The Rev. Hal Chorpenning,
Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
Today we are experiencing a synchronicity of observances in the life of our church: it is both World Communion Sunday and the kickoff of our stewardship campaign. Initially, I thought about it as more of an eclipse, with one special Sunday covering the other, but as I thought more about it, it provides an opportunity for us to see our faith, our generosity, our giving in a global and a local context.
By a show of hands, how many of us think of ourselves as rich? A few years back the Occupy Wall Street Movement took aim at the “One Percenters” -– the people who are in the very top income bracket in our country -– and denounced the disparity of income in our country. And to be sure, even though that movement has dissipated, the problem of income inequality worsens. But it isn’t just a problem for us nationally…it’s a global issue. Let me ask you another question: By a show of hands, and looking beyond the United States, how many of think that you are not simply doing okay, but wealthy in the global scheme of things?
This may surprise you, but if your household income is $32,400 or more, you are a “One Percenter,” globally speaking. The median income for households in Fort Collins is $60,110, and the mean household income is $80,591. Does that help put things in perspective?
Median household income in Italy is just over $20,000 a year (one-third of Fort Collins), and in Portugal it’s just over $16,000 a year…those are developed European economies. In Angola, it’s about $3,500 a year, and in Liberia it is only $781.
Let me ask that first question again: By a show of hands, how many of us think of ourselves as rich? So, when we celebrate World Communion Sunday, perhaps it’s helpful for us to have a global perspective on our own wealth. [Jesus interrupts…]
* * *
[Jesus: Hal? … Hal?]
Who is that?
[It’s Jesus, Hal.]
No, it’s not!
[Sure, it is, Hal! Let me prove it…you know this one, don’t you: “Much will be demanded from everyone who has been given much; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked.”]
Yeah, that’s from the end of the Parable of the Unfaithful Slave. And if you really are Jesus, are you trying to tell us that I – we – have been entrusted with a lot and that we will be asked for even more?
[You figure it out, Hal. Duh! Okay, see if this makes sense: “There was a certain rich man who clothed himself in purple and fine linen, and who feasted luxuriously every day. At his gate lay a certain poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. Lazarus longed to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Instead, dogs would come and lick his sores. (I know it’s gross, but I’m trying to make a point here…)
“The poor man died and was carried by angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. While being tormented in the place of the dead, he looked up and saw Abraham at a distance with Lazarus at his side. He shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I’m suffering in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received good things, whereas Lazarus received terrible things. Now Lazarus is being comforted and you are in great pain. Moreover, a great crevasse has been fixed between us and you. Those who wish to cross over from here to you cannot. Neither can anyone cross from there to us.’
“The rich man said, ‘Then I beg you, Father, send Lazarus to my father’s house. I have five brothers. He needs to warn them so that they don’t come to this place of agony.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets. They must listen to them.’ The rich man said, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will change their hearts and lives.’ Abraham said, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, then neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’”]
Okay, Jesus, I’m feeling persuaded – since you are, after all, someone who rises from the dead. Can I ask you a question? Why is it that you are always talking about money? Are you trying to lay a guilt trip on us?
[Jesus: I talk about two things more than anything else, especially when I’m at dinner with sinners and tax collectors: love and money…both have a lot to do with you becoming a co-creator of the kingdom of God that I came to proclaim. And the reason I talked so much about love and money is that you have so much to give…sometimes you just need to be…well…prompted.]
Okay, then. Consider me prompted. And thanks for the reminder, Jesus.
[Jesus: No problem, Hal, and just remember, “I am with you always…even until the end of the age.”]
* * *
I know that’s a lot to think about. We’ve been showing you videos about how Plymouth is changing peoples’ lives and by extension why your financial support is so essential. And you can see all of those videos at plymouthucc.org/give. But I wonder if the reason that most of us give is that Jesus calls us to open our hearts, and that heart-journey helps us know where we should invest the money that has been entrusted to us.
