Sermons

"Building the Kingdom Without Distractions": Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C

"Building the Kingdom Without Distractions": Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C

Sep 29, 2019

Passage:Luke 16:19-31

Preacher: The Venerable Chris Wrampelmeier

Series: Season After Pentecost

Category: Discipleship, Faithfulness, Abundance

Keywords: wealth, discipleship, faithfulness, distraction

Summary:

Looking at the scriptures from Amos 6:1a,4-7, 1 Timothy 6:6-19, and Luke 16:19-31, this sermon compares how all of them link together a story of how we can be pulled away from God's purposes when we seek "riches and wealth" over "relationship." This sermon calls us to cast away our distractions from God's call for our lives and imagine new ways of doing God's work in the world.

Detail:

Scout, my nine-year old white Labrador Retriever, has two basic demands. She wants to be fed as close to five o’clock as possible, although she gladly eats the kitten’s food whenever the opportunity presents itself. She also wants to be walked at least once a day. Her earnest requests for exercise pose a problem for me on many days. I may be tired. I may have already worked out early in the morning and may not be up for an evening walk. The summer heat or winter cold may make a forty-minute walk unappealing.

But chiefly, there are distractions. I often settle down on the couch to watch a favorite show or just channel surf. On better days, I will read that book that I must finish before I can more on to the many others clamoring for my attention. I bring work from the office or projects already lie in wait for me at home. There are bills to pay and records to organize, a house to clean and a yard to maintain. On some days, I must write a sermon. With my wife and with one daughter still at home, we may go out at night or on the weekends. Holly really needs me to devote more time to her driving lessons. I travel out of town more often now, narrowing opportunities to finish my chores and increasing my desire to take a night or day off to ignore all obligations.

My dog Scout takes all this in stride. Even when I ignore her, Scout watches me, constantly alert to what I am doing. She patiently approaches me on the couch, sits squarely in front of me, and repetitively lifts her paw to my arm or knee to ensure I have her attention. Without words, she reminds me how little she asks of me. With that melancholy face Labradors have mastered, she questions how I used to walk her and the dogs before her faithfully every day, sometimes twice a day, but now I only mutter excuses to her. She will wait until the very end of the evening, until I give her the treats that mark her bedtime, before she gives up hope that I will turn from my path to enjoy the simple pleasure of a boy walking his dog.

Our readings today share the theme of the dangers of distractions. Amos describes the rich lounging in luxury. In contrast to so many in the northern kingdom of Israel, they are at ease with their beds of ivory and their couches. Hunger presents no problem for them; they eat the tenderest of meats. They drink wine by the bowl. They cannot imagine their lives ever changing. Amos mocks how their wealth has left them blind to the tragedy waiting for them, as tragedy waits for the whole kingdom. These idlers will be the first ones led away into exile, their former life gone forever.

In Jesus’ parable, the rich man ignores his neighbor Lazarus in death almost as much as he did in life. Begging at the gate to the rich man’s compound, poor Lazarus presented no value to the rich man, so the rich man ignored him. Only in Hades does the rich man take an interest in Lazarus and then only for how Lazarus can serve him. The rich man appeals for relief to Abraham as his father, playing on kinship ties, while ignoring how Lazarus is also his relative, having the same father Abraham. In the end, it is up to us, represented by the five living brothers of the rich man, whether we will repent, whether we will listen to Moses, the prophets, and the Christ who was raised from the dead. How will we treat our neighbors, especially those who cannot help us, those who are discarded by society?

St. Paul in his first letter to Timothy warns of the dangers of wanting to become rich. “[T]hose who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” These are the distractions that pull us from God’s call. St. Paul urges Timothy to shun the pursuit of material wealth and pursue moral virtues instead—righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness—with the goal of eternal life.

But while St. Paul holds that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, money itself is neither good nor evil. What is evil are the separation that the love of money creates. Materialism interferes with and replaces the relationships we should have with our neighbors and with our God. Caught up in the chase for a more comfortable life, we see our fellow human for what he or she can do for us, how they can improve our lives. We gravitate to those who can help us; shun those who can’t. We are blinded to the inherent worth of each person, whether our brother or a poor Lazarus at our gate.

To avoid the harm prosperity can bring followers of the Christ, St. Paul instructs Timothy to command the rich to be humble, not to place their faith on their wealth, and instead to rely on God. The rich “are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus 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.” Instead of loving and hording their wealth, the rich can put their fortunes to use to bring about the Kingdom of God, to share the Gospel with others, and to support their neighbors.

In less than two weeks, the Episcopal Diocese of Northwest Texas will hold its annual convention. At the convention, we are likely to hear that at least one mission in our diocese is closing. Other missions and some parishes may not keep their doors open much longer. We have been so fortunate at St. Andrew’s that we may not know how other Episcopal churches are struggling to fill their pews and meet their budgets. As the way Americans worship changes and maintenance costs continue to rise, the old model of the stone or wooden Episcopalian parish church may disappear from parts of our diocese and from other regions of this country.

With this loss comes opportunity as distractions disappear. What if these congregations no longer had naves and parish halls? What if the money spent on maintaining buildings, utilities, and insurance could be saved or reduced, with the savings going into ministry and outreach? How much richer might these churches become, richer not just financially?

What if, without a building, the location of worship services was no longer fixed in one place but changed from service to service? What if the churches picked the locations of their worship services so their members would interact with the people they find at those locations: parks, shelters, hospitals, nursing homes, coffee shops, bars, businesses, under bridges, on street corners? In other words, what if these congregations no longer spent their energy inviting outsiders into a church building to experience Christ? What if instead the congregations each Sunday, Wednesday, or whatever day went out into the world to find the Christ that is in their neighbors, taking worship to those neighbors, allowing these strangers to participate or not participate as the Spirit moves them?

No longer would worship and outreach be separated. What a way to bring the needs of the world into the church and the church into the world. What a way to attract new members and new energy to the church, particularly younger members for whom traditional churches may hold little attraction but who look for meaning and purpose, undaunted, if not attracted, by unconventional settings.

It is a different model, so different that some congregations may avoid it, even if no other viable options exist. The model may seem radical and unproven. This model, however, worked great for the church in its earliest, most expansive years. The followers of Christ went to the people rather than waited for the people to come to the church. There will be other models to consider, but change is coming.

I am not advocating that the members of St. Andrew’s Church walk away from its Georgia Street campus. St. Andrew’s will play a critical role in the evolution of Episcopalian ministry. The clergy and laity of St. Andrew’s, many of them diocesan leaders, can provide needed inspiration and support for these new or renewed congregations and their ministries. We have facilities our fellow Episcopalians may need from time to time. We can partner with these congregations, increasing their momentum by attending some of their innovative services and sharing outreach projects. Their possibilities and their energy may inspire us to find new ways to serve God and our neighbors. Sometimes we need to be reminded what is truly important, what is essential. Sometimes we must strip away the distractions to hear God.

 Last night, I gave in to Scout. We went for a walk at dusk, headed for the school, where the absence of trees and houses gave me an expansive view. Directly above us were pure blue skies. To the southeast, a massive wall of clouds moved slowly in our direction, starkly invading the blue, not quite to us yet. On the border of the weather front, lighting bolts danced from one cloud bank to another, never striking toward ground, beautiful but threatening. As the sun slipped below the horizon, stars hurried to emerge before the clouds could overcome them. Scout and I walked in silence, me looking at the sky, Scout absorbed by the smells on our path, both of us beholding God’s creation.