With reference to Jeremiah 32:1-15, and Luke 16:19-31
On Tuesday morning, by the time I’d heard the horrible news of the bombing of the aid convey to Aleppo, and the shooting of yet another black man by police in the US, the highest July and August temperatures in recorded history and the 488 people who have died of fentanyl overdoes in BC alone this year… I was depressed, enraged and felt heart-broken. It’s hard to hold the brokenness and senseless violence of this world, and get up smiling and ready to bless the day. I’d have gotten up in a much happier mood if I hadn’t listened to the news.
It seems as if that is the coping mechanism for much of society. Don’t notice what’s going on around you and you will be much happier. That’s certainly what Jeremiah saw going on in his day.
About 2600 years ago, in the 10th year of King Zedekiah’s reign and 18th year of Nebuchadnezzar, the powerful Babylonian king, our friend Jeremiah got himself thrown in jail for continuing to preach that Jerusalem will be invaded. Zedekiah is tired of hearing him rant and rave about doom and gloom.
While in prison, Jeremiah has a vision that his cousin comes to sell him a piece of land, and when this comes to pass, Jeremiah not only buys it, he makes a big show of it. `Look everyone I’m buying a piece of land – I’m putting the deed in this clay jar so it will last a looooong time! I’ll never see it, but I’m buying it. ‘It worked for the Dead Sea Scrolls, right?
Jeremiah, as far as scholars can figure got sent off to Egypt and never saw his home again, and certainly not the field he bought that day. So why waste his money? Why bother?
I don’t know. Maybe, just maybe, he did it so that in the days and years of exile when his people were tempted to give up their faith in despair, they would remember crazy ol’ Jeremiah who bought some land, who invested in a future that he knew he would never be a part of. Maybe his was a sacrifice of hope, to give people courage to live in the present in such a way that a better future might be possible.
Sometimes in life, you just get to plant the seeds. Someone else gets to harvest the fruit of your labour. But if you don’t plant the seed, there is no harvest for the future.
I read the bulletin from last week, where Bernice had listed the things this congregation has been involved in or spearheaded over the years… from seniors housing, sponsoring a family of `boat people’, developing the Thrift Shop, so even as we plant for the future we also honour those whose vision has brought us this far.
In the gospel reading for today, Jesus tells a story of Lazarus and the rich man. It doesn’t say that the rich man was cruel to Lazarus. He just didn’t seem to notice him. The prevalent view then as now, in some religious circles, was that if you were healthy and wealthy it was because God was pleased with you; and if you were sick or poor, then obviously you’d done something to warrant God’s displeasure, and therefore, not really my concern. I mean what if he noticed Lazarus? Then he’s have to think about him, right? He’d have to decide to respond in a way that required compassion or even justice. Best to just not notice what’s going on.
This is something we all must struggle with. How much do I need to take care of myself and my loved ones, and how big am I willing to see my family as being?
What does it take to build empathy with those we see as different from ourselves? Does our own suffering build compassion, or just make us more determined that no one else will hurt us, and we’d do whatever we have to make ourselves feel secure?
In the wonderful and sometimes awful world of social media, I sometimes feel dismayed at what opinions are posted. I recently saw a post by someone who has made their living in the oil and gas industry that said, `There should be a sign on gas pumps that ask: Do you support the oil and gas industry. If you answer No, they should say `Then f…ing walk! ‘Now, I can understand that behind that comment is the fear of someone losing their job. But I want to say, Have you noticed the rise in temperature? Have you noticed the acidification of the oceans, the poisoning of the water, the extinction of species, the death of bees, do you not see how interconnected we are?
I haven’t responded yet. Maybe my not responding is also to `not notice,’ to turn a blind eye, and therefore not give voice to the voiceless. I want to say – actually, I don’t’ go to the gas pumps anymore, I just plug in my electric car.’ (Though today we brought the truck and camper!) It is my hope that the technology will so rapidly improve in electric and solar-powered transportation that we have a chance of saving this world for humanity, and those in need of work will find it in cleaner, safer energy.
It’s hard to be part of church and not talk about sin to some degree – but if we take that word back to its root meaning, sin means `missing the mark.’ The UCC’s poetic expression of this in `A Song of Faith’ reads: “Becoming bound and complacent in a web of false desires and wrong choices, we bring harm to ourselves and others. This brokenness in human life and community is an outcome of sin. Sin is not only personal but accumulates to become habitual and systemic forms of injustice, violence and hatred. We are all touched by this brokenness:”
We are indeed touched by this brokenness. So, how do we get out of bed in the morning after hearing the woes of the world?
I confess that I got this far in the sermon and stopped…it reminded me of the Sunday school teacher who told the children to guess what she was thinking of, and she described a furry little animal that lived in the forest and had a bushy tail and liked to gather nuts… and all the kids were quiet, and finally one little kid said, “Well I know the answer is supposed to be `Jesus’, but is sure sounds like a squirrel to me.”
So is the answer Jesus? Yes, and it’s more than Jesus. It’s Jesus in that in his life and ministry I see that he took notice – notice of the widow’s tiny copper coins dropped into the offering, notice of the bent-over woman in the back of the synagogue, notice of the children who were not just someone’s property, but valuable ones who merited his time and attention. He took notice of Zaccheus, the stumpy little tax collector hiding in a tree as he passed by, he took notice of James and John in their fishing boats and the woman at the well. In taking notice of them, he changed their lives. He blessed their lives.
For those who would dare to follow his example, the challenge is for us to take notice, even when we want to turn away. There is so much over which I feel completely powerless, but I do have the power to notice things and make choices about what I will do about them. I have the power, we have the power to notice people – to take time to listen to their stories, to pray with them, to laugh or cry with them, to advocate on their behalf, to celebrate their goodness, to speak up when we see them being destructive of themselves or others. We can serve as an example, (and sometimes as a warning!)
We can’t be everywhere, we can’t fix everything, but we can notice what is before us, we can be present and in so doing be the light of the world – each of us, in our holiness and humanness.
I encourage you to pay attention this week, to notice what you might rather not see, and in noticing ask, `How can I be light here? How can I be love, how can I be grace, affirmation, challenge and strength?’ May we have the courage to notice and to act. Amen.