St. Matthew’s Sermon 08-04-2019


St. Matthew’s Sermon 08-04-2019

Illegal / Immoral: Two Different Things

Hosea 11:1-11, Psalm 107:1-9, 43, Colossians 3:1-11, Luke 12:13-21

Note: this message was not delivered owing to current events that needed to be addressed (See St. Matthew’s Sermon 08-04-2019 (Alternate))

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

Maybe it was a few months ago, I don’t know, I lose track of time. The news was full of stories about what is now called the “college admissions scandal” where wealthy parents paid to get their children into choice schools without merit. It involved paying bribes to coaches and administrators, faking documents of their child’s sports abilities and aptitude tests, and much more.

Just this past week, another trend of deceit has immerged where other wealthy families are giving up custody of their children which then allows the student to declare financial independence on their grant and loan applications to reduce their tuition costs.

Unlike the former cases where bribes were paid and documents falsified, this guardianship issue isn’t illegal, per say, but it is certainly underhanded and unethical.

In cases like this the people involved often justify their actions with words like “it’s not illegal; the aid is there, so why not take advantage of it?”

Sadly, what they are not looking at is the cost to others. With those who bought their children into college, every slot they took up was one not filled by someone who really did have scholarship-worthy talents or abilities; someone who worked hard to develop those talents and abilities with hopes of reaping the benefits.

Likewise, in the cases where deceitful financial reporting is involved, the limited need-based scholarship and financial aid is taken from those with more need. Last year in Illinois, where the story is currently centered, about 82,000 qualifying students could not draw from the MAP grant system because there wasn’t enough money to go around.[1]

The part about not enough funds being available to those in true need is one part of the problem, the greedy abuse of the system exacerbates the problem.

Then, beyond the financial damage done to others, those caught cheating or abusing the system also do psychological damage to the needy. How depressing must it be when someone more needy and more deserving cannot receive financial aid while their reading stories of the abuses of those far wealthier than themselves? How can they envision themselves lifting themselves out of poverty while seeing the rich getting richer and the poor, themselves, being ground into the dust of the earth?

And, there is social damage done too; those who are caught cheating have their reputations tarnished and that of their children as well; the downtrodden are pressed even further down; and even those uninvolved see the abuses and question the validity of all social programs often causing them to have trouble seeing the justification of any aid for the poor. Many are the times I’ve heard people say “Why should my tax dollars go to pay for… (fill in the blank)”.

 

Today’s Gospel reading is just a small section of Jesus’ teaching on such social and economic issues. But in this one part, we hear him address the difference between what is legal and what is moral; or what is illegal and what is immoral.

The reading opens with someone in the crowd asking Jesus to intervene on his behalf saying “”Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” It’s a legal issue. Judeo Law dictated how inheritance should be distributed and it appears that, in this case, there was a problem with getting it done according to the Law.

It’s a legal issue that Jesus isn’t interested getting involved in. “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” is his response.

But Jesus then goes immediately into speaking about a moral issue, specifically greed, and tells the parable of a rich man who just harvested a great crop from his land.

In that story Jesus makes his point clear, not with his own words, but in the thoughts of the rich man who “…thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store mycrops?’
12:18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and mygoods. And I will say to mysoul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’

In those four lines of print the personal pronoun “I” is repeated 6 times; plus, the possessive pronoun “my” is heard 5 times; and no other is mentioned at all.

He was already rich, now he has even more yet he is only thinking of himself. He has no thought of giving the laborers who sowed and reaped a bonus; he hasn’t considered sharing his good fortune with the needy; he has given no regard to how his hoarding will raise the price of grain in a supply-and-demand market, making it even harder for the poor to feed themselves; and he has not uttered one word of gratitude toward God for his blessing.

When the scriptures warn us about the evil of wealth it isn’t all about what we’ve worked hard for and earned; it’s not all about the amount of money we have saved up; it also includes what others don’t have in spite of our abundance and what others don’t have because of our abundance.

Like today, Jesus’ time had a monetary system. And, like today, the amount of money, be it in real coin, notes, or material goods, was finite; there was, and is, only so much to go around. And so, for every dollar stashed away there is one less available for someone else, for every bushel of grain hoarded there are about 40 loaves of bread taken off the market, for every education grant mad to the wealthy, one is not available for the poor. On and on it goes…

These are the things Christ is trying to make us mindful of when he speaks of the evils of wealth and they are the things we must be mindful of when we hoard for ourselves.

It’s not illegal to be wealthy. But it is certainly immoral to “…relax, eat, drink, be merry” when others struggle, hunger and thirst in misery.

Amen.

 

Hosea 11:1-11
11:1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
11:2 The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols.
11:3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them.
11:4 I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.
11:5 They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me.
11:6 The sword rages in their cities, it consumes their oracle-priests, and devours because of their schemes.
11:7 My people are bent on turning away from me. To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all.
11:8 How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.
11:9 I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.
11:10 They shall go after the LORD, who roars like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west.
11:11 They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes, says the LORD.

Psalm 107:1-9, 43
107:1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.
107:2 Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, those he redeemed from trouble
107:3 and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
107:4 Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town;
107:5 hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.
107:6 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress;
107:7 he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town.
107:8 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.
107:9 For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.
107:43 Let those who are wise give heed to these things, and consider the steadfast love of the LORD.

 

Colossians 3:1-11
3:1 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
3:2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,
3:3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
3:4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).
3:6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.
3:7 These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life.
3:8 But now you must get rid of all such things–anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.
3:9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices
3:10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.
3:11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

Luke 12:13-21
12:13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”
12:14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”
12:15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
12:16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly.
12:17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’
12:18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
12:19 And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’
12:20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’
12:21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

 



[1] https://www.propublica.org/article/university-of-illinois-financial-aid-fafsa-parents-guardianship-children-students