SERMON: 15 Pentecost C 9 22 19
I would like to ask you to listen closely while I read to you the collect we prayed together at the start of this service. While you're doing that, think also about the hymn we sang before the Gospel, "Abide with me."
Grant us, O Lord, not to mind earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to cleave to those that shall abide; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen
This collect is almost an antidote for our readings, or at least our Hebrew Bible reading and our Gospel. By themselves these readings this morning are enough to give us a collective anxiety attack.
The reading from Amos alone makes us want to hide under our pews. There are people like that? You had to remind us?
Our Gospel goes on at great length describing the devious manager. I don't have to tell you the story again. But the message is spelled out quite clearly: If we can't be honest, we can't be trusted. And if we can't be honest about little things, how can we be trusted with big things? Finally by implication we understand the answer to the big question: what big things are they talking about? They were named in the collect: things heavenly.
I think we all know people, perhaps friends or even family, who are marginally interested in faith and religion but do not participate. When we get a chance to talk about it with them often it is revealed that they intend to explore faith and religion, their relationship with God. But for the time being sort of can't be bothered. They think they'll get around to it a little later in life, perhaps.
The problem with that is actually our problem. Because as Christians it is our job to convey to others the sense that the relationship with God is the big deal, the matter of business that should come first, that needn't and shouldn't be put off any longer. That is our experience. That is our belief. That is the Good News, the Gospel.
Our collect helps us see this clearly. The big thing is God. If we try to serve God and act deceitfully or dishonestly with money we will fail. Because we cannot look out for ourselves in a selfish or an acquisitive way and serve God. The two are mutually exclusive. They are incompatible.
So if we find ourselves staring at a TV news program or newspaper and think perhaps we're looking at someone who fits the description of the people in the Amos reading, or the dishonest manager, what do we do? We look in our minds instead at things heavenly.
In fact in our collect we asked God to help us "love things heavenly," and "cleave to those that shall abide." Cleave is an old English word for "cling to."
I should admit up front that I enjoy the occasional archaic usage that we find in our Episcopal traditions. Cleave and abide are a couple of examples. This week I was planning our upcoming Communion classes and wondering for about the 75th time how to bring pleasure to others as we explore our traditions, including our language, and how to inspire interest. I think the language of today's collect is a good start.
The term "abide" in itself stimulates a lot of response in Anglicans because of the hymn, "Abide with me," which we sang just prior to the Gospel.
"Abide," incidentally, means, in order from the dictionary, to wait for: await; to endure without yielding: withstand; to bear patiently: tolerate; to remain stable or fixed in a state. I also learned from my dictionary that it is associated with the word abode. I suppose one could abide in an abode.
So when we are asking God to abide with us we are asking for more than momentary presence. We are asking for more than something brief or short term. We are asking for a presence that will last, that will sustain us. We want God to be as present for us as we want to be for God.
The hymn in the most uplifting language reminds us that it is in God that our hopes thrive. Even at the end, as noted in the final verse, "in life, in death, o Lord, abide with me."
The first verse reminds us that God is with us as our sunlit days turn dark with the setting sun and even "
When other helpers fail and comforts flee." In the second verse we admit that only God's grace can save us from the tempter's power. Verse three declares "ills have no weight and tears no bitterness," and then "Where is death's sting?" is the question, straight from the First letter of Paul to the Corinthians.
These ideas and some of the other language in the hymn offer us a useful tool for sharing our own experience in faith with others. It is not always comfortable to broach the subject--actually it is almost never comfortable--unless we know the other party is interested. But what the hymn "Abide with me" gives us is language that anyone can relate to and a glimpse of a relationship that anyone who lacked that relationship would want. I am referring to our relationship with God.
Personally I was struck with the phrase, "what but thy grace can foil the Tempter's power?" It may be because I am accustomed to conversation about the Tempter. It comes up whenever I visit the sick or injured in the hospital. A line in one of the prayers concerns avoiding the temptations of the enemy.
The tempter, the enemy, perhaps temptation generally, deserve attention because these are the things that distract us from God. These are the things that led the villains in the Amos reading to "
trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor, of the land," and inspired the dishonest manager to try to cheat his boss. When I visit people in the hospital I ask about the tempter, the voice that wants us to give up, to doubt the quality of care, to complain and become bitter. Because each of these temptations will inhibit recovery and perhaps worsen the patient's condition.
But you see the Tempter wants to abide with us in the same way we want God to abide with us. The tempter wants to spend time with us and turn us bitter or greedy. Or both.
We need to save the spare room for God, if you will, and not surrender it to the tempter.
Other phrases from the hymn that anyone can relate to include
"Help of the helpless"--a powerful reminder and aid
"I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless"--assuring us God is with us
"Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes"--the clear message being our faith is the only things that survives our earthly lives; and finally,
"Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies" telling us that God both guides and accompanies our souls at the end.
A sermon preached on the Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost, September 22, 2019, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie NY by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector