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Poverty Is A Christian Value?

Discussion thought of the day:
25  ‘That is why I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and what you are to wear. Surely life is more than food, and the body more than clothing! 26  Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they are? 27  Can any of you, however much you worry, add one single cubit to your span of life? 28  And why worry about clothing? Think of the flowers growing in the fields; they never have to work or spin; 29  yet I assure you that not even Solomon in all his royal robes was clothed like one of these. 30  Now if that is how God clothes the wild flowers growing in the field which are there today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, will he not much more look after you, you who have so little faith? 31  So do not worry; do not say, “What are we to eat? What are we to drink? What are we to wear?” 32  It is the gentiles who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. 33  Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on God’s saving justice, and all these other things will be given you as well. 34  So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:25-34 (NJB)

“Yes. poverty is a Christian value. The poor person is someone who knows that, by himself, he cannot live.  He needs God and other people in order to be, flourish and grow.  On the contrary, rich people expect nothing of anyone.  They can provide for their needs without calling on their neighbors or on God.  In this sense, wealth can lead to great sadness and true human loneliness or to terrible spiritual poverty.  If in order to eat and care for himself, a man must turn to someone else, this necessarily results in a great enlargement of his heart.  This is why the poor are closest to God and life in great solidarity with one another.; they draw from this divine source the ability to be attentive to others.”  God or Nothing,  Robert Cardinal Sarah   p.140

In the reading in blue came from another source, rather than a priest who grew up in true poverty, I would be more likely to dismiss the words as naivete, or as some idyllic rationalization.  But they come from one who was poor, who ministered among the poorest of the poor.  

One of the reasons I will struggle with this for a while is because it is written by one who has been there, seen it, ministered among it.

I want to justify this, to spin it, to remind the writer that money isn’t the root of all evil, but that the love of money is.  Another way to confront the writer is to compare my wealth to those around me, and claim that I am relatively impoverished. After all, I don’t own my home, and the last time the place we rent remodeled was when Kennedy was president.  And my salary is not what it could be by the standards my denomination set.

Compared to 95 percent of the world, we are, in fact wealthy. Maybe even 98% of the world.

Cardinal Sarah points out the real issue.  The issue is not wealth, but how wealth adds to the problem of independence, of self-reliance. Wealth destroys the independence of a community.  It is easier to forget the needs of others, when we do not have need, or have not faced it.  It is easier to write off what happens outside our walls, like the Rich man and Lazarus.  Like the Rich man we don’t have an appreciation what he is going through, and the value of the soul and mind of the impoverished. 

If poverty is to be considered a virtue, a way to grow in faith, then we begin to see self-reliance as the real problem, the real sin.  Or should I say, the illusion of self-reliance?  Because poverty normally is thought of as financial, but the other poverties, spiritual poverty, emotional poverty, relational poverty – they all lead to brokenness, to a solitary existence that is contrary to who are made to be.

Here it is, blunt and to the point.  We were created with one mission, one purpose.  To love, to love God with everything we are, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. To have intimate relationships (not physically intimate – but spiritually and emotionally intimate) is the concept.  It is in such relationships that we see the fruit of the Spirit grow, it is in such relationships where we can depend upon others and are depended upon by others., that the faith, hope and love the Holy Spirit nourishes in us matters, and is treasured.

Do I have to give up my wealth?  Do I have to be like St Francis of Assissi or Luther (giving up law practice) or a Mother Theresa?   

Honestly, I do not know.  There is a harder option, which is to ensure the things that I own don’t become treasures.  The treasures I have are found delivered by the means of Grace. First, the audacious love and mercy of God, and secondly the community of faith and those who will be part of it, delivered through word and sacrament with us.  Those are our true riches.

May the Lord’s Mercy remind us of this, and may that reminder bring us to love one another.

 

Three Sermons, Three Servants, One Passage:

On Sunday, three of the men I get to work with, two vicars and a deacon served people by proclaiming the Gospel.  All three wrote solid sermons, and I couldn’t pick one over the other two, so here are all three. Enjoy and be blessed!

