Sermon Archives

Sunday, September 25, 2016
The 19th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 21, Year C)
The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate
Chasm

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

Since his 1954 debut on the cover of Mad magazine[1], Alfred E. Neuman’s face has adorned the cover of all but a handful of the Mad’s 500 issues.  Alfred E. Neuman’s face is distinct: the jug ears, the missing front tooth and one eye a bit lower than the other eye. Neuman’s face that doesn’t have a care in the world, except mischief, and the publisher routinely combines Neuman with another character, such as Darth Vader or George Washington, or even Agent Smith from The Matrix.  After the first few years of publication, Mad magazine added Neuman’s now-familiar signature phrase, “What, me worry?” written below his face.

Intellectually uncurious “What, me worry?” captures the 8th century BCE life-of-faith run amuck that Amos critiques in today’s reading.  This apathy pervades the lifestyle that Amos condemns, which accompanies the decadent feast of revelry by privileged and powerful people, enjoying indulgences they can afford without a care in the world. What, me worry? Is at the crux of Amos’s rant.

The people, “at ease in Zion,” claim to belong to the Lord and feel secure. They don’t care about the ruin of an entire population – the people of Israel…For context, think the clichéd image of Nero who fiddled while Rome burned, or Marie Antoinette who said “Let them eat cake” while the rebelling people starved. These people “at ease in Zion,” instead of using their power and privilege for the welfare of God’s people used their privilege for their own good.  What, me worry?

pause

I don’t really like Amos. He’s speaking to me. To us. He makes me wonder about my / our privilege: In what ways do my choices numb me from worry? How do I, too, participate in systems that ignore the oppression of people?

When I turn on the lights, do I care about the connection of that electric usage to mountain top removal[2] happening in West Virginia?

When I buy cheap mangoes from S America, do I understand the connection between my exotic tastes to the destruction of small farms at the heart of community life, whose downfall now forces those farmers to find work on farms in North America?

When I speak up in a meeting, do I notice the connection that some people will (sometimes) listen to a priest and silence their own important perspectives from a conversation – do I notice my power and privilege?

These choices that I make – that we make – around how we use our wealth and privilege have connections, have effects. Amos calls me – us – out with his prophetic voice to choose life.

This choice the core of the now familiar “This is Water” talk by David Foster Wallace, to which both Rev. Areeta and Fr. Drew referred in in previous sermons.  This is the core of awareness that is so real and essential but hidden in plain sight, like water in which fish swim: my wealth & privilege can numb me from worry. I don’t like Amos because it means I need to stay awake and aware.  Do you see what I mean?

The gospel offers warning about the cruel world of inequality.[3]  Jesus’ talk portrays a rich man who might have wondered, “What, me worry?” during his life on earth.

His wealth & privilege prevented him from even seeing Lazarus or relating to Lazarus as a fellow child of God.  (Just for clarification, this was not the same Lazarus heard in other stories with Jesus.  Lazarus was a common name derived from the Hebrew, Eleazar, “God is my help.”)

In death, the rich man spoke to Lazarus without concern and assumed Lazarus would do his bidding even in the hereafter. The rich man was lost. His riches had stunted his compassion and created a chasm in his heart from the needs of others.  And so it may be for us – when we become complacent, without concern of how systems in which we participate affect others and especially those who are oppressed or marginalized already.  Luke and Amos call us, today, to stay alert – to choose to care – so that wealth and privilege does not insulate those around us.

Both these prophets’ message warn of a chasm forming around our heart.

To help remind us to take seriously Jesus’ point, we already have a handy device that most of us carry around in our wallet.  Could you please take out a bill from your wallet – any bill will do.  Or a coin, if you have no bills.  If you look closely on each bill or coin, there inscribed you can read four simple words of that reminder, “In God We Trust.”  Look at those words, imprinted in our currency during the civil war, inspired by the Star Spangled Banner during the war of 1812.

If we do actually trust God, then we will take seriously God’s command to have compassion on those around us, to be vulnerable to each other, to see the face of Christ in our neighbor’s need. This week, I invite you to spend the bill you hold in your hand. Spend it with awareness, with choice, with concern, with compassion.

How does it reflect your trust in God?  Maybe this tangible sign can be less a “transaction” in your head and more a “transformation” of your heart.[4] Later this week, post on the Christ Church face book page or write me an email or note about how this spending opened you up to the needs of others.  How was your heart transformed by God as you entered into that need?

What is at stake today is the connection of our whole lives – our own wellbeing to that of others.  Jesus is calling us today: take care that our wealth, our privilege, our power, does not numb us to the need of our neighbors.

We cannot say we have no need of you. 

We are not sufficient unto ourselves.

Here’s a warning: As we become more responsive to the hurts, hopes and needs of others, we will become more aware of our own humanity- our own longings, vulnerabilities and insufficiencies.  At that point, we may also recognize God’s offer of manifest grace in Jesus Christ, the one who took on our human longings, human vulnerabilities, human insufficiencies in order to show us God’s profound love.

We, too, have Moses’ law and the prophets to teach us to care for our neighbor’s needs. And, we are confronted and become known by Jesus Christ each week at this table.  In that meal, when we see and know the One who died and rose for us, may we be shook awake from our numbness.

And once awake, may we know how again and again God chooses to draw us back into relationship. God chooses for us life everlasting.

Amen


[1] Cited in Wikipedia, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_E._Neuman  on Sep. 22, 2016

[2] See tool at this website: http://ilovemountains.org/maps

[3] Ched Meyers, “The Rich Man and Lazarus: Warning Tale and Interpretive Key to Luke”

 https://radicaldiscipleship.net/2016/09/22/the-rich-man-and-lazarus-warn...

[4] Inspired by a personal conversation with Rev. Areeta on September 23, 2016