Sixty Sunday after the Epiphany
February 15, 2004
The Gospel: Luke 6:17-26
Sermon: "The Poor and The Rich"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Then he looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. "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. "Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. "Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
The Poor and The Rich
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany - February 15, 2004
I want to tell you about a man named George. He had a rather common name for an uncommon person. George began his life in Europe. Hid father owned a business and the business was doing well. When George was seventeen his father died. After the funeral George went home and there was a knock at the door. George opened the door to see his father's fiercest business competitor standing at the door. He told George he wanted him to come to work the next day. He was not asking to buy George's father's business. Instead he was going to teach George how to run his father's business. George went to work and was very successful. In fact, he would later buy this man's business.
George became very successful in the family business. He traveled back and forth to America by steamship several times a year. He lived comfortably and well. On one of his trips he fell in love with a girl on the voyage. However, just as quickly as he fell in love his heart was broken. He never fell in love again.
An incident would occur in George's life that would have an impact on him forever. Some of his factories in one particular city were having trouble with vandalism. No one could figure out what was going on exactly. George went to the city in some regular clothes. He started walking the streets. He came across a group of young boys and started to talk with them. He found out the vandalism was coming from the boys. They explained that their father's worked in these factories. They knew there were different owners of the many factory buildings. However, their fathers didn't get paid enough for them to have any toys. The boys were angry at the factory owners because they had all that money from their fathersí labors. Yet, they had not toys. Since they had no toys, they passed the time cutting holes in the fences and throwing rocks through the windows. George thanked them and then left. The next week a truck pulled up in the street by the factories. The men in the truck gave out baseballs, bats, gloves, soccer balls, and a whole host of toys to the children of the community.
Several years passed and George went back to the street. The complaints of vandalism had stopped at his factories. Yet, the other factories still showed damage. George came across another group of children and he asked why some buildings were undamaged. These young boys were siblings of the boys he met years before. They told him about the truck. They also told him their brothers figured out who sent it. They were warned never to damage the particular factories this man owned. Neither of the groups of boys ever knew they had talked to the actual owner. They just knew the man had responded to them in kindness.
George's story does not end with this act. He started a camp for young boys in New York. His initial idea was to take children from the inner city of New York and let them have some experience in the country. The idea kept growing until George built a camp that invited twenty youth from New York, twenty youth from across the United States, and twenty youth from around the world. These young men were brought together to promote friendship and to build peace throughout the world. George personally visited these countries. He was welcomed into Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, countries in Asia and even behind the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall. His foundation paid the bills for the camp. George put all of his fortune into this camp in order to promote peace. In 1975, I was chosen to attend this camp, and I treasure my memories. I learned George's story as he shared it with me.
These memories came flooding back to me as I read the scripture this morning. The poor are blessed by God while the rich receive nothing but woes. How would this scripture affect someone like George? As I thought about these scriptures I realized the focus was about priorities, our priorities.
See the poor really do need God's blessing. They have nothing else on which to depend. Often they are not able to change their situation. They do not have the skills and the funds to help themselves out of their situation. In many areas of the world, the only hope they have in this world and beyond is God. They literally depend on God for their daily bread, for shelter, for water, for warmth.
By the same token the rich, you and I, do not depend on God in that manner. We feel independent from God to some degree. We can get our own food. We can help ourselves. We have the ability to provide our own necessities in life and then some. We also fall into the sin of pride. We have worked hard to get where we are and we deserve what we have. Let others work as hard and they too can have the same things.
If we look at the two different perspectives whose priorities are more in line with the Gospel of Christ? The poor place their trust in God. They depend on God far more than the rich. As such, God is a priority in their lives. A good example from scripture is the poor woman who gave her last two coins trusting that God would provide. The rich man gave more money, but he gave of his excess. Who trusted in God more? For whom was the relation with God a priority?
These words of Luke may be hard for us to hear. We are definitely the rich. What are our priorities? Would we be willing to reorder our lives and our priorities and place God's will first in our lives? It isn't easy. And yet, there are ways it can be done. All I have to do is remember George and I know God can provide the way and the means. You know the story of George does not end with this camp. George died about ten years ago now. The men who attended the camp have continued his legacy. The camp is still in existence. In fact, there is a sister camp now for young women. The George Jonas Foundation still promotes peace and yet, it still brings young men and women out of the city into the country from New York. We can reorder our priorities. We can trust in God. We can find our own ways to live into the Gospel of love and forgiveness of our God.