From Vicar Mark:

Mark 10: 17-22

 

Greetings brothers and sisters in the name of Christ who considered it pure joy to go to the cross for our sin and in whom we now live forever!

Alleluia, amen!

 

You ever have one of those days that seem like a perfect day and nothing can go wrong?

You think you’ve got it all figured out. Everything is firing on all eight cylinders, the coast is clear. All systems are go!

In the words of Marsha Brady, “The birds are blooming and the daffodils are singing!”

Then things hit the fan and you realize you have locked your keys in the car and your not in it or that perfect dessert you made for the church potluck and are so proud of is now face down on a street somewhere because you left it on the roof of the car and forgot to load it.

Maybe you crammed and studied like crazy for that test and you know that you are going to ace it until you realized when you get to class that you studied the wrong chapters.

You sound like that young, wealthy ruler who thought he had everything in his pocket and under control and then meets Jesus on the road and asks Him,” Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

 

What must I do?

You, you, you. Me, me, me. I.I I.

Between this account in the Gospel and you and I it appears to be all about us! Tell me what to do and I’ll make it happen, I think. Did he really want to know or did he want confirmation that he had already done it by his own accord?

Jesus answers this self-confident young wealthy ruler by saying, “ Why do you call me good? No one is good but One-God.”

Right away Jesus keys in and tells this guy that no one is good except for God! Only God is righteous and Holy. No matter what this guy says or thinks he falls short in his ‘goodness’.

Jesus tells him, “ You know the commandments: do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, don’t defraud and honor your father and mother.”

I’m sure at hearing this; the wealthy, powerful young man had to be thinking, “Not a problem, I got this. It’s a homerun!”

He answers Jesus, “ Teacher, I have kept all these from my youth.”

Well this is where things go bad for the rich guy in his way of thinking. After what Jesus says next, our boy’s day is going to be a dreary dismal day for sure in his eyes!

As Jesus looks at him, Mark tells us something else that is incredible. We learn that not only did Jesus look at him but Jesus loved him as He says, “ You lack one thing, Go and sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have your treasure in Heaven. Then come, follow me!”

Jesus didn’t look at him with scorn and ridicule or sarcasm but instead looks at him with love in the same way that He looked at those who hung Him on that cross and said, “ Father forgive them.” He looks at him the same way he looks at us when He says, “Follow me!”

Upon hearing this Mark records that He was disheartened, he was stunned by what Jesus tells him and he went away grieving because he had many possessions.

So in order for you to follow Christ, you must sell everything and give it to the poor.

Is that what Jesus is saying here?

Yes and no.

Three things really come to the forefront in this account.

  1. A.          Goodness. As the man raced to ask Jesus, he called him Good Teacher and Jesus responded that only God is good.

Only God is perfect, righteous, holy and good. No matter how good and how hard we try to be good by what we think we do and by trying to keep the commandments, we are not righteous, holy and good by and on our own.

Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Thus young ruler thought that he had kept the commandments since he was a youth and maybe he did in deed or action but throw in thought and word and he like us was not able to keep those commandments. He wasn’t good and neither are we.

So that brings us to the second thing.

 

2. Idols.

An idol is anything that becomes your god, a false god and takes the place of and prevents you form seeing God. It can be anything from football or your job or your kids or pride in yourself and your accomplishments. It can be things even at church.

For the young man it was his possessions and his wealth. Basically it boils down to Jesus telling him and us that if anything gets in the way of your view and focus of God, dump it, get rid of it. It’s garbage! For the real treasure, follow Christ.

Matthew 6: 20 says, “But lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

This brings us to the third point and the most important part.

 

The relationship.

Did you notice in our Gospel today that something was missing? When the young man asked Jesus and Jesus quoted the commandments back to him, he left the first three out. Jesus quoted what is commonly referred to as the Second Table or the Commandments for living and dealing with your fellow man. Why would he do that being God and all, did He forget them?

No, not at all!

You see the first three Commandments or the First Table tell of our relationship with God. They confront our basic belief and structure about God. They talk about the perfect relationship that God created for His children. It’s an invitation to a give and take relationship. Don’t we see that in the Sacraments? “Take and eat and take and drink.” He willingly gives us forgiveness of sins, salvation and eternal life through this gift given to us through His Son as we gatheris SonH and we as His called and redeemed children thank, praise and glorify His name calling on Him for everything because He is our loving Father and because He is God.

This rich man’s relationship was lacking in this because he was focused on the idol of himself and his idol of wealth and fortune. So Jesus told him to dump it and follow Him in that perfect relationship of grace, peace and love bought and paid for with His holy blood. Jesus tells us that exact same thing and we hear it and read it in His Holy Word. Our relationship with God has been rewon and regained and taken back from the sin that we caused to break it in the first place. Through our High Priest who is the Christ, perfect atonement and fulfillment of that priestly sacrifice we are now made His. It is only through Christ that we can ask Him to smash those evil and unholy idols that prevent us from the very relationship with Him. It is only through Jesus that we have the strength given to us in our Baptisms and shared with us in the foretaste of the feast to come found in that meal of Holy Communion.

It is only through the glory found at the cross that any of this is possible and that we are now counted as righteous and holy and good enough to be in the sight and presence of God.

Think about what’s been done for you. God says call him by His name, YAHWEH, then we Have Jesus tell us and His Father that he is not ashamed to call us brothers and we because of YAHWEH’s plan of redemption through Jesus are now heirs of Heaven.

The rich young man didn’t get it that when Jesus called him to follow, He ws calling him to inherit gifts far beyond the measure of a mortal man.

Instead he went away dejected, stunned and disheartened because he couldn’t let go of his idol while the Good Teacher set His face like flint and proceeded to walk that path to the cross, “ Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2.

He walked that path in complete obedience knowing what was waiting for Him.

Was it death and destruction? Yes, through Jesus dying for our sin and idol worship it was the destruction of death and the grave and through Jesus dying for all it was the death of the power that sin had on us. We now have abundant life that no idol could ever give us but only through what God can give us and keeps on giving to us.

So I guess the final question again comes down to this. Do you have to get rid of everything you have to follow God?

Quite simply yes, if it has become an idol to you and prevents you from seeing God and His goodness, grace and love for you.

We can only truly trust and have faith in He who claims us as His knowing with certain hope and confidence that we who confess Christ as King and Savior will all gather at the throne with Him for eternity and that will be the perfect day where only things go perfectly right!

“Come and follow me!”

 

Alleluia, amen!


From Vicar Eddie

Sermon 10-14-12

Mark 10:17-22 (using HCSB)

Concordia, Cerritos

 

The story of the rich young ruler causes some to pity the man…he was so close…if only he had trusted Jesus more…if only he knew. But perhaps there is more to this story if we scratch the surface…if we scratch the surface we might see that we are more like the rich young man than we would like to admit.

Right from the start this story is different than most accounts in the Bible of people coming to Jesus…usually those that approached Jesus were looking for healing either for themselves or a loved one…or they were trying to find fault with the teachings of Jesus. But this man asks a completely different question…maybe one you yourself have contemplated during your life…he approaches Christ, calls him “good teacher” and then asks how he might attain eternal life…AND, he is not asking what he has to do…he is not asking where he can buy it…but how should he align his life, what should his purpose in life be so that he might inherit eternal life…inherit eternal life. How do I get this gift that can only come from God? How do I get eternal life? Jesus knew this young man was on to something, so He asks him, “Why do you say I am good?” Only God is good…are you saying I am God? Are you saying I can give you the gift of eternal life? And then Jesus skips the commandments that have to do with God and lists the commandments that have to do with other people, and the young man says he has kept all of them close to his heart. Jesus accepts this… He does not call him a liar but instead hits him right between the eyes…very well then… sell everything, give the money to the poor and follow me. Stunned…shocked…flabbergasted… he realizes Jesus is asking him to give up the one thing he knows he cannot give up… his treasures! Why did it have to be that? Why couldn’t it be spending more time at the synagogue? Why couldn’t it be helping out those less fortunate? Why couldn’t it be spending more time in scripture? No… he asked the young man for his wealth…a dark cloud comes over the man and he went away dejected, sorrowful, he went away grieving. It is indeed sad…some might say that the young man rejects Jesus, that he turns his back on Jesus, but the young man was seeking God, the young man was looking for a closer walk with God, and yet there was a barrier…a barrier so large that it kept him from fully experiencing the grace and mercy of Christ. A barrier so large that it kept him from the inheritance he so desperately sought… and so that begs the question…What barrier have we created? What keeps us from fully experiencing the grace and mercy of Christ?

You see this story is not just about a rich young man… this story is about us…each one of us has put up barriers that keep us from fully experiencing the love and grace of Christ; we have all created barriers that keep us from having a closer walk with God and maybe that is why Jesus skipped the 1st commandment when He spoke to the young man. Jesus knew that this young man had other gods…as Luther explained the first commandment in the Large Catechism; a god is something on which we set our whole heart. Jesus knew that this man had placed his wealth ahead of God, he trusted in his wealth above trusting God…and so what have we placed before God? You see it doesn’t always have to be wealth…it can be anything that we treasure in our hearts above God. And it can take a numerous of forms – it can come in a bottle that we desperately need after another rough day; it can be the football games that keep us from worshipping God with our brothers and sisters on Sunday mornings, it can come in the form of a keyboard; a keyboard that logs us into facebook for hours on end instead of spending time in scripture, or it can be staying up late to view adult material and feeling ashamed that we do, so we draw away from others for fear they might discover our dark habit. Really we can fashion anything into a barrier between is and God; even something we would find good, like family, exercise or even work. These things that God has given us to bring us joy, relaxation and a sense of accomplishment can become so important in our lives that they interfere with our relationship with God. They draw us away from God.

I worked for many years with a company that had such an outstanding president of sales. We used to say that she could sell ice to eskimo, and we knew she worked hard, but we didn’t realize to what extent. During a sales meeting in New Jersey, her husband called and told her that he wasn’t feeling good…that he really wanted her to come home. This was very odd behavior on his part – they talked often when she would go away on trips, and as president of sales, she traveled extensively, but he had not once ever asked her to come home. She said, she couldn’t leave…this sales meeting was too important and that she would be home the next day. Well, he didn’t make it the next day and she never forgave herself for not going home. Work had become her god, above family, above her own health and even above God.

Certainly we know we are going to have activities outside of church, certainly we know we will have other interests and certainly we know that we can’t keep all of God’s commands perfectly, but it comes down to priorities. Is God a priority in my life? Or is God an afterthought…a parachute we grasp only when we run into problem; when our life seems to be spiraling out of control? In Luke 9:23 Jesus tells us “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” This is not to say that we need to try to bear the weight of our sins and thus by our own power overcome our sinfulness, but instead we are to daily surrender our sinful and lustful desires to Christ…and follow him.

But our story of the young man does not end there. Yes, the young man goes away dejected, lost and maybe even ashamed, but what about Jesus? We know that Jesus was on His way to the cross of Calvary and we know that in His death and resurrection we find the very thing that young man sought…life everlasting…eternal life. And Jesus did this with JOY! Hebrews 12:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

You see God knows that we cannot of our own accord lift ourselves over the barriers we have created; He knows that we cannot overcome the sin that keeps us from Him. At the cross which is meant for torture and death we find life…at the cross we find the gift of eternal life. And this gift is not just for that young man, it is not just for those of us that showed up this Sunday morning…no this gift of eternal life is a gift God has given to the whole world. Just as Jesus invited the young man to leave behind those things that hindered Him from fully experiencing the love, grace and mercy of God, Jesus extends that offer to the entire world even today. Jesus stands ready to walk with you, each and every day of your life. With joy Jesus went to the cross, knowing He was breaking the bondage of sin that impeded this man from fully experiencing the love, grace and mercy of God. So, we have a choice…we can either walk away with our baggage…those things that bring us shame and draw us away from God, or we can leave them at the foot of the cross and walk with Jesus…Jesus invites you to walk with Him each and every day of your life…will you walk in the JOY of Jesus today?

