25th Sunday of the Year Amos 8:4–7; 1 Timothy 2:1–8; Luke 16:1–13
That’s a nice story People work harder for earthly rewards that last a few years than they do for heavenly ones that last forever. Afew years ago a priest was giving a retreat to inmates in a federal prison in the South. One of the talks dealt with Jesus’ teaching about revenge. Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But now I tell you: do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, Let him slap your left cheek too.” Matthew 5:38–39 To illustrate Jesus’ point, the priest told the story of Jackie Robinson, the first black athlete to play in the major leagues. When Branch Rickey signed Jackie to a Dodger contract in 1945, he told him, “You will have to take everything they dish out to you and never strike back.’’ Rickey was right. On the field, pitchers brushed Jackie back with blazing fastballs, and opposing fans and teams taunted him. Off the field, he was thrown out of hotels and restaurants where the rest of the team stayed and ate. Through it all, Jackie kept his cool. He turned the other cheek. And so did Branch Rickey, who was abused by people for signing Jackie. The priest ended the story by asking the prisoners this question: “Where do you think black athletes would be today had Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey not turned the other cheek?’’ After the talk, a prisoner said to the priest: “That’s a nice story, father. But why didn’t you tell the whole story? Why didn’t you tell why Rickey and Robinson turned the other cheek? It wasn’t for love of God. It was for love of money. “Rickey turned the other cheek because he had signed up all the best black athletes in the country and would make a fortune if Jackie succeeded. “And Jackie turned the other cheek because if he succeeded, he would make a fortune too.’’ The priest thought to himself for a minute: “If the prisoner’s right, then he’s just shot my nice little story right out of the water.’’ But then the priest thought: “Hey! Wait a minute! If the prisoner’s right, then my story makes an even more important point.’’ It’s the same point Jesus makes in today’s gospel. Jesus says: “The people of this world are much more shrewd in handling their affairs than the people who belong to the light.” Or to put it more simply: “Worldly people work harder for worldly rewards that last only a few years than Christians do for heavenly rewards that last forever.’’ In other words, if the prisoner was right, then Rickey and Robinson were more willing to turn the other cheek for the sake of money than you and I are willing to do it for the sake of God. Afew years ago a French communist newspaper addressed the following remarks to French Christians: “Your Gospel is a much more powerful weapon than is our Marxist philosophy of life. Yet, we will defeat you in the long run. . . . “How can anyone believe in your Gospel if you refuse to live it out in your lives, if you refuse to sacrifice your time and your money for it? How can anyone believe in your Gospel if you refuse to dirty your hands for it?’’ The point of these remarks cuts deeply into each one of us. And the reason it does is because it’s true in so many, many cases. And that brings us back to the point Jesus makes in today’s gospel: Worldly people are more willing to sacrifice for worldly rewards than Christians are for heavenly rewards. Communists are more willing to sacrifice for the spread of Communism than Christians are for the spread of Christianity. This raises a question. Why are worldly people more willing to sacrifice for worldly rewards than Christians are for heavenly ones? Why are we ourselves more willing to sacrifice for worldly rewards than we are for heavenly ones? Why are we more willing to treat strangers kindly for financial gains than we are our own family for heavenly gains? Of course, we can’t answer that question in a general way. There is no general answer to it. There is only a personal answer. We each must answer for ourselves. And so the message of today’s gospel is this: Are we like the Christians whom Jesus talks about? Are we less willing to sacrifice for a heavenly reward than we are for a worldly reward? Are we less willing to sacrifice for the spread of the Gospel than we are for our own worldly advancement? If we are, then we will want to pray the following prayer with special devotion: Lord, open our ears to your word even when we’d rather not listen to it, because it challenges us more than we want to be challenged. Lord, open our minds to your word even when we’d rather not think about it, because it disturbs us more than we want to be disturbed. Lord, help us put your word into practice even when we’d rather not act on it, because it means changing what we’d rather not change. Above all, Lord, help us realize that you never ask us to do anything that you won’t bless us for beyond our wildest dreams. You are never outdone in generosity.
