Sunday 29th September, 2019
Pastor Noel Due – audio and transcript of sermon preached at St Petri.
We’ve got three readings before us this morning. As you’ll see from the bulletin notes on the front page, these are centuries apart.
One is the story of Jeremiah buying a plot of land. He is buying that plot of land immediately before the catastrophic destruction of Jerusalem. So when everything is torn up and destroyed, he does the most nonsensical and counter-intuitive thing. He is commanded by the Lord to buy a piece of real estate that everyone else would regard as utterly worthless. But of course the issue is not piece of real estate itself. The issue is what does this purchase say and the purchase says that God is going to do something beyond the destruction. In other words if your hope has been in all the things that you’ve spent your life building and that is destroyed, is your hope is destroyed. And for Jeremiah his hope was not destroyed because the word of the Lord came to him, and there was a promise of resurrection beyond the death and destruction of the invasion that was about to happen.
Then of course there’s the reading from Luke chapter 16, which is the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Again it’s a story of misplaced hope that the rich man felt because he was rich because he had so much, because his life was so defined by his well that he was impervious to suffering, and of course death comes to us all – death reverses things and so those who had nothing in this life typified by Lazarus are the ones finally who inherit the kingdom. Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Then you have the account of Paul giving some advice to a young Pastor called Timothy and his telling him about the danger of wealth and the necessity for generosity. and how it is that he, as a young Pastor, must;
a) He himself must keep himself freely from the love of money which is the root of all evil
b) To also instruct his congregation, his people, not to be trapped in the love of money which is the root of all evil.
It is significant I think that if you go through the entire scriptures from beginning to end, you will find at some point either the prophets, or the law, or Jesus himself or all of the new testament writers in one way or another – bring a warning about misplaced trust. And that warning about misplaced trust is very commonly expressed in that trust being misplaced because of our wealth, our riches, our money.
So how does a Pastor preach to a congregation about money, and wealth, and misplaced trust apart from wearing a suit of armour. so you don’t get stoned.
If you were here last week and listen to the Lectionary readings. In Luke chapter 16, the last verse of the Lectionary reading was this. Jesus said to them that you cannot serve God and – money. Some translations say you cannot serve God and wealth but actually it says you cannot serve God and Mammon (not marron, they are crayfish!). You cannot serve God and mammon.
Mammon can be understood as wealth, and it can be understood as money, but it’s not just that. Mammon stands for that whole system where you are at the centre of everything. It’s all about you accumulating things and stuff. It’s about you defining yourself by what you accumulate and how you accumulate it. You providing a display to the world of your worth by what you accumulate and how you express that accumulation. Mammon is all about that activity which money can express, which is an expression of your own selfish ego. That’s what Mammon means it’s not just wealth and not just money. Don’t misquote what Paul says in Timothy. It’s not money that is the root of all evil, it is the love of money that is the root of all evil. Mammon is really not wealth or money but the love of money – that attachment to this stuff which is the expression of your hope.
Now you’ve heard another verse, not in the recent series of lectionary readings, but it comes from 1 Corinthians 13:13 and I bet if I started you’ll be able to finish this: Now abide these three; faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.
If you think about Faith Hope and love, I think you will discover that the whole world needs them. Indeed the whole world seeks to express faith, hope, and love in some way. In other words, there is not a Christian world in which there is faith hope and love and another Christian world in where there is not faith, hope and love. Actually there is the kingdom of heaven where faith hope and love are properly centred. And then there’s everything else where faith hope and love are all scrambled.
So you think about the Jeremiah reading, faith hope and love all scrambled. Loving the wrong things, in the wrong way. So faith is misplaced and hope disappears when the destruction comes.
Think about Faith Hope to love and the rich man. Faith hope and love all scrambled. Loving the wrong things, Mammon in the wrong way for the wrong reason putting his hope in the wrong place. So his Faith is not in God, and when the destruction comes, he has no hope. He is, to quote Timothy, trapped! That is a very strong word in Timothy.
