Here are my thoughts for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, 19 September 2010. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Jeremiah 8: 18 – 9: 1; 1 Timothy 2: 1 – 7; and Luke 16: 1 – 13.
My apologies for not posting this on Sunday – things are in flux right now.
As I have written before, when I look at the three basic scriptures in the Lectionary, I try to formulate a title that expresses my thoughts about the scriptures. In other words, I formulate a plan that will guide me in my thoughts and thinking as I write the message, sermon and/or blog for the week.
That’s the basis for the title this week. I see in the scriptures some thoughts about having a plan; unfortunately, as I reviewed the information that would be the basis for my plan, I discovered some flaws that have caused me to think about what I wanted to write. Still, the basis for my ideas is still true and it is worth putting down those ideas.
I recall back in 1968 the talk about Richard Nixon’s secret plan to end the Viet Nam War. As I discovered in research, he really never had such a plan but he also wasn’t going to be very open about how he was going to resolve that little conflict in Asia. It was important for me back then to understand what the President of the United States had planned because certain aspects of my life, namely the draft, dictated that I would be an instrument in the implementation of that plan. And it wasn’t something that I was too crazy about.
First, the idea of the draft was an abhorrent one to me. It also struck me that I had absolutely no say in the matter, whatsoever. I wasn’t twenty-one so I couldn’t vote back then and there was a certain degree of unfairness to the idea that I could be chosen to go over to a land far, far away and be engaged in a conflict that might cost me my life and I would have absolutely no say in the matter. Now, as I have written before, I had and have no problem with military service. I am the son and grandson of military officers and, all things being equal, I would have probably joined the Air Force when I graduated from college. But I wanted that to be my choice, free and clear; not one determined by other factors that I had no say in.
It strikes me that some of the voices we hear today echo that same sentiment; that decisions are being made by authoritarian figures of all types that affect each person’s life and that the person has no say in the matter. Sometimes those authoritarian figures are one’s parents and, as a child, there is a certain understanding that you will do what your parents want you to do. But as the child gets older and begins to see the world through their own eyes, their input and their responsibility (nasty little word, that one, but it had to be included) increases as well.
And perhaps that is part of the problem. People today want the input but not the responsibility. They may not like paying taxes but taxes are part of the responsibility one pays for being a citizen and what grant them the right and privileges of citizenship. The other responsibility of a citizen is to be involved in the political process (that’s sometimes known as voting). If you do not participate in the political process, you really don’t have any means by which to complain. By the same token, those who are elected have a duty to respond and listen to all those to whom they are responsible. And I am one of many these days who sees the majority of politicians beholden only to those who contribute to their campaign and to the lobbyists who “sweeten the pot” in many ways.
The same is true with regards to the church. There are too many people in too many churches who want what the church has to offer but have no desire to commit their time, their talents, their presence, or their service. They are willing to be there for baptisms, weddings, and funerals but they will not help with Sunday School or financial support and if there is a time conflict between church and society, society generally gets the nod.
Many in the church today are alarmed by this shift in priorities. But why should they be? After all, we have softened the message to the point of it being almost watered down. Or we have hardened the message but made sure that it wasn’t applicable to all people, only the ones the congregation don’t want in their church.
The young in society today see a church that preaches one word but lives another; sometimes the wise are young and they have chosen not to come to church. You hear the cries of the elders that there are no youth in their church but why should there be? The elders by their own actions have driven the youth away, either by refusing to listen to the youth or making a mockery of the words said on Sunday morning.
It is no wonder that the words of Jeremiah resonated for today. The church has deserted God and the people have found other gods. And while there are those who would rejoice in the words of Paul to Timothy to pray for the government that would yield a simple life, they want a government that would reflect the times and attitudes before Christ. They would rather pray for the damnation of others than pray that we find a solution to hunger, homelessness, illnesses, and violence.
The solution is not an easy one. If you read the Gospel message for today as translated in The Message, you read Jesus saying,
If you’re honest in small things, you’ll be honest in big things.
If you’re a crook in small things, you’ll be a crook in big things.
If you’re not honest in small jobs, who will put you in charge of the store?
No worker can serve two bosses: He’ll either hate the first and love the second.
Or adore the first and despise the second. You can’t serve both God and the Bank. (Luke 16: 10 -13)
You can’t have it both ways. You cannot put God off until the last minute and think that will work. It will but the problem is that you can’t know when that last minute is. It might come tomorrow and you will not be prepared for it.
If you lead your life with the presumption that there is this last-minute reprieve, you will be mistaken. On the other hand, if you live your life with the full knowledge of Christ and what Christ did and what that means for you, you have the beginnings of a plan.
It is a plan that says that I will follow Christ in my heart, in my mind, and in my life. It is a plan that says that all those I meet in a given day will know that there is a God and that He loves us. They will know because they will see it; you will know because you will feel it in your heart.
It is not an easy plan, to say the least. But it offers far more than any easy plan can.