Season of Creation 4, Year C

Title:Season of Creation 4, Year C

 Season of Creation 4, Sept. 22, 2019 (full size gallery)

The first Fall Sunday and the weather was magnificent. The leaves are beginning to turn in the great sycamore. The Rapphannock River was still, silent.

We had 13 to take a family vacation to Guatemala. Catherine showed highlights of her trip in 2018 and focused on pilgrimage, particularly the story of Brother Peter. The videos are here.

We had a 10+ youth here. Footballs were thrown after the service, another sign of the change of season

We celebrated Robert Bryan’s birthday. Robert is a member of St. Peter’s Vestry.

We had a youth announcement of a project to support the scouts work for the Essex Animal Shelter.

Gospel on the River was held at the Heimbach home at 4pm this afternoon with a good crowd.

The sermon focused on irreparable changes and those in the natural world.

“Sooner or later, chances to correct mistakes come to an end, and consequences, no matter how awful they are, cannot be undone.

“The rich man in today’s gospel ends up in Hades, suffering from the consequences of disregarding the law and the prophets in his lifetime.

“This parable has some interesting parallels to our own lives. First of all the parable reminds us that we are to treat the poor with respect and to care for them as God has asked God’s people to do throughout scripture.

“In today’s Old Testament lesson, Amos tells the people in no uncertain terms that God is displeased by the fact that the rich have brought to ruin the poor of the land. And the land, in response, is going to tremble, and floods and earthquakes will take place.

“Today, poor people around the world are the ones most affected by environmental pollution and climate change.

“When I went to Guatemala last year, the country was experiencing a drought that has been going on since 2014. According to the National Geographic, Guatemala is one of the world’s ten most vulnerable nations to the effects of climate change

“So no wonder that since 2014, we have seen mass migrations of subsistence farmers and others from rural Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador as these desperate people try to find food.

“Locally, here at St Peter’s over the past five years, we have been trying to help mitigate some of the effects of poverty in our own community by bringing fresh produce and other food to the people who need it every third Wednesday of the month. I have had people who come to the distribution tell me that they wouldn’t have had enough food to get through the month without the food we provided.

“In addition to the disconnection and chasms that have opened among people, our disconnection with the earth itself is starting to look and feel like a great chasm is being fixed that we will never be able to undo. So many parts of the natural world are suffering because of the ways that we have knowingly and unknowingly exploited the earth. The statistics are staggering.

“A study released last Thursday shows that “Three billion birds have been lost from North America since 1970. It is more than a quarter of the total bird population of the continent…”

The theme this week is “the reversal”

  1. God is an active force reversing the tide of history. God hears the plea of the tenant farmers in the Psalm suffering the Babylonian exile and the childless couple. In the Gospel, God is pitted against the Roman authority and those who exploit and have made their riches dishonestly since that will determine how you deal with true riches in the future. God reverses the role of the rich and poor looking at the riches in heaven as oppose to this life where the poor have little.
  2. There is the need as spelled out in Amos to reverse the idea of collective guilt. The key in the lectionary is the effect of harsh relations with the poor and “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.”

In the Gospel we need to use wealth effectively to serve the needs of other which will bring about more trusting and equal relations. This is the key with the dishonest manger reducing debt to his manager. One he was building his own wealth unethically he now works to enrich others, reducing their bills to his master and building a relationship of mutual benefit. Luke is all about the proper use of wealth. As David Lose writes “Except that it’s not just the use of wealth; it’s more like Luke is concerned with our relationship to wealth and how that affects our relationships with others.”

  1. In the Epistle, Christians offer prayers for everyone but is clear that at the pinnacle is God who desires all to be saved. The request in 1 Timothy 2:2 to pray “for kings” instead of “to the kings” , thus bringing down in prestige the Imperial forces at Rome. And it would include the poor. The word about “a quiet and peaceable life in goodness and dignity” in 1 Tim 2:1-2 may be what we are looking for.

Amos 8:4-7

God has shown Amos three visions of devastations he plans. Amos has persuaded him neither to ruin the crops nor to consume the land with fire, but when God has shown him that the Israelites don’t measure up, he has entered no plea: God will destroy all sanctuaries, both to him and to pagan gods.

Now God shows Amos another vision. There is a play on words: in Hebrew, “summer fruit” and “end” (v. 2) sound alike. God will not “pass them by” (v. 2), i.e. he will no longer ignore the Israelites’ erring ways: “the end has come”. The end-times (“that day”, v. 3) were known as the Day of the Lord. God will punish because merchants “trample on the needy” (v. 4): prohibited from commerce on the day of the “new moon” (v. 5) and on the Sabbath, they can’t wait to resume their fraudulent business practices: selling partial measures of wheat and including chaff (“sweepings”, v. 6). (Wheat was weighed in shekels, a standard unit of weight, with “balances” (v. 5). The “ephah” was about 20 litres or 4-5 gallons.) They will be charged and found guilty! (v. 7) To Israelites, sin literally polluted the land: earthquakes will occur because of human sin (v. 8); the land will rise and fall, killing many, as the “Nile” floods annually. People expected eclipses to precede the Day (v. 9). This day, expected to be a time of rejoicing over redress for oppression by enemies, will be a day of gloom (v. 10). (People donned “sackcloth” (drab garb) and shaved their heads in mourning; “it” is the earth.) Israel has failed to heed God’s “words” (v. 11), spoken through prophets; therefore, as punishment, God will cease to speak, i.e. provide his advice to Israel.

The country being (at least in theory) a theocracy, it will lack the ability to select leaders, to know when to wage war, etc. Without God’s word, it will be a mess religiously and politically. They will frantically seek his word everywhere, from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea (“from sea to sea”, v. 12) “but they shall not find it”.

These are strong words against those who oppress the needy and poor .  For the Season we can look at nations who export their waster and polluting industries, larger companies who exploit workers and destroy creation’s goodness and ourselves when we act thoughtlessly, selfishly, greedily and wastefully

Psalm 113

A song of praise to God who rules over the rhythms patterns of nature (vs. 3-6) and who looks with special care on the poor and barren (vs. 7-9)

Today’s readings call us to use our resources—financial and otherwise—for justice and compassion. They reflect on the social consequences of turning away from God and the possibility that prayer and God-centered values can be a source of health in our personal and corporate lives. A transformed mind may lead over the long haul to transformed social systems.

This psalm is the first of the group known as the Egyptian “Hallel” (Psalms 113–118), from the shout of Hallelujah (“Praise the lord”) with which it begins. Psalm 113 links God’s greatness with God’s care for the poor and weak.   Almost like an antidote to the message in the reading from Amos, this psalm remembers that God is the one who lifts up the poor and the needy and that God will come to deliver them. God will raise up all those who have been trampled upon and have been under the weight of injustice.

A similar action is accorded the “childless woman” who is enthroned in her home as a mother.  We see the inequity of the Ancient Near Eastern society however.  The man (poor) is seated among the princes, and the woman (the barren one) is seated with her sons.

The “name of the lord” sums up all of the self-revelation of Yahweh. The “ash heap” (v. 7) is literally the rubbish heap, where the poor, the outcast and the diseased begged and scrabbled for scraps. Verses 7-8 are from Hannah’s song, found in 1 Samuel 2:8, as  they recall the lord’s care for the despised barren wife.

Revelation 18:1-2a, 21-24,19:1-2a

Revelation Chapter 18 is about the fall, judgment, and doom of Babylon. A great angel that illuminates the world with his splendor came down from heaven and declared the fall of Babylon.

An angel told John in Revelation Chapter 18 that the people in Babylon had made it a hole for demons and evil-doers and that God was not pleased with what was happening in that land. He said that everything in Babylon was unclean because people were adulterous and hedonistic.

God also warned them that they should flee the city and give back everything they took from the place in order to be spared from judgment.

Babylon, which was personified as a woman, would experience torment, plagues, and grief. God said that death, mourning, and famine would overtake the land and she would be engulfed in flames. She was too proud to see how much God hates what she was doing.

The mighty Lord God would judge her for all the wicked deeds she had done. While this land was in its hour of doom, all the nations who once loved her would weep and mourn over her. They will stand from a distance and cry because they would be terrified at the great torment she was going through

The merchants of the earth would no longer be able to trade with this land. No one would ever get to taste its fruits and all the sea captains who sailed to Babylon would stand from afar. The place was described as dressed in scarlet and purple with fine linen and gold.

The angel who came from heaven threw a great boulder into the sea and said that Babylon would fall in a violent way for everyone to see. God has judged Babylon just as how Babylon has imposed judgment on all people. In Babylon was found the blood of prophets who had been slaughtered.

