Epiphany Fifth Sunday: Litany for What To Do

This litany is taken directly from Isaiah 58, Psalm 112, and from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount iMatthew 5. Each of those is part of the Lectionary selection for the Fifth Sunday of Epiphany.

Merciful God,
We receive your instructions about what pleases you:
To loose the bonds of injustice,
To free the oppressed,
To share bread with the hungry,
To provide shelter for the homeless poor,
To cover the naked,
To be present to our kin. (1)

You have said: “If you offer your food to the hungry
And satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
Then your light shall rise in the darkness
And your gloom be like the noonday.” (2)

You have said: “It is well with those who deal generously,
Who conduct their affairs with justice.
They are not afraid of evil tidings;
Their hearts are steady;
They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor;
In the end they will look in triumph on their foes.” (3)

We acknowledge that what is wisdom to you seems like foolishness to the world;
    That the commands and example of Jesus seem ridiculous, and risky;
    That if our goal is to save our own lives, we will lose them;
    That, in your kingdom, giving is better than getting. (4)

Lord, give us strength.
We are the salt of the earth.
Lord, give us wisdom.
We are the light of the world.
Let our light shine brightly,
So all may see the goodness of God. (5)

Amen

1) Isaiah 58:6,7
2) Isaiah 58:10
3) Psalm 112:5-9
4) This theme appears multiple times in the New Testament. My favorite is Luke 6:38. Also, Acts 20:35
5) Matt 5:13-16

Litany for Money

The Lectionary text from the Gospels for September 18, 2016, Proper 20 (25), is from Luke 16:1-13.

I recently listened to a sermon from Brian Zahnd entitled “How Much a Dollar Cost.” Every year he does a series called “Finding God on your iPod” in which he takes popular songs and examines what they might teach us as Jesus-following folks. Kendrick Lamar’s song “How Much A Dollar Cost,” is a rap song about a time that God spoke to Kendrick about reevaluating his attitude toward money. It is very compelling and I recommend taking a listen.

In his sermon, Zahnd says (I’m quoting from memory here, so might be imprecise) that one of the greatest obstacles to the Kingdom of God that a person can face is economic self-interest. We can find this time and time again in the teachings of Jesus. The passages I’ve written along with from Luke over the past couple of months have continuously addressed this. Today’s passage does as well, but this time we are told outright: “You can’t serve both God and wealth. You have to choose.”

It’s a powerful message we can’t ignore. I can’t. The culture I live in values prestige and success and possessions and power; and the culture Jesus is asking me to invest in has an entirely different set of benchmarks. Resisting the one and embracing the other is not going to be convenient.

 

God, who sees behind appearances to the heart:
We know that one of the biggest obstacles we face in living out your kingdom
Is our own self-interest.
We know that we must learn to regard money as a tool
And not a prize.

Help us not to capitulate to the ways of the world, to resist:
Dishonesty and exploitation,
Vengeance-taking and competition,
Power-seeking and violence-wielding.

Yours is an altogether different economy
In which mercy is valued over judgement
Care for the least is valued over self-promotion
Meekness is valued over popularity,
Generosity is valued over accumulation,
Spiritual riches are valued over financial wealth.

Help us to understand your values
And live in light of them.
Help us to be faithful in the smallest responsibilities:
Acts of kindness
Gifts given generously
Words spoken gently,
Finances stewarded faithfully,
Peace offered freely;

So that when our destinies arise before us,
We are ready to meet them.

Amen
 

Litany for Generosity

The Lectionary reading from the Gospels for this week July 31, 2016 (Proper 13, Year C), Luke 12: 13-21:

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

I read this passage over and over this week, and each time my question has been this:
What does it mean to be rich toward God?

I wonder if the answer might begin to be found in the section that follows, verses 22-34. Here we are invited to be free from worry about food and clothing because we are assured that God cares for us. Bird and flowers have no storeroom or barn, and God provides for them, so surely God will provide for us.

But if we want to know how to be rich toward God, it’s this part that is the clincher, and the hardest to swallow:

“But seek his kingdom and these things (food, drink, clothing) will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid… for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail.”

SELL MY POSSESSIONS AND GIVE TO THE POOR? Is that what it means to be rich toward God? You’re telling me that life isn’t found in having an abundance of possessions; but life IS FOUND in giving possessions away? And somehow that gets me invisible, indestructible treasure later?

I see why the rich young ruler turned away a few chapters later. It's a hard paradigm to understand. Our culture isn't geared this way. If I had to choose three words to define the culture I live in, they would be More, Mine, and Now.  And I have to wonder: if we could get this whole being-rich-toward-God thing right, if it could somehow miraculously enter our (my) thick skull(s) and take root there, how many problems would be solved?

So here it is my friends, the upside-down kingdom at its finest, most unexpected, most difficult, and most life-giving; where less looks like more, mine becomes yours, and now steps aside for the long view. Let's pray.


God, we know that you have been pleased to give us your kingdom.
Make us generous, as you are generous.
You have been rich toward us, with resources, with love, and with your Spirit.
Teach us how to be rich toward you.

We understand that greed is often rooted in fear.
Of not having enough,
Of not being well-regarded by others,
Of being powerless.

We ask you to transform our fear into radical love
Open-hearted generosity,
Trust in your unending care for us,
Willingness to go all out for your kingdom.

We confess that we have held tightly to our material possessions.
Forgive us.
We confess that we have been afraid we won’t have enough.
Forgive us.
We confess that we are part of a society preoccupied with wealth and ease.
Forgive us.
We confess that we don’t know how to be rich toward you.
Forgive us.

Help us to see our possessions in light of the good news of the kingdom of God.
We seek your kingdom.
Help us to see our lives and work in light of your generosity.
We trust in your graciousness.
Help us to see your face in the poor and powerless.
Your kingdom is abundant with life, enough for all.

Amen