Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 30, 2018
Covet Not Money, But Prayer and Forgiveness
You will recall that I took a couple of days this past week and ran to Minnesota to see some family. The reason that it was sudden and not planned was that my uncle had received some tough news a couple of months ago when he went to the doctor’s office. He was diagnosed with cancer and given an estimated four months to live. He has undergone treatment and just had a scan while I was there and will hear the results on Wednesday. No matter what he hears, he is prepared for he has taken care of his every earthly concern.
Soon after being given the news this past summer, he began liquidating and disposing of his belongs. He donated furniture, household goods, and clothing. He sold his condo and gave away his car. He used some of his money to help others in need and today, he has a duffle bag of clothing, a pension, family, loved ones, and a couple of good friends where he stays and have been battled their cancers. While, there is a certain amount of money necessary to live and to have some comfort, my uncle has discovered that material things, even wealth, are fleeting and cannot stave off the way of the earth, to use King David’s language.
James does not admonish us to take oaths of poverty, but he does warn against greed and a dependence upon riches. He holds up gold and silver as the corrosive material that takes one down to the pit. His ideas are not unique. Our Lord spoke of the difficulty for a rich man to be saved (Matt 19:24) and St. Paul warns young Timothy that the love of money is destructive, being a root of all kinds of evil and that craving after it opposes faith, causing one to suffer greatly (1 Tim 6:10-11). The desire for wealth and the greed for that which belongs to others are the results of an evil heart that does not trust in the Lord and His care. Such as James has spoken of; those who cheat others and turn their backs on those in need because of their own cravings do not know patience. Patience is not learned well through having much and desiring more. It is learned through need and not having enough. Patience is learned as one waits upon the Lord and trusts that He will come through and supply all that is need in times of trouble and want.
James uses the example of the farmer that waits for the coming rains. He has no control over them but he knows that they will come. It may seem that his crop is lost and that he is ruined but he patiently waits because he can do nothing else. And so it is as we await our Lord’s return and the glory that is the reward of the patient. James transitions to this way of speaking because greed is the result of having no patience. As one gets tired of waiting for the Lord to rescue, he pursues an alternate path. As one believes that the Lord has delayed too long or has forgotten him, he finds another way to lift himself up. As we let today’s troubles cloud our sight of the promised day of vindication, we will pursue temporal answers to eternal problems. When we begin to think that gold and silver can meet our great need, we will try to solve the divine problem of sin with a human answer that is only more sin.
As our example, James put forward the prophets; those who had nothing but depended upon the Lord day by day to supply their daily needs. The same prophets of whom Jesus speaks that were persecuted and killed by the very people to whom God sent them. And in particular, our Lord Himself, who is the epitome of God’s compassion and mercy for us. What patience Jesus exhibited as He made His way to the cross step by step from Baptism to tomb, enduring every shame that man tries to overcome.
Patience is what our churches are learning anew as the appeal of Christianity fades among the populace and scorn is heaved upon us. No longer can we depend upon a favored status among our nation’s citizens. No longer do we have the deep and broad pockets of many members from which to draw. Nor do we have the advantaged protection of the law. We are learning patience in a new time of trouble. We are being conformed to the likeness of our Savior as we endure suffering and attack for truth, quietly trusting that no matter what evil is thrown our way, that God has promised to raise us up and give us glory in the age that is to come.
Our answer to insult is not to hurl insult in return, to out maneuver, litigate, or out spend. Our answer is not achieved by the way of this world but is sought out in prayer. If we suffer, we are to pray. We pray for healing and relief. We ask for ease and rescue from every earthly trouble. But we also accept what comes our way as we depend upon God’s gracious will and His benevolent care. We work at patience knowing that everything that assaults us today will fade but the Word of the Lord will endure forever. His promise in Jesus Christ will never wane. It will achieve its end, our salvation and life eternal in glory.
If there is anything in this life that is joyful, it is the Lord’s doing and we should give thanks. We should sing the praises of our God continually, as we do on Sunday mornings, for the blessings that He has granted us far exceed the sufferings that He permits. St. Paul directs to rejoice in our sufferings. For it is through such that our faith is exercised and our confidence in the love of God, in Christ is made sure by the work of the Holy Spirit.
We are to pray for one another; for the sick and those that commit sins. In other words, we are to pray for each other, always; for every member of the Church. All of us suffer need and want. Every one of us has infirmities for which we desire healing and at the very least, need God’s ever present help to endure through such affliction. And there is not one of us that does not need to be forgiven. As Elijah prayed, according to God’s will, and the rains went and came, so we can be sure that as we pray for forgiveness, that it is granted according to His promise for such forgiveness is sealed in the blood of His Son.
We should never lose hope that God can draw back even the most adamant of those that wander and we should never stop praying for them. Our confidence is not in our ability to be great prayers or that our prayers are the source of power and change. It is the God of power and might to whom we pray; the God of our salvation that is the source of that power. And we can know that as we pray for these things, that we pray according to His will and that those prayers are powerful, achieving all that God desires. Do not think that your prayers are not powerfully at work because they are. As you pray, in faith in the One through whom we have access to the Father, you pray in the name of the righteous One, whose will is done.