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Life That Really Is Life

  • October 27, 2019
  • 08:00 AM

Sermon for 27 October 2019 

Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary

Texts:             1 Timothy 6.6-19; Psalm 84; Luke 18.9-14

Title:               Life That Really Is Life

“Those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim 6.9-10).

My friends, think about the people you know. And consider the people you have heard about recently in the news. How many of these people have been brought to harm and pain and ruin because of a desire to be rich?

And perhaps more to the heart of the matter for us gathered here today: think about what it is that YOU truly want, what it is you desire the most. What part does money play in that deep desire of your heart?

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus shared this remarkable little parable with those who gathered around him. I don’t think it’s too much to say that this parable has been world-altering. It was dropped like a grenade into the human consciousness and its effects continue to reverberate like shockwaves across the ages.

In it Jesus spoke of those who “went up to the temple to pray”.

Let’s begin right there, because going up the long set of stairs to the Temple was not an easy undertaking. Pilgrims en route to the Temple, especially those from Galilee, generally climbed up the southern staircase which served as the primary approach to the Temple soaring hundreds of feet above the valley below. Glistening white and gold in the sun. It must have been an incredible sight to behold.

But one of the strangest things is that these stairs were an engineering nightmare! This reality was described in writings by the ancient rabbis and now archeologists have confirmed it. You see, stairs have two basic measurements: a rise and a run. Stairs that are safe and comfortable to use have standard and predictable rises and runs.

But this was not how these ancient stairs up to the Temple were built. The rise of the steps varied in some instances by several inches, while the run of the steps often varied by multiple feet. The effect was to make the process of climbing these stairs very, very challenging. And, unfortunately, the only rational conclusion to be drawn about the builders is that they were either incompetent or intoxicated!

But the ancient rabbis thought about this differently. Rather than focus on the failures of the human builders, they looked for the purpose of God. In their view, the engineers of the ancient Temple Mount were led to build in a way that matched spiritual reality. To ascend the Hill of the Lord hurriedly or without thought would be spiritually dangerous. One must approach the Temple as one would approach God: cautiously, carefully, with full attention given to each individual step, because each step was different.

This is a metaphor for taking hold of the eternal life offered in God’s presence. Move with attention and awareness – or else you are certain to fall.

“In their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” (1 Tim 6.10).

How many humans are eager to be rich? How many go through life doing whatever they can to get wealth while cultivating no spiritual awareness at all? Living with no awareness of God as the giver of all good things?

Do you know that all around the world right now, there are people risking death itself in order to live the life that YOU are living right now? Isn’t that a crazy thought?

Indeed, there is a crazy madness that grips the human mind when money is on the table.

I wonder what you think about that bold statement in today’s text: “if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.”

Is this hyperbole? Do you think this state of mind is actually attainable? Or is it only aspirational – a goal toward which all of us are striving?

We all know that the best things in life, the most enjoyable things, do not cost money. Isn’t this a cliché? Yes, of course, but still it is true. Health, friendship, love, freedom, even life itself, the beauty of sunrises and sunsets, the autumn colors, the chance to sing together with friends  – all of these things are gained without the aid of money.

And yet how many of our neighbors live each day completely devoid of this awareness? Without any awareness of God at all?

My friends, you and I happen to live in the most unchurched part of America, which means that we are in one of the least religious areas in all the world.

If this is true, then how will our neighbors learn about the generosity and love of God if we do not make it known to them?

This Saint Mary’s community has a special and unique calling to fight the good fight, to keep the faith of Christ vibrant and alive in this land. This is a special place. And we need to work together to share the good news.

It is time for our Annual Stewardship Campaign. For the year 2020, we are calling this “Make A Joyful Noise”. We need to talk about this for a few moments, because for the next few years we will be trying something new and different.

“Make a Joyful Noise.” But why this title? Because, my friends, we need to fix the bell. Yes, the big one. The large one that sits about 45 feet above you in this central tower. Don’t worry: there is no way that it could ever fall through the ceiling, but it DOES need some repair.

When this bell rings out to call everyone together for the Eucharist, it calls out far and wide in testimony to the fact that the Body of Christ is alive and well in this place. And you and I must not allow it to go silent on our watch.

That’s one thing that needs to be done, and yes, money is required. But instead of launching a small capital campaign or borrowing money from a bank, your parish leadership is hoping to do something simpler and far less risky.

We are simply going to ask all of you who are aware of the presence of God in this place to reach a little deeper in the year 2020, so that we can bring this great bell into the 21st century.

And also so that we can upgrade the sound system to ensure that all who enter this space can hear as well as possible, and to also bring this into the 21st century.

But the very first thing we will do after paying all of our bills is to reach for the tithe.

What is it that the Pharisee declared in his prayer? “I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” I’m sure you already know this, but the practice of giving a tenth of one’s income is called tithing. It is a practice firmly rooted in the Torah, and in all of Hebrew tradition.

To give away a tithe is an aspirational goal for each of our households, and we think that all together Saint Mary’s ought to aspire for the same.

Right now, Saint Mary’s gives away 5 percent of all the pledges we collect to support our partners in ministry who are directly serving those in need.

But we want to reach the tithe, so in 2020 – IF we can raise enough from all of you, if you agree with this aspirational goal – then we will stretch this to 7 percent, and we will keep adding one percent a year for three more years until we get to the goal of 10 percent given away each and every year.

“Make a Joyful Noise” is what we are calling this expanded stewardship campaign. We can do this, and we will do this, because it is the right thing to do.  And it is a sign of that life that really is life.

It is a sign of that real life in the household of God where people are good, and rich in good works, are generous and ready to share. Where no one is trying to climb the ladder of success, no one is trying to use others to make money, no one is trying scam their neighbors. Where humility means that we are willing to truly serve and care for one another.

For we all know the truth: we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. Naked we are born, and naked we die. And on that day, there will be no more talk of giving away 10 percent of our income. On that day, all 100 percent will be given away, forever!

But until that day, or until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, will you join me in reaching a little deeper to sustain the unique ministry of this place?

Not so that we can exalt ourselves or pat ourselves on the back, but to fight the good fight together. To ensure that this place will continue to make a joyful noise to God for many generations to come.

So that we can invite all people to live each day in the awareness of God’s unfailing and loving presence. To call people into life that really is life.

Will you do that with me? Can we do this thing together? May it always be so among us. Amen.

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