Willfully Ignorant

Readings for the day (Lectionary 26 – Sunday, September 26, 2016):

Amos 6:1a, 4-7

Psalm 146

1 Timothy 6:6-19

Luke 16:19-31

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  Scholars aren’t really sure if the Lazarus in this parable is the same Lazarus who was a brother to Mary and Martha that we read about in John’s Gospel.  But there is so much more to this parable than determining which Lazarus Jesus is talking about here.

With interpreting this parable, how far do we really take it?  Do we use the parable as a way to give us a glimpse into what will happen after we die?  We could.  In the parable, we see that both the rich man and Lazarus (the poor man) die about the exact same time; and it appears that they immediately either go to Hades (for the rich man) or rest in the arms of Abraham (for Lazarus).  Does that mean that immediately after we take our final breath that we will either be in the fires of hell or enjoying the comforts of heaven?  Maybe.  This parable also brings up questions of will those in heaven and those in hell be able to communicate with one another?  And this also brings up questions about the Resurrection and the New Jerusalem that we are told will be on this earth, in this place.  Is where the rich man and Lazarus at in the parable (heaven and hell) just a temporary place before the Final Judgement?  We could certainly try to carefully analyze this parable trying to find clues into something that none of us know anything about: what life after death might be like.

But this parable could also be taken in another way, as to say that if you’re rich you are bad and being poor should be the better desired social status.  Since none of us have our own private jets to fly us around or any dedicated chauffeurs to drive us places, it’s not too difficult for us to write ourselves out of this category and to say that people like Trump and Clinton are to be considered the rich.  We’re not rich like them, so we can’t possibly be the rich man in this parable.  And since we wouldn’t consider ourselves to be poor either, we can figure that maybe we’re just off the hook.

As Americans, we certainly aren’t poor, but we wouldn’t consider ourselves to be rich either.  Except, we are rich – especially compared to people in other countries.  We are rich in this country.  And we like being rich.  We like being comfortable.  We have nice clothes.  We have plenty of food to eat whenever we get hungry.  We have more possessions than what we really need.  We are rich with blessings.  We are rich.  Now being rich is not in itself a bad thing.  But we are like this unnamed rich man.  We sit in our comfortable homes, protected from many of the poverty issues in this world.  We don’t have fences or gates around our homes, but we do have corn fields that separate us from the poverty issues that many in urban areas face.  Let’s face it, living here in rural Minnesota, we are comfortable.

Being comfortable is not a bad thing, but there are poverty and hunger issues in our local community.  It’s just easier, however, to ignore the issues rather than to face them head on.  We prefer to enjoy our comforts and riches, and neglect the Lazarus’ in our community.  When talking with Abraham, the rich man makes a request that Lazarus come and dip the tip of his finger in water to cool the rich man’s tongue.  The rich man referred to Lazarus by name.  He knew who Lazarus was.  And why wouldn’t he know him?  Lazarus sat outside the rich man’s gate probably every day for quite some time.  Since the rich man was known for his fancy clothes and abundant feasts, Lazarus could pretty much be guaranteed some sort of meal, gathered through the table scraps that were thrown out to the dogs.  So Lazarus sat at the gate, or like sitting at the end of your driveway.  Lazarus would have been the first person any guest of the rich man would have seen.  And with all of the parties this rich man had, he and his guests certainly would have seen and known who this Lazarus was.  They just didn’t want to know.  Because of our riches and comforts, we too don’t want to know.  There are poverty and hunger issues in our own community, and in surrounding communities.  But it’s a whole lot easier to simply ignore the issues rather than facing them head on.  We prefer to enjoy our riches and neglect the Lazarus’ in our community.  However, just because we ignore the issues doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.  They do exist!  The problem for us is that if we acknowledge the real issues in our community, then we can no longer play the ignorance card.  If we’re ignorant, then we don’t feel guilty, for then we can simply say, “I didn’t know.”

But salvation is not dependent on how much or how little wealth you have.  There will be rich people who will be saved and poor people who aren’t.  And there will also be poor people who will be saved and rich people who aren’t.  The bigger question is: where do you find glory.  The faithless heart prefers to find glory in itself and to find its joy in this earth, in money and wealth and power.  But the faithful, even though they may have to fight off the dogs of this world to survive, find glory not in ourselves, but in Christ.  And we find joy in this earth, not in money and wealth, but in the Word of God.  This simple word that we say each year, so simple and yet so true, so real, so complete, that there can be no question in our hearts.  “He is risen.  He is risen indeed. Alleluia.”

This is the reason why we don’t have to worry about what will happen after we die.  We don’t have to tirelessly try to figure out exactly what will happen when we do take our final breath.  Instead, we put our faith in God and trust that Jesus is indeed alive and real.  And we hold on to that same hope that Mary sang so long ago in her Magnificat, “Jesus has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”  One day, when Jesus returns there will be no more rich and poor, no more powerful and lowly, for we all will simply be viewed as God’s children at that great heavenly banquet with feasting sumptuously every day for all of eternity.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

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What Are You Carrying?

