Sermons 2003-2004

Proper 21C 2004, 26 September 2004, "R&R: Response and Relationships", Luke 16:19-31
Home | Christmas Eve A, "Are we really ready?", Luke 2: 1-20, 24 December 2004 | "Finally! Well, almost...." Advent 4A , 19 December 2004, Matthew 1:18-25 | Faith and Doubts, Advent 3A, 12 December 2004, Matthew 11:2-11 | John the Baptist, Advent 2A, 5 December 2004, Matthew 3:1-12 | Left Behind? Advent 1A, 28 Nov 2004, Matthew 24:37-44 | Some King of kings! Proper 29C, 21 November 2004, Luke 23:35-43 | "Not one thrown down", Proper 28C, 14 November 2004, Luke 21:5-19 | All Saints and for all the saints, 2004C, 31 October 2004, Luke 6:20-36 | The Lambeth Commission Windsor Report, the Pharisee, and the tax collector, Proper 25C, 24 Oct 2004 | "Lord, teach us to pray." Proper 20C, 17 October 2004, Genesis 32:3-8, 22-30; Luke 18:1-8a | "It's all in the choosing", Proper 23C, 10 October 2004, Ruth 1:1-19a; Luke 17:11-19 | "Increase our faith", Proper 22C, Luke 17:5-10, 3 October 2004 | Proper 21C 2004, 26 September 2004, "R&R: Response and Relationships", Luke 16:19-31 | Proper 19C 2004, 12 September 2004, "Lost and Found", Luke 15:1-10 | Proper 18C 2004, 5 September 2004, "Preaching or Meddling", Luke 14:25-33 | Proper 16C 2004, 22 August 2004, "The Narrow Gate ", Luke 13:22-30 | Proper 15C, 15 August 2004 | Proper 14C, 8 August 2004 | Proper 13C, 1 August 2004 | Shrinemont: "Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses", Proper 15c, 15 August 2004 | "Lord, teach us how to pray," Proper 12C, 25 July 2004, Genesis 18:20-33; Luke 11:1-13 | The Summary of the Law and the Good Samaritan: "Go and do likewise" Luke 10:25-37, 11 July 2004 | Independence Day 2004. "The Creative Tension of the Church: Who is to be included?" | "Now! Now! Now!", Proper 8C, 27 June 2004, Luke 9:51-62 | "Star Throwers", Proper 7C, 20 June 2004, Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 9:18-24 | The more things change the more they remain the same, Pentecost 2C, 13 June 2004 | "O Holy Triune God, most Holy Trinity; here are we. Send us." Trinity C, 6 June 2004 | "Come, Holy Spirit", Pentecost C , 30 May 2004 | "That they all may be one", Easter 7C, 23 May 2004 | The Holy Spirit: Paraclete, Pneuma, Ruach, Easter 6C 2004 | Agapate Allelous: Love beyond each other, Easter 5C 2004, 9 May 2004 | The Good Shepherd and the five people you meet in heaven, Easter 4C 2004 | "The God of the Second Chance -- and of many chances", Easter 3C, 25 April 2004 | Baptizatus Sum: I am baptized, Easter 2C 2004 | It is NOT an Idle Tale: Easter Sunday, 18 April 2004 | Palm Sunday-Passion Sunday Roller Coaster: What We Want or What We Need? | Who are the Wicked Tenants, Lent 5C 2004 | The Prodigal Son -- and so much more | God, the Gardener, and the Fig Tree | "The Hen and the Fox", Lent 2C | The Comfortable Rut of Ordinary Temptation | "Getting from Uh-oh to Aha", Luke 9:28-36, Epiphany Last C, 22 February 2004 | Jesus, Jeremiah, and the Beatitudes: What to Make of it All | The Sword of the Lord and of Gideon: God working in the world | Jesus, the Archbishop, and Annual Council The Dark Abyss of Schism | The Nature of Revelation: Jesus' Sermon at Nazareth | The Miracle at the Wedding in Cana | The King of kings and the Lion King | "The Magnificat, Watching, and Waiting" | "Gaudete in Domino semper: Rejoice in the Lord always" | A Voice crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord." | "Standing in the Day of Battle: Isabel and the Gospel" | Dogma, Doctrine, and the Theological Enterprise | The Little Apocalypse | Jesus and theWidow's Mite | One Priest's Response to the Election of Gene Robinson | The Great Commandment: Jesus Meant What He said | Who is blind? | Eyes on Jesus and minds on mission! | Tradition or Traditionalism? | Credo: Be doers of the Word and not hearers only." | Who do YOU say that I am? | "It's about Power and Winning" | Contact Wicomico Parish Church

Proper 21C 2004 Luke 16:19-31

In getting ready for today I ran across several interesting stories. One was about older immigrants who routinely offer table scraps to a happily waiting dog under the table. When asked why they don’t simply buy dog food they frequently will answer something like, “This is how we fed pets in the old country. We didn’t have an entire industry devoted to manufacturing food for pets. Look what you people have: dog food for young dogs, dog food for old dogs, diet dog food, organic dog food, designer dog food, dog food for bad breath! In the old days we would just toss a bone out in the alley behind the house and it was every dog for himself.” (1)

I have to confess that Belle is given, not plain old cheap Purina dog chow but Iams Adult chunks. And given the propensity of Labrador retrievers to run to fat, she is very rarely given table scraps.

At the Thursday morning lectionary study group this week, one of our colleagues noted that by some calculations, anyone who has an income of -- or access to – thirty thousand dollars a year is among the top ten percent wealthiest people in the world. And those who have two pairs of shoes, would be considered wealthy by at least seventy percent of the world.

