A Reading from the Book of Jeremiah (32:1-3a, 6-15)
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him. Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord. And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.
Psalm (91:1-6, 14-16)
1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, *
abides under the shadow of the Almighty.
2 He shall say to the Lord,
“You are my refuge and my stronghold, *
my God in whom I put my trust.”
3 He shall deliver you from the snare of the hunter *
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He shall cover you with his pinions,
and you shall find refuge under his wings; *
his faithfulness shall be a shield and buckler.
5 You shall not be afraid of any terror by night, *
nor of the arrow that flies by day;
6 Of the plague that stalks in the darkness, *
nor of the sickness that lays waste at mid-day.
14 Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him; *
I will protect him, because he knows my Name.
15 He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; *
I am with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and bring him to honor.
16 With long life will I satisfy him, *
and show him my salvation.
A Reading from First Letter of Paul to Timothy (6:6-19)
Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (16:19-31)
Jesus said, “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Recently, I had my last scheduled service of the year at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. For several years, I have been serving as the volunteer chaplain for the dedication of plaques, benches and monuments in their Memorial Garden, adjacent to the visitors’ parking lots. The groups with whom I have been privileged to meet have represented those who have served from World War I up to and including the International Space Station.
While much of the attention inside the museum is directed toward the aircraft and other hardware, attention in the Memorial Garden is clearly directed toward the people who are honored there and to their lasting contributions. That focus is very much in keeping with the mission of the entire museum, which is summed up in their simple declaration, “We are the keepers of their stories.”
Keeping the story is a vitally important role in life. The prophet Jeremiah recognized that fact in the final days of Judah and Jerusalem. As the city was under siege by the mighty army of Babylon and its destruction was imminent, Jeremiah performed a prophetic act. He had begun telling the people that, after a long period of suffering and exile, God would eventually restore the nation. Now, to symbolize that restoration and his complete confidence in God’s promise, he did what seemed completely irrational considering the circumstances. He publicly bought a piece of property. Judah’s enemies were literally at the walls. They were about to destroy the entire nation and take over all the land, but Jeremiah’s action clearly declared that the coming devastation and occupation would not be the end of the story. And some day, people would again live on the land that he had just purchased.
A symbolic action like that can be a powerful thing, but it can also be quickly forgotten — unless there is someone to keep the story of that action alive. And so, Jeremiah turned to his scribe, Baruch, and charged him with preserving the account of what Jeremiah had done. He had the deed sealed up in an earthenware jar and buried in the ground so that the story of Jeremiah’s prophetic act might survive the coming destruction and bring hope to the people who would be born during and after the coming exile.
Baruch’s role in the drama of the people of Israel might seem to have been a minor one. He is certainly not one of the big names in the Bible. But his role was vital. He was a keeper of the story: not just the story of Jeremiah’s purchase of a piece of property, but the story of God’s promise and the story of God’s faithfulness. As such, he brought to the people one of the greatest gifts of all. He brought them the gift of hope.
Hope is a gift that is critical in the lives of all people, including people living today. For many, it just isn’t there. Those trapped in the cycle of poverty for example, not only lack the food, housing, health care, and jobs that they need; they lack hope as well. They don’t have any hope that life is going to get better for them or their children. Each day is a struggle just to survive.
Like Lazarus in Jesus’ parable, they can all too easily become invisible to us. Lazarus lay right at the rich man’s gate, but the rich man apparently didn’t see him, or at least chose not to.
It is easier that way. Many people simply avoid seeing those who are poor and in need. If you have enough money, that’s not hard to do. You can stay in your comfortable neighborhoods, choose carefully where you shop, and associate only with the people you choose. And just in case you might happen to think about those who are less fortunate, you can do what the Pharisees to whom Jesus addressed this parable did: you can convince yourself that you have what you have because you have basically earned it for yourself through the way you have lived. And you can convince yourself that those who do not have those things are in that condition because they have not lived the right way: they are lazy, they aren’t willing to try, they simply don’t care.
It is easy to adopt that attitude – It’s easy if you are careful to avoid actually getting to know the people whom you are mentally condemning. That is what the rich man in the parable did. He ignored Lazarus, lying there by his gate. Carefully walking past him, or maybe walking over him, he went about his daily business without ever speaking to him, much less getting to know him. He never had any real contact with him. To the rich man, Lazarus was just one of those people.
But God doesn’t allow us simply to walk by those in need. God doesn’t allow us to ignore them and avoid them. Instead, God calls us to go out to them as keepers and bearers of the story: the story of God’s love for them, the story of their infinite worth, the story of hope.
But our role as bearers of hope can’t stop with just words. We can’t just talk about hope; we need to bring hope. That’s what the people of this parish do when we bring food to feed the hungry or warm clothes to clothe those who need them, or welcome those addicted to alcohol or drugs as they come into our buildings seeking support so that they can lead better lives. By doing these things, we, by our actions, become keepers of the great story of hope. This is the story based on God’s love for us and on God’s call to us to serve those in need in God’s name.
And by doing that consistently, just as the members of St. Mark’s Church have tried to do for the past 75 years, we do something even greater. We not only offer signs of hope. We, as a church, become a sign of hope. We come to embody the very presence of the loving God and of Jesus, in whose name we serve. And isn’t that exactly why we are here? Isn’t that exactly what God has called us to be – the Body of Christ given to bring hope to the world?