In many of her songs, the great and tragic jazz singer Billie Holiday gave poetic and prophetic voice to hard social truths. In her blues song, “God Bless the Child,” Billie Holiday gives poignant voice to the social truth and theology of a secular capitalist culture. She sang:

Them that’s got shall get
Them that’s not shall lose
So the Bible said and it still is news
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that’s got his own
[That’s got his own]

Yes, the strong gets more
While the weak ones fade
Empty pockets don’t ever make the grade
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that’s got his own
[That’s got his own]

Money, you’ve got lots of friends
Crowding round the door
When you’re gone [Money], spending ends
They don’t come no more

Rich relations give
Crust of bread and such
You can help yourself
But don’t take too much

Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that’s got his own
That’s got his own

[Yes], He just worry ‘bout nothin’
Cause he’s got his own.

The power of blues as a social art form is that it gives poetic voice to the sad truths about a culture and lives of its people. Truths sometimes so poignantly complex or commonly painful we have learned to ignore them and the consequences. But such poetry and lyrical prose have always given voice to the truth of beauty and tragedy in ways that are not only accessible to the common mind but often inescapable. This is why biblical prophets quite often used poetry or metaphorical prose to communicate their prophetic insights about the human conditions of their times and God’s judgment and promises of redemption.

In our times, blues writers and singers often give poetic voice to truths too hard or painful for a society to hear or accept. Blues singers and writers are often themselves like biblical prophets of old — (like Hosea’s experience of an unfaithful wife and Jeremiah as a man of high social standing rejected by equals), they write, see life, and sing out of the painful experiences of their own lives. Without the counter-point of blues rhythmic lyrics and ethereal jazzy tones, many would never be able to reflect honestly upon the “bluer-side” of human life and values. This is “Blue News” of a secular culture of dominant capitalist values.

The problem is that not only is the interpretation blue, but so is the solution! Holiday’s song tells a truth about economic reality:

“Them that’s got shall get
Them that’s not shall lose”

“The strong gets more
While the weak ones fade”

We know this is true. We live in a time of great prosperity. Yet the gap between the rich and poor is widening. Corporations are failing (such as Anderson-Little, Enron, World Com, and so on). The executives get “golden parachutes” and the workers get paper umbrellas. Yes, “Them that’s got shall get; Them that’s not shall lose.”

She sings of social injustice, [especially the assumption that acceptance and worth premised upon what we have — money and stature]:

“Money, you’ve got lots of friends
When you don’t, they come no more”

There is a popular BBC program “Keeping Up Appearances.” It makes us laugh at the desperate antics of the character who appears to have what they don’t and live by the values of an assumed social class. Today we are all aware of so many stories regarding athletes and performers who are notorious for having large entourages. And when the money’s gone they are the most lonely, abandoned, piteous persons one can imagine. And what about us — everyday people? Just think about it: If you lost everything you have, who are the people in your intimate circles you are certain you could count on, however long and however much it took to recover? Remember the adage, “Friend in need is a friend indeed?” I saw a cartoon which said, “A friend in need is a pest.”

“Blue News,” also reminds us that the only thing worst than not having your own is the humiliation of charity, especially from close friends and relatives:

“Rich relations give
Crust of bread and such
You can help yourself
But don’t take too much”

The “Blues News” of our times is not a pretty picture. “Lady Day” (as Billie Holiday was called) also reminds us there is the theological piece to the “Blue News.” Even God is on the side of “them that’s got.” God of “Blue News,” is the God of success. Like the world, God takes pleasure in material gain. Those who succeed must be a favorite of God, “God blesses the child that’s got his own.”

Why? “Cause the child that’s got his own don’t have to worry about nothin.” Is this theological assumption the moral and spiritual the bane of our times? This belief is the God of success?

The American philosopher William James wrote in a letter to British writer H. G. Wells (September 11, 1906) decrying this perennial reality in our American culture. James wrote:

‘The moral flabbiness [in America, is] born of the exclusive worship of the ….[seductive] goddess SUCCESS. That — with the squalid cash interpretation we Americans put on the word success — is our national disease.”

But listen now to the Good News of God in the words of one of the ancient prophet Isaiah:

“Thus says the Lord.
‘Ho, everyone who thirsts,
Come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
Come, buy and eat!
Come buy wine and milk
Without money and without price.”

God says, “My news is different than the “Blue News.” For I invite everyone to my bounty … anyone can have the spiritual necessities of life: rich, poor, powerful, weak, people of the faith, those without. “Come in,” says the God of the Bible, “and receive what you need for your very soul, the nutritious bread of life; and take all you want — without cost!”