But stories like these don’t begin to touch the core of what Jesus was saying. We read one of Jesus’ parables like this and we wonder what our Lord was trying to tell us. It is one of the interesting things about his parables that they really can not be -- and must not be – taken literally or with only one glance. A parable like this requires us to think and reflect, to go way down into the deep still waters of the Gospel.

As one commentator has noted: “The danger in dealing with such a familiar parable as that of "Dives" (the rich man) and Lazarus (the poor man) is that its familiarity may cause us to miss the vitality of its meaning. All three of the lectionary passages seem – but only seem – to delve into a subject we would rather ignore: the use of money and its role in our lives. For when it comes to money none of us is holy. Those who are rich think they have too much to lose, so they would rather ignore these portions of scripture; and those who are poor run the danger of slipping into false pride or sloth; so it is easier for both groups to avoid looking carefully into the matter of riches.

Like everything else in Scripture this parable and the reading from Amos must be understood in its context. Amos warns the people not because of their wealth and luxury but because they have misplaced their trust. Instead of putting it in the God, who rescued them from danger, they put their security in their riches. The results are disastrous, he warned them, and history proved him right.

In today's Gospel, Jesus tells a story that has been used through the ages to prove various favorite theories of the day: the existence of heaven and hell; the evil of riches; the nobility of poverty; the utter impossibility of change after death, and so on. But what Jesus is focusing on here seems to be the stark and painful truth which would eventually lead him to the cross. "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead," he portrays Abraham as telling the rich man who begs from Hades. The rich man had just asked Abraham to send somebody from his side to warn the rich man's relatives who were still living on earth.
The conclusion of the parable has very little to do with riches; it has to do with two things: One is our response to the good news of God sent to us first through the Prophets and then the really Good News brought to us through Jesus himself – God’s utterly unselfish sacrifice of God’s self in the death of Jesus. The other thing has to do with relationships: our relationship to God and our relationship to our neighbors.

Jesus is more direct in John's gospel about the response of many people of his time and place to the message he brought: "If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?" These are sad words, and they come out of our Lord’s' painful realization that the people who heard his good news of God's love, chose not to believe him.

I’m not terribly sure that has changed. Even in the Episcopal Church nowadays there are clergy who deny God’s love and have nothing to preach about but judgement and damnation. On at least one point, the rich man might well be right, and Father Abraham wrong. Moses and the prophets really are not enough, not for most of us, not for most of the time. But it doesn't end there. There is one Lord who has come back from the dead, and offers us, not threats of judgment or destruction. Instead, we are offered and promised the incredible and unstoppable love of God. A love that can even leap over the ditches we dig ourselves and over the barriers we erect ourselves between God and ourselves and between our neighbors and ourselves. And that love is there, and we are called to it; and we still have time to be convinced of God’s love for us.
A last story: One of my best friends in the Army is retired Colonel John Hawley Oakes. Oakes and Dillard have been involved in each other’s lives for three decades. I have spent too many nights to remember under the Oakes roof. I have danced at the weddings of all three of the Oakes children. And I was asked to say the burial office for Carol Oakes, Hawley’s wife, when she was struck down by a car and killed. Hawley has been here to visit several times and been to church in this place.

As you know, I have been involved in bringing mission teams from Region 11 here to Region 2 to help Interfaith, Shiloh Community Ministries, and Hands Across Matthews with their work. These teams have built wheelchair ramps, painted and repaired houses, and organized the Interfaith Warehouse. What does this have to do with the Oakes family? Just listen. Wheel chair ramps are important not just for convenience but especially for safety. At least one person has died in a house fire because there wasn’t a wheel chair ramp to escape down.

The last team through here this summer had about equal numbers of adults and children. One was a young lad of twelve named Tommy – which is how he introduced himself – no one under fifty seems to use last names any more. Tommy wound up on the wheelchair ramp building team at Elsie W’s house. Elsie W is an ancient small black widow. They worked two days in the rain on that ramp and finished it just in time for Elsie’s return home from the hospital – where she had had her right leg amputated just below the knee. The team was still there putting the last nails in the banister.

A few days later I received a telephone call from Jack Oakes, Carol and Hawley’s son. He had been away on a business trip and when he returned he talked to Tommy about his mission trip.

“Where did you go, Tommy?
“Well, it was some place with a weird name. I couldn’t pronounce it. But here’s a photograph of us with the sign in front of the church.”

Jack Oakes immediately realized that this was a familiar name, Wicomico Parish Church.

“Tommy,” he asked, “Was the priest there named Father Dillard or something like that?”
“I think so.”
“He didn’t ask you if you were part of our own family?”
“No – but I only told him my name was Tommy.”

So Jack called me and we talked about the mission trip. A week or so later came a letter from Jack Oakes. He wrote, “Tommy worked all summer selling lemonade and doing lawn cutting in our neighborhood to make some money in case he needed it on the mission trip. He didn’t need it for that but he’s been wondering what to do with it. He realized when he saw Mrs. W that the project he had been working on for her is an absolute good. He has been pondering the experience and he would like to do something more. He wants to give the money he earned to her. Would you see that this check gets to her?”

I would and I did. It was made out in the amount of $450.00.

Jesus said: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. This is the first and great commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.

Tommy Oakes understands what this means.


1. This story and other sections of this sermon are quoted from Illustrations for 26 September 2004 and from Selected sermons for Proper 21C, 2004, 2001, and 1998 at Worship that Works at