August 7, 2022 The Ninth Sunday After Pentecost

The Ninth Sunday After Pentecost

August 7, 2022
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings: Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Psalm 50:1-8,23-24; Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16; Luke 12:32-40

From the Gospel according to Luke, “Do not be afraid … for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give
you the kingdom.” I speak to you in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.
For the past few weeks our scripture lessons have focused on a common theme: a theme that
gives me pause. See, week after week, we have heard our Lord urge his followers to sell their
possessions, to understand the importance of giving to support those in need, and how seductive
the spirit of consumerism can be as it drives people to accumulate more and more stuff as if what
we own and have defines who we truly are and what we truly value, or makes us better people, or
in bad theological terms: more blessed by God than anyone else. These recurring themes give me
pause because of all the churches I have experienced in my lifetime, this parish knows how
important it is to care for our neighbor, especially those in need. In fact, we not only know it, we
do it!
We know that as we have done unto the least of these, so we have done unto our Lord. And we
know that the early Christian community as told in the Book of Acts liquidated everything they
owned in order to create a common purse so that the needs of all could be met. We get it! And I
think the timing of these gospel lessons have nothing to do with the fact that we just began our
2023 Pledge Campaign. So, that has led me to wonder if there is another message, a deeper
message, the Holy Spirit is trying to help us grasp as contemporary Christians?
The truth is, sometimes I wonder if it is simply impossible to follow all that our Lord taught us. So,
it is very tempting this morning to spiritualize Jesus’ commands and suggest that what he really
said was, “Don’t be too attached to what you have. Give some of it to the poor and everything will
be okay.” But Jesus meant what he said. So much so, he said it twice. But we know right from
wrong. We love God and our neighbor as much as we love our own selves knowing we are all
created in God’s own image. After all, we are people of faith and proud of it. So what is this all
about?
The writer to the Hebrews shares that faith “is the assurance of things hoped for. It is the
conviction of things not seen.” I think we understand that passage. Whether we believe that our
Lord’s body and blood are truly and fully present in the bread and wine we receive in the Holy
Eucharist, or, like Abraham and Sarah, we believe that God does have a plan for each of us, is all a
matter of faith. Faith is something deeper than we can actually see. Faith is a choice – a choosing
to believe. We know that. We also understand that faith is something that needs to be nurtured in
order to grow into full maturity. That’s why we offer opportunities for on-going education and
service because faith in action helps faith grow. By faith, Hebrews says, Abraham and Sarah
believed God would keep God’s promises even though it took years for them to arrive at the
Promised Land. While Sarah laughed when God told her she would have a son – after all, she was
elderly and barren – her faith in God’s faithfulness brought into being an entire nation. Having faith
doesn’t mean that we never have questions or doubts. But rather, having faith means that we are
not afraid to ask the deep questions about our existence and the presence of God, or anything else.
Hebrews says faith is never static: it either grows or diminishes and such growth is up to us to
determine, and it takes a lifetime to grow into the people God desires us to be. Faith is a choosing
on our part, and it is a gift of God. We get it. We have faith. So, what is it that the Holy Spirit is
trying to say to us in these scripture lessons?
In our Old Testament reading, we hear harsh words from the Prophet Isaiah. He calls the
people of Judah, “Sodom and Gomorrah.” Now, we might think, “Wait a minute. These people were
faithful in prayer and in their religious observance. So how can Isaiah describe them as Sodom and
Gomorrah?” Well, this is when the words of other Prophets as well as historical context sheds some
light on terminology. We typically assume that any mention of Sodom and Gomorrah is a reference
to sexual immorality. But that’s not it.
Ezekiel said, “This was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of
food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. (Ezek.16:9)” Another translation
reads, “she was closed fisted to those in need.” History tells us that in the time of Isaiah there
were some deplorable things going on politically throughout the nation as the poor were growing
more destitute while the wealthy continued to grow richer and richer.
Now I am sure that some people were giving alms and truly living by faith. But the deeper
message here is that faith has to influence everything about who we are and what we believe so
that it makes a difference in how God’s people choose to live. As our Psalmist says, “Sacrifices
might honor God but those who keep God’s ways, God will save.” God tells Isaiah that he is sick of
empty prayers and obligatory sacrifices. God is tired of religious rites that amount to nothing more
than empty words. If it is to have any value and impact in this world, faith has to be put into
action. It has to change how we think, how we live, and who we are. God says, “Stop doing evil
and start to do good.” And just in case anyone forgot what being good means, God says “Let me
spell it out for you … seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the
widow.” God says, “Do it because I’m done with your empty words.”
And yet as so typical of scripture, Isaiah reminds us that there is always hope. He tells the people
they hold the key to resolving this conflict with God. In the closing verses of our reading Isaiah
says, “If you hear and obey, you will eat the good of the land. God will remain faithful to the
covenant. But if you will not,” the sword will eat you. Once again, we are confronted by the reality
that everything in life is a choice.
So I wonder this morning if the Holy Spirit is using these particular lessons to encourage us to
pause and think deeply about life. To help us discern the reality that life is filled with demands both
great and small – like the demand to accumulate more, the demand to ignore the plight of others
and focus on caring only for ourselves, the demand to prove our own worth day in and day out, the
demand to worry about umpteen things because we have somehow convinced ourselves that the
world revolves around us. Perhaps that is why our gospel lesson concludes with these words of
promise, “Do not be afraid … for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” See in
the midst of our scripture lessons these past few weeks with their reminder of our obligation
towards our neighbor, towards God, each other, and even our own selves, there has been a
recurring theme about speaking up in the face of injustice and trusting in God to meet our needs.
Our journey of faith should always direct us to an even more deepening relationship of trust in the
mercy, love, and grace of God to save and meet our needs just as faith should direct us to live
more fully and to take action as people of God.
Still, I am puzzled as to why Jesus’ words “Sell your possessions” keep coming up in our weekly
gospel readings. And I am not likely to sell my iPhone or my laptop. But like all of us, I do need to
be reminded of Jesus’ words “far more often and far more deeply than I need to hear the words of
another commercial telling me that my life won’t be complete without yet another ‘magical and
revolutionary device,’…” (Rick Morley.) I need to remember the poverty both physical, mental, and
spiritual poverty that continues to abound in every community, state, and nation in this world.
So I invite you this morning to join with me in a time of discernment. Over the next few weeks
in your personal prayer time as in my own, let each of us ask, “Lord, you keep telling us, ‘Sell your
possessions.’ Teach us, show us what that looks like. Help us to live more fully the faith we claim
to hold in hearts. Is there something you want us, want me to do? Is it to speak up and speak out
against injustice? Is there anything I am clinging to that is getting in the way of a deeper
relationship with you, my spouse, my family, my neighbors? You said, “Don’t be afraid.” So,
increase in me, in us, the faith, the will, the spirit, to live into whatever new ways you are calling
us to live. Teach us, show us, so that in every aspect of our lives there’s no room for empty words,
but only room for lives committed to upholding, demonstrating, and embodying your ways, your
values, and brings honor and glory to your Name.” May God hear our prayers and direct us. Amen.