Then word of God through Isaiah asks every generation this troubling question of Israel and us:

“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and why do you labor so hard for that which does not satisfy?” How many times in the privacy of our hearts do we find ourselves acknowledging that money cannot buy love, true respect, peace of mind, self worth? How many examples do we need to see in our lives or in the world around us that political power or social status or material gain alone cannot guarantee us self worth? Now, what we do with wealth or power can aid us in finding worth and meaning or respect. But wealth and success alone (or of itself) cannot give us such grace as courage to face life’s losses and tragedies of the heart and death?

Now, I want to be clear that the Good News is not against having money, fame, or status. We all know that there are people with all of the above who have placed the spiritual above the material. And we also know there are those with few resources, who have found a fulness of life that many of us envy.

But here is what Jesus meant by such hard saying as, “How hard it is for rich to enter heaven, it would be like a camel going through the eye of a sewing needle” (Matt. 19:24).

Or, as Jesus said to the rich young ruler, “If you want eternal life, sell all you have and give it to the poor” (Matt. 19:21).

In these and other sayings what Jesus is challenging is not money or any kind of other economic or social wealth but an attitude that material wealth is to be prized above spiritual wealth the assumption that material wealth is the surest way to security in this life and the life to come. The test is always as it was for rich young rulers, spiritual richness is truly first only if we are willing to give it away at God’s command. If we spend our life pursuing material gain and neglecting spiritual values we will not have the grace or courage to face the inadequacies of materialism. So the Good News of God ask: “Why do we work so hard for things (and more things) which do not satisfy our deepest longings? Why do we neglect so greatly the spiritual things of life we so desperately need?

What do I mean by “spirituality?” Isaiah helps us to understand in his prophesy when he wrote this couplet:

“Incline your ear, and come to me;
Listen, so that you may live”

Isaiah was saying, “We must have our ears open to God. Regular committed time in our lives to push other things aside and listen; time where we present ourselves to God.”

This is what Jesus was addressing in today’s Gospel lesson about the sower [Matthew 13:1-9]. Prepare the ground of your heart for the seeds of God’s Good News is all around us. We need to clear away the stones, thorns, rubble and all the stuff of “Blue News” and make the hard ground of our heart a fertile place for the seeds of God’s Good News in our lives. And the seeds of the Good News is being sprinkled into our lives everyday. God is sowing seeds of truth, hope and faith which can remind us of what is most valuable, what is lasting, what is true, what most satisfies. The seeds, they are here today in this worship. The seeds of truth, hope and renewal are in the Scriptures, hymns and prayers, and in the sacrament you are experiencing here today. But if you do not clear the ground of your heart; by committing to spirituality as a priority in your everyday life, the seeds of the Good News will dry up, be picked away by minor cares and stresses of life die without a trace. The seeds of Good News will be without flowers or fruit in your life; and nothing beyond this service.

But the seeds are not only here today in this great Cathedral. God scatters the seeds of Good News in our everyday life. In the voice of our children vying for our attention and our affection; In a spouse’s criticism which lacks the seductive praise of those who share our professional ambitions. The seeds of the God’s Good News are also heard in our inner-voice; that voice deep inside of us that says, “I am lonely, I am tired, I am not satisfied, I am not happy, I want to change. The voice which says, I need a change, but I am afraid.” Jesus once asked, “What does it profit a person to gain the entire world and lose their sense of self?”[Luke 9:25] Not just one’s soul, but Jesus says, “Lose your very self !!! What good is it?” To have everything you dreamed of but nothing you care about? Everything for others to define you, but nothing with which to define yourself?

A year ago I was walking down Wisconsin Avenue with a friend. We saw a vagrant with shopping cart. He was wearing a big, a big tattered army over-coat and pants so soiled that the color was indeterminable. He seemed to be intoxicated with no sense of his surrounding or himself. But we noticed that prominently placed on his belt he had with a pager and two cell phones. My friend said: “He may be homeless, but he’s connected!” We laughed until we realized that he was an icon of us and our times. The obvious nature of our delusions when we live by the “Blue News” and not the Good News. We are so desperately spiritually poor yet we delude our selves with seductive symbols of success.

Comedian and wise woman Lily Tomlin says, “The problem with the Rat Race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.” This is the “Blues News.”

My brother, my sister are you tired, lonely and empty of soul; have you lost your sense of self; are you exhausted by the “rat race,” are you finding you are afraid to change? Hear what Jesus, our Lord says, “Come unto me. All you who are tired and carrying heavy burdens, I will give you rest.” [Mattew 11:28] Refresh you.” It’s your choice. It’s my choice, “Blue News” or Good News.”

I hope you’ll open your heart this morning, let go of the stuff of life and make room for the seeds of God’s peace and renewal. In a moment we will have confession. Give to God the neglect of your spiritual needs. Then come to this altar with faith in God’s forgiveness and generosity, God’s healing and peace. Come and be in communion with God and your very self. Come and choose the Good News, today. Amen.