Jeremiah 17: 5-10 Psalm 1 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 Luke 6:17-26
Jeremiah uses the analogies of tree roots and a stream to suggest that our faith can sustain us in hard times. “They [those who “delight in the law of the Lord”) are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall prosper.” Water was and in now necessary for life. What Jeremiah is suggesting is that we need roots to draw from the stream of water, from the endless flow of God’s grace in order to survive when things get difficult.
In the world today, establishing roots is tenuous. People are reluctant to establish roots because everything in their life seems to be in flux. Ironically though, it is by establishing roots that we can find the stability we need to go through life. Jeremiah talks of people who are rooted in the “law of the Lord.” Who, he says, “meditate on his law day and night.” In Jeremiah’s time, the law of the Lord, represented not only a way of life for the people of God, it represented putting our trust in the one who offers life.
Of course, those who do not establish roots and draw their strength from God are cursed. Jeremiah says:
Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes.
The message is clear, a life which prospers, is one that is rooted in a faith that enables us to drink the living water that is Christ who is of one being with the God of Jeremiah.
In today’s gospel, Jesus offers hope to those who are suffering. The people of God are struggling, they are oppressed by the Roman Empire. His message is “other worldly.” “Blessed are you who are poor,” he says, “for yours is the kingdom of God.” And, “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.” Then he says, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.” Jesus is not promising mortal prosperity in this life, but he does offer hope of joy and satisfaction for our spirits.
People believe Jesus to be a prophet, but as a prophet, he is untraditional. He is not concerned with who is in power, who controls the government. Jesus, like the prophets of old, is, however, concerned about the poor and the disenfranchised. “Blessed are you who are poor.” Being poor does not feel like a blessing. Being poor is NOT a blessing. Still, I have known people who had nothing to speak of, but who say they are blessed. They are definitely poor according today’s standards, but they are certainly not poor according to spiritual measures. They are blessed because they did not seek happiness in what is worldly, instead they are grateful for everything they do have and they believe it is enough. They believe God has provided what they need and don’t worry about what they did not have.
Like the roots of the tree by the stream, what is below the service, what cannot be seen, is their faith, their trust in God, their faith that keeps them strong. Elsewhere in the scriptures, Jesus talks about the difficulty a rich man will have entering into the kingdom, saying it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter heaven. The needle was a gate, a small gate into Jerusalem. For a camel to pass through it, whatever it is carrying needs to be removed.
Reading Jeremiah and the Beatitudes together made me think of this lesson concrning the camel and the burden of too many riches. And, it reminded me of a lesson I learned the hard way. It is good to travel light. When my checked luggage was lost, I found myself attending a meeting in my “travel clothes.” I was the sore thumb. The person in jeans and a T-shirt in a room full of people in business attire.
I was not only embarrassed by my lack of preparedness, I learned the value of identifying just what I need and what I can do without. I learned to decide, in advance, what s important and what is not. Taking too much, means I run the risk of losing it all. So, for me, traveling requires me to unburden myself so I can get to where I am going with what I need.
Thinking about this, I also realized that I have the luxury of being able to choose, so if I am to be successful at unburdening myself in life, I must make the conscious decide to live with less. And, I do tend to repeat the mistakes I make and have to make that decision over and over again. Otherwise, my possession can possess me. Bishop Benfield says, when talking about stewardship said, “it helps me to give money away, it helps me not to allow money to control me.”
He makes a good point, some of us focus on earning more so we can buy more – or worse, to pay for what we already have. Money is needed to maintain the luxuries we’ve become accustom to having, rather than to support what we say we value most. I’ve heard it said that you can determine what a person values most by examining how they spend their money. Leaving room in our budgets to give away money is a sign that we value people.
What does our spending say about us? I can look back on my life and see how my priorities have changed. In my youth, my spending went primarily to entertainment and acquiring things I wanted. As a parent of young children, it went to support my family. As a parent of teenagers and young adults, I joked it went to run my small business where I offered group health insurance (for my family), a fleet of cars (for all the drivers in my family), and education for my brood. I’m sure you understand. But as our children flew the coup – so to speak, and education loans were paid off, more and more of my income was available for me.
This is the time that many begin to get serious about saving for retirement. I finished seminary just a year before our son graduated from college, so we needed to get serious planning for retirement. I did, however, find wisdom in what the bishop said and giving to the church is the first check I write after getting paid. It not only reminds me what is important for me, it helps me put other spending into perspective. Cathy and I give because we value our relationship with God and we value our relationship with you.
Giving, I believe, is the fruit of the tree of faith in Jeremiah. When we trust God, when we have faith, we do not focus doing without, for we know in our hearts that what we have will sustain us. Giving, then comes from the recognition that we are blessed, and being able to give is in itself, a blessing.
Let us pray.
Loving God, you are the source of true life. Help us to let go of the burdens that prevent us from entering into your kingdom, that we might experience the life of love and compassion that you offer us, your beloved. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.