 and from Deacon Don

I was summoned into the bank president’s office after lunch. Never a good sign. When I arrived not only was the bank president sitting behind his desk, but the bank’s CFO was there as well. Now I was really nervous. They both said that they, along with the bank’s customers, my coworkers, and the bank’s board members notice I had a way with people. I was affable, easy to speak to and thus had the ability to have people open up to me. They had an offer for me. A new position with bank and a slight increase(This was a small, one branch, family owned, community bank in Culver City, ANY increase was a shocker!). I said yes. What is it? They said, “collections”. I asked what that was exactly. The bank president stated it was contacting those who owed the bank money, or behind on their loan payments. I said sure, when do I start? The CFO said now and then proceeded to slam down what looked like the Encyclopedia Britannica of green bar paper (If you are over 35, you remember what that is. The rest of you, “Google” it) and said “Get to work.” That was 1990. I was 22 years old. I am 44 now. I have spent HALF my life as a collector. Along with the bank, I have worked in the insurance, copier supply, auto finance, and now with Orange County courts. In those 22 years in field I have honed a skill called “Skip Tracing”, a “skip” being one who has “skipped out” on repaying and are hiding from whomever they owe a debt, and “Asset Location”, locating the means to repay the debt owed to the company, like property liens and wage garnishments. The lengths people will go to hide their vehicle, motorcycle or boat, to keep their home, to hold on to their money. I have placed probably close to, if not a million calls, I’ve sent half a million letters, I’ve spent hours on the computer pulling up credit reports and doing people searches, I have even gone door knocking! I have seen it and heard all. I have tried to deal with people compassionately, yet firmly. I haven’t always succeeded at this though. I have called out people on a few occasions. I have stated they are liars, thieves and deadbeats.
In our Gospel lesson today Jesus could’ve done exactly that to this young man who has come to Him with the question “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit (to receive the promise of) eternal life?” Jesus first attempts to refocus the thoughts of this young man from his works and back to God. “Why do you call me good? No one is good except for God.” Then Jesus summarizes the commandments 4-10. Those that deal with how we treat others. The young man responds, almost prideful it seems, that he has kept ALL these commandments since his youth. This is where Jesus could’ve called him out on his statement that he has kept and obeyed all these commandments! But instead, Jesus has compassion for him, Mark says Jesus looked at him and loved him, this is not found in Matthew or Luke. Maybe you could call it youthful exuberance, can’t blame a kid for trying, right? But is this young man any different from any other? Throughout time man has attempted to replace God. From the golden calf to our iPads. No one has been exempt from this. We see the Israelites not only making the golden calf but making mammon more important than and even the gods of those they conquered more important than God. We have the great king Saul, chosen by God, pious. But once he was planted in that throne as king? He turned his trust toward the crown and the earthly power that came with it and his heart away from God who had chosen him. Saul died with none of his riches! How about the papacy with all their patron saints? Saint Apollonia, Lawrence, Sebastian, Christopher, Jude, and Mary and so on for whatever ailed them or what caused them fear? We have the Greek and Nordic gods too. Jupiter, Mercury, Hercules, Venus and Diana. What about our gods of today? Our iPods, pads, and phones? Our jobs, homes, cars, wives, children? Our bank accounts and investments? How much we donate to or how often we attend service or fast? The world says you’ve got to be stronger, smarter and more connected! The more power, prestige and property we have the happier and better off we’ll be! Well, Don, this young man had MANY things given to him by God! He didn’t seem to be lacking anything! Why did he walk away so bummed out?! Jesus tells us why in the rest of verse 21 “…go, sell all that you have and give to the poor and your will have TREASURE IN HEAVEN and come FOLLOW ME.” Check through history and what do find? Generations have suffered because many have put their faith and trust in things that are not forever. That is why the young man leaves sorrowful, grieving, distraught. His heart belonged to those “things”. Those things of this world that will fade, turn to dust. Idolatry is not just worshiping an image or statue or person other than God. It is placing our full faith and confidence in that thing. Relying on it, instead of the One who gave all things in first place. GOD! All that has happened to those who place their faith in those things other than God have suffered. Like many in Jesus’ time and ours today, this young man had the thought by doing deeds, by fulfilling God’s Law, we earn, inherit, receive the promise, of eternal life. WE can’t do that. It takes full and complete obedience to God’s Law to do so. It takes perfection. After the fall of man, perfection is impossible on our own without Christ.
But how great a comfort in knowing that those who believe in the promises of God that are found in verse 21, trust in His covenant given in the death and resurrection of His only Son, Jesus Christ and have full faith and confidence in grace and mercy will, through Christ Jesus, not deeds, receive the precious gift of eternal life that the young man seemed to want. He had the answer to his question right in front of him, this whole time. Jesus’ is telling the rich young man the same thing He told His disciples to let the children do in the verses previous to these, follow ME, cling to ME. Trust fully in ME. With the heart of a child. I have come for your sake to free you of all bondage to sin and death. I have come and stood in your place before God the Father as the servant so you can now come before the throne of mercy. I have given of Myself freely so that you can have that gift you so desire. A gift that cannot be taken away or destroyed. Eternal life. To be with Me in Heaven. Just BELIEVE. Simple, really. And just like the young man in today’s Gospel, we have before us the promises of eternal life. At the baptismal font, where we are washed of sin and given a new birth. Where we are welcomed into and become part of the family of God. At the foot of the cross were Christ died and pour out his blood, for all. Where we receive the body and blood of Lord and the promise that His body, broken for you, and His blood, shed for you, was done for the forgiveness of ALL your sins. He invites us all to come to Him, follow Him, cling to Him and rest until that day when He comes again and we are with Him. Where we dwell in Peace, HIS Peace that surpasses all understanding and guards are hearts and minds in Christ Jesus…..AMEN!