25th Sunday of the Year Amos 8:4–7; 1 Timothy 2:1–8; Luke 16:1–13 Great capacity! We have a great power to achieve great things for Christ if we just use it. Parry O’Brien was an Olympic shot-put champion. Parry’s father tells this story about his son. One day in high school, Parry took second place in a school meet. He was convinced that he could throw the shot better, but he couldn’t figure out what he was doing wrong. At three o’clock the next morning, Parry’s father was awakened from sleep by a series of strange thuds outside. He went to the window to see what in the world was going on. There under the streetlight was Parry, throwing the shot. His father called out to him, “What on earth are you doing at this hour?’’ Parry replied, “I was lying awake trying to figure out what it is that I was doing wrong. I got an idea, and I couldn’t wait until morning to try it out.’’ Consider another story. Years ago Alice Marble was an outstanding tennis player in the United States. She had advanced to the finals at Wimbledon in England. She woke up the day of the championship match with a sharp pain in her stomach. Within minutes, a Wimbledon doctor diagnosed it as a torn stomach muscle. Alice insisted on playing in the finals anyway, and the doctor told her she was foolish. When Alice walked onto the center court, the stadium was packed with 20,000 fans. Among them was the Queen of England. Describing the first game of the match, Alice wrote later: “As long as I live, I shall never forget that opening game. Each swing of the racket made me want to scream. The score went to deuce four times before I won the game.’’ To make a long story short, Alice won the Wimbledon championship. Those two stories make an important point. It’s the same point that Jesus makes in today’s gospel when he says: “The people of this world are much more shrewd in handling their affairs than the people who belong to the light.’’ Or to put it another way, Jesus is saying that worldly people are more willing to sacrifice for worldly goals than Christians are for Christian goals. And nowhere is this better illustrated than in sports. And this is true not only of our own times but also of biblical times. For example, St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: Every athlete in training submits to strict discipline, in order to be crowned with a wreath that will not last; but we do it for one that will last forever. The stories of Parry O’Brien and Alice Marble and the words of Jesus and St. Paul are not intended to shame or to embarrass us. Rather, they are intended to encourage and to inspire us. They are intended to remind us that God has put into the human spirit a tremendous capacity to work and to sacrifice to achieve great goals. They are intended to remind us that no one has a greater goal to work and to sacrifice for than we Christians. And what is that goal? It is to bring peace to those who are disturbed. It is to bring happiness to those who are sad. It is to bring the light of the Gospel to those who walk in darkness. It is to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the people of our world. The stories of Parry O’Brien and Alice Marble and the words of Jesus and St. Paul are intended to inspire us. They are intended to remind us of the great calling and the great goal that we have as Christians. Asign outside of a Chicago service station reads as follows: “We crawl under your car oftener, we get our hands dirtier, and we work harder and longer than any of our competitors to make your car run better.’’ That kind of commitment to service is the kind of commitment that we Christians are capable of making to Jesus and to God’s kingdom. It is the kind of commitment that is within the capacity of each of us here. The grace for this commitment was given to us in Baptism and in Confirmation. And it is renewed in us each time we gather on the Lord’s Day around the Lord’s Table to hear the Lord’s Word and to share the Lord’s Supper. If worldly people are capable of making great sacrifices for worldly goals, how much more are we Christians capable of making even greater sacrifices for Jesus Christ and for God’s kingdom? This is the good news that the Church reminds us of in today’s Scripture readings. This is the good news that Jesus speaks of in today’s liturgy. It is the good news that you and I have the power to do great things for Jesus and for God’s kingdom— if we but choose to. Let us close with a prayer: Lord, open our ears to your word, even when it challenges us more than we want to be challenged. Lord, open our minds to your word, even when it disturbs us more than we want to be disturbed. Lord, help us put your word into practice, even when it means changing our lives more than we want to change. Above all, Lord, help us realize that you want to achieve great things through us and that we can achieve great things for you if we but open our hearts to you.
