Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

  Northern Great Lakes SynodEvangelical Lutheran Church in AmericaBethany on Facebook  

Pentecost - 9/30

Every day, at least a couple of times, I go out my back door, down the walk past the garage and out to the alley.  So far, in over four years, I’ve never encountered anyone lying out there, covered with sores, begging for food.  This parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus isn’t about me.  Amos, in the first lesson, rails against those who lie on beds of ivory and lounge on their couches.  I do lounge on the couch sometimes, but it’s really not even a couch, it’s kind of a broken down old futon and my bed certainly isn’t made of ivory, in fact a lot of our furniture is in pretty bad shape and has to be placed strategically so you can’t see where the cat has used it as a scratching post.  So Amos is talking about someone else; he’s not talking about me.  St. Paul writes, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”  Ah, that’s good, money isn’t evil, it’s the love of money so I can have as much as I want as long as I like it, but don’t love it.  So again, I’m off the hook.

The good news for you is that if I’m off the hook, you are too.  You’re good people, you live modestly, and you’re generous with what you have making offerings to the church, donating to the needy, supporting a wide variety of community projects and institutions that can’t survive without your generosity.  You’re good people.  So, since these lessons aren’t really about us, this might be a good time to talk about something else, something other than money.  You wouldn’t mind that would you?  Neither would I; except for a couple of things I’m afraid I have to pay attention to. 

First of all, it’s rare that all three lessons on a Sunday are so thematically similar.  You often get two that connect, but rarely three; but all three of these in some fashion have to do with the misuse of wealth.  The lectionary doesn’t give us much wiggle room today, no easy escapes.  Second, anytime it’s so easy to figure out ways that a set of texts is not about us, that’s probably a pretty good clue that we ought to pay attention, because our denial concerning them more than likely means they are about us.  These texts may be among those that Mark Twain referred to when he said, “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that trouble me, it’s the parts I do understand.”  We know these texts are about us, we’d just rather find reasons that they’re not. 

Anytime we have a parable of Jesus, one of the questions that arises is where do you find yourself in the parable?  Who do you identify with?  What role do you play?  Usually there are choices and maybe your role changes from hearing to hearing.  But with this parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus, in a sense, assigns us a role.  We are the brothers and sisters of the rich man, the ones who are still alive, the ones the rich man wants Abraham to send Lazarus to visit, so that they might be warned before it’s too late. 

If that’s our role though, the parable doesn’t end on a very hopeful note.  The rich man thinks that someone rising from the dead to pay a visit would get the attention of his brothers; causing them to change their ways and thus avoid his fate.   That would be a happy ending, but that’s not how it ends.  “If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”  To hammer home the point, the way Jesus tells the story it’s clear that the rich man himself, assigned to the torment of Hades, still doesn’t get the message of Jesus’ teaching.  The tables are turned, but even from this place of disadvantage and punishment, the rich man expects Lazarus to run errands for him.  His basic attitude about his wealth and the privilege it ought to grant him over someone like Lazarus, still hadn’t changed. Lazarus was still just a beggar to him.

So, if that’s our role, if we’re the brothers and sisters of the rich man, is there any hope for us?  Are we convinced of the truth of Jesus’ teaching?  For us, someone has risen from the dead and you’d think that would make us sit up and take notice of the things he said.  But are we convinced, has our attitude and perspective changed or are we still pretty much like the rich man, preferring to pick and choose from the teachings of Moses and the prophets, from those of Jesus and Paul, paying attention to the ones that work for us, those that don’t make us change too much, but saying, “He really didn’t mean that,” or “That’s not about me,” to the others.

Jesus had a lot to say about money and our relationship with money.  He said a lot about it because the prophets before him, people like Amos, also had a lot to say about it.  It’s always the elephant in the room and as much as we might like to talk about something else, it’s hard to ignore the elephant.

Unfortunately though, I think the way these money texts tend to be spun out or at least the way they are most often heard is as laying a guilt trip on us, shaming us for our greed, using shame as a motive to give.  However, I don’t think the guilt trip or shame is actually in any of these texts at least as the primary message, because if generosity to those in need and generosity to the church is primarily out of a sense of shame or guilt, the giving is distorted, it’s for the wrong reasons.  These lessons might also be heard as calling us to more of a sense of obligation and obedience concerning our mone and that might well be part of it; but when giving is primarily motivated by obligation and obedience, there is still something of a distortion.  Obedience is part of the mix, but it shouldn’t be the primary factor. 

What Jesus described in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is a distortion of God’s order and will for life.  It’s a distortion of actions as the rich man didn’t do anything; he failed to pay attention to the poor man lying in his walkway, he failed to demonstrate compassion; but even more basic than that, the distortion here is a distortion of desire. 

The rich man thinks he knows his heart’s desire, he thinks he knows what will make him happy.  He thinks happiness and well being are about himself and his own accumulation of money and goods and security.  The likes of Lazarus aren’t his problem.  But what his desire has done is to create a chasm, a great divide between himself and God, and between himself and his neighbor, specifically Lazarus.  It’s a great divide that was there in life and it’s still there in death.  He didn’t believe that fellowship with God and fellowship with the neighbor, God’s desire for him was also his own heart’s desire.  His desire was distorted.

Until or unless we get that straight, the giving that we do is distorted because we will always primarily hear guilt and shame and duty in texts like today’s.  We might give, but it’s done grudgingly.  It’s not bad to hear duty implied because God does demand and expect our obedience but it needs to be understood as obedience that is a gift to us, because it ultimately reveals to us what our desire really is.  Our obedience and our giving isn’t an unpleasant chore; it makes us happy!  

To be human is to give and to share and to show compassion.  That is what the ethical teachings of both testaments of the Bible tell us over and over again.  That is how God has created us.  That is our desire.  Anything that causes us to lose sight of that or anything that leads us to a different set of priorities distorts our humanity.  It results in that great divide between us and God, between us and our neighbors; the great divide that the rich man couldn’t cross in life or in death.

One of the things the church does is to provide you with opportunities to give.  They are opportunities to give but maybe a better way to think about it is to see them as opportunities to be human, to be who you are created to be.  Yesterday we hosted the hunger walk; that was an opportunity to give to the hungry.  In November we will provide some additional opportunities to satisfy this desire with another focus on feeding the Lazaruses of our world.  At the turkey dinner next week, in addition to enjoying a great meal for ourselves, there will be another opportunity to give, to give in order to make it possible for some to attend camp next summer.

All of this comes under the category of stewardship, handling the wealth we are blessed with.  You received pledge cards this week that we ask you to return next week to indicate your level of giving for the coming year.  At first this might seem different from giving to world hunger, maybe more of a duty to the institution than an act of compassion; but think of it this way.  The church is the place you hear the voice of Moses and the prophets and Jesus and Paul proclaiming to you who you are and who you are created to be, what your real desire is.  The church proclaims this amid the much louder voices out there telling you that you are not created to give but to consume and buy so the one with the most toys wins.  The church counters those loud voices.

          The church proclaims to you that someone has risen from the dead.  Jesus has bridged that great divide that we can’t cross alone.  We are the brothers and sisters of the rich man, so we need to pay attention; but you can be certain that there is hope; in Christ, there’s always hope.

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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