Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae for Parish Retreat at Trinity Center & at Lay-Led1 Morning Prayer at
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC; 19th Sunday after Pentecost, 25 Sept. 2016
Proper 21 Year C RCL: Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15; Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31
God is gracious. Remember this.
Jeremiah remembers. His cousin is Hanamel, whose name means “God is Gracious”;2 so Jeremiah has strength to act in faith. He has courage to do something audacious: buy property while the city is besieged, about to fall, & he is under house arrest because the king is angry that Jeremiah speaks the truth about the coming disaster.
God is gracious, & people are blessed.
Jeremiah knows this. His secretary is Baruch, whose name means "blessed."3 Jeremiah knows that, despite the enemy at the gate, he can buy property & trust that God is gracious & by God's graciousness he & the people will be blessed.
God is gracious, & we are blessed.
We are partakers of God’s heavenly treasure. God calls us to share God's treasure. We have a foretaste of it at this Holy Table.
This reminds me of the story of a man who dies, & at the pearly gates St. Peter says he will show him what heaven & hell are like.4
They look way down & see people sitting around a sumptuous feast. They aren’t eating.
They are weeping & starving.
Their arms are strapped to large utensils, so that they cannot bend their elbows to feed themselves.
The man is really upset & asks to see heaven.
They look way up & see people sitting around a sumptuous feast. Their arms are strapped to large utensils, so they cannot bend their elbows to feed themselves.
These people are laughing & savoring the delicious food as they reach out their utensils & feed each other.
Our perception of situations drives our actions & makes all the difference between making life heaven or hell.
Our perspective of our material resources & of our abilities guides how we use or misuse our gifts from God.
The rich man Jesus talks about & the message Jeremiah gives challenge the prevailing perspectives of how things are & how they should be. They challenge the numbness5 the status quo counts on – numbness to the pain around them, which allows the rich man not even to see Lazarus’ suffering6, & allows the king to throw Jeremiah into prison because he speaks truth the king does not want to hear.
The rich & powerful do not want
their way of life to change.
People in the Bible are like us. Tending to work, to one’s own needs, they / we can overlook the far reach of God's love.
People don't usually turn their backs on God & intentionally leave this holy relationship. People drift away with a false perspective &, like the rich man, can’t see real pain on the doorstep.
We must guard against seeing what we want to see & failing to see reality.
Author Isabel Fonseca addresses false perspective in her book Bury Me Standing, which tells of her experience with Gypsies in several countries.
After visiting a slum, she talks about its filth with her guide, who is a scholar on Gypsies. The guide says the slum wasn't dirty,
“It just looked dirty.”7
This kind of denial is what Jeremiah deals with & what we hear in Jesus' parable of the rich man & poor Lazarus. As one bible commentator says: This self-indulgent rich man gorges on expensive food 7 days a week in a land where most people might have meat once in a week.8 In his day people eat with their hands...the wealthy wipe their hands “on hunks of bread (that are) thrown away (& this is) what Lazarus (eats).”9
Notice: The rich man does not have Lazarus thrown off the premises or object to his eating the bread...10 The rich man’s sin is doing nothing.11 He “(wallows) in luxury (&) accepts Lazarus' suffering “as...natural & inevitable...”12
You may recall from your Bible studies: wealth & health have been seen as God’s blessing good people, & poverty & sickness mean punishment for sin.
We hear this distortion of reality expressed in our world today.
Our Gospel says some people learn too late. The wealthy leaders in Jeremiah’s day learn too late.13 Our lesson from Jeremiah is during the siege of Jerusalem. The city is about to fall. So why does Jeremiah buy real estate? Property “is totally worthless…”14
Jeremiah buys it to obey God.
He & his cousin seal the deal with witnesses. This lesson gives us the Bible’s most detailed description of a business deal.15
It is fascinating to know: Documents have been found in jars “in caves near the dead Sea”16 & in Egypt,17 & a clay seal with the name Baruch son of Neriah was discovered in Jerusalem in a house destroyed in a siege, as the Jewish Study Bible notes.18 Today's lesson says Jeremiah gives the deed to Baruch son of Neriah. Remember: Baruch means “blessed”.
Signing the deed, Jeremiah expresses hope. He knows God promises: “Houses & fields & vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” Jeremiah trusts God’s redemption & the promised future restoration...19 Jeremiah trusts God's saving help.
God’s saving help is abundantly clear in Jesus’ story about Lazarus, the only parable in which anyone has a name: The name Lazarus means “God is my help.”20
Remember: God is our help. God's great love gives us new life & new work to share God’s liberating love in this hurting world. We do this work with God's help.
Remember: Because God is gracious, we can afford to be generous, to see our wealth, our resources, ourselves as gifts to be shared, to use for good, to have courage to do something audacious like Jeremiah does.
What audacious action is God calling us to do as the Body of Christ at St. Francis?
Barclay, William. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Luke Revised Ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. 1975.
“Baruch”. http://www.aish.com/jl/l/b/48967016.html. Accessed: 20 Sept. 2016.
Brueggemann, Walter. The Book That Breathes New Life: Spiritual Authority and Biblical Theology. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press. 2005.
Brueggemann, Walter. The Prophetic Imagination. 2nd Edition. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2001.
Davidson, Robert. The Daily Study Bible Series: Jeremiah Vol. 2 and Lamentations. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. 1985.
Fonseca, Isabel. Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1995.
The Four Translation New Testament. Minneapolis: World Wide Publications. New York: The Iversen Assocs. 1966.
“Hanamel (Chanamel). http://biblehub.com/hebrew/2606.htm . Accessed: 20 Sept. 2016.
Handy Dictionary of the Bible. Gen. Ed: Merrill C. Tenney. Grand Rapids: Zondrvann Publishing House. 1965.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. Gen. Ed: James L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Harper's Bible Dictionary. General ED: Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers. 1985.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Matthews, Victor H. Social World of the Hebrew Prophets. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 2001.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha Expanded Edition. New York: Oxford University Press. 1973.
1 Thank you to our 2 licensed lay leaders who read this sermon at our morning worship services so that we all shared the same focus despite our being apart.
4 Note: I heard this story years ago and do not recall its source. Internet search says the allegory is told in several cultures, including Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegory_of_the_long_spoons
5 Brueggemann, Walter. The Prophetic Imagination. 2nd Edition. P. 92. Note: Concept of numbness also influenced by
Brueggemann lectures & other work listed in bibliography below.
6 Barclay, William. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Luke Revised Ed. P. 213.
7 Fonseca, Isabel. Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey. P. 104.
8 Barclay. Gospel of Luke. P. 213.
9 Ibid. Pp. 213-214.
10 Ibid. P. 214.
13 Matthews, Victor H. Social World of the Hebrew Prophets. P. 130.
15 The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha Expanded Edition. P. 956.
16 Davidson, Robert. The Daily Study Bible Series: Jeremiah Vol. 2 and Lamentations. P. 94.
17 The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha Expanded Edition. P. 956.
18 Ibid. Jewish Study Bible. P. 992.
19 Ibid. P. 992.
20 Ibid. Barclay.