“Worth Nothing” – 09-22-13 – Proper 20 – Cycle C

Listen to the sermon here:

Scripture: Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13

Some people take wealth to a bank and exalt themselves. Some people exalt themselves by tracking the times and severity they have hurt other people. Some people build an account of the times they have managed to be shrewd to avoid paying what they should have paid. For example, conniving with our income tax report or not being honest about the condition of something we are selling or not being truthful on our resume.

We build these accounts and it is easy to feel good. But along comes God who says, “Apart from my generosity you have nothing, nothing! It is by my graciousness that you have what you have.” God is challenging us to be generous – not just with our money and our goods but with our attitudes. We shall look upon everyone as being as important as we are or more so.

God addresses our Old Testament counterparts through Amos in Amos 8:4-7. Amos is one of the minor prophets before Jesus appeared on earth – 760-750 B.C. as a matter of fact. Amos was assigned by God to be a prophet during the time of Jereboam II, King of Israel. This was during the time of the two kingdoms – Israel in the north and Judah in the South of the Holy Land. At this time in Israel we find peace and prosperity but all is not well. The population was divided, not by geography but between wealth and poverty.

God tells Amos to tell the wealthy people that they are in disfavor with God. They are not leaving some grain in the field for the poor people to glean. They are wanting to sell things on the Sabbath and during New Moon. This is interesting. That must really be a lost guideline of God that we don’t even know. At least we can’t feel guilty about this selling during New Moon because it does not seem to be listed in the Ten Commandments. Research is recommended here. Numbers 28:9-15 and 2 Kings 4:23 refer to the time of the New Moon as being sacred along side the Sabbath. The months were separated by the time of the New Moon in those days.

These business people of Israel were cheating people as they sold needed items to them. But … God says, “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.” How is that for a “so there?” This is pre-Jesus on earth. The cross did not yet happen. The “love your neighbor” idea got lost somewhere in the long, long years of the Old Testament times. God seems to be so vengeful in the Old Testament. However, to be fair, there were times of God’s saving miracles to balance the vengeance.

But when Jesus came to earth as the human form of God temporarily, Jesus brought the idea of forgiveness of sins without the sacrifice of animals as a substitution for our sins. Jesus became the sacrificial lamb. People were still people. Remember the episode in the temple when the synagogue people were selling animals at exorbitant prices after declaring that the animals which the people had brought from home were not good enough as a sacrifice. Jesus did not show much love when he overturned their tables, did he?

So through the centuries from Amos in 650 B.C. to approximately 33 A.C. people did not change much. It is still tempting to look out for ourselves instead of caring about our neighbors. But wait, do you not know people who give the coat off their backs to someone who has no coat? Sure. We see both ends of the scale of being people – focusing on ourselves or focusing on our neighbor in a caring way. Maybe some of us fall in the middle of this scale but is that possible? Can we honestly sit in the middle of the seesaw? Do we not need to be on one end or the other? A person sitting in the middle of the seesaw, at the fulcrum, would have a free ride but would not accomplish much.

Think! Are you sitting at the fulcrum of the seesaw of life? Are you taking the easy tactic? First you lean with the up person at one end. Next you lean toward the up person at the other end. Do you know anyone like that? Is it you? I think we need you in the middle. We have people who speak and march in support of a certain view. We have people who speak and march and write articles for the opposing view. I guess moderators are needed. That could be the person who is sitting in the middle of the seesaw. The moderator would try to not reveal agreement with either extreme. The moderator’s goal is fairness. Are both extremes being heard? Are motives clear and fair and just on both ends? Is past experience being examined and compared to the present issue?

So maybe we don’t need to take extreme views on issues. Maybe the world can use more moderators – people who examine and have some power to control the opportunity for all sides to be heard. Sometimes when a false ideal is brought into the daylight, the falseness and wrongness are clear as day. What measuring stick are we using for being fair, for having workable attitudes?

Let us listen to Paul as he writes to young Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:1-7. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is one mediator between God and human kind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all – this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.”

Did you catch that part when Paul wrote “… in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Returning to the title of this sermon which is “Worth Nothing,” we have just heard that no one is considered to be “worth nothing.”

Why do some of us consider ourselves to be worthless? There are many ways. Our growing-up family may have not known how much damage can be done, or they did not care, by putting down children and adults to each other. It is life-long damage. This thing we call bullying makes people seem worse than worthless. Young people are committing suicide regularly because someone is harping that this person is the scum of the earth. But it is false. What can we do? We can pull the other way with young people or even older people who have been injured emotionally for life by bullying of some sort. We can think of this pulling being a rope-pulling activity, a tug-of-war, where it is very important that we win and have the final winning pull.

Or we can think of saving someone by being the moderator on the seesaw where we can try to use our influence to change the balance. The person who is bullying needs to have a really hard bump hitting the ground while the person, whose emotional well-being needs to be lifted, would get the life-changing charge of that ride to the top, where the air is free and the view is delightful and victory has arrived.

Worthless! Never! In the belief that each person on earth was created by God, each person has worth. Each person is valuable. Each person has built-in gifts which shall not be wasted. Instead they are to be used to bring the value of other people to the up-side of the seesaw. It is like a contagious disease that will save the world. Imagine each one saving one. This is a good spreading. Lifting-people therapy! That’s it!

Jesus even lifted a conniving person in the Luke 16:1-13 passage today. A rich man had a manager of some or all of the rich man’s property. The rich man heard that the manager was not being honest with the rich man’s accounting. The rich man approached the manager and charged him with this knowledge and announced that the manager would be fired. Not wanting to be a laborer and yet wanting to live in a house instead of being homeless, this shrewd manager approached the people who owed money to the rich man.

For each of these debtors, the manager reduced the amount owed. The reason he did this was not really in revenge toward the rich man who had just fired him. Instead he was doing it so that these people would feel kindly toward him and provide housing for him now that he would have no income. The manager was not getting money from these deals; he was earning gratitude toward himself so that invitations would be forthcoming to have a place to live other than the wide open skies.

Strangely, instead of condemning this man, Jesus said that those of us in the light of God should think along these lines ourselves. How so? It does not seem honest to me. It does not seem completely like loving our neighbor. It is Jesus telling this story. Jesus is charging the crowd in that day to be more shrewd, to notice that God is watching to see if we are honest and faithful with little tasks. If so, we will be given large tasks – seemingly more important tasks, bigger tasks or greater rewards. If God notices that we are not being careful and serious with little tasks and, yes, honest with little tasks, God will not consider us for higher privileges and responsibilities and rewards.

So if we feel and act worthless, we are sort of digging our own grave. Letting those bullies get to us can be thought of as wasting our master’s treasure – that is ourselves. We are the treasure. If it does not seem that anyone is noticing and acknowledging that we are a treasure, we shall not push the issue. We shall just share our smiles, our contentment, our skills in a quiet manner and in time we will be given more responsibility, more opportunities.

If we need more encouragement for this worth-development project, we shall hear the words of Psalm 113. “Hallelujah! Give praise, you servants of the Lord; praise the name of the Lord, let the name of the Lord be blessed, from this time forth forevermore. From the rising of the sun to its going down, let the name of the Lord be praised. Who is like the Lord our God, who sits enthroned on high, but stoops to behold the heavens and the earth? The Lord takes up the weak out of the dust and lifts up the poor from the ashes, enthroning them with the rulers, with the rulers of the people.” … Hallelujah! Amen