Comfort In Affliction and Affliction In Comfort: Pentecost 8

Comfort In Affliction and Affliction In Comfort: Pentecost 8

Eighth sunday After Pentecost: August 4, 2019

Year C, Proper 13: Hosea 11:1-11;  Psalm 107:1-9, 43; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21       

CLICK HERE to listen to the sermon.

Isn’t it true that Jesus makes us uncomfortable at times? Today, for example, he tells us to be on guard against all kinds of greed, that our life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. Well, if you’re anything like me, and you just need to check the Saint Andrew’s room, we are often overtaken by our possession.

Remember, though, in first-century Palestine, the number of possessions a given person had would be very, very small by comparison to many of us today. A rich man might have a small herd of goats, some farmland, and as many as three or four changes of clothing, and a poor person—then, as now—would be fortunate to have a roof over his head.

So, here is Jesus warning someone who wants a fair share of the family inheritance from his brother that he may be greedy. Jesus is not talking about even modest estate, he’s probably talking about a small herd of animals, a patch of farmland and a house, and a couple of changes of clothing. And, let’s face it: we all have more than that. A lot more.

A strict literalist would read this passage and decide to sell everything and give alms to the poor. That is, by the way, exactly Jesus’ instruction in the subsequent passage from Luke’s gospel; we’ll hear it next week.

And a more metaphorical thinker could read this and argue a way around it. What Jesus really meant is not that we should sell our possessions, but simply that we should love God and our neighbor, and then all will be fine.

Give away everything or give away nothing: can either of those extreme options satisfy us? We Episcopalians, we have always looked to the Anglican tradition of the via media, the middle road between the extremes.

Many of us have some experience of being poor: beginning life as a young, married couple with little in the way of money and material possessions – I suppose that’s how the whole idea of a bridal or wedding shower began – giving the couple a leg up. Working or living on minimum wage, which you could do years ago but not today; life as a college student (do you know that the need for food pantries is skyrocketing on college campuses)?

In our nation, there’s a tiny safety net, thank goodness, though it’s certainly not perfect and the hoops one has to jump through sometimes border on cruel. Someday ask me at coffee hour about having to apply for medical assistance as a person with two master’s degrees, one from an Ivy League university and another from an Episcopal seminary. It’s not embarrassing to me, and, in fact, I didn’t have to go through the hoops I watched others go through. Maybe it was because of the way I was dressed or the color of my skin, but I watched how others were treated as I was in and out of the county office in under an hour, leaving with a Medical Assistance card in hand. And I only got that because I have the “joy” of diabetes and asthma.

Yes, we live in a contemporary society of high-tech prosperity at levels Jesus could only have imagined.

It’s a society that has everything but has nothing in important ways.

Yesterday, this church was filled all day. We matched and dispatched you might say. We celebrated a wedding and a funeral. There were 177 at the funeral and 109 at the wedding. It was a day of glory. A day of joy and resurrection.

Feeling energized, tired and exhausted all at once, I got in my car and turned on the radio. BIG MISTAKE. It wasn’t turned on to my usual Broadway channel. It was on a news station.

There it was. News of another mass shooting this time in El Paso, Texas. I’ve never been there, but my father, who rarely spoke of his war experiences, did sometimes fondly speak of El Paso and his time in basic training in the forties. It’s a border town that reflects wonderfully its historic shared Mexican and American cultures and traditions. 20 dead and 26 injured.

This morning I left the mountain a little later than normal. Another mistake to turn the radio on. Same station. In Dayton, Ohio nine dead and sixteen wounded. It was the second mass shooting in our country in less than 24 hours and the third in a week.

Enough is enough is enough! If our elected officials will do nothing it is our RESPONSIBILITY AS CHRISTIANS to do something about Americans killing Americans through mass murders. Because you can be certain that Jesus would do something.

And lest we think that Jesus would simply go on being the “nice Jesus” often depicted in movies, that is hardly ever representative of the man depicted in the gospels. Jesus could be described in many ways, but nice is not always among them. He knocked over tables in the Temple, told people to leave their families, and in the Gospel of Mark is described as looking around at the worshippers in anger, deeply distressed at their hardness of heart.[1] He was angry at their hardness of heart. Think about that for a moment – he was angry at their hardness of heart.

One thing is clear: the choice is up to us. Every moment, every hour, every day: we have an opportunity to make choices. And, as you all very well know, most of the time the choice is not very clear. We are rarely presented with the choice between Glinda and Elphaba. The choice between the Good Witch of the North and the Wicked Witch of the West would be clear for most of us. But, sadly, our choices are rarely like that. Most of the time, we are confronted with choices that have benefits, but also ramifications and consequences—no matter what decision we make.

As Christian people, we are called not to be perfect and never make a mistake—but we are called to do the best we are able, and to make choices that benefit our community and to clear our hardness of heart. We are all called to cast away our fear and live instead in faith. We are called to offer more than thoughts and prayers; we are called to engage in the hard work of spreading the kingdom of God through both prayer and direct action. We are called to make the safety and welfare of our brothers and sisters throughout this community, throughout this country and throughout this world our priority.

In such a journey, Jesus will find a way to comfort us in our afflictions. And Jesus will also find a way to afflict us in our comfort. Of that, we can also be sure.

We need to transform ourselves, our community, our society, and the whole world for the better. For that is truly the kingdom of God. And frankly, when our life is demanded of us, when our time comes, God will judge us. And we will be judged on the choices we make, and our greed, including the greed of arrogance in worshipping anyone or anything other than God.


[1] Mark 3:5

Most sermons are recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. To access the entire library of audio files for recent sermons, CLICK HERE