25th Sunday of the Year Amos 8:4–7, 1 Timothy 2:1–8, Luke 16:10–13 Commitment “Giving the best you have to the highest you know— and doing it now.” Ralph Sockman No servant can be the slave of two masters. . . . You cannot serve both God and money.” Luke 16:13 Cal Ripken was a star infielder of the Baltimore Orioles. He holds the record for consecutive games played: 2,131. That means that over a span of 13 years, he did not miss a single game. A host of celebrities, including the president of the United States, was on hand to celebrate the event. When the record became official in the fifth inning of the game, an incredible celebration broke out. For 22 minutes, the fans at Camden Yards applauded and celebrated. Midway through the applause the usually reserved Ripken began jogging around the stadium, touching hands of fans as he passed. All this time TV announcers for ESPN remained silent, allowing the camera to tell the story. More amazing yet, games around the country stopped as fans in stadiums as far away as California stood and applauded. Author James Bacik observed that no baseball record, including Aaron’s breaking of Ruth’s lifetime home-run record, generated such national enthusiasm. That raises a question. What caused the nation to get so excited about Ripken and his record? Bacik suggests three reasons. First, Ripken was a model of commitment to his profession. He approached baseball with the dedication of a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. He went to the ballpark early to prepare mentally and physically. After the game, he left the park late, because he obliged the many fans who were waiting in line for his autograph. Second, Ripken is a model of commitment to his family. He is happily married to a lovely wife and spends a lot of time with his kids. This includes driving his daughter to school daily, even on game days. Finally, he is a model of commitment to Baltimore and its fans. Bacik writes: After becoming a star, he had opportunities to become a free agent and sign with other teams for more money, but he chose to remain in Baltimore. . . . Over the years he has expressed his commitment to Baltimore . . . by raising and donating hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to local charities. Ripken’s commitment to baseball brings to mind Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. There Paul exhorts us to imitate the commitment of dedicated athletes, saying: Every athlete in training submits to strict discipline, in order to be crowned with a wreath that will not last; but we do it for one that will last forever. That is why I run straight for the finish line . . . to keep myself from being disqualified after having called others to the contest. 1 Corinthians 9:25–27 This brings us to today’s Gospel. There Jesus takes up the whole question of Christian commitment and service. He ends with this surprising statement: “No servant can be the slave of two masters; such a slave . . . will be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Luke 16:13 In other words, Jesus is saying that when the chips are down, our priority has to go to one or the other. It can never be shared. We cannot choose both. We see this in the Gospel story of the rich young man. Recall that he had kept the commandments from his youth. One day he came to Jesus and asked what more he should do. Jesus answered: “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he was very rich. Matthew 19:21–22 The point of that story is clear. When the rich young man found himself between a rock and a hard place, he had to choose. He couldn’t have both. So he ended up choosing the treasures of this world over the treasures of heaven. And that brings us to each one of us here in this church. Years ago a committed Communist made a shocking statement to a group of Christians like ourselves. I don’t have his exact words, but they went something like this: “Your Gospel is far more powerful than our Communist philosophy. But you’d never guess it, judging from the way some Christians live their Gospel. “They’re just as prejudiced as their non-Christian neighbors, and they’re just as materialistic as their friends who claim no religion.” The point of that statement cuts deeply into each one of us. And the reason it does is because we know that in many cases it is true. The personal challenge this sets before us is painfully clear. There is no point in laboring the point. Therefore, let us simply end on a positive note. We’ve come together as a community to hear the word of the Lord and be nourished at the table of the Lord. We’ve come together as a community to support one another. And so we pray: Lord, open our ears to your word, even when it challenges us more than we want to be challenged. Lord, open our minds to your word, even when it disturbs us more than we want to be disturbed. Lord, help us live out your word, even when it means changing our lives more than we want to change them. Lord, help us serve you as you deserve.