 

 

Sacrificing what doesn’t matter to embrace what does

Devotional/Discussion thought of the day:

Last night, as a couple of friends and I were talking about the gospel reading for this week, we struggled with the message that will develop out of it.

Because it challenges our idols, it challenges the things we cling onto for support.  And if we are to preach it clearly, we will have to destroy and idol or two.  This isn’t easy, and the reaction of the man in the story is what we, as those who are tasked with what is fancifully called “the proclamation of the gospel” fear.  The man came to Jesus, desiring eternal life, willing to bend his knee and honor Jesus, and at the end of the discussion this is what happens.

he was stunned at this demand, and he went away grieving,”

He went away, rather than accept the invitation to accompany Jesus, in reality to do exactly what was at the heart of the question  – to experience heaven, to be in the presence of God. For if he had given all that restrained him, all that bound him, this young man would have walked with God, just as Enoch did, just as Abraham and Moses and David… and Peter and James and John.  What he wanted was right before his eyes!  And he walked away, turning down what he wanted most.  And not only did he turn away, he left broken and stumbling and….grieving.

While he went his way, Jesus went away, for the joy set before Him. A joy that would lead him to the cross. For this young man, into whose heart he looked, and loved, and would die for, gladly.  He would endure the cross to break the power of sin, in this case, the sin of idolatry, and by breaking those bonds, the man would be able to do that which he most desired, to live in the presence of God.  He would be able to do, that which we cannot do.  Jesus would come to him the next time, and free him of that sin, and unite with him.

A good summary of the lesson for us would be this prayer….may we each pray it today, embracing the pain that being separated from our idols will bring, for the joy that was set before Jesus….that caused Him to give up everything that had to do with Himself, that He could share with us that glory and love.

“”Lord, grant me the grace to give up everything that has to do with myself. I should have no other concern than your Glory… in other words, your Love. Everything for Love!”  (1)

AMEN!

 

 

(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1038-1040). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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