He is trapped by his love of money. He uses the word trapped and also talked about people destroying themselves. He talks about are making shipwreck of the faith and that’s because faith, hope and love are all scrambled. It’s not that they don’t have faith, hope and love – but it’s faith in the wrong thing. It’s love, loving the wrong thing and therefore putting your hope in the wrong place. So you and me and every other person that you ever need is a person who runs by faith, hope and love. The only question is;
a) In whom is your faith placed?
b) What therefore do you love?
c) Therefore, where is your hope? Does that make sense to you?
We live in a society in which faith, hope and love are all scrambled. Everyone in Australia is looking for faith, hope and love or even expressing faith, hope and love in a certain sort of way – but it is faith trust and confidence in the wrong things. It’s loving the wrong things and so, hope in the wrong place. And when, someone drops a brick on your glasshouse, how do you cope? Or, if someone called “God” dropped a big brick on the glasshouse of Jerusalem, by means of an invading army called “Babylonians”. Jeremiah says “Hope comes, not from our security, nor from our ability to defend our borders – but from God, who promised that there would be resurrection beyond the destruction.
Both Pastor Robert and I, in our respective ministries, move around the church a lot. I think that what we are seeing, if I may say bluntly, in the Lutheran Church is that God is bringing us face to face with the fact that we put Faith Hope and love in the wrong baskets. We put faith hope and love in our structures, and our institutions, and our theological formulations. In our liturgies, in our patterns of worship, and if we touch any of those we get all scrambled. We are, as far as congregations go, falling off a cliff.
Within 10 years on current trends, the number of people worshipping in a Lutheran congregation anywhere in Australia and New Zealand will be half of what is now. Within 10 years!
So if faith hope and love are scrambled – Where is the gospel in that? I read the Gospel reading this morning. There’s a bloke cooking in Hades, and there is a gap fixed between him and Abraham’s side and there is no crossing over. There is no redemption. Like there’s no second chance. That’s it, you are done. At the end of the reading I said, “This is the gospel of the Lord” and you said, “Praise be to you, O Christ”. Praise be to you, O Christ for what? What a hopeless picture where there is no second chances. Is that gospel? This is the gospel of the Lord. What that parable does, what that picture does, is actually to press the urgency of what happens when faith, hope and love get scrambled.
Remembering 1Timothy they become trapped! The gospel of the Lord, in that gospel reading, is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Not to the rich man, not for you and me. It doesn’t have to be that way – but you have to work it out now. Not then.
There is an urgency to this beloved, a real urgency and I believe the Lord is asking through the circumstances that he is bringing, where the church is collapsing institutionally. Where all the things that we put our trust in can no longer sustain and buoy us up. I think the Lord is saying “Listen, there is a resurrection”!
If that thing goes, like Jerusalem, and in its entirety, there is still hope. It’s just that if you’ve got everything in that basket you won’t see this one. If you’ve got all your hope here you won’t understand the true hope.
When I was sometimes teaching students in the theological College, I talked about the difference between hopes with a small “h” and an “s” on the end, like hope that greater Western Sydney might win. I hope this time, this week, that I win the x-lotto. I hope that no my coffee is nice this afternoon. Short-term hopes. If that’s all you’ve got and they taken away, you are trapped and you’ve got nothing compared to hope with a capital “H”, whose name is Jesus.
The gospel is that God is doing everything to realign the faith, hope and love that is being misplaced and scrambled in us and has left us hopelessly confused. God is doing everything to undo that, so that our hope, faith and our love may be in Christ. Does that makes sense?
So even if those things seem to be falling apart it’s only because God loves us so much that there is a greater thing that he wants us to belong to. The question is simply “Do we trust him”? Not even a question of “will we let him” because he is going to do it anyway. It is “Do we trust Him’?
As we come to the end of the sermon and turn shortly to the Lord’s supper. you have an absolute, sure, guaranteed token of God’s love, in which Christ gives himself and says “No matter what else happens, no matter what else collapses no matter what we have to do to unscramble your faith, hope and love when it’s misplaced, here is true love. “Here, take and eat”.It is where faith is, “Here, take and drink” that’s where our hope lies.
In Jesus name, Amen.