Readings for the day (Lectionary 23 – Sunday, September 4, 2016):

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Psalm 1

Philemon 1-21

Luke 14:25-33

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

The Gospel text today brings up that call to discipleship where Jesus calls us to carry the cross and follow Him.  Which has made me wonder, “What is it that you carry?”  On any given day we carry car keys to groceries.  We carry the laundry and the trash.  Those starting school are now carrying books and papers.  Over the years things have been created to make carrying things easier for us – from cars and carts, to bags and trailers.  We have many “tools” available to us to make carrying our “stuff” easier.

But it’s not just the everyday physical things, our “stuff,” that we carry.  We carry with us the joys of babies and weddings where we welcome new members into our families.  We carry those mixed emotions of our kids and grandkids entering a new phase in their life.  We carry the sorrow of losing someone close to us.  We carry the worry of the unforeseen future: will our loved one as they travel reach their destination safely?  Will I be able to afford health insurance this next year?  Will the yields this harvest be enough?  And I know all you Vikings fans are carrying that concern of how well the team will do now with their star quarterback out for the season.

In all seriousness though, we physically and emotionally carry a lot of things every single day.  Some days the load to bear is rather easy.  Other days that load to bear can be more than we can handle.  So when Jesus says, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  That just sounds like one more thing to add to the long list of things that we need to be doing.  I think with each passing year we all get busier with longer lists.  This year our garden got away from us and is growing out of control because it was such a busy summer for us.  We all are busy and I believe that people’s busyness is one of the reasons why we are seeing (all over the country and across denominations) fewer and fewer people coming to church.  People’s plates are already overflowing.  They don’t need another thing on their list to check off.

So when Jesus says, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  What does that mean for you?  What does it mean for you to carry the cross?  For me, to carry the cross daily means discipleship – meaning adhering to Jesus’ teachings and following Him, doing His Will.  While knowing full well that I can’t be perfect in my walk with Jesus because my sin puts up obstacles and barriers to following Christ.  This is why Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”  In the English language today, hate is a very strong word – such as, “I hate mushrooms.”  I can’t stand them.  I don’t want them in my food.  I don’t want them on my food.  And I certainly don’t want them to ruin a perfectly good steak by resting on top of a good cut of meat that I’m going to enjoy.  To hate someone is to disown somebody, to say that you don’t want anything to do with them any longer.  So it would seem counterintuitive as Jesus is making His way to Jerusalem to tell the crowd that if they want to keep following Him, then they must hate their parents, their spouse, their children, and their siblings.  Even though Jesus is all about a man and a woman getting married and having children, but go on and hate your family because you can’t be my disciple unless you do.  Because that makes so much sense.

The word hate here actually corresponds to “not love more than.”  So what Jesus means is that you cannot love your family “more than” Jesus and His kingdom.  My sister-in-law just became a MaryKay director and there was a little ceremony to celebrate and recognize her accomplishments.  The MaryKay corporation is a Christian, for-profit business.  They are number 107 on Forbes List, making $4 billion a year.  They begin all of their business meetings with prayer and they instill in all of their employees the priority list of: God first, family second, career third.

That’s the discipleship that Jesus is talking about.  That’s the “hate” that Jesus is talking about.  If you are putting your family ahead of your faith and walk with Christ, then you cannot be one of Jesus’ disciples.  If you are putting your job or sports or extra-curricular activities ahead of your faith and walk with Christ, then you cannot be one of Jesus’ disciples.  God first.  Family second.  Career third.

So Jesus tells the crowd to calculate the cost of discipleship.  If you were making plans to add on to your house, you would certainly add up your pennies to see if you had enough to build it.  Likewise, if you were a king and entering war with another king, you would first sit down and see if you had enough resources to win the fight.  I think many in our country today have done exactly that.  They have calculated the cost of discipleship and have determined that their family, their career, their sporting activities is more important; which leaves not enough time, energy, or resources available for walking with Christ.

Which is silly because all Jesus asks of us is to carry the cross and follow Him.  All we need to do is be aware of our sin that continually tries to turn our priorities out of whack and acknowledge that because of our messed up priorities and failed attempts at discipleship we deserve death.  And yet, knowing how helpless we are at true discipleship, Jesus goes to the cross for us; taking our place and says, “I forgive you.”  Jesus not only forgives you all of your sins, but he also carries all of the burdens and worries that you carry with you every day – if only you would let Him.  You don’t walk alone, you walk with Christ.  You don’t carry the burdens of this life alone, Jesus carries them for you.  Your sin has been removed.  The load that you carry has gotten lighter.  The cross that Christ calls us to carry, appears to be a heavy, appears to be a burdensome thing to bear.  But in all actuality, God first, family second, career third is the easiest, most freeing list of priorities anyone could have.  Jesus’ obedience and rules are easier than what any employer or coach expects of you.  If only we could have more companies and more families following Christ with the mindset of God first, family second, career third.  If only!

So, just as Jesus continues to make His way to Jerusalem (whether people are continuing to follow Him or not); we too continue to follow Jesus whether we have a large crowd or a small crowd with us.  Calculating the cost of discipleship, what does carrying the cross mean for you today?  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.