When we examine ourselves, we know that we are rich by comparison to most of the world, even if Madison Avenue tells us that we are lacking and that our personal wants come before all else. And we know in our hearts that God has entrusted much to us and that we are being called to pay it forward, to go deeper, to give generously. You and I are being called by God -– and not by the advertising industry –- to put our treasure where our hearts are, to invest in the kingdom of God whose hallmarks are faithfulness, justice, peace, and freedom. That is a deeply counter-cultural message in our nation today.
I’ve thought in the past about the story of Jesus and the rich young ruler, who... [Jesus interrupts: Oh, yeah, that’s a good one!] Thank you, for that! I’ve wondered how I might respond if Jesus himself were to ask me face-to-face to give up all of my possessions and follow him. Would it make a difference if it was Jesus standing in front of you, asking you to search your soul and to use what has been entrusted to you for God’s realm? If you don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, then you probably won’t be persuaded by someone who rises from the dead.
There are a lot of ways that you can invest in God’s realm. There are different ways to bring faith and justice and peace into God’s world. But for me, Plymouth and the United Church of Christ form the most immediate and sustainable way available. I know that all of us are in different financial situations, some have student loans, big medical bills, kids going to college, car payments, and that it isn’t as simple as saying, “Yes, Jesus, I’m going to give all that up and follow you.” But that doesn’t let us off the hook…it isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. [Jesus interrupts: “Yeah, Zacchaeus (Za-KEY-us) the tax collector to just give half of his possessions away, and…] Okay, thanks, Jesus. We get the idea. It’s not all or nothing; it’s do whatever you are able to do — the very best you can.
I started looking at that Graduated Giving Chart that was in the bulletin last week, and I did some math and figured out that Jane Anne and I should increase what we are giving, and both of us feel as though we need to put our money where our hearts are, and our hearts are here with Plymouth and the United Church of Christ. So, Jane Anne and I have decided to increase our pledge to Plymouth next year to $10,000. I don’t say that because I think you should give exactly the same, but because I don’t believe in asking you to do something that we ourselves are not doing. We’re trying to set an example and to encourage you to stretch. And it will mean some sacrifices on our part, which is not all bad…it makes us more intentional about our giving.
Plymouth is at a crossroads with great opportunities for ministry and mission ahead of us. I know that many of you find tremendous value in what we are doing here, in our community, and around the world. As you consider your pledge for 2020, please use the Graduated Giving Chart, be prayerful, and also put your treasure where your heart is.
© 2019 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
 Thanks to Bill Tucker, who was the “off-stage” voice of Jesus.
 Luke 12.48 (CEB)
 Luke 16.19-31 (CEB)
 Matthew 28.20 (my translation)
 Luke 19
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.
Pentecost 16 C
Rev. Dr. Mark Lee
Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, CO
It was the worst of times. No, really the worst – it was 586 BC, and the trauma ripples through to this very day. Ask any Jew. Ask any Palestinian. The kingdom of Judah was being swallowed up by the Babylonian Empire. Armies surrounded Jerusalem. The ruling elites were split; some favored submitting to the Babylonians, others wanted to hold out, hoping for Egyptian intervention. People could come and go to a degree, but no equipment, food nor water could enter the city. Would God deliver them? Was this punishment for their sins? Who knew where God was in this? Hope was drying up faster than the last supplies of three year old grain. Hunger was spreading, desperate cannibalism was soon to come. Has your world ever totally fallen apart? Yeah, it was like that.
Jeremiah the prophet had been predicting this day for years. He saw how the royalty – the house of David, who claimed an eternal covenant of God’s favor and were supposed to be God’s good earthly ruler – how they squeezed the common people for every shekel, every bushel of grain, every acre of land. He saw the way the whole country turned from God to idols. Sure, the priests kept the Temple sacrifices running, but the temple had become a symbol of nationalistic political power rather than service to God. So it was easy to work other values into the program. They hadn’t yet heard Jesus’ teaching, “You cannot serve God and Mammon.” Jeremiah loudly pointed out that their path would doom them. His message is not unlike Greta Thunberg’s: staying on the present course will certainly mean disaster.
But people don’t want to hear that, they didn’t want to change. The king put Jeremiah under arrest in the barracks of his bodyguards. This is where this story takes place. Jeremiah hears the crazy, weird, unexpected word of God. Amid the shouts of, “Incoming!” as rocks and arrows came flying over the city walls, amid the scorn of the king and his court, amid his own depression and uncertainty, he thinks he hears God. “Your cousin Hanamel’s field is going into foreclosure. Buy it and bail him out.” Jeremiah was from a suburb of Jerusalem, Anathoth. He was the closest kinsman to Hanamel, and the law of redemption in Deuteronomy gave him the right and obligation to buy the field if Hanamel was in danger of losing it to creditors and it passing out of the family forever. Those of you from farming families might have that sense of ancestral connection to the land; it was built into the system in ancient Israel.
This is not a good deal. Jerusalem and the legal structure of the kingdom are doomed. The Babylonians already occupy Anathoth. Tragically, the modern Palestinian village is practically encircled by the Israeli separation wall. Hanamel’s offer is like buying beachfront property in the Bahamas just as hurricane Dorian was making landfall. Has God ever led you to do something that seemed to make zero sense? What then happened?
Hanamel shows up at Jeremiah’s prison, deed in hand. “And then I knew it was the word of the Lord,” Jeremiah says. That’s sometimes how God’s leading works – we have an intuitive, instinctual sense of something, and then the right person shows up and says the right thing, not knowing what has been going on in our minds and heart. So Jeremiah buys the field. At closing, everyone sees Jeremiah weighing out the silver, signing the deed, witnesses notarizing it, Jeremiah’s secretary Baruch filing one copy publicly and something unusual with another copy: putting another in a clay jar, a jar that can be hidden and preserved --- like the Dead Sea Scrolls were – until after the present disaster has passed.
What does this all mean? As a real estate investment, it’s the worst. The battering rams of the enemy army are at the gates. Really, what is Jeremiah doing? Crazy prophetic action. What is God doing?
Jeremiah lifts up his voice: “The Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, proclaims: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.” “I will bring Israel back to this place to live securely. They will be my people and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one mind so that they may worship me all the days of their lives, for their own good and for the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them. I will put in their hearts a sense of awe for me so they won’t turn away from me. Fields will be bought, and deeds will be signed, sealed and witnessed. For I will bring them back from their captivity.” (Jer. 32:34-44, summarized).
Hope. Not a cocky-eyed optimism that things will get better. Not a surprising shift in the political scene. Not replacing a bad king with a good king. Hope isn’t denying reality. The Babylonians did destroy the city, temple, monarchy. As the psalmist says, do not hope in princes, in political events, in the invisible hand of the economy, but in God. Hope is rooted in God’s promise, God’s action, God’s love. As the apostle Paul said, “Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”
What does hope look like? That’s a great question, a question that invites us to look closely at the world, to become attentive to and aware of the often small sprouts of green breaking through the concrete. What is a situation you know that seems hopeless, yet you have seen people hope in God even in the midst of it?
Among the souvenirs of my trips to Israel and Palestine have been different websites to follow. One is called “The Good Shepherd Collective.” It is a tough page to follow, for practically every day, there is some new encroachment documented. In just the last couple of weeks, an access road from Palestinian villages to their fields has been trenched and destroyed, a shepherd’s goat herd shagged and scattered, homes searched in the middle of the night, water tanks punctured, and I don’t know how many houses demolished. The reasons given are variations on the theme that the Palestinians lack deeds, travel documents or building permits, and that Israeli colonists need land, roads and water. While many places in the world experience oppressive situations, Palestine is one I’ve seen first hand, and weighs on my heart. So I was surprised to read from them:
“In the aftermath of a day like today, when the Israeli military utterly dismantled large sections of the South Hebron Hills, homes were razed, people were beaten and arrested, children traumatized - we are challenged to maintain hope in the face of darkness. People ask us: How do you keep the faith that a better tomorrow is waiting upon the horizon?
