism is bad and evil.  But it IS there in Scripture.  It was the reason that the early Christian martyrs were killed.  They lived lives that were based on God's law rather than the Imperial law.  They offered an alternative life style to the people of the Roman Empire that was not based in the oppressive Imperial economic patterns and posed a threat to the 'big business' of the Empire.  Meyers would have Christians to repeat that by buying at free trade venues.  And to a certain extent
I agree with him.  At the same time, I know many good Christians who are a part of that kind of Empire economy and I don't know how to help them see that Empire economics will eventually undermine our precious democracy, our American way of life just as surely as it did the Roman Empire's.

We have been given much in our lives in this country.  But we have taken much too and that is what needs to stop.  There is enough to feed all the hungry in the world.  But we spend so much time manipulating markets so that there are people who are starving to death even in our own country. In addition those who reap the wealth become hardened to the pleas of the poor.   How can we learn to give back, give until it hurts so that we can have compassion--the ability to 'suffer with'?  I don't know even where to begin.  But I know it must be done so that we do not lose the soul of Christianity to capitalism as the predominant religion of the world.  

Gandhi offered a list of seven social sins that we as Christians need to embrace  We need to resist:
  • politics without principle
  • wealth without work
  • commerce without morality
  • pleasure without conscience
  • education without character
  • science without humanity
  • and worship without sacrifice
And we need to remember that much will be expected of those who have been given much.



1 comment:

Terri said...

I appreciate the way you unpacked this text. I took such a simple approach, fitting for the context of our short casual summer services but I will need to find another opportunity to remind us of our blessings and how to use them well.