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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Epiphany 02/27/2011

It might have been nice if Easter was a week earlier and we could have avoided today’s gospel text.  In the sequence of Sermon on the Mount readings the lectionary kind of saved the best or the worst for last with this business of not serving two masters, you can’t serve God and wealth, and that coupled with don’t worry about what you eat, drink or wear, all the things that money can buy in other words.  Don’t worry, just trust that God will provide.

The choice we’re presented with this morning is stark and it probably represents the ultimate example of us wanting it both ways.  We want to be Christians, but we also kind of enjoy the comfort and enjoyment and security that money provides and so we convince ourselves that we can have it both ways.  In essence though, what today’s text says is that to be rich and to call yourself a disciple of Jesus is to have a problem, and all of us are rich, some are richer than others that’s all.  Another approach to the same thing is to say that all of us are slaves to money or possessed by our possessions to one degree or another and you know what?  We can’t help it; we can’t help it because it’s part of our country and culture, part of the air we breathe.  Many like to think that this is a Christian country but before it’s a Christian country it’s a capitalist country where the most important thing, the greatest value is to have a strong economy. 

An obvious example of this is how we, as a nation, measure a good Christmas.  It has nothing to do with how many people attended church services to celebrate the birth of a savior, instead it’s measured by how much stuff was bought in the stores.   Example number two is the thousands of people who flock to “Christian” churches that preach the prosperity gospel which says that God wants you to be rich.  Now maybe I’m missing something but I don’t see that anywhere in this text or in anything else that Jesus says.  It’s heretical to put it bluntly; it’s market driven church, give the people what they want, and it sells; people and money flow into those churches. 

To be rich and to be a disciple of Jesus is to have a problem.  We try to weasel our way out of it by saying that it’s not money that’s the problem, it’s our attitude toward money so as long as we’re good stewards as long as we’re generous with our money, we’re off the hook.  With that, most of us quickly turn the page and move on, whatever guilt we might feel about all this is alleviated, even though the fact that Jesus is pretty clear in saying that wealth is a problem may gnaw away at us a little bit, for awhile; but then it passes and we move on.  Being good stewards is important, but making it a stewardship text still avoids what Jesus is saying here.   

The big question put to us in the Sermon on the Mount is, “Who or what do you trust?”  It’s not a hard question, not in the sense of knowing the right answer anyway.  We know the right answer, we know that we are called to trust in God.  The hard part is, do we?  I don’t know about you, but it’s much easier for me to trust in God when I’ve got money in the bank, so then the question is where does my trust really lie? 

As a country we also know the right answer to this question; we print “In God we Trust” on all our money after all.  Our behavior as a country suggests other loyalties though.  Our obsession with the economy for the past few years indicates that as a nation we don’t trust God, we trust an economic system that has failed.  The bailouts were an effort to prop up a failed system in part because of fear about what might emerge from that failed system if money we didn’t have weren’t pumped into it.  Now we’ve kind of reversed field.  Now the thinking seems to be that if we can just balance the budget everything will be OK and the system that was broke will be fixed but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of concern about who might be hurt and what will be lost in the process of this balancing act as cuts are made.  When all is said and done, exactly what will we have accomplished?

I don’t know what the answer to that question is because I don’t know anything about economics.  I’m just shooting from the hip here and I assume someone will tell me why I’m wrong about all this, but that’s not my main point anyway.  I don’t know anything about economics but I think I do know something about the Bible and I think I do know something about the teachings of Jesus and based on that I know that economic practices that don’t place a priority on the needs of “the least of these” are not God pleasing and neither the bailouts nor the present budget cutting frenzy do that.  Economic practices that are mostly concerned about keeping more money in my pockets and who cares if someone else gets hurt or goes without, such practices are not God pleasing.   If you don’t like me saying that, take it up with Jesus.    

The big problem with this from a biblical perspective, and it’s a problem for all of us, liberal or conservative and everything in between, across the board…from a biblical perspective the problem in all this is the fear and anxiety that causes such economic concerns and that perpetuates those concerns.  Fear and anxiety are normal emotions, we all experience them but what fear and anxiety do is to turn us inward.  Our primal instinct of me first self-preservation takes over and that primal instinct of self preservation runs counter to who Jesus would have us be in the Sermon on the Mount, counter to the community he imagines.  What that inward turn also does is to make us long for what we know, for what is familiar and comfortable, the good old days, what used to be.  There’s a natural fear about what we don’t know so we make that inward turn toward what we do know.      

My less than well informed assessment of our response to the economic crisis is that it has mostly been about maintaining the status quo or getting us back to what we perceive as the status quo and let’s face it, the status quo has treated most of us pretty well.  We trust in money because we know what it has done for us.  Fear though, fear of futures we don’t know are part of this misplaced trust and you might remember that a phrase that echoes throughout the Bible is “Do not be afraid, do not be afraid,” because fear always works against faith.

Jesus creates a beautiful image of the lilies of the fields and at the same time takes a less than veiled shot at the acquisitiveness of Solomon.  Most of us when we hear Solomon’s name we think of the wisdom of Solomon, but if you read beyond that you get to his very intentional and programmed and exploitative accumulation of wealth.  “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”  Solomon’s wealth couldn’t match the glory of God.  Even with that though, I don’t think I can then just glibly say, “Don’t worry, just trust in God and God will provide, maybe not everything you want, but everything you need.”  On a certain level that’s true, but I’m not sure how helpful it is for those living with the reality of economic uncertainty.

A better way to end our five weeks of reflection on the Sermon on the Mount might be to ask if we can believe, if we can trust that God is capable of doing something new and by that I mean something entirely new, not something that is contingent on what’s happened before, what God has done before or what we have done before.  But note how often we want to limit God to what we can explain based on what we’ve seen or experienced in the past.  We want to limit God to what we know and understand. 

But Christian faith is resurrection faith and in the resurrection of Jesus, God did something entirely new and ever since then people have tried to explain it in terms that make more sense to us based on what we’ve seen or experienced in the past.  You can’t explain it that way though, because it’s new. 

Can we trust that God is capable of doing something new?  I think we can.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to entirely stop worrying and just trust in God.  But maybe it helps us to see our worry and our misplaced loyalties, and our future a bit differently.  The future that has been revealed to us in the resurrection is a hopeful future, a hopeful future in the hands of a God who can and will do new things, entirely new things.

The Sermon on the Mount does challenge us; if it doesn’t we’re not really paying attention.  But we also remember the one who delivered this sermon.  We remember that the same one who challenges us also welcomes us and forgives us.  The resurrection future of Jesus meets us here in the present, and Jesus is there drawing us into his future.

Rev. Warren Geier

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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