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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 2, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Pentecost 19 Proper 21C RCL September 25, 2016

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

Our first reading today is one of the most tragic yet powerful passages in the Bible. It is the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah and the eighteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Babylon is what we now call Iraq. The Babylonian Empire is laying siege to Jerusalem. This is a situation very similar to what is happening in Aleppo, Syria right now. The year is 588 B.C.E. and in the next year Jerusalem will fall to the Babylonians. The temple will be reduced to rubble. The people will be deported to Babylon.

Jeremiah has been put in prison by King Zedekiah because he told the king this would happen. Jeremiah will be deported to Egypt and held captive. It is Judah’s darkest hour.

And yet—in the midst of this tragedy, Jeremiah describes in minute detail a real estate transaction. Jeremiah is from Anathoth, a town about two miles northeast of Jerusalem, just outside the city wall. Hanamel, son of his Uncle Shallum, comes to him and asks him to buy a field. According to the law, if you needed to sell a piece of property, you were required to try to sell it to the nearest relative. In Judah, just as in Vermont today, families valued and cherished their land.

Jeremiah describes the transaction very carefully. Then he asks his secretary, Baruch, to store the scrolls recording this transaction in a clay jar so that they will last a long time. We recall that the scrolls found at Qumran lasted for two thousand years.

God’s message is that fields and vineyards will again be bought in the land. At the darkest hour, there is always hope with God. The Exile will be a terrible time but out of that crucible will come deep and careful scholarship,  a more profound commitment to God’s law, and a renewed dedication to worship and to compassionate life in community.

Our gospel for last Sunday ended with Jesus’ words, “You cannot serve God and wealth.” Today, he tells us the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. This is not the same Lazarus who is the brother of Mary and Martha.

There is a rich man who has the most expensive clothing, eats the most luxurious foods, and generally has the best of everything. At his gate lies the poor man Lazarus. He is starving. His body is covered with sores, which scholars tell us makes him ritually unclean. The dogs lick the sores.

Both men die. The rich man is buried, The poor man is carried by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man looks up from the underworld and sees Lazarus beside Abraham. He calls to Abraham to send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and satisfy his thirst. This is the shocking part. The rich man knows Lazarus’ name!

The rich man has gone by this man every day of his life. He has done nothing to help Lazarus. Yet he actually knows his name! His wealth and power have blinded him to the needs of this fellow human being whose name he knows. Now he is asking that Abraham allow Lazarus to become his waiter, his slave, and bring him some water.

But Abraham says No. The great reversal of the kingdom of God has happened. A chasm has been fixed. No one can cross it. The rich man then thinks of his five brothers and asks that they may be warned. But Abraham says they have Moses to warn them. In other words, the law of Moses calls us to love God and to love others as ourselves. But how easy it is to forget that law, especially when we have a great deal of wealth and a great deal of power.

That is why Jesus tells us that we cannot love God and wealth. We are called to love God first and foremost and to love others as ourselves. If wealth comes our way, we are called to put it in its proper place as a gift from God and to be good stewards of that wealth, which includes sharing it with others.

Even in our reading from the Letter to Timothy we are cautioned about the seduction of wealth. Paul writes, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil….” We see this in our own society. The accumulation of wealth and possessions appears to be the goal of many in our world. This parable gives us an insight into what is dangerous about wealth and power. When we humans become extremely wealthy, that wealth gives us power. People are deferential to us because our wealth gives us power over them. Then we begin to live in our own little world in which we are supreme. No one has the courage to set us right, and perhaps that is because we do not want to hear the truth. For example, King Hezekiah did not want to hear the truth that Jeremiah was trying to tell him on behalf of God, so he put Jeremiah in prison. The religious and secular powers of Jesus’ time were threatened by his message, so they had him killed.

Someone has come from the dead to lead us in the way of compassion. Our Lord Jesus calls us to know our neighbors by name and to care for them. Those neighbors may live in South Dakota or halfway around the world, and we are called to treat them as we would want to be treated.

One of the most powerful things about the history of Grace Church is the great good work done by people like Mary Catherine “Kate” Whittemore and the many others who over two centuries have ministered to the needs of our brothers and sisters in South Dakota, have helped our neighbors locally, and have supported ministries here in Vermont, in our country, and around the world.

We will be continuing to collect money to help a family who lost their home to fire, and, as we move toward the time when we make our offering to Episcopal Relief and Development, I ask you to continue to keep in mind the suffering of refugees, especially in Syria. I ask your prayers for Syria, and especially Aleppo, and I encourage us to do anything we can to help our brothers and sisters who are suffering.

Paul’s guidance to Timothy is good counsel for us, and I paraphrase: “May we pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. …May we  fight the good fight of the faith, may we take hold of the eternal life, to which we were called….may we be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share…that we may take hold of the life that really is life.” Amen.

 

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