Der Vasken's Sermon on February 9, 2020

Feb 12, 2020

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

In just two weeks we will enter into the 40-day Season of Great Lent.  During those 40 days, we will hear about different facets of Lent and how we can grow closer to God during this time.  And on each of the Sundays of Lent, we will hear different stories about different people and different problems.  Today, I want to set the tone for the weeks ahead by very briefly sharing from a story I read some years ago.  The story I read was called, "Lives Out of Balance."  This story took place in the 1920's when nine of the world's most successful investors met at a hotel near Chicago.  Financially, these nine men held the world in their hands.  Anything that money could buy was within their reach.  They had wreath far beyond imagination. 

Listen to their names and the high positions they held:

  • Charles Schwab, president of the largest steel company in the world;
  • Samuel Insull, president of the largest electric utility company;
  • Howard Hopson, president of the largest gas company;
  • Arthur Cutten, the greatest wheat speculator;
  • Richard Whitney, president of the New York Stock Exchange;
  • Albert Fall, Secretary of Interior in President Harding's Cabinet;
  • Leon Fraser, president of the Bank of International Settlements;
  • Jesse Livermore, the greatest "bear" on Wall Street;
  • And Ivan Kreuger, head of the world's largest monopoly.
Just listening to their titles, we can certainly agree that gathered in that Chicago-area hotel was a group of the world's most financially successful men.  But now listen to where these men ended up just twenty-five years later:
  • The president of the largest independent steel company, Charles Schwab, died bankrupt and lived on borrowed money for five years before his death;
  • The president of the largest utility company, Samuel Insull, died a fugitive from justice and penniless in a foreign land;
  • The president of the largest gas company, Howard Hopson, went insane;
  • The great wheat speculator, Arthur Cutten, died abroad--insolvent;
  • The president of the New York Stock Exchange, Richard Whitney, was released from Sing-Sing Prison;
  • The member of the President's Cabinet, Albert Fall, was pardoned from prison so he could die at home broke;
  • And the remaining three, sadly, all took their own lives.
All these men mastered the art of making money but not one learned how to live. These men could have touched the lives of others in meaningful ways but not one could see past their "pot of gold."  These lives were out of balance. For the last number of years, I have enjoyed reading the memoirs and biographies of many different people.  And as I read about their lives, I learn of their faith. 
  • Did they have faith?
  • Was there room in their lives for faith?
  • Did they invite God into their everyday lives?
I like to learn from the lives of others.  Let me offer a few examples from the stories I have read:
  • Did former President Richard Nixon lean on God in the weeks after his resignation?  From what I recently read, he did very much so.
  • Did Dick Van Dyke, that great comedic actor, turn to God to overcome his alcoholism?  He did.
  • Did astronaut Buzz Aldren, who landed on the moon with Neil Armstrong, offer a prayer before stepping out on to the surface of the moon?  He certainly did.
  • Did Senator Kennedy turn to God the day he found himself at the head of his family?  Yes he did.
  • Did that other comedic genius, Carol Burnett, look to God for comfort after her daughter died of an illness?  She certainly did.
On and on I could go.  I look for the role that faith plays in the lives of the people whose stories I read.  But from the stories of those powerful men of the 1920's, I wondered how much room they left for God in their lives.  How could everything that was so right in their lives have gone so wrong?  Their understanding of life only focused on accumulating wealth.  Their sole purpose in life was a healthy bottom line.  Nothing else seemed to matter.

"You are the light of the world. Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven."  [Mt. 5:13-16] When Jesus Christ spoke these Words to the people of the 1st Century, He knew He was speaking to people whose lives were out of balance.  What He is saying is a simple truth.  A life lived without God is a life out of balance.  Lives focused only on work are lives out of balance.  Entering into marriage, building our families and homes without God will all be out of balance.

God is the focus of the Christian's life.  Faith, hope and love in God are how we focus.  Everything else comes second.  That is the answer to not allowing our lives to ever get out of balance.  In today's Bible reading, Christians are given a command:  "You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men."  It is a call to action.  It is a command to pick up the Light of God and shine it into the world. It is a command to help the people around us and build them up and it is a command to offer them hope when they feel like giving up.  That is what it means to shine God's Light into the world.

You and I were all baptized into this faith.  Our baptism was our call to action.  Christians do not sit back and let the world go by.  They look at the world and they find places where the darkness is too dark and find people who are lost and cannot find their way anymore.  They shine God's Light filling people's lives with faith, hope and love and our world becomes a better place.

May we all find ways to let our light shine and may all we do bring honor to the Almighty God.

Amen.