Pent. l8

One hot Saturday evening this past August Faye and I drove over the causeway which connects Fenwick Point with Saybrook Point. To the West of the causeway is South Cove and to the East is the mouth of the Connecticut River, which opens into Long Island Sound. At the North end of the causeway is the Dock and Dine Restaurant and the Saybrook Point Marina, which harbors five to ten million dollars worth of boats. To the south is the exclusive area of Fenwick, the home of Katherine Hepburn and a lush golf course. Usually there are a scattering of sport fishermen on the causeway, but that night there were cars parked helter-skelter along the road. People opened doors onto the highway and meandered back and forth across the road. Children wadded in the muck of the wetlands and old and young huddled in clumps around fishing poles. I was annoyed by these brown skinned people, for they were in my way and I was late for our dinner date at the restaurant. It wasn’t until I reached the end of the causeway that I realized that many of the men and women wore clothes which were common to India, Pakistan, the Far East and Central America. These people were not sport fishermen. They were fishing for food. They were sending their children out into the muck, where I wouldn’t let my Labrador Retriever go, to dig for shell fish. Here between two extremes of wealth in our society were people foraging for food. I was stunned. Dinner that night somehow lost its flavor.

There is a growing dichotomy within our society between the haves and the have-nots. The underground cash economy in our country is huge, bigger than the gross national products of many other countries. Neither The Great Society nor the high tech data commerce of our present economy has wiped out poverty. Fishermen, loggers, truckers, farmers, factory workers are impoverished. Many cities have cracked down on quality of life crimes and “cleaned up” their towns. When the president comes to visit, the homeless and the poor are swept out of sight, only to seep back in at a later time. Too often those who do have jobs in many communities are the “working poor,” who eke out a living by working at both Home Depot and MacDonalds.

You and I are held to very high standards by the prophets of our religion who call for justice, righteousness and mercy. Hosea reminds us: ” ‘So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.’ A trader, in whose hands are false balances, he loves to oppress. Ephraim has said, ‘Ah, but I am rich, I have gained wealth for myself’; but all his riches can never offset the guilt he has incurred.” (Hos.12:6-7)

And Amos tells us, ” ‘Therefore because you trample upon the poor and take from him exactions of wheat, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins, you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate.” (Amos 5:10-12)

How often you and I feel (as I did that Saturday night) convicted by the plight of the poor and the calls for justice and righteousness of Amos and Hosea! We make our peace much like the rich young ruler by saying, “Hey, I’m not so bad. I keep to a pretty good set of rules. I don’t murder, divorce or steal. I keep the commandments pretty well. I’m a fairly decent sort of guy.” Like the Pharisees we test God. “I keep the Deuteronomic Law. I work hard. Good things come to me most of the time. So I’m okay. Right Jesus? Right?” Under our public facade of well being there is a deep uncertainty, an anxiety, that pushes us. “I’m okay, Jesus, aren’t I? You like me, right? We’re okay? Our relationship to you is good. We’re, how do you say it, entering the Kingdom of God. We’re going to have eternal life, right?” Jesus looks at us as He did at the rich young man. Jesus looked at him and He LOVED him. Jesus looks at us with love, a love more profound than that of a mother for a child or a spouse for the beloved one. Jesus begins with love, accompanied by acceptance and grace. He then reminds us of the two great commandments: love of God and love of neighbor.(1) Jesus’ conversation with the rich young man, and with us, is really the same as when He was asked which were the greatest commandments. In our Marcan passage Jesus speaks to the young man’s specific situation and tells him to sell all he has and to give to the poor. Then he is to follow Jesus. The rich man is to love his neighbor and to love God as manifested in God’s Son. Interestingly the young man is the only one called in the New Testament who does not then follow Jesus. For the rich young man has great possessions. He is possessed by his possessions. Jesus calls for an ultimate commitment to an ultimate God who is seen in an ultimate revelation. This call is parallel to Jesus’ admonition elsewhere to “let the dead bury the dead”(2) and to “leave father and mother.” (3)

The ironic paradox is that by heeding Christ’s call, you and I escape works’ righteousness and receive God’s grace. In effect you and I repent. We turn around and, as Harry Wendt, when he gave his talk here on the parables pointed out, we see that all that we have is not ours but our Creator and Redeemer’s, God’s. We understand that you and I are entrusted with the responsibility for conscientious stewardship of all we possess. Our time, our talents, our estate, our crises, our failings and our debts - all that you and I have is entrusted to us to present before and to return to God. Not only are the good things in our life, but also the bad things in our life are given to us to deal with responsibily. Illness, failure, rejection can become occasions for a deeper sense of the presence of God, just as health, success and acceptance can (and should) develop our sense of God’s bountiful goodness. All that is entrusted to us is to be returned to God, to be used to further the condition of our neighbor and those in need AND to glorify God by propagating the Gospel and bringing souls closer to God through the Church. Charity and salvation are inextricably linked.

You and I can use what we have to help others and to glorify God through prayer, service, social responsibility and through the specific outlets of the church such as the Presiding Bishop’s Fund, the Bishop’s Fund for Children and such outreach programs as St. Luke’s Life Works. We can pledge generously to the parish and dedicate a portion of our estate in our will to the life and outreach of the church. Through worship and fellowship you and I support our neighbor and experience the life of Christ in others. Through the sacraments you and I rededicate ourselves to Christ and receive the grace of forgiveness and renewal by the Holy Spirit. In some respects the Church is a bridge (or a causeway) between the kingdom of God in this world and the kingdom of God in the next. Our faith journies in the Church provide you and me with a plethora of challenges and possibilities waiting for us to accept them.

Last Saturday Faye and I drove across the causeway in Old Saybrook on our way to dinner at the Dock and Dine. Boats rose and fell in the harbor. The sports fishermen, a half dozen or so, had returned to the causeway. The poor and the hungry were gone. They were out of sight. Somehow I found that very scary. Lord have mercy upon us. Christ have mercy upon us. Amen. - Fr. Gage

(1) Matt. 22:37-38
(2) Matt. 8:22
(3) Matt. 10:35-40