A Reading from the Book of Isaiah (1:1, 10-20)
The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation— I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24
1 The Lord, the God of gods, has spoken; *
he has called the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2 Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, *
God reveals himself in glory.
3 Our God will come and will not keep silence; *
before him there is a consuming flame,
and round about him a raging storm.
4 He calls the heavens and the earth from above *
to witness the judgment of his people.
5 “Gather before me my loyal followers, *
those who have made a covenant with me
and sealed it with sacrifice.”
6 Let the heavens declare the rightness of his cause; *
for God himself is judge.
7 Hear, O my people, and I will speak:
“O Israel, I will bear witness against you; *
for I am God, your God.
8 I do not accuse you because of your sacrifices; *
your offerings are always before me.
23 Consider this well, you who forget God, *
lest I rend you and there be none to deliver you.
24 Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanks- giving honors me; *
but to those who keep in my way will I show the salvation of God.”
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Hebrews (11:1-3, 8-16)
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.” All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (12:32-40)
Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Early one morning a little over a week ago, I was on my way here to St. Mark’s; and, as I usually do, I was listening to some of NPR’s “Morning Edition.” It is a great way to catch up on national and international news and also to hear some in-depth stories and special features. On this particular morning, NPR’s Susan Stamberg was doing a special story on Andrew Carnegie and on the lasting effect that he has had on our nation through the 1,689 public libraries that he helped to found and fund.
Andrew Carnegie was born in Scotland. His family was, as the saying goes, “dirt-poor.” When he was 13 years old, his parents borrowed money in order to emigrate to the United States in hope of finding jobs and a better life. When they arrived, his parents managed to find low-pay, what we would call “entry-level,” jobs; but to make ends meet, Andrew had to go to work as well. His first job was as a “bobbin boy”: he spent 12 hours a day, six days a week, winding thread around the bobbins that were used in a Pittsburgh cotton factory.
Over the years, Andrew moved up in that company, and then worked in the telegraph, railroad and steel industries. He eventually owned his own company. In 1901 when he sold Carnegie Steel to J.P. Morgan, and it became part of U.S. Steel, the deal made Andrew Carnegie the richest man in the world.
But he didn’t use his money to keep making more money or even simply to make life comfortable for himself. Instead, he spent the rest of his life giving his money away. He saw his philanthropy, not as a work of charity, but as a work of justice. As he put it, the money he had was not the result of his work alone. It came from the hard work of “the mothers who feed their children, the day laborers, the whole large community.” He believed that his solemn responsibility was to give that money away for the good of all. As he summarized it: “The man who dies rich dies in disgrace.”
“The man who dies rich dies in disgrace.” Andrew Carnegie’s approach to money is the direct opposite of that shown by the rich man in last Sunday’s gospel reading: the one whom God addresses as “You fool!” It accords much more closely with the teaching of the prophets from whom we have been hearing over the past month or so – Amos, Hosea, and now Isaiah – and that of the greatest of the prophets, Jesus of Nazareth.
As George mentioned last week, Jesus, like the prophets before him, often spoke about money. How we use our wealth – whether we are talking about our wealth of time, talent, or treasure, or a combination of all three – must be a central concern if we want our faith to be more than just another self-centered, feel-good experience. All too often, people who consider themselves to be good Christians start with themselves, but never seem to move beyond that. Their approach seems to be: “I need to take care of my own spiritual life first, my personal relationship with God; then, when that’s in order, I can turn my attention to using what God has entrusted to me to serve the needs of others.” For most people who begin with that approach, the “then” part – the focusing on the needs of others – somehow never seems to come. They spend their entire lives waiting to get their hearts in the right place, focusing on their own inner life, before using their treasure (their time, talent and money) to address the needs of others; and the day to do that never seems to come. The problem is that they have started in the wrong place.
Jesus, in today’s gospel reading, suggests that their approach is completely backwards. Jesus, with his keen insight into human nature, knew that people who start with themselves, with supposedly “getting their hearts in order,” rarely move beyond that to dedicate their lives to serving others, to building up the reign of God in the world. Taking the opposite approach, Jesus asserts that we need to begin by using our treasure – our time, talent and money – to serve the needs of the world, and then our hearts will follow. As he puts it: “Where your treasure is, there your hearts will be also.”
As part of St. Mark’s upcoming 75th anniversary celebration, I have been working on an article that uses, as its source, the responses that you have given over the past 3 ½ months to our Time and Talent survey. We will be including that write-up in the upcoming issue of our parish newsletter, The Lion’s Tale; and I am hoping to get it published sometime this fall in our diocesan paper, Interchange, as well. An underlying theme of that article is the assertion that you, the people of St. Mark’s, have listened to Jesus’ words in the gospel and have put them into practice throughout our community. You haven’t done what too many churches have done and continue to do: focus on yourselves first and put off the service to others until some indefinite, future time – a time that never seems to come. Instead, you have invested your treasure – your time, your talent, and your money – in serving the needs of the community and building up the kingdom of God. And you have done so out of your conviction that – of all things — Jesus was right (can you imagine that!): that where you put your treasure, in this case on serving the needs of others and building up the reign of God, there your hearts will be also.
We may not always see the results of our work, serving others and working to address the needs of our community. And even when we do, it may well take a long time. But it is essential that we keep our minds fixed on our ultimate goal: building up the reign of God.
That reign, as Jesus describes it, is not just something for another life, for after we die. It is a reign for this world as well. Jesus taught us to pray that God’s kingdom might come on earth, just as it is in heaven; and Jesus inaugurated that kingdom, here on this earth, by his life, death and resurrection. And it is here on this earth, that we can even now begin to live in that kingdom. And, as difficult as it sometimes is to see the presence of that kingdom, we have Jesus’ assurance that it is and will be ours. As he puts it in today’s gospel reading, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” There is a promise worth working for. There is a promise worth living for.