Repetitive Messages: Luke 16.19–31

Delivered at Ames UCC  on March 26, 2017

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read.
Please join us for worship at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays.

PAPERCLIPS
Our Communion table has been decorated by Linda Shenk. She couldn’t be here to help share her vision, but has given me permission to quote her. As Linda studied today’s scripture, she said she was aware of how strongly it emphasizes our need to listen in “the places that seem lowly, even despicable.” So Linda decided to find a lowly object, something so familiar we might not even really see it, as a reminder to listen: paper clips. Linda wrote to me that a paper clip, “looks like an ear, and it could be a nice reminder as we go about our work and our seemingly mundane routines to listen for the divine.”

So let’s listen for God in this story of mundane meanness.

RICH MAN AND LAZARUS
A rich man who partied every day cruelly allows an enfeebled and dying man named Lazarus to lay outside his home, without offering any assistance. They both die. On dying, the rich man finds himself in hell but with a view of Lazarus in a better place in the company of Abraham, patriarch of the nation, of the people. The rich man asks Abraham to ask Lazarus to bring him water, something he never seemed willing to do for Lazarus.

Abraham reminds the rich man of the disparities between him and Lazarus in life, disparities that are now made permanent through a fixed chasm in the afterlife. Well, the rich man says, please send Lazarus to warn my brothers. No, Abraham replies. They have already been given all the warning they need through our religious tradition. Having Lazarus go to them won’t make a difference.

This story comes on the heels of several similar stories. In Luke 14.12b–13a, Jesus says,

When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

Then there’s the abundant generosity of the prodigal son’s father, which we heard last week. And immediately before Lazarus’ story there is a parable about a dishonest land manager that ends with “You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Luke 16.13b).

Despite the efforts of some Christians to make all of Jesus’ statements about cash money into statements about spiritual wealth, the weight of evidence is on the former: Jesus, in line with his own Jewish tradition, condemns rich people who do nothing with their riches to help others. This message of sharing wealth is so important that Jesus tells it at least three times in a row.

EASY SELL
Caring for Lazarus by giving away money is not a hard sell at Ames UCC.

Last year we gave away $152,186. Special offerings, like today’s for One Great Hour of Sharing and regular budgeted gifts to organizations like the Emergency Residence Project account for about $50,000. The other $100,000 was from the 150th Capital Campaign. This church is committed, when raising money for itself, to give away 20% of the total. Not only that, but to give that money away first, before spending on ourselves, thereby putting the needs of the community ahead of our own.

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Our Systems Are Not Working: Job 3.1–10, 4.1–9, 7.11–21

banquetDelivered at First Christian Church
on July 10, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read. On Sundays during July we worship with First Christian Church at 9:30 a.m., alternating between FCC and Ames UCC.
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REMEMBER, WE LIVE IN THE ASHES
I mentioned last week that I was worried about preaching on Job off and on all summer, that I thought I needed to find a way to sell this sorry story so that it didn’t become a summer off. I wish the news of the last week hadn’t reminded me that we are already living the sorry story. I wish our world did not require us to learn the language of Job’s ash heap over and over again.

RECAP AND UPDATE
To review: Job was a very rich man and a religious man. An adversarial force came into God’s presence. God bragged to it about Job’s faith. The adversarial force suggested that faith was built on God’s protection and special treatment of Job, that Job’s faith had no integrity. Of course it is easy to be faithful when you get everything you want!

God told the Adversary to take away all of his riches and see—Job would never forsake God. So Job loses his whole family to invaders and natural disasters. And God is right: Job does not forsake God. Then the Adversary, with God’s permission, destroys Job’s skin. Job literally throws himself away, scraping at his sores while sitting in and on the garbage dump.

Job is alone until he is approached by three friends, who sit silently with Job for seven days and seven nights, “for they saw that (his) pain was very great” (2.13).
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Are You Eating?

Published March 26, 2016 in the Ames Tribune

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For the last five weeks my church came together on Wednesday nights for a meal, book study, and meditation or choir practice. This was all part of the Christian church season called Lent, a time when we prepare for Easter. As I wrote previously, the book was about the work and responsibilities of white Christian churches who profess a desire for racial equality in the world. The discussion each week was so rich that we barely made it half-way through. At times we disagreed with the author’s premise, at others we were surprised by our ignorance around, for example, the Black Power movement. In smaller groups I heard expressions of defeat and guilt. I think the experience generated more questions than it did answers.

But the number one question I was asked each week had nothing to do with racism, structural inequalities, or unearned advantages. It was, “Are you going to eat?”

The meal that proceeded our class was a soup potluck. Meaning, each week church members signed up to bring a soup. They also brought bread, olives, pickles, peanut butter, and jelly. There was always just enough for the 60–80 people who came to feast and visit.

For me, this was a tremendous opportunity to get visiting time with members of my community. After leading the group in prayer, I went from table to table to check in with everyone, see how their weeks had gone, get a review of the night’s offerings, and whatever else floated to the surface. I made a couple of PB&Js for kids and handed out milk. I had a wonderful time.

I was able to do this because I ate before everyone arrived.
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Sandra Bland and the Stormy Sea: John 6.1–21

lead_960Delivered at Ames UCC on July 19, 2015
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read.
Please join us at 10:45 a.m. on Sundays.

SANDRA BLAND
I opened up my social media streams on Saturday morning and immediately my blood pressure spiked and my chest felt heavy. Sandra Bland was being buried.

If you haven’t followed her story, here are the currently verifiable facts: On a Friday she was pulled over by an officer for changing lanes without signaling. As dashcam footage shows, Sandra expressed frustration at being pulled over when she was just trying to get out of the officer’s way on the road: he seemed to need to get past her.

The officer asked Sandra to put out her cigarette and when she refused, he became angry. He threatened her with a taser, saying “I’m going to light you up.” Sandra exited her car, there was an off-camera scuffle, and she was ultimately charged with assaulting an officer. That’s how a traffic infraction resulted in a weekend in jail.
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See You in Church

Published June 24, 2015
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you know that I have not been silent about the terrorist massacre of nine people—Clementa Pinckney, Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lee Lance, Cynthia Hurd, Daniel L. Simmons, Sr., DePayne Middleton-Doctor, and Susie Jackson—by an avowed white supremacist. (And according to a pastor friend, he was also at some point a Christian, having been raised also raised in the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the same denomination I came up in.)

I haven’t posted anything here, however, because so many others were already saying what I felt and saw much better than I ever could about racism, the role of the church, and the role white people must play if this is to be the last such act: Continue reading

Peter’s Vision and Violent Visuals: Acts 10.1–17, 34–35

Delivered at Claremont UCC on April 19, 2015
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” The angel answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa.
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Prejudice and Parades: Esther 1.1–17

Delivered at Claremont UCC on December 7, 2014
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

ANTI-SEMITISM
I have a friend who was raised Jewish in Chicago in the 1950s. This means that her family had living memory of the most recent European genocide of Jews as well as the long American tradition of Jewish quotas in schools and employment.

When she went to college in the 1970s, one of the first things her Christian roommate asked was how old she was when she had her horns and tail removed. This was no joke. My friend’s roommate sincerely believed, had been raised to believe by her Christian community, that Jewish people were essentially a different species.

Thirty years later I was with my friend at a church where we heard a pastor preach about the Jews and their strange, backward customs. This was a man with authority by virtue of his position teaching total lies to an audience that relied on him as a religious expert. We both froze and were careful not to look at each other.
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