“We have enough humility to maintain hope. This is crucial. Far too often, people confuse being hopeful for being naive. We fully understand the matrix of control Israel has methodically constructed around us; after all, it is the corrosive thread shot through the fabric of our lives. But we also understand the movement rising up around us. We see diverse movements of justice joining in solidarity in ways that weren't happening decades ago. Black and brown voices are pushing the plight of Palestinians onto the main stage. Our Jewish friends are taking real risks and making real sacrifices to usher in a new future of liberation. We see all of this because we choose to have hope. We don't let cynicism creep in and masquerade as wisdom. We don't minimize the efforts of those around us. We are courageous enough to have hope. We don't worry that people will think that we are silly or misguided for knowing that a better tomorrow awaits us. Good Shepherd Collective September 11 at 2:29 PM · “
What is your hopeless situation? Political cynicism, overload or despair? Whatever the doctor told you at that visit you had? The negative balance in your checkbook? The cold cup of coffee from the friend who walked away, not crying? Bulldozers flattening your home? Babylonians battering down your gates and burning your temple?
Take courage, God sees you. Grasp your neighbor’s hands, for God will use them to buttress your heart. Don’t curl up in fear, but open yourself to all the tiny signs of God’s faithfulness to you: food on your table, an apology tendered, a gorgeous sunset, a demonstration supporting asylum seekers, a friendly face greeting you in the fellowship hall, a wrong made right, a satisfying grade on an exam, another day of sobriety or a courageous vote. File these signs away, build up a stock in your heart. Share them with others, and file away the ones they share with you. Use them as the building blocks for a future world where peace is normal, caring is public policy, and love binds neighbors and strangers together through God.
Call to worship (from Ps. 91)
Leader: Living in the Most High’s shelter, camping in the Almighty’s shade, I say to the Lord:
People: “You are my refuge, my stronghold! You are my God – the One I trust!”
Leader: God will save you from the hunter’s trap, snares for your soul and body,
People: God’s faithfulness is a protective shield, guarding us like a hen guards her chicks. God will protect us with his feathers, we’ll find refuge under God’s wings.
Leader: Don’t be afraid of terrors at night, or arrows that fly in daylight; monsters that prowl in the dark, or destruction that ravages at noontime.
People: God tells us, “Because you are devoted to me, I’ll rescue you. I’ll protect you, because you honor my name. Whenever you cry out to me, I’ll answer.”
Leader: Hear, O people, the help of our God:
People: “I’ll be with you in troubling times. I’ll save and glorify you, even through your old age. I will forever show you my salvation!”
You have gathered us, gathered us to you, O God, in the midst of a world that seems to have gone crazy. So often, the news of oppression against your children, of destruction of our environment, of corruption in high places, of wars and rumors of war, weighs hard on us. We come to this place seeking quiet from the din; we come to one another seeking a warm heart of comfort; we come to you seeking meaning and hope for the future. Though your grace, grant us peace for today and hope for tomorrow. Amen.
Prayer of thanksgiving and dedication
Thank you, God, for giving us hope when all seems hopeless! Thank you for being faithful even when everyone around falls away! Thank you for being with us in our darkest nights, our deepest pits, our loneliest deserts! Thank you for drawing us together as your people in this time and place. In gratefulness, we offer our selves and our work, trusting you to do amazing things through all of us. Amen.
Mark brings a passion for Christian education that bears fruit in social justice. He has had a lifelong fascination with theology, with a particular emphasis on how Biblical hermeneutics shape personal and political action. Prior to coming to Plymouth, Mark served as pastor for Metropolitan Community Churches in Fort Collins, Cheyenne, and Rapid City. Read more.
Sermon podcasts (no text)