“What Then Will We Have?” – Rev. Tony Romaine – July 5th , 2020
There is an engraving made by Pieter van der Heyden. It is titled, “The Land of Cockaigne,” known in Dutch literature as Luilekkerland (country of the lazy and gluttonous). This was a mythical place where there was no need to work, and where food and drink are so abundant that we need only open our mouths to take in what we desire. In the picture, there are a soldier, a farmer, and a clerk; who are sleeping off the effects of their overindulgence. Some of the remains of their meal are strewn on the platform encircling the tree in the center, while the mountain of buckwheat in the background and the house covered with pies at right indicate this land has plenty to spare. The image's moral intent is to decry the vices of sloth and gluttony, which is apparent from the first part of the Dutch inscription on the bottom frame: "The lazy and gluttonous farmers, soldiers, and clerks get there and taste all for nothing."
What Then Will We Have?
America, we have been given everything we need and yet we desire for more. We have food and drink aplenty, and yet we long for more. We have all the modern conveniences, and yet we want more things that go faster and faster…and for what? Are we so different from the farmer, soldier, or clerk in this print from the 1500’s? Do we not also consume everything, eat everything, have everything; and yet, it is all for naught?
What then Will We Have?
We hear this very same predicament from our Gospel passage for today. The rich young man, comes to Jesus because he knows something is missing in his life. And so he asks Jesus, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus responds, as any good rabbi would, with some commandments. So, when the young man responds in kind by saying he has kept all those, Jesus tells him to do the one thing he cannot…sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, then you will have treasure in heaven, then you come and follow me.
It is important, that when the young man comes asking Jesus about eternal life, after confirming that the young man is following the commandments, Jesus speaks these words: “If you wish to be perfect…” And while this may be splitting hairs in some circles, Jesus is confronting this young man with the fact that as humans we cannot be perfect.
See, for this young man who had all the things of the world and kept the commandments, the last step to perfection was to lift up the poor around him so that they too could want for nothing. And in confronting this young man’s imperfection, Jesus teaches us all about imperfection in general. It is significant that Jesus did not tell the young man that he could gain eternal life by doing x, y, or z; other than following the commandments of course, because it alludes to the point that there is only one who ever was and ever will be perfect, and that is God Incarnate. Moreover, that eternal life is guaranteed through Jesus, not the deeds of humanity.
But at the same time, just like the young man, what we are being called to do is examine our imperfections and be confronted with them. Remember, Paul tells us in Romans, it will not mean that we can do anything about our sinful state or sell enough things to bring about our salvation. However, what we can do is work toward perfection and do our best to follow Jesus’ teachings.
This brings us to another part of the tension about how we are to live; all Jesus wants is for us to follow him. All Jesus wants is for us to leave everything behind that would hinder our ability to follow Him. For as we hear later, and from where we get our sermon title today, in Matthew 19:27, Peter also asks, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” (By the way, this is truly like Peter to ask the “what’s in it for us?” question, talk about imperfect!) And after Jesus speaks to the end of times and judgment seats, Jesus tells Peter, and all of us, everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, children, jobs, for Jesus’ sake, will receive a hundredfold and eternal life. See, all Jesus wants is for us to abandon ourselves to anything that would prevent us from following him. And while this list may seem harsh that people would leave family or friends or work to follow Jesus; that is exactly what we sometimes are called to do for the greater good.
What Then Will We Have?
Perhaps you are wondering about why I would give this message on Independence Day Weekend; what possibly could this have to do with celebrating our Independence and America? We have been given a great gift by God and we are gluttonous, slothful, and are destroying our very nation. And while as a historian I understand that nations come and go and countries evolve and dissolve, I have a love for America which causes me to mourn for our present course.
We are not only increasingly possessive and reluctant to share with our neighbors, and strangers; but we are also an adulterous country cheating on our relationships with God and with each other. We have broken treaties, we have back-stabbed allies, and we have abandoned our fellow Americans and Christians because we do not agree with them. We use the name of God to promote our own political gains, and we tout ourselves as Christians and belittle others who are Christians because of different beliefs, denominations, or social standing.
We are a country who has not only stolen the land which we sit upon today, but continue to rob and steal from those who cannot protect themselves. We have done so under the auspice that God has gifted us this land and “blessed” some while not blessing others; the very same God who told the young man to care for the poor and who told the disciples that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. We allow the rich to get richer and keep the poor downtrodden and poor, where we can control and continue to rob and steal.
We lie and cheat and bear false witness against our own brothers and sisters, against our own creation, all in the name of the almighty dollar. All so we can maintain power and prestige, all so we can maintain our ivory towers and treasures on earth. We put down and bear false witness against our neighbors, our family, and our friends, all so we can seem wise in the world or so we can be “right.”
We do not honor our mothers or fathers, and we definitely do not love our neighbor as ourselves. This last one is self-explanatory; for if we are honest with ourselves, America is the Luilekkerland that I showed at the beginning, the land where the gluttonous and slothful eat, yet taste for nothing. We consume, consume, and consume while people die in the streets and on the borders, while our neighbors lack clothing and shelter, while people lie sick in hospitals. We think our independence is hindered because we have to wear masks or cannot eat out; while children starve, our family and friends are neglected, and we fatten ourselves at the table of America.
And when we come begging God to tell us what we must do, what good deed we must accomplish to have eternal life; we are confronted by our imperfections. Yes, there are things we can do to change our course, to better the lives of all people, to lift up our neighbors; but the real question is what we are going to do about it? Are we going to be like the young man who turned away grieving because his imperfection was too much and he could not bring himself to give his possessions away; or will we respond differently?
Perhaps today was a different type of fireworks display than you might have expected. And I am sure some of you are none too happy about my message for today. But hear this, on this Independence Day Weekend; The United States of America needs our help. In the grand scope of history, we are a very young nation, almost 250 years old, but we will not last at our current pace, and we will not last with our current trajectory. And this prophecy makes me none too happy myself!
So, on this weekend when we just want to take that break, relax and shoot off some fireworks and celebrate America; let us indeed remember our amber waves of grain and purple mountains majesty. Let us be reminded that we are the nation whose God rules from sea to shining sea, from the Mississippi River to the ends of the earth. Let us remember that we are a nation of immigrants, founded by immigrants, strengthened by immigrants. Let us remember all the things that make us great.
But let us also never forget that we are only a nation because God allows it. Let us never forget that our lands are not ours; but God’s. Let us never forget that any possession we have does not go with us when we die. And let us never forget that we built this nation on the backbone of slavery and stolen lands.
Brothers and sisters, our nation is living tension; because unity is not easy. Our nation is a sinful, slothful, gluttonous nation. And yet, we also have the hope and promise of a bright future. We can be the change, we can end the degradation, we can correct our ways and make sure the sins of our past do not become sins of our future. And we can take all the greatness, all the promise, all the possessions we have and give it all away to follow Jesus. We can lay down our arms, tear down our walls, dash our fears upon God’s rock of hope and follow Jesus.
And on that day, a true day of Independence, we will be able to answer the question of “What Then Will We Have?” For on that day, we will truly be a United States of America! On that day, we will indeed be one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. And on that day, bells will ring and anthems will roar as we will have accomplished our Christian call to let nothing prevent us from loving God and loving our neighbor as ourself.
And on that day, we will not have to ask “What Then Will We Have,” for it will be abundantly obvious, that all will have everything. God make it so! Amen