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If They Do Not Listen

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15; Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:9-31

Bigfork Community United Methodist Church

September 29, 2019 –Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost

We hear advice from every quarter, invitations from every lane, admonitions all around us. In this era of mediated experience, we finally have to decide who it is that we are going to trust.

One friend might mean well, but cannot see clearly. Another might see clearly but not mean well.

But still another might see clearly and mean well. That is the one we should follow. Maybe that is the one we should have followed early, and always.

But here we are. We can’t go back. How do we go forward? Jeremiah raises his hopeful voice this morning, in the midst of a national and cultural calamity.

This is one of the things about the prophets: They predict doom and gloom, but they always say the best is yet to come…because a remnant will survive the doom and gloom and will seek to establish an even better world.

That is what the world thought of us when they called us ‘The New World’. We were outcasts from Europe, coming to a wild land in the days before roads and houses, and on the frontier we had to figure it out for ourselves.

There was no longer so much a right way and wrong way, but ways that worked better and worse. People were better and worse.

The same person could have a good day or a bad day. You never could tell. But it was always a surprise to see the one least likely show the way.

So it was with Jeremiah. For his trouble in speaking the truth, Jeremiah has now been confined. The king demands to know why a loyal subject could publicly proclaim the defeat of his king.

Jeremiah is actually advising the king to surrender to outside forces so they won’t reek havoc on Judah and Jerusalem. Make peace. See how you can live together, he says.

It is not because I have lost faith in my king or my land, but because it is the best way to go forward. Hear my timid word of truth.

Then, Jeremiah does a bold thing. His actions shout louder than his words ever could.

The country is about to be overrun. A foreign sovereign is about to impose its will upon them. New courts will be established. New laws will command them. Two cultures are about to collide. The future is… the future…unforeseeable.

At that moment, Jeremiah chooses to buy a field from his cousin, and the cousin is happy to have currency rather than property. It is a more portable form of wealth, more likely to be of value tomorrow, whatever might betide.

Do you remember the meltdown about this time eleven years ago? Markets were losing ten and twenty percent of value each day. I recall the feeling that we just didn’t know whether retirement funds would lose half of their value…or more… from one day to the next.

Then, in a very publicly proclaimed way, Warren Buffet bought a billion …with a ‘B’….dollars worth of stock. “You may have lost faith, but I, the shrewdest investor of the age, have not.” Those are my words, not his.

The loss of value in the market had become a matter of psychology more than economics. It was time for one of the wealthiest and smartest and humblest of people to show everyone that he thought there was a bright future waiting for us all.

We looked at each other. Then we looked at him. Then we decided to believe in him…to place some trust in him and to restore our trust in our own future.

Warren Buffet was our Jeremiah in the fall of 2008, and we have worked our way back from those dark days…not scarred by them, like those who went through the Depression…but seasoned by them, as people who avoided another Depression and found a way forward….together.

Do we believe in civilization…in a power greater than ourselves…in a greater thinking thing that cares more about you than you do about it…in faith…hope….and love?

Our wealth depends upon us getting along…together. It is this partnership of people, this oneness of effort…that allows us to find a way forward.

When that can happen for many generations, we all grow. A poor man today is richer than a rich man used to be. There are over a billion people in the world who have cell phones but do not have running water in their house. Fifty years ago, no one had a cell phone.

When it all falls apart…as in Jeremiah’s day…the rich person loses so much more than the poor…but the poor person loses what little they have.

It is this confidence that things will get better that makes civilization possible. And we all gain from it, just as it was not just Jeremiah’s cousin who benefited from his purchase of the field. Everyone could see that their lives were going on. They got hope.

We should not presume upon our good fortune. It is the Lord who has made us and not we ourselves. We live lives of such wealth today…as a society…not because we built a great nation, but because we were born into the riches created by people we will never know.

Eugene Peterson writes in his memoir, The Pastor, about helping his father build a cabin on Flathead Lake in 1948. He wrote that his father boasted to his friends that it even had running water. “Eugene runs down to the lake with a bucket,” he told them,“and runs back up the hill with water.”

1948…not all that long ago.

My new modality of rehab therapy teaches me once again how wonderfully and fearfully we are knit together…and it is progress in reducing chronic pain through a method I had nothing to do with developing… real progress that gives me hope, just as economic progress gives us all hope and allows us to face the future with confidence.

We leave fear astern and steer our ship with hope.

Our money was not minted just for us, but for all the members of society and all God’s creatures. If the poor man has no money, the rich man has no one to sell to. If the rich man has no money, the poor man has no one to buy from…no one to work for.

Paul is trying to explain to explain all of this to Timothy. Money for money’s sake only cares about more money…not about other people… and it finally falls in on itself.

And Christ came to build us up…to build us all up…not to tear us down…not to tear anyone down. He came to save us, not to judge us…so we could live and not die.

That is the message that Paul has carried with him throughout his ministry. He had everything. He was on top of the world. He gave it all up to follow and serve Jesus Christ …and that is when he finally had something worth having… something that would never rust … something that could not be taken from him…a prize beyond value and without price…now and forever.

Don’t put your hope in money, but in God who provides all good things, Paul tells us. Jesus goes even farther.

We have a duty to do good things with our money, however much or little we have, and if we don’t we will look back on an empty life and forward to an eternity without hope.

Once again, as he did with the story of the dishonest manager and the story of the Prodigal Son, Jesus tells the story of Abraham and Lazarus, and we can see the Pharisees that criticize him…because of the sinners and tax collectors he is hanging out with…and Jesus himself is in his little life lesson.

The rich man, like the Pharisees, ignored the poor man who begged by the city gate, although he could have done much to help him and his worldly fortune would not have been diminished significantly.

The poor man, like the sinners and tax collectors…lives in shame with little here, he is ignored… barely tolerated…by the rich. He dies and goes to heaven, which is so much better than his life on earth.

The rich man dies and goes the other way where he is in torment and agony. The rich man sees Lazarus and asks Father Abraham to send him with water on his finger to cool his tongue…like Eugene Peterson with his bucket at the lake.

But it will not be because a great chasm lies between the two of them…it is fixed in place. The rich man could have built a bridge across it in his lifetime…but now the matter is closed.

So he asks Abraham to send him to warn his five brothers. But Abraham says no. If they could not learn from the law and the prophets …all of the scriptures available to the Pharisees…then they will not even believe if someone rises from the dead…there’s my Jesus…in Jesus’ story.

So with this story, Jesus is telling the Pharisees…and us…they/we had better change their/our ways while they/we still have life. Give while it is still yours to give.

I went to college at MSU in Bozeman. The place to hang out was the Molly Brown and the place to go when it closed was Manny’s.

It was a trailer kicked off its wheels behind the Union 76 Station, just down the alley from the Molly Brown…at 2:00 a.m.

Manny stood between the counter and the grill wearing cook’s whites, but they were greasy. He had his trophy fish mounted on the wall and a cigarette in his mouth.

We watched him closely to see whose breakfast the ashes fell onto, but we never saw it. We never knew.

Manny served a hamburger steak the size of your face, that many hash browns, two eggs, toast and coffee…for a dollar. He saved more lives than Bozeman Deaconess Hospital.

He became successful enough to hire Kate, who did her hair and wore a crisply pressed dress. Unlike Manny, she could not understand why people did not take better care of themselves.

Manny bantered with us. She scolded us. And eventually, my classmates scolded her back. This made me sad and a little angry at college students who couldn’t hear what she was saying.

I came home from law school a few years later and went to Manny’s… during the day…and Kate was on shift. Something had changed. Everyone spoke to her like she was the Dali Lama. Yes, ma’am. No ma’am.

The fish were still on the wall and I missed not seeing Manny, but there, on top of the cooler was a framed photograph I had not seen before.

“That looks like you,” I told Kate, “with Johnny Cash, inside the Molly Brown.” The place got quiet.

“That is me with Johnny Cash inside the Molly Brown,” she said. I had to have an operation and I didn’t have the money for it. Someone wrote to Johnny Cash and told him about it and he came up and did a concert for me to raise the money.”

It is so amazing a story to me that I did a little online research this week just to make sure it was Johnny Cash. I came across an article from the student paper, The Exponent, from October of 1973.

Johnny Cash was going to be at MSU. Tickets were available for his concert on the campus. The charge was two cans of food for charity. I assume there was a big crowd waiting for him…and Kate…after the concert…when they showed up at the Molly Brown.

O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us… through me…this day? Amen.