Here are my thoughts for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, 4 August 2007. (This has been edited since it was first published.)
After reading the Gospel for today (Luke 12: 13 – 21 ), there is part of me that wants to scream. It is a scream of anguish or frustration more than anything else and it comes from knowing that the words that Luke recorded come from Christ, yet they seem to be words that people ignore.
Jesus is speaking about our relationship with others, especially those of our family and how we must guard against being greedy. In the parable of the rich man, we read of a man whose wealth has increased beyond measure and he has begun making plans to store and keep his extra riches. Yet, on the night that he begins making those plans, he finds out that God has other plans for him and he is called to his eternal home. It brings the question framed in Mark, “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?”(Mark 8: 36 )
My scream comes from the fact that there are those in today’s society who claim to be messengers or prophets or ministers of God’s word who proclaim that it is perfectly alright to seek wealth and prosperity without fear of loss. There are those in today’s society who proclaim that God is our servant and whatever we ask, He will give to us. This so-called “prosperity gospel” is nowhere near what the Gospel says or even hinted at in the Bible. So I want to scream and cry out in anguish.
I also want to scream and cry out at those who listen to these words of misdirection and deceit. So many people today claim to be Christian and claim to follow the teachings of Jesus but they hold onto views that are in direct contradiction to what Jesus said and did. They are the type of people who say that “God helps those who help themselves” is found in the Bible without realizing that is a statement of Ben Franklin.
These contradictions are a result of what people think is in the Bible and what is actually in the Bible. It goes beyond the prosperity gospel and its get rich quick and without effort message. It extends into our knowledge of American history and real theology.
You hear so many so-called ministers proclaim that this country was founded on principles that come from the Bible. You hear so many so-called prophets of God claim that our founding fathers were God-fearing Christians. But you often do not hear that our founding fathers were in fact more deists than Christian; you often do not hear that being a member of a church and being identified with a particular congregation and/or denomination was done more out of political necessity and political requirements. You do not hear that Thomas Jefferson was so disenchanted with the Bible that he sought to write his own. You do not hear how Thomas Jefferson felt that the true church, true Christianity had been hijacked by the church. He thought that the teachings of Christ had been so distorted by organized churches that it made one half of the world fools and the other half hypocrites (http://www.mindfully.org/Reform/2005/Jesus-Without-Miracles1dec05.htm). I would hope that the percentages are a little bit different today.
I scream, not because the church has been hijacked by those with their own selfish and personal interests but because it seems that because so many others have allowed it to occur. I began to understand the pain and anguish that Hosea writes about in the Old Testament reading for today (Hosea 11: 1 – 11 ).
The passage of Hosea is God’s cry that the people that he cared for and that he brought out of slavery and bondage in Egypt have turned away. It is God’s cry that His people are lost again in the wilderness without his protection. God does not exact vengeance against a select few in a nation; He exacts it against all people. Those who say that such-and-such a disaster was God’s judgment against a select few fail to realize that this judgment is against all. And God’s mercy is for all, not just for a select few.
If we want God’s mercy, we must seek it; it will not come to us. If we do not want God’s judgment to be against us, then we must work to do God’s will. In part, this is what Hosea writes today. God has not abandoned His people; His people have abandoned Him.
Evil is unjust but if we stand by and allow evil to persist, then our inaction is also unjust. If we allow ministers or preachers to preach a message that is not found in the Gospel, be it about prosperity or Armageddon, then we deserve the outcome that will come. The only reason that such individuals can preach these false words is because people allow them to be preached. We cannot stand on the brink of disaster and say that we will be saved when we had the opportunity to prevent the disaster.
God calls us to seek the truth. God calls us to listen to His son and respond in kind. The call comes in our repentance. It means not seeing wealth as an individual right but as something to be shared. It means insuring that everyone has sufficient resources. It means not violating the integrity of another nation solely because you seek vengeance.
Paul points out his letter to the Colossians (Colossians 3: 1- 11 ) that we must give up our personal ways. He writes that we are to put to death all those things that identify you with the earth and take up those things that identify you with Christ. We are to find a new life in Christ.
The task before us is a great one. There are so many people out there who profess to know the truth and to speak the truth that it has become almost impossible to discern “the wheat from the chaff”. But God gave us the ability to seek the truth; He sent His son so that the truth would be known. We are reminded that it will be the truth, the truth found in Christ that will set us free.
How will we know what is the truth? Look at those who claim to speak the truth but prevent you from questioning what they say. How can that be the truth? Listen to those who speak of and then deny access to the church for people because of their race, their caste, their lifestyle. How can that be the truth? Is there not a resistance in the church today to those who call for a change in the way that the church relates to the world around it?
There are those today who would forsake the world around them, claiming it to be evil and doomed. But the very same powers that might lead to that claim also allow us to make great and positive changes. The ability of man to master the world around him makes it possible for all to share in a creative life in this world. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to seek the truth in this new creative life. Is not the breaking of the chains of oppression a sign that we are growing in the unity that Paul wrote about in Colossians (Colossians 3: 11)?
Does this new creative life not allow us to seek Christ in new ways, to see Christ in the world around us? Does this new creative life found in Christ allow us to become free to know God in the immediacy of human life? Are we, through Christ, now free to serve God? Can we not see the possibility of witnessing that Christ is revealed to mankind as the one who came to set people free and not through some strange and mysterious theology only known to a select few?
Are we not at that same point as the disciples of John were when they came to Jesus and asked for a sign that He was the Messiah? Do we not see that the lame walk, the deaf hear, the blind see, and the poor have the Good News preached to them (Taken from Luke 7: 22)?
We have a choice. We can allow others to tell us their version of the truth; we can let them go on and on misleading them. Or we can allow the Holy Spirit to come into our lives and open both our minds and hearts so that we can truly discern the truth. We can go on and allow others to tell us what to think and what to say and what to do. Or we can repent of our sins and our worldly ways, cast off that which ties us to this world and take up the mantle of Christ. And when we do this, when we accept Christ into our hearts and truly become His disciples, then we will know what the truth is and we will be truly free.