Of mountains and valleys…
October 21, 2018
Scripture: Luke 3: 4-6, Mark 10: 17-27, 31
In considering the scripture for this week and pondering how to approach what is so often a troubling passage I found myself looking at definitions of certain words. And it was there that I learned that ‘inequity’ is different than ‘inequality’…the first is related to systemic or ‘built-in’ injustice causing a lack of access to sufficient or equal resources. Inequality on the other hand speaks to a condition of imbalance, as in one thing not being equal to another, such as income inequality between groups of people within a society.
For our purposes today, inequity is our focus. For inequity is very often a primary cause of inequality. And though it may not seem apparent at first, the presence of inequity within our culture and society is something we are all aware of, even if we are not actually involved in working to reduce it or change it. It is spoken of by individuals all across the spectrum politically, and is commonly spoken of as one of the underlying reasons that people claim that ‘the rich are getting richer, and the poor just keep getting poorer’.
Inequity here at home is not solely a national issue but is spread all throughout the world. It can be detected wherever there is the potential for one group or class of people to rise to the top of the economic ladder at the expense of the less fortunate. However, it has gained more visibility in recent times as there is so much talk and discussion around the root causes of social and economic inequality in the United States.
Inequity seems to increase its harmful effects, or to be more of an issue whenever there is an accumulation of great wealth, whenever someone or a group of individuals is able to gain wealth or access to resources far in excess of their need. The result of this is that a finite amount of resources is divided unequally amongst those within society with those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder feeling the greater degree of need or lack of sufficient resources.
Built in systems of, or conditions leading to inequity are both the cause of poverty, and that which prevents its elimination as a social ill. For in truth, the only way that one group can rise over another is by taking certain advantage of those below. And perhaps this is most difficult thing for us to acknowledge, for none of us wants to be the cause of another’s distress…but unfortunately it is true to some degree across the board. However, it is possible to imagine a better or more just time. The ‘Day of the Lord’ referred to so often by the Prophets is a day or time where such systems or root causes of inequity are removed. It foretells of a new day and a new social order wherein all peoples have a share in the abundance of provision and resources which the Lord has promised.
And the Lord’s call to pursue such a time, the call to be the change agent that begins to bring about this major shift in social structure and communal life is the driving force behind our reading today from Mark. This is the heart of the challenge to the rich young ruler given by Jesus…and unfortunately one that proves to be too difficult for him to accept. The call remains however for any who are willing to begin to make the social changes that will reduce systemic social inequity and begin to level out the playing field for all within the society.
Our scripture from Luke, in which he is actually echoing the words of Isaiah Chapter 40 and in which he says, ‘the mountains shall be brought low, and every valley shall be lifted up’, truly is a metaphor for the social change the Lord is asking the rich ruler to be a part of. For no less than a complete re-imagining of how we are to all live together as a society truly caring for one another and truly loving one another will lead to the promised new day that Jesus is advocating in echoing the Prophets.
However, that is a difficult thing to imagine and perhaps an even more difficult road to walk. For so many of us who lead fairly privileged lives are simply just too content with the comforts of our own economic position and lifestyle. So many, who are not on the lowest rungs of our society economically have become very accustomed to living within what they feel is their rightful share of the provision they hold…and fewer still feel that they should jeopardize their future potential needs by sharing their sufficiency of provision with others. It is one thing to share with someone in need, we do it all the time…however it is quite another thing entirely, to suggest that we ought to consider giving of what we have to the point of perhaps not having enough left over for our own future need. And yet, that is what it seems that Jesus is saying to the rich young ruler who came to him. And that is the bridge too far which the young man simply could not cross.
And over time, and over the span of many centuries, much of the gospel message relating to this call of the Lord to level the playing field, to truly let caring for the poor and disadvantaged be one of our primary aims has been repeatedly rationalized and watered down…replaced by a different version of human reasoning that goes something like, ‘I will give what I can, when I can…other than that I need to be sure to provide for myself and my own’.
However, as one who believes that the gospel call for all of us to pursue this ‘Day of the Lord’ is still largely unanswered, I think that there will be a time when it will begin to happen with, or without us, due to the pressures that gross inequity brings to bear on the whole of the social fabric, particularly with one as determined as the Holy Spirit actively working to bring the change about.
And just as surely there are those who will counter this argument saying that such a time will never come to pass. For to be sure any notion of truly ‘leveling out’ the social economic ladder is wholly opposed to our tradition here of the Protestant Work Ethic as well as a majority of the core-beliefs underpinning the concept of an ‘American Dream’.
Many are those also who will argue against these words of Mark by countering with other scriptures, seeking to minimize the impact of Jesus’ words, quoting instead words about ‘abundant life’ and ‘prosperity’. In truth there is even a whole faction of Christian thought and belief dedicated to this whole notion that increasing individual prosperity and aggregating wealth are a sign of God’s favor. However, tragically this so often only results in the leaders of these churches being enriched themselves. If these and other similar scriptures are interpreted to mean that a promise has been made that all who believe in God, or all who follow Christ are therefore entitled to receive a share of an abundant material life promised for the here and now, then many are those who will remain far behind, waiting for their own share of a pie that has long been cut and divided amongst others ahead or above them.
