Sermon
August 5, 2001
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
Write to Rev. Hamilton

rule1.gif (2336 bytes)

Scripture Reading

Luke 12:13-21

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." 14 But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" 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." 16 Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' 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. 19 And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' 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?' 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God." (NRSV)

rule1.gif (2336 bytes)

Sermon

This morning I want to talk abut the greed gene - I assume that it is a gene, because I know people who just don’t have one – they are as generous as the day is long. Take my mother-in-law for instance, I have never heard her be even close to concerned about possessions… She ahs never, as long as I have known her – 38 years, spoken of what she needed to buy, or how she was saving for something. As a matter of fact when ever a person leaves her house, she will ask: “Do we have anything that you might need. Please just take it if we do.” An incredible thought.

That is opposed to my family – where hoarding is a regular event. We are good at it - especially my brother and I. We can be as greedy as anyone I know.

This was all brought home to me when I was on vacation. My mother is preparing to move from her home into an apartment. That is a difficult enough journey – but to have 2 children more than willing to claim everything that even slightly smacks of a family heirloom is difficult. Well – that is what was happening – I was totally unaware of my greed gene, taking over, until I suddenly looked at the situation from the point of view of a pastor. O Lord, save me. I was so totally focused on what I wanted to take home with me, that I lost track of my mother’s grief and joy at making this move. She needed an empathetic ear, all I had been giving her was my childish greed.

This so contrasts from my mother-in-law, who worries that the string of “you store it” businesses are taking over, and that we are truly just a nation of greedy people, who continually forget that we weren’t put here to acquire, but to love.

I wonder, How often do we get caught in that place that totally distracts us from where we want to go and who we want to be. It is like this – a big interstate hi-way say 8 lanes that all lead straight to God. But along the way that a numerous exit ramps… like greed, anger, hatred, fear, anxiety, you name it. These are all options as we go down the journey of our lives. That main road to God is paved with love and peace and compassion and generosity. But we are lined up to get off the road. We are continually temped to get off on one of the off-ramps.

Looking back on the whole thing with my mom I am amazed, because before I went to my mother’s house, I had been at Synod. A place where people are truly on the right road – they are outward looking people – and they make our denomination proud. I wonder, didn’t some of that rub off on me.

Synod is this marvelous experience – 12,000 people gathered in one place, to pray and worship and sing and debate and discuss and laugh and cry. Mostly – Synod is a celebration of what it means to be the Church of Jesus Christ. I am always honored to be able to be a delegate. And I am proud to be a part of the United Church of Christ.

You know, I have very little patience with people who tell me that they have no use for organized religion – that they don’t get much out of it…. I wonder what Jesus would say to them, I always thought that without the Church, capital C, there would be no Christianity – there would be no faith… We are the Church, because it is only by working together that we can really make a difference in the world, That we can become partners with God in mending a creation that is filled with people, lined up on the off-ramps. That greed gene is in more of us than not, I suspect.

So being a part of the greater Church is our obligation – the minute that we claim to be a believer in Christ.

I want to tell you a little bit about Synod and how our denomination works and why I have such respect for it.

Now Synod is really a huge and spectacular event. Imagine, 12,000 people from all over the world, every color, from many nations, all meeting in one huge assembly hall to worship, pray, sing, discuss and debate, until it is time to vote on resolutions that have been presented by local churches all over the world. A day at Synod begins with a Breakfast meeting at 7:15 and ends around 10 pm, after a 2 hour worship service that is so filled with energy and ideas that I hated for it to end.

Each of the resolutions that are presented before the assembly of delegates is first debated in committees. Each delegate is assigned a committee, and a couple of resolutions to learn about in depth. The UCC recruits experts in the field under discussion, so that the committee can make an informed recommendation to the general body. For instance, when we discussed the resolution to join in the effort to overcome violence, we heard from the surgeon general. When we discussed research on embryonic stem cells we heard from a Princeton University professor and researcher.

Each committee recommends to the assembly that the resolutions be passed or vetoed, and they disseminate all of the facts that they have gathered to the synod for consideration. At that point each resolution is discussed in front of the gathered body, until a vote approves it or it is defeated. That information then goes to local churches. Each Church then has the responsibility to investigate and become informed about the issue at hand. Then – if they choose they might join in whatever action the UCC has advised.

Some of the resolutions that passed this year at Synod: Reparations on slavery, redistributing tax rebates to the poor, Support for Federally funded research on embryonic stem Cells. A call for the UCC to join the decade to overcome violence, and many more.

I want to say a bit about a couple of these

1. We agreed that the Coalition of Immokalee Florida migrant workers needed support in their boycott of taco Bell. A boycott of Taco Bell. It sounds a bit light weight, but the fact is that Taco Bell buys tomatoes from a source that refuses to pay their workers any more than they did in 1978. These workers make 40 cents for every 32 pounds of tomatoes picked. Taco Bell has had no success in their efforts to influence the tomato producers, but they haven’t at the same time been willing to raise the price they pay for tomatoes by going to another company. The resolution passed calls for member churches of the UCC to put pressure on Taco Bell to quit buying tomatoes from that company.

Does that mean we can’t go to Taco Bell – no. Just because Synod passed the resolution doesn’t obligate our local Church to act. But it does remind us that the problem exists, that we share in the creation of the problem each time we buy a taco bell product. We have to prayerfully consider our response – it is between each of us and God –

So when the body passed the resolution to redistribute income tax rebates to the poor, it was understood through our discussion that not everyone would agree that this is the right thing to do. However, it does ask us to search our hearts and be in prayer about what we need to do. I do have a suggestion – if you should feel called to do that – Baby Bundles would be more than happy to receive whatever you might share.

This is what I like about the United Church of Christ – in our local Church autonomy, we are liberated from a higher Church authority – who tells us what the rules are and what we should believe and how to act. We have a great deal of freedom as Christians, But that freedom automatically comes with responsibility – the challenge is to live with our eyes focused on God’s vision of the world – and to be an active participant in bringing that to fruition.

Suddenly in the midst of synod I realized that I was with a multitude of people who are on journeys that they would say are being directed by God. They are on the main road – not on the off-ramp. These are people, who take God’s justice very seriously, who see a place where suffering leaves people broken and barely able to survive. They have searched for answers which they propose as a solution to be discussed – dissected – and reworked – with the hope that the suffering might be diminished, or end. They are working as partners with God in mending the creation.

So how do we stay on the main road with them and away from the off-ramp. Just like any journey, it is a step by step process.

1. We have to notice all of those off-ramps that will tempt us to go in other directions.

2. We have to realize that we will probably follow others onto these off-ramps, – but yet God will never close the gate and refuse to let us get back on the main road. There is always an entrance ramp.

3. We have to listen to our hearts telling us where God’s justice isn’t being served – and we have to be in continual dialog with God, in our prayers, asking for guidance and direction. Discernment is a large part of this process. It is one thing to understand there is a problem, quite another to search for and find the beginning of a solution.

4. we have to be willing to act – to take one more step. Like deciding to support the United Church of Christ in their efforts, or even saying yes when asked to be a Synod Delegate, or even becoming involved in the denomination at an association or conference level.

Where do we get the energy – the faith – for this journey? From God, - God’s grace is always there for us – to provide us with whatever we need – so Jesus’ advice is as close to God as possible – be rich in God – stay connected - communicate, commune – communion -

This morning we come to do just that – to be the Church with a capital C –to dine at the Lord’s table – to once again be connected – put back on the road that will lead us to that place in our heart where God resides. This is a journey that lasts a lifetime – a journey that we are continually called to take, a journey that will offer us peace and salvation. One step at a time – Amen.