Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost ≅
Saint Paul's Episcopal Church
September 30, 2007
Scriptures that Make Me
for the Day
you in the name of God our Creator, Christ our
Brother, and the Holy Spirit who sustains and
sanctifies us, empowering us to love and to serve God and
Christ by our care for one another. Let's be silent for a
moment as we seek to be present to God -- God who is
always and every-where present to us in love and in
Some of the lessons
appointed for today make me squirm
-- and I wonder if any of you felt the
same way as they fell upon your ears and your hearts in
the reading to the congregation.
Psalm was benign enough -- who among us can
argue with a God -- like Yahweh --
justice for the oppressed,
gives food to the hungry, and
sets the prisoner free?
dispute the gracious mercy of the Lord when the Lord:
of the blind,
those who are bowed down,
the stranger, and
the orphan and the widow?
I am all for actions where God moves out in power to care
for the defenseless among us. There have been many
times, in fact, when I have experienced God's grace and
mercy in just these ways. But
still I am uneasy . . .
three of Psalm 146
-- a verse appointed for today, but not included in the
readings we did aloud -- enjoins us, "Do not put your
trust in mortals, in whom there is no help." And I
wonder: How often have I, how often
have you, how often have we
all given over too much of our trust to our
selves or our leaders -- political or religious? And so I
squirm . . .
then I read -- as we just did in verse nine of Psalm
146 -- "the way of the wicked brings to ruin." And
I realize that I have (and we all have) thrown in with
a God who is -- at the same time -- both more
gracious than I had any reason to expect, and more
righteous than I can possible imagine. And so I squirm
We move on
to the balance of our readings, and they remind
me of a story that seems appropriate here. A
Presbyterian preacher mounted the pulpit and gave a fiery
sermon about the ills of the community in which he
served. He inveighed against the evils of strong
drink, gambling, and the sin of personal immorality.
He exhorted his congregation to regular church
attendance and to faithful service of the Lord. And
he reached a crescendo when talking about money and
giving, about the dangers of being comfortable, about
sharing what you have and trusting only in the Lord's
gracious provision for all your material needs. Then
the minister wrapped up his homily with a loud "Amen" and
a Benediction. And he headed to the back of the church to
greet his congregation.
happened next is no surprise to Don or John or Tom, to
Ginny or Fred or Julia or any of us who preach . . .
first person to greet him wore a strained look, and
the minister knew there was trouble. "Preacher,"
he said, "you started out pretty good in your sermon
there. You were right on target about alcohol and
about gambling and about infidelity. And I agree with
you about being in church every Sunday and about serving
the Lord. All of that was good preaching. And
you should have quit while you where ahead."
there at the end -- when you started talking
about money and about giving and sharing your wealth
-- that's when you quit preaching and went to
meddling!" Sounds like this fellow was squirming right
along with me . . . and perhaps with you as well.
lesson from Amos, the Prophet wraps up a
multi-chapter indictment against the self-indulgent
society of ancient Israel. This is the same prophet
Amos who, at the end of chapter five, (right before the
verses appointed for today) gave us a powerful image of
the Lord's desires:
let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness
like an ever-flowing stream."
lesson from Amos follows immediately
on the heels of this oft-quoted verse, and in today's
lesson we hear hard words about those "who are at
ease" and those "who feel secure" and those who
"are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph." And the
Amos lesson makes me squirm, too, just like the verses
from Psalm 146.
that's not the worst of it. Our lesson from Luke
gives us the story of the rich man and Lazarus, with the
rich man consigned to Hades while the Lazarus "is carried
away by the angels to be with Abraham." And again I
squirm -- by now asking, "What is it with God and the
money thing?" In the language of the twenty- and
thirty-year-olds of today, it sounds like God "has issues"
when it comes to money.
we get to 1 Timothy -- our epistle reading for today.
This lesson -- among many other things -- enjoins us:
those who in the present age are rich, command
them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the
uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly
provides us with everything for our enjoyment."
And now it
all comes into view. I am squirming -- as perhaps
you are -- because it sounds like God is anti-rich.
And -- arrayed against all of humankind in all of human
history -- you and I are very rich indeed. We are
rich beyond the wildest imaginings of many
Americans. Rich beyond anything that ninety percent of
the world could fathom. I squirm because I think God
threatens my riches. Perhaps you squirm, too.
of it, however, is that God not only does not threaten
our riches -- God is the source of those
riches. God does not care if we are rich. In fact,
God provided all our riches in the first place --
or at least the gifts that allowed us to accumulate
now -- I am not preaching some prosperity theology run
amok. Some "name it and claim it" heresy that is an
abomination before the Lord. No, I am preaching God as
the source of all good gifts, and God as deeply
interested in our faithful use of those gifts. And it
is perhaps God's deep interest in what I do with my
'stuff' -- my gifts and my money -- that makes me squirm .
-- at least as I examine my own life -- two primary ways
in which we can relate to our 'stuff'. We can:
our riches to our own righteousness,
riches as gifts
from a gracious and loving God -- a God who
made us, knows us, loves us, and wills
only good for our lives.
a quick look at two simple questions -- two questions that
are the root of my 'squirminess'
passages -- and for all the passages like them in the
would we credit our riches to our own righteousness?
what happens when we do this?
-- monetary or otherwise -- I have to my own hard work
because I am afraid. I am afraid I am not enough
in the world -- I am not bright enough, not cute
enough, not athletic enough. And -- if you knew me as
I really I am -- you would not love me and I would die.
And so I hide behind whatever riches I have been
able to accumulate. And while I am hiding, I squirm
-- afraid that God or the world will require those riches
of me, and I will be revealed for the broken, helpless,
lonely person I am.
happens when I credit my riches to my own righteousness
is just this -- three simple, painful things:
stop telling the truth about myself and my life
-- I am not righteous -- who I am kidding? My riches
are not my own doing -- what a joke!
cut myself off from the love of God and others
-- not because they refuse to love, but because I
refuse to acknowledge my need for their love, and
squirm (as perhaps you do, too) -- because
every passage like the ones we have heard today
reminds me of the heavily-defended house of cards I
have constructed, and of the
charade of my very life.
fine, Frank! What's the other choice?
Suppose we are tired of squirming when we
hear readings like the ones appointed for today -- how
might we live otherwise -- what's our other choice?
choice is just this: to see our riches as gifts
from a gracious and loving God
-- a God who made us, knows us, loves us, and wills only
good for our lives. Because
that is the real truth of all of our
see our riches as gifts, we are less afraid.
Surely the One who gave before, will give again!
Surely the One who gave would be honored -- indeed,
would require -- that we also
give in imitation of his own giving and life-giving and
see our riches as gifts, we are free to live the life
we heard laid out for us in our epistle lesson from 1
for you, pursue righteousness,
godliness, faith, love, endurance,
gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of
the eternal life to which you were called . . .
6:11b, 12a (NRSV)
week we said good-bye to our beloved Dudley Colhoun,
rector emeritus of Saint Paul's. An incident from
Dudley's life bears witness to what happens when we see
our riches as a gift from a loving and gracious
God -- and not as something to be
Winston-Salem Journal carried an article about
Dudley and his involvement in the beginning of a night
shelter ministry for the homeless here in
Winston-Salem. Dudley agreed to let our homeless
brothers and sisters spend the night in the Saint Paul's
dining room -- and Saint Paul's was the first church
to make this offer.
did all this without first running the idea by the vestry.
As Don Goodheart said in an interview about Dudley, "He
told me he had his bags packed just in case they fired
him." (And -- I might add parenthetically -- Dudley
made the choice anyway.)
knew the truth of his life:
all that he had and all that he was -- was a
gift from a gracious and loving God. A gift from a
God who made him, knew him, loved him, and willed only
good for his life.
because Dudley knew this, he didn't have to squirm, he
didn't have to hoard. Dudley could do God's work in
the world and let the consequences fall where they may.
Surely, Dudley thought, if I have to leave Saint
Paul's for serving the defenseless in the name of God, the
One who gave before will give to me again.
the real truth of all of our lives, sisters and brothers:
We are -- in God's grace and mercy -- quite enough.
We have no need to hoard and no need to squirm.
need is to embrace the love of God and -- from that
boundless love -- live the command we heard in 1 Timothy:
for you, pursue righteousness,
godliness, faith, love,
endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith;
take hold of the eternal life to which you were called .
6:11b, 12a (NRSV)
saying to me, "Squirm not, Frank.
And fear not. But give -- and live -- as if your very life
depends on it. For indeed it does."
say the same to you, my brothers and sisters. All that
you have is a gift from God. "Squirm not! And fear not!
But -- in imitation of Christ and our brother Dudley --
give (and live) as if your very life depends on it. For
indeed it does."
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