Sunday, September 18, 2016

18 Pentecost

September 18, 2016

Amos 8.4-7;1 Timothy 2.1-7; Luke 16.1-13

+ I’m going to share a story this morning that I don’t normally share. I’m not in the habit of sharing kind of horrible stories in my sermons. But this is one of those horrible stories.

Several years ago, when I was a board member for the Episcopal newspaper, Episcopal Life, I was in Atlanta for a board meeting. During a break in the meeting, I happened to wander around the very large church at which we were meeting in downtown Atlanta, and I noticed, as I wandered, a large number of brass memorial plates around the church for people who had died in 1962. Now, by this, I mean not just one or two. But memorials to Mr and Mrs So-and-So both of whom died in 1962

Well, you know me. I’m fascinated by a mystery. And when I am, I try to get to the bottom of it. So, I started asking around. And it didn’t take me long to get an answer.

One of the assisting priests at that church said, “Oh, yes. That was the Orly crash.”

The Orly Crash! When I got home I did some research into this so-called Orly crash. And here it is:

In late May 1962, a group of wealthy art-lovers in Atlanta decided to take a tour of Europe, visiting all the great art galleries.  These 106 art-lovers from Atlanta decided to charter a plane. In this case, their chartered plane was an Air France 707. That’s a jet plane. Passenger jet travel in 1962 was VERY new.   

They flew to Paris and began their tour of Europe.  However, in Italy, many of the group ended up becoming ill with a cold and decided to cut the trip short, so they made their way back to Paris.

On June 4, 1962, the plane began to take off from Orly International Airport. It had reached its maximum speed, but because of a mechanical failure, the plane didn’t lift off  The flight crew, with only 3,000 feet of runway left, decided to abort the flight, and using air breaks and reverse thrust attempted to stop the plane. The plane ended up going over the end of the runway and crashed and exploded with its tanks full of fuel for the flight to Atlanta. All 106 people from Atlanta, plus most of the flight crew were killed in the crash. Two stewardesses at the rear of the plane survived.

On a side note, one of Andy Warhol’s most famous early paintings was of the New York 
Daily Mirror cover story, entitled “129 Die in Jet”

Now, that alone is pretty horrible. But there was one more interesting aspect to the story that fascinated me.  The plane crashed during much of the unrest in the Civil Rights movements.  And the priest who told me this story in Atlanta said that it was famous for another reason.  He told the story about how Malcom X, on hearing of the crash, was quoted as saying “Well, the chickens come home to roost.”

I had never heard that phrase before. And, in this context, it was jarring.  Later, I found out, that Malcolm X never said that about the Orly Crash. He actually said about John F. Kennedy’s assassination the next year.

But the phrase stuck with me.  Although it’s terrible in the context of that plane crash, it is a phrase that has much weight. It works on many other levels.

Now, for those of you who have known me for any period time, you have heard me use this phrase many, many times. One of the things so many of us have had to deal with in our lives are people who have not treated us well, who have been horrible to us, who have betrayed us and turned against us.  It’s happened to me, and I know it’s happened to many of you. It is one of the hardest things to have to deal with, especially when it is someone we cared for or loved or respected.

In those instances, let’s face it, sometimes it’s very true.

“The chickens do come home to roost.” 

Or at least, we hope they do. Essentially what this means is that what goes around, comes around. We reap what we sow. There are consequences to our actions. And I believe that to be very true.

And not just for others, who do those things to us. But for us, as well. When we do something bad, when we treat others badly, when gossip about people, or trash people behind their backs, who disrespect people in any way, we think those things don’t hurt them. And maybe that’s true. Maybe it will never hurt them. Maybe it will never get back to them.  But, we realize, it always, always hurts us. And when we throw negative things out there, we often have to deal with the unpleasant consequences of those actions. I know because I’ve been there. I’ve done it.

But there is also a flip side to that. And there is a kind of weird, cosmic justice at work.  Now, for us followers of Jesus, such concepts of “karma” might not make as much sense.

But today, we get a sense, in our scriptures readings, of a kind of, dare I say, Christian karma.  Jesus’ comments in today’s Gospel are very difficult for us to wrap our minds around.  But probably the words that speak most clearly to us are those words,

“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful in much.”

Essentially, Jesus is telling us this simple fact: what you do matters.  There are consequences to our actions. There are consequences in this world. And there are consequences in our relation to God.

It often surprises me that Christians think they can “get by” with dishonest things.  We read in the news about clergy doing bad things all the time.  But not just clergy.  We hear about church treasurers doing bad things.  We hear about people who claim to be good Christians doing very unchristian-like things.

But Jesus message to us is very clear.  For us, our faithfulness involves how we deal with others.  It’s not just the big stuff, like sexual impropriety and financial misdealings.  It is also about how we treat each other.  How we treat each other as followers of Jesus and how we treat others who might not be followers of Jesus.

We have few options, as followers of Jesus, when it comes to being faithful.  We must be faithful. Faithful yes in a little way that brings about great faithfulness.  So, logic would tell us, any increase of faithfulness will bring about even greater faithfulness. Faithfulness in this sense means being righteous.  

Jesus is saying to us that the consequences are the same if we choose the right path or the wrong path.  A little bit of right, will reap much right.  But  a little bit of wrong, reaps much wrong.

I think most of us have found these to be true in our own lives.  Doing wrong is a slippery slope. Once we step foot on it, we find ourselves sliding farther and farther into more wrongness.   And it’s hard to stop. Often times, it’s because it feels so good. Doing good is often hard. But doing bad, oh, it’s often soooo easy.

However, as easy as it might be, that wrong path is not the path intended for us as followers of Jesus.  Jesus is not walking that path, and if we are his followers, then we are not following when we step onto that path.   Wrongfulness is not our purpose as followers of Jesus.  

We cannot follow Jesus and willfully—mindfully—practice wrongness.  If we do, let me tell you, the chickens come home to roost.  We must strive—again and again—in being faithful. Faithful to God.  Faithful to one another.  Faithful to those who need us.  Faithful to those who need someone. Being faithful takes work.

When we see wrong—and we all do see wrong—we see it around us all the time—our job in cultivating faithfulness means counteracting wrongfulness.  If there are actions and reactions to things, our reaction to wrongfulness should faithfulness. Now that seems hard.  And it is.  But it is not impossible.   We can do something in the face of wrongfulness. We can, when we step foot on that slippery slope of wrongfulness, make a concentrated effort to not slip, to turn around and do the faithful action.   We can cultivate faithfulness in the face of wrongfulness.

We can remind ourselves that doing wrong does no good for us or for anyone else, ultimately. And what we do, does matter. It matters to us. And it matters to God. We do good.  We must strive to be good.  

Those good actions are actions each of us as followers of Jesus are also called to cultivate and live into.

As Christians, we are called to not only to ignore or avoid wrongfulness.  We are called to confront it and to counter it. We are called to offer faithfulness in the face of wrongness.

So, let us do just that in all aspects of our lives.   Let us offer kindness and generosity and hope and truth and forgiveness and  joy and love and goodness, again and again and again whenever we are confronted with all those forces of wrongfulness.  Let us offer light in the face of darkness.   Let us strive, again and again, to do good, even in small ways.

For in doing so, we will be faithful in much. “For surely I will not forget any of their deeds,” God says in our reading from Amos today.

What we do matters.  God does not forget the good we do in this world. We should rejoice in that fact. God does not forget the good we do.   What we do makes a difference in our lives and in the lives of those around us.  So let us, as faithful followers of Jesus, strive, always to truly “lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.”

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