Saturday, September 21, 2019

Year C, Pentecost 20, Psalm 113, Amos 8.4-7, Luke 16.1-13

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
The LORD makes the woman of a childless house to be a joyful mother of children. Hallelujah!
Sometimes God’s grace comes to us in very concrete ways.
I remember a member of my congregation in Thompson Falls citing this verse as her hope.  God hears the cries of a barren woman, and makes her the mother of children.
They ended up adopting their two children through Lutheran Community Services.
Karla’s brother and sister adopted our niece. 
Our neighbors and friends in Sandpoint adopted a son.
A colleague in ministry adopted a daughter from China.
For them, grace was a bundle of joy, a baby, perhaps an older child, but one to call their own and to love and care for.
What made adoption so special for them from a spiritual perspective was the experience of receiving from the Lord’s hand that which they could not conceive of on their own.
Of course there is also great joy when we give birth to a child.
The delight is in the gift of a child, not in the means of delivery.
In Biblical times it was about blessings and curses.
God’s blessing was experienced in abundant crops, productive herds, and many children.
God’s curse was experienced when crops failed, herds of animals did not thrive, and when women were barren.
From Sarah onward, the scripture tells the story of one woman after another that was barren, yet by God’s grace, became the mother of children.
And in each case there is great joy.
Joy because of the gift of the child.
And joy because the curse has been lifted.
Mary’s song, the Magnificat, becomes the song of every mother:
"My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
This is part of a larger theme that runs through the scripture, namely, that God has a deep concern for the plight of the lowly, the poor, the outcast. 
Mary’s song goes on to say:
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
It is the concern for the poor that is the focus of Amos’ words from our first lesson:
Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land,  .  .  . buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

Think about this for a moment.
We worship a God who is concerned about a childless mother, and a motherless child.
We worship a God who champions the cause of the poor and the outcast.
The God who called into being the entire universe, cares for the least of these, his children.
That’s grace.

We live in contentious times.
One of my observations is that whenever we seriously consider the implications of a Biblical faith for our daily lives, there are those who say we are getting “too political”.
But this is the thing:
God cares about the barren mother, and the motherless child.
God cares about the poor.
God cares about the outcast.
God cares about sinners.
God cares about refugees and immigrants, otherwise why would God say: “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”?  (Leviticus 19:4)
So here is a question for you.
Are caring for the poor, welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, lifting up the lowly, healing the sick, matters of faith?  Or politics?
And which comes first?
Does our faith shape our politics?
Or do our political convictions shape our faith?
That matters.  It says something about who is truly our God.
Jesus says:
“No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Is wealth a bad thing, then??
Well, if we are honest, wealth can be either a blessing or a curse.
In the Bible, wealth is often associated with God’s blessing, for example, when God blessed Jacob with much wealth.
But the accumulation of wealth is also seen as a great evil, for it so often comes at the expense of the poor.
One question to ask ourselves is whether our wealth is used to serve God and our neighbor?  Or do we use our wealth and power to oppress and subdue others?
God is in the business of lifting up the downtrodden.
And we are in the business of doing God’s bidding in the world.
That’s our calling.
To be God’s hands and feet in the world.
To do his work.

One of the most compelling and troubling things for me, is the realization that people will learn more about the God we worship by observing our actions, than by listening to our words.
Is our God a loving and compassionate God?
Well, do we act in loving and compassionate ways?
If we truly believe that God is loving and compassionate, then our own actions should bear witness to that.

There’s another side to these matters.
It’s not just about what we should do for others, it is also about what God has already done for us.
We are to love, because God first loved us.
We are to care for the poor, because God has first cared for our needs.
We are to feed the hungry, as we have first been fed.
We are to lift up the lowly, as we have first been lifted up.
We are to welcome the stranger, as we ourselves have been welcomed.

Day to day stuff.
We have been blessed so that we can be a blessing.
And therein lays the single most important question for each of us as we live out our faith.
How can I be a blessing to others, as I have been blessed?
I have been forgiven, can I be forgiving?
I have been fed, can I do the feeding?
I have been welcomed into this community, can I in turn welcome the stranger?
I have been loved, can I love others?
Can I be an ambassador of God, offering to others what I first have received from God?

This is not always easy.
On Tuesday, during our study, a man came into the church and requested money for gas and food.  And his primary concern seemed to be money for gas.
What I’ve learned over the course of my ministry is that we should never give out cash as that often enables drug addiction and other problems.
And so Tuesday, I didn’t give him any money, but rather offered him some of the food we had collected for the food bank.  He took a can of stew.
This is where we need to be shrewd.  What is wise?  What is truly helpful?
Caring for the poor is one thing, but enabling drug addiction by giving out cash is another.  That’s the struggle.
But the fact that offering assistance in a helpful way can be challenging is not an excuse for not trying to begin with.
And perhaps we have to allow for the fact that our assistance will be abused by some, in order for that same charity to get to those who really need it.
There is another side to this.  My colleagues and I were talking about the soup kitchen at All Saints Lutheran, and the criticism they’ve received that they are just feeding drug addicts and enabling their addiction.  Our response was that the reason we feed even drug addicts, is that a dead drug addict can never be cured.
That’s why we are to show mercy in all our charitable work.  Because that mercy may one day save that person.  And that is the work of God.  To save the lost.
It’s who God is.

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