But that is not the message Jesus was seeking to convey that day. He was seeking instead to change the focus, to get those within his hearing to take a deeper leap of faith, to imagine a day wherein all within the community were lifted up by a new and true communal cooperation. Jesus was asking them to imagine the emergence of a new and blessed community built upon sharing and caring in a spirit of love. This was the ‘Kingdom’ of which he spoke and which he indicated was already potentially within the midst, if they would but learn to truly trust in the Lord’s provision and the Lord’s abundance.
Jesus asked the rich young ruler to let go of his previous understanding of how society was structured, to let go of his current world view and instead to begin to take on the mind of Christ. He challenged him to be one of those who was willing to fight inequity by radically sharing and radically caring for those less fortunate than himself, and to do so by making everything he had available for those in need. In effect, Jesus asked him to empty himself of anything and everything that he trusted in as provision for himself and for his needs, in order to be ready to begin to follow after him and walk in his steps as a disciple.
In other words, removing the inequity that so hinders the revelation of a new day of hope and promise amongst us, eliminating the poverty of need and of spirit that so destroys the hope and opportunity of so many of our brothers and sisters is the sacred responsibility of all those who profess to follow Jesus. It is the content of the call our Lord issues to each one of us. It was the challenge given to the young ruler…and the challenge extended to us as well.
Gross inequalities of sufficiency of resources and opportunity that are caused by built-in and very stubbornly held systemic societal inequities can only begin to be addressed by a concerted and faithful experiment in radically trusting in the Lord. Only in abandoning all of our past trust in our own abilities and strengths alone will we be able to walk with others into the new day of allowing the Lord’s goodness and the Lord’s grace to become the promise it is yet intended to be.
…‘and the rich young ruler turned away very sad’…
…I pray we choose…
…to follow instead…
An Order for the Lord’s Supper
‘Of mountains and valleys…’
(Note: ‘Leader’ in regular print, ‘All’ please respond with print that is in bold)
Friends: This is the joyful feast that is offered to all the children of our God! And though our table itself is not at all what we might expect as a table of our Lord’s blessing, nonetheless we approach it in order to celebrate the goodness and grace with which our Lord has so richly blessed us. And as we do, we affirm that we will seek to accept the call to truly engage as a people who find it in their hearts to turn to the Lord and to hear his call to let go of all that we previously thought we needed in order to be secure and to learn instead to trust in God alone. We confess that we have not often listened to the cries of our brothers and sisters in need amongst us and have instead sought to insulate ourselves and our loved ones in a safe and secure place. Teach us to learn and to follow our Lord’s call to become truly one with the poor, the broken, and the oppressed among us. Help us ever to seek the unity of life that all God’s children must pursue as the brothers and sisters we truly are as we await and participate in the revealing of your kingdom among us…
People will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God.
Lord may it be increasingly so that our ministry of love and compassion in your name reaches more and more of your people in need. May our awareness of and engagement with the deep inequality that exists between your children challenge and empower us to begin to address the root inequities that are built in to the fabric of our culture and society which gave rise to and now perpetuate those conditions of inequality and injustice.
Give us courage and willingness to walk along this path of deep inner soul searching and surrender, submitting to your Spirit in a willingness to be guided and corrected as we are made into a closer reflection of your love and grace. Help us to be servants of love to all in need around us as we search out ways to go and to dwell in a place of dependence upon you, trusting that if we too let go of any and all that would hinder our walk with you than you will guide and provide for our walk alongside of you. Help us to be a light that begins to shine a ray of hope into a world darkened with the plight of those most injured and captive among us and throughout your good earth.
This morning’s altar truly is one of our Lord’s tables. It is meant to graphically depict the inequality that exists within the family of God that is caused by systemic and persistent inequity within our culture and social life. It shows a table split down the middle with one half obviously elevated above the other. The elevated side is set with the trappings of wealth and privilege while the lower is set as for a poor or distressed people. Within our scripture lesson for today is a call for the ‘mountains’ of privilege and wealth to be brought low as the ‘valleys’ of need and injustice are lifted up. When we begin to share our sacrament today the table will be physically made level as the low and high side are joined as on an equal and blessed plain. In addition, the trappings or settings of the table will be intermingled as well signifying that in the promised Day of our Lord to come there shall be an entirely new order in place.
It is also worthy of note that the boxes which have been used to elevate the higher side of the table are vegetable produce boxes, signifying that so often it is upon the backs of the lowest paid laborers that the rich build up their fortunes. Once the tables are leveled out however, the formerly rich still benefit from the labor of the formerly poor, but the formerly poor also benefit from the labor of those formerly more fortunate. This table is meant to challenge and prompt us to find it in our hearts to begin to make our lives over into a witness of faithful trust and radical sharing, that all those in need may have access to the blessings the Lord has here given to us to share.
