18 Sep 2016
“Hear this you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land!” (Amos 8:4) (+)
Now here’s a surprise. People in the age of the Old Testament were taking advantage of the poor and the powerless. People in Jesus’ day were crooked and deceitful. I went into the Millstone Market this past week and heard a joke that fits right in with this message. But before I got there, I had just been at Greenfield Savings where Wally told me a joke about a guy waiting in line to get into heaven. The line comes to a complete stop as a car speeds to the gate with the siren blaring. A Massachusetts state cop gets out of the cruiser and in front of everyone else who had been waiting patiently struts right through the gates. There’s murmuring in the line, but it starts to move again. Then the sirens are heard a second time. The car screeches to a halt in front of heaven’s gate and again someone enters. This time the guy in line complains to St. Peter, “Hey is that another state cop skipping the line.” “Oh no,” says Peter, “That’s God. He just thinks He’s a state cop.”
Then I get over to Sunderland and that’s where I heard the joke that fits in with today’s message, but I figured I’d tell them both today anyway. I was in a good mood when I was writing today’s sermon. I had called up Lynnette on her cell phone and instead Brandon picked-up and sounded just like Brandon. This was the day after his open heart surgery. The operation went a lot quicker than was expected, he told me, and everything the surgeons went in to do they did successfully. He might be home by mid-week. After being more than a little worried for these past many days, what a relief it was to hear his voice and that great news.
And that reminds me of another funny story. Sharon and I visited with Brandon and Lynnette out at Brigham and Women’s Hospital this past week. I think I developed heart problems just by driving there. What traffic, and the hospital is like a city unto itself. We were joking around in Brandon’s hospital room, and as I have a tendency to say when there are women present in such situations, I didn’t think childbirth and all those women’s things were all that difficult to handle. Well, you can imagine Lynnette and Sharon’s answer to that. Then Lynnette said, “You guys are lucky.” At this point Brandon quietly, as they were taking his vitals and monitoring his heart in this hospital-city in preparation for open-heart surgery, added with a big smile, “Oh yeah I feel real lucky.” The way he said it, when he said it, it was the best comeback I ever heard.
So anyway, finally, the point of all this, I’m chit-chatting with Angela after paying for my hot sausages at the Millstone Market. The other cashier tells me the joke that one day God was looking down at earth and saw all of the bad behavior that was going on. So he called one of His angels and sent the angel to earth for a time. When he returned, he told God, “Yeah, it is bad on earth; 95% are misbehaving and only 5% are not.” God thought for a moment and said, “Maybe I had better send down a second angel to get another opinion.” So God called another angel and sent her to earth for a time. When the angel returned she went to God and said, “Yeah, it's true. The earth is in decline; 95% are misbehaving, and only 5% are being good.” God was not pleased. So He decided to e-mail the 5% that were good because He wanted to encourage them and give them a little something to help them keep going. Does anyone here know what the good person e-mail said? No? I guess you didn't get one huh.”
So there have been crooked and deceitful people around for at least as long as the Bible has been around, and who would be surprised to hear that they’ve always been around, and they probably always will be. Somehow, some way, there are people who will find a way to cheat and take advantage of others without the slightest twinge of conscience. God calls these sorts of people an “abomination” in today’s opening prayer, a prayer that you all recited together. I don’t know if it’s a full 95% as it’s said in the last joke, but we all know that there’s more than enough not-nice people in the world to keep all the state cops and all the other cops busy. And that can wear the 5% down.
I heard a report on the news about the leaders of this desperately poor nation, I think the youngest country in the world, South Sudan. The leaders are hoarding gross sums of money for themselves. They have just turned from fighting an unjust government and now they’ve become an unjust government themselves. What is about money? How do some people have no conscience when it comes to wealth? They see the suffering all around them, but they steal from the poorest of the poor, taking what little they have, to amass gross amounts of money for themselves. It’s disturbing, disgusting and disheartening.
Sharon and I were in Boston on Monday and Tuesday, around Downtown Crossing. There were so many people who were begging, who were homeless, who were mentally ill. I worry about giving them anything on the street because you don’t know who’s a con-artist and who’s really hungry. And giving them spare change isn’t the answer either. We as a society need to take care of those who can’t take care of themselves. And as Jesus says today, if only the good people of the earth were as imaginative as the crooks and the cheats.
But these problems have always been around and sadly they probably always will be. That’s why we need to come to church sometimes, not to hear the obvious, that there’s so much to do, but to just find a place of comfort and encouragement, to come and re-charge our spiritual batteries so that we can try to make a difference, and to enjoy God’s company and that of each other. Maybe this can make the choice between choosing God or mammon tilt a bit more toward God because God knows there’s a slew of people out there who choose mammon. That we may find God’s encouragement here so that we can somehow take on the crooked, the deceitful and the ones whose conscience has grown silent. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo