September 20, 2020 /16th Sunday after Pentecost / Richard Holmer
1st Reading Jonah 3:10-4:11 / 2nd Reading Philippians 1:21-30 / Gospel Matthew 20:1016
Living A Worthy Life
On December 11, 1995, a devasting fire destroyed the Malden Mills textile plant in Lawrence, Massachusetts. The plant produced the synthetic fleece, Polartec, and employed 3,000 people – one of the largest employers in that town. The plant was fully insured and would receive $300 million in compensation for the loss. Aaron Feuerstein was the sole owner of the family run business – and conventional business logic indicated that he would be wise to close the business and keep the insurance money. However, Feuerstein said, “I’m not throwing 3,000 people out of work two weeks before Christmas. I have a responsibility to the workers and an equal responsibility to the community.” Instead of shutting it all down, he decided to rebuild and renovate the plant. What’s more, he decided to give all his idle employees full pay for three months and covered their health insurance for six months. He was not obligated to do this. As a devout Jew, Feuerstein drew upon his faith. Explaining his actions to the media, he quoted the noted theologian and scholar Hillel: “Not all who increase their wealth are wise.” “In a situation where there is no righteous person, try to be a righteous person.” Aaron Feuerstein was in no way compelled to be generous. He chose to be generous because his faith taught him it was the right thing to do.
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His story is a wonderful illustration of what St. Paul proposes in regard to living a worthy life: a life that is faithful, a life that matters, a life that makes a difference. Today St. Paul says this to us: “Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Paul reminds us that Christianity is not just a philosophy or a theology. It’s not a bunch of rules. It’s not even a set of beliefs. It’s more than being a member of a church. Christianity is a way of life.
You and I are called not only to preach and teach the gospel, not only to believe the gospel. Above all we are called to LIVE the gospel: to become living instruments of God’s love and mercy; to find ways to let the light of Christ’s grace and truth shine forth in us and through us.
Christians are called to dare to be different – by the way we live to reflect how God’s ways are different (and better) than the ways of this world.
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So what makes for a worthy life – a life that is honest to God and faithful to the gospel? It’s about more than pleasing and serving yourself. A worthy life begins with trusting God and the good news of God’s gracious love for us. A worthy life is founded on gratitude – gratitude to God for the gift of life and for everything that makes life rewarding, gratitude for Jesus and the rich blessings of faith and hope and love. As we come to appreciate how richly we have been blessed by God, we realize that we can be a blessing to others.
The goodness we have received is a goodness that can be shared – and in the sharing that goodness is multiplied. It is because we are deeply loved by God that we are able to love others. Because we are forgiven, we are empowered to forgive. Since God is gracious and generous to us, we are free to be gracious and generous in our daily lives. Simply put, because we are blessed by God, our lives can be a blessing to others. Living a worthy life is not something that we have to do – it’s not a burden or obligation. It’s what we are able to do by the grace of God, something we can freely choose to do – out of gratitude, and because it is good and right.
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In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus describes a worthy life in the eyes of God. He says things like this:
Blessed are those who know their need for God.
Blessed are the humble.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – who truly desire to be good.
Blessed are those who show mercy to others.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
Blessed are those who let the light of Christ shine through their lives.
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Most of us draw inspiration and encouragement from individuals we know personally who are leading worthy and faithful lives. Such persons are by no means perfect, yet their lives demonstrate: the love that gives generously, the faith that leaps to help and to serve, the hope that perseveres through grief and hard times.
This past week I conducted interviews by means of FaceTime with five students who will be confirmed today and their parents. We reviewed what they had learned over the past two years. They shared how they have grown. We discussed the meaning of Baptism and Holy Communion. We talked about what it means to be a sinner – and what it means to be forgiven. One of the last questions was this: Describe a person whom you consider to be a faithful Christian. Students will frequently point to their parents, which is appropriate since parents have been their role models from the beginning. They will point to their parents’ love and devotion, to the way they serve others, to their patience and forgiveness. Most of us owe a debt of gratitude to our parents for helping us to grow in faith by their example – day in and day out. Not leading perfect lives, but lives worthy of the gospel.
Over the years, some students have pointed to members of our congregation as examples of faithful and worthy lives. It’s a reminder to us all that we are teaching and influencing others – even when we are unaware of it. One student pointed to his grandfather as an example of a faithful and worthy life. As he spoke, it was clear that his grandfather’s life had made a strong impression. He said things like: “I never heard him swear or speak harshly. He was always looking to be helpful. He showed kindness to one and all.” Worthy lives have an enduring impact.
Of course, not everyone values or appreciates the goodness of a worthy life. Some may deride you as a “do-gooder.” You might be scorned or criticized – called foolish by someone. We recall that not everyone was impressed with Jesus – some were so offended that they had him crucified. Even a saint like Mother Teresa, who devoted her life to serving the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, had her critics. On the wall of her clinic in that city was posted a list of the following reminders. They speak of the challenge and the necessity of living a worthy life:
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
Right now we are living through a very challenging time. We are dealing with an increased level of stress and uncertainty. It may be tempting to hunker down and focus on taking care of ourselves. However, it is in