Luke 16:19-31

Luke 16:19-31 is the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus and is a double-edged parable. There are two main characters – a rich man, who remains unnamed, and a poor man, Lazarus.  Both are lavishly described.  The first rich man is self-centered. His clothing is extravagant.   Every day he dresses in fine linen undergarments, and over that linen he places a purple robe And we know that outside this rich man’s gate, a poor man (Lazarus) lies, with nothing to wear but his sores, and with nothing at all to eat.  The poor man would be happy for anything that fell from the rich man’s table, but he is neglected.

During this conversation a third character is introduced, Abraham.  His entrance is an interesting one in that he, the epitome of hospitality, is in conversation with the rich man who was the antithesis of hospitality.   Abraham welcomes 3 men at the entrance of his tent and prepares a feast for them in the Old Testament.

In the story today, when Lazarus dies, he is carried away by the angels to be with the hospitable Abraham.  But the first rich man goes to Hades and was in agony amidst the fires.  Now it is the poor man who is luxuriating in heaven’s rest, and the rich man that is covered with the torments of Hades He calls to Abraham to release him from his misery. Abraham replies he was rich in material things and Lazarus seemingly poor. Now the roles are reversed.  Abraham’s presence is also of interest in that life after death was thought of in terms of a banquet hosted by Abraham and Sarah (cf. Genesis 18).

At this time the idea of Sheol (Greek, Hades), the place of all the departed who led there a shadowy quasi existence, had developed into two places, one of torment (usually called Gehenna) and one of bliss, Paradise. The chasm reveals the irreversibility of the situation.  This first part is, then, a parable of reversal, indicating the changes to take place in the kingdom as declared by Mary in 1:52-53. Lazarus, whose name means “God helps,” illustrates God’s special concern for the poor.

The second part of the parable (“He said, `Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house– for I have five brothers– that he may warn them”)  adds a second point: Moses (the law) and the prophets give a sufficient call to repentance. The indifference of the rich man to the poor man’s fate is reflected in the indifference that his brothers will affect when the poor man supposedly goes to preach to them.   This part of the story is a parable of warning; its theme is “too late!” Those whose hearts are closed to compassion will have minds closed to revelation.

Yet the parable holds out hope. The brutal violence is not the final word; those who suffer such shattering losses in this life will be vindicated in the next. There is justice in the divine design. Perhaps it is harder to enter the first part of the parable because it strikes closer to home. While the gospel does not record that Lazarus asked Dives for help, Dives must have passed him daily. The man covered with sores lay at his gate. Sometimes we become blind to the scenes we see most often.

The final sentence may reflect the disbelief of those who were reached with the Gospel of the Resurrection, but refused to believe it.  In this way we are painted a detailed picture of life at the time of Jesus, its values, and its social mores.  Jesus and Luke call both rich and poor alike to rethink what it is that they value.

In addition to describing the differing responses of the two rich men to Lazarus, Jesus also tells this story is to remind us that God is not only compassionate and merciful, but that God is also our judge.

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke, like the words of Timothy, is a warning against wealth, consumerism, and materialism.  Enjoyment and abundance lived apart from care for the poor leads to spiritual destruction.  The rich man’ sin is not only his consumption but his apathy.  He may not even notice the beggar at the door and, if he does, Lazarus is an inconvenience, standing in the way of enjoying his property, and frankly a blight on the neighborhood.  In the afterlife, the tables are turned and now the rich man suffers, while the beggar rejoices.

The story of the rich man and Lazarus is another  powerful warning that ignoring injustice and poverty is a form of practical atheism.  Our faith in God has to be reflected  in generosity and justice or it is meaningless.

How does this parable come alive in today’s situation of a globalized world where the poorest  are on our doorstep,  and the lifestyles of rich nations are exacerbating the impacts of climate change, deforestation, food and water stress  and waste upon the world’s poorest?

These scriptures present both challenge and hope.  They root our hope in our relationship with God.  Those who commit themselves to God’s cause can imagine futures and act on their imagination, even if the arc of imagination goes beyond their lifetimes.  They can face illness, external threat, and death knowing that God’s providence encompasses them.

What is life worth living for? Wealth, worldly success, fame is temporary—it holds us to focusing on what we have right now.  Life apart from a relationship with God eventually leads to hopelessness, especially in the context of life’s limiting situations. Christ calls us into the life that endures for eternity involving love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness endure forever, it cannot be taken away from us.

God cares, very deeply, about what we do with what God has given us to use on this earth.  Historically we have been poor stewards of our environment despite the fact the Genesis we are entrusted to be good stewards of the environment.