Sinner Saint

Justin Thornburgh

Emerson Avenue Baptist Church

Luke 16:1-13 SAP18C

28 September, 2013



My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.

Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land: “Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King not in her?” (“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their foreign idols?”)

“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”

For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.

Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?

O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people! – Jer. 8:18-9:1

The prophet Jeremiah is weeping for his people – the people of Judah. I am weeping for the people of our land. The news of the week has been weighing me down, and I have begged not to have to preach what I am to preach. I have been praying for good news. News that is in line with God’s reign, and yet this week we have learned of the mass shooting at the Naval Yard in Washington DC; we have seen funding for food  assistance threaten to be gutted by 39 Billion Dollars – threatening to leave the most vulnerable in our nation without enough to eat. And the blame is not just on the house; the senate’s compormise that they sent to the house calls for 20 billion in cuts. Here again the threat that 25 million people will be denied access to healthcare is a real possibility; the government is probably going to shut down -leaving the millions of employees with out a pay check; there was a mass shooting in my home town of Chicago that took down 13 including a three year old boy shot in the face and another 4 year old last night; one of Indy’s finest was gunned down as he attempted to break up a domestic dispute and  so was a fiver year old little one. I have prayed for good news. News that would turn around this grief sick heart. 

That is my confession to you. 

(Scene 1:  Greed)

The Prophet Amos, a farmer from the land of Judah, called by God to speak to the power of the King of Israel does not mince his words

 “Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. 

Israel was the larger northern kingdom; Amos was from the small insignificant land of Judah; and yet he speaks these words to the people of Israel.  People who had no reason to listen to this nothing of a man. He was an outsider speaking for those who had nothing.  He was speaking for the hungry widow and the malnourished orphan. He was speaking for those who did business with Israel. He was speaking for the ones whose bodies were sold as commodities. He was speaking with the authority of God. He was speaking as God for God’s own.

Israel had become powerful; full of rich folks who forgot their God – the God of their ancestors. They worshiped at the foot of a golden calf. They intentionally neglected the widow and orphan – because they were a drain on society. They could not live the good life it they had to care for them. They enslaved people for even minor debts. For as minor a debt as a pair of shoes – people were held captive. Men would use their power over women to gratify their own sexual urges. Justice was only for those who could afford to pay off they judge. The poor had no recourse. 

Amos came into this land as an outsider. One given God’s eyes and voice, and he spoke God’s judgment against the land. Judgement that They would be taken captive; that they the mighty Israel would be made small. And that the injustice they practiced would turn back on themselves.  Amos – spoke God’s justice to a land where they were their own gods. They offered prayers and incense that were pleasing to themselves. They prayed to hear their own voices, and not hear the word of the LORD.

(Scene 2:  This Land is my land.)

People love to hear their own voices. Love to hear how good they are, and how righteous they are. Even if it is them saying it about themselves. That couldn’t be true than with those – who like Israel of old have grown  large with power. Those who bloviate and belch their own greatness; while ignoring the tears flooding the streets. Those who line their pockets with fast cash and dine with fat cat; while stepping over the broken one laying on the marble steps. Those who take food from the mouths of babes, money that averages 4.50/day- saying they are trying to relieve the burdens of taxpayers; while they gorge themselves on rich foods and wine; steak and caviar – costing over $100/day at the expense of the taxpayer. Those who have no fear about going to the doctor because they have insurance that foots all the bills; while working class people go to work sick because if they try to go to a doctor they can’t afford they could loose their job. ” But no matter,” say the powerful. “We are doing great work.” Blind to the real world.

  “Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land.”

There is blood in our streets. In Washington DC. In Chicago. In Indianapolis. In Tulsa. In Albuquerque. In Herkimer Conty, NY. In Akron. In Federal Way, WA. In Manchester, IL. In Fernley, NV. In Waynesville, IN. In Santa Monica. In Hialeah, FL. In Clarksburg, WV. In Dallas. In Oklahoma City. In Crab Orchard, TN. All sites of mass shootings since the Horrors of Newtown – 9 short months ago – where God wept. There is blood in our streets and on our hands. There is blood on the hands of those with the power to stop this violence, but refuse to see the reality of these situations. But rather only seek to praise the might power of the NRA or claim that by eliminating all guns we will solve the problem. All sides seek their own glory and refuse to see that is it deeper than who does or does not have guns. It is rooted in poverty; hopelessness; desperation; mental illness. But saying that would mean it would not make sense to cut the fabric of the safety nets. 

  “Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land.”

(Scene 3:  What the?)

Outrage and anger are appropriate emotion to the events of the last week. Heartache and grief are ok when we hear the stories of those who are the least among us. I have no problem calling out those with the power – and holding them, regardless of their party affiliation – to the standard of the Kingdom of God. And yet, often, I ask myself – what is the point? Why do I even try? The powers of darkness that pull the strings of the puppets in power seem to not even notice – so why try? I kept asking myself this, and then I heard – again – the parable Jesus told.

“There was a land owner who heard about the shenanigans of his manager. ‘I am going to fire you, but first – settle your accounts.’ 

‘Umm…what the? What am I going to do,’ says the manager. ‘I can’t muss up my pretty hands doing manual labor, and I am too good to beg – what will I do? Ahh – yes, I know…I will make sure those who owe my former boss are on my side.’

So the manager went to those who owed his former boss, ‘How much to you owe him?’

‘100 jugs of olive oil.’

‘Quick, sit down and make it 50. Your debt will be erased….How about you? What do you owe?’

‘100 bags of wheat.’

‘Go, make it 80.’

When the land owner heard about the dealings of his former employee – he commended him.”

That is confusing. The manger is fired for shenanigans, and then is commended for shenanigans. As the events of this week unfolded and my anger and grief began to flood my being – I kept coming back to these words. Then it hit me. This is how God is working in our screwed up world. In a land where our leaders are fighting over feeding the poor – a fight that is just incomprehensible in the Reign of God. As they are pointing fingers over who is to blame for the blood on our streets; God is working in our screwed up little world. God is working through our sinfulness. Making us saints unawares.

The manager, in his own need to save is hide, unknowingly elevated the poor; the indebted. He wiped there balances clean and brought them up to his level. He, the mighty had been brought low. And the low brought high. And the land owner said, ‘good job.’ God was working though his sinfulness. There is the good news, my friends. The good news I have been praying for.

God is always working, by any means necessary.

(Scene 4: The Promise)

When the leaders are cutting food from the most of the hungry – a conversation is being started that includes those with hunger. A conversation is being brought into the mainstream that often sits on at the margins. A conversation that those of us who have been sitting with those at the margins have been screaming for. A conversation that is saying to those in power – Look at the faces of those you are starving. God is working – even in your self-centeredness.

When we begin to pass the buck about who is to blame for the blood in the streets – while we are passing the buck between the gun lobby and the gun control lobby; voices are screaming out. Voices that say – we are fighting for dignity by the weapons we are given. Voices of poverty and scarcity are crying out – the problem is bigger than whether or not people have access to guns. Voices are crying out saying we are loosing an entire generation because we can not see the beauty of God in our neighbor because we can not see God in ourselves. God is screaming  out – I am at work here.

We the grief of Jeremiah is keeping making my weep; through the tears I hear the psalm of today: 

Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?

God raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.

God gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!

When the world is heavy, and the tears are falling upon the ground; these word of hope give power through the tears. These words of promise remind us that God worked through the corrupt manager. God is the one who raise the poor from the dust; gives power to the powerless. Gives us the authority to speak as God’s prophets to the powerful. To call them to account like Amos; and to give hope to the hopeless because we have have been given hope through Christ Jesus. We have seen Jesus nailed to the cross – God the Son becoming as dust. Becoming as us – lifting us up: sinner and saint. Working through us: sinner and saint. Giving voice to the voiceless; hope to the hopeless; all while we are sinner and saint. 

God is at work when we are doing our best to  negate it. When our sinful broken natures are trying their hardest to ignore it God is still working.

We are certain of this because we have experienced and are expiring grace daily.

In the words of Pope Francis:

 “I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else—God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.”

God is at work despite our best efforts. God will make the pain, healing. The anger, joy. The dark, light. The old, new. We are called to be part of that process – even when we can’t see the end. God is at work through us – sinners and saints.

Thanks be to God.


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