And it is from this table that we will receive the bread and wine of our sacrament this day…a table of mountains and valleys, a table of challenge against inequality, a table so needed to begin to address the root inequity that fosters and perpetuates a lack of unity, just as it frustrates the emergence of the Lord’s Day among us.
Indeed, it is truly a table that will challenge and discomfort us…a table whose call seems surely far beyond our ability if not far beyond common sense. It is a call away from life as we know it over to a place of careful introspection and an even bolder willingness to stand up and be counted as those who are willing to walk in the footsteps of Jesus regardless of the cost.
This is the table oh Lord to which you have called us today…help us to become a shining light that refuses to hide in the darkness of ignorance or the denial of comfort, and instead takes steps by your Spirit’s power and grace to change our ways and our inherited weaknesses that we might truly begin to love every one another that you place on the pathway before us…that we may dwell together on the newly formed, just and level plain of your blessed community…a place where all are free indeed to come from the east and the west, and from the north and south.
Our Lord and Savior Jesus invites all those who trust in him to come and share this meal which he has prepared for us to receive even from this table of the call to ‘bring low the mountains and raise up the valleys’. Our Lord invites all, without exception, and beckons us as well towards ever greater awareness and willingness to be vessels of love in response to the Spirit’s every request…for the freedom Jesus offers to us waits upon our willingness to begin this journey.
The table of mountains and valleys here before us this morning is holy because our Lord has made it so through our recognition of the faithful challenge it offers up before us…and because our Lord is always present in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the one cup.
Let us reverence this meal shared together in love. Oh Lord, give us the wisdom, the courage, and the willingness of heart to let go of past understanding whenever your Spirit insists that only in letting go, might we truly be able to come and to follow you.
As we receive this meal, may our eyes be opened to the great need for love that knows no bounds, that everyone may know of your love and grace. And in so doing, may we all come to know the freedom that comes from trusting in your steadfast love and your cup that runneth over. Amen
Litany: The End of Hunger and Deprivation
Leader: Let us pray for the poor, hungry, and neglected all over the world, that their cries for daily bread may inspire works of compassion and mercy among those to whom much has been given.
All: Lord, hear our prayer.
Leader: Let us pray for the farmers with limited or marginal land throughout the world, for those who lack access to water and other resources, and for the light of research and support services to shine in the lives of all God’s people.
All: Lord, hear our prayer.
Leader: Let us pray for an end to the divisions and inequalities that scar God’s creation, particularly the barriers to freedom faced by God’s children throughout the world because of gender; that all who have been formed in God’s image might have equality in pursuit of the blessings of creation.
All: Lord, hear our prayer.
Leader: Let us pray for the health of women, children, and families around the world, especially for an end to maternal and child mortality, that in building healthy families, all God’s people may be empowered to strengthen their communities and repair the breaches which divide nations and peoples.
All: Lord, hear our prayer.
Leader: Let us pray for an end to pandemic disease throughout the world, particularly those exacerbated by lack of nutritious food and outright hunger; that plagues of death may no longer fuel poverty, destabilize nations, and inhibit reconciliation and restoration throughout the world.
All: Lord, hear our prayer.
Leader: Let us pray for an end to the waste and desecration of God’s creation, for access to the fruits of creation to be shared equally among all people, and for communities and nations to find sustenance in the fruits of the earth and the water God has given us.
All: Lord, hear our prayer.
Leader: Let us pray for all nations and people who already enjoy the abundance of creation and the blessings of prosperity, that their hearts may be lifted up to the needs of the poor and afflicted,
and partnerships between rich and poor for the reconciliation of the world may flourish and grow.
All: Lord, hear our prayer.
~ posted on the National Catholic Rural Life Conference website.http://www.ncrlc.com/page.aspx?ID=133
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God
It is right to give God our thanks and praise
It is right, it is good, it is joyful to be able to give thanks to you, Oh God of mystery and miracle. When there was only darkness, you made light. When we cried out to you from captivity, you claimed us to be your own. When we forgot our love for you, you did not forget us, but sent your prophets to turn us around. Over and over again you renewed your promises…with a bow in the sky, the parting of the sea, bread from heaven and your own beloved Son. And so we praise you, joining our voices with the songs of the angels and with all those who sing in heaven and on earth saying:
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory, Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest.
(All please come forward and stand in a circle around the communion ‘table’)
The Lord Jesus, on the night of his arrest, took bread, and after giving thanks to God, broke it and said: “This is my body, which is for you; do this, remembering me.”
In the same way, he took the cup after supper, and said, “This cup is the new covenant sealed in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this, remembering me.” Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord, until he comes.
(Distribution of the bread- all wait to be served before partaking)
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Everyone who comes to me will never be hungry; all who believe in me will never thirst.” (Partake of the bread)
(Distribution of the cup-all wait to be served before partaking)
Jesus said: I am the vine, you are the branches. Cut off from me you can do nothing. This then is the cup of our salvation. (Partake of the cup)
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen