September 25, 2016
Luke 16:19-31 and 1 Timothy 6:6-19
“Don’t Miss It!”
Some people think of Christianity as life insurance. If we follow Jesus in life, we are guaranteed sweet rewards after death. While that seems to motivate some people it has never motivated me. In the reading from Luke today Jesus tells a story about life and death. It certainly reinforces the stereotype that good=heaven, bad=hell. Whenever I start to think about what happens when we die, I find myself circling back to the question, “How will I live?”
This came up again at a luncheon on Thursday to honor diverse business leaders in Albuquerque. I was there to celebrate Beth Mohr as one of the honorees. The honorees were asked to name their memoir in six words. I thought about what I would want my life motto to be and I kept coming back to something like “we are all in this together.” It’s one of the most important things to me about being the church: the reminder that our lives are intertwined in ways that matter. This seems so obvious to me. It is how I want to live. It is how I prioritize the way I do ministry. And yet…it’s harder than it sounds.
Two weeks ago, I was driving home from church. I was really tired. We had kicked off everything that day and after pouring out my best energy at church, I was ready to go home and finish reading a book or maybe take a nap. There weren’t many cars out and it was a quiet ride home, but then I saw one of the people on the corner with the sign asking for help. My first thought was, “Oh no. I just want to go home. I don’t want to be confronted with this person’s need right now.” Of course, I felt guilty. I had just preached about being lost and then found by God. I am sincere when I preach, but then life steps in and that day I was feeling too tired to respond. I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t always feel happy to see someone standing there asking for help. Part of that is that I don’t ever know what the right response is. It feels like whatever I do, I am not doing enough. I struggle with the gulf between my life and theirs.
As I drove by the man standing there, I thought of the irony of the sermon I had just preached and my missing an opportunity to help him.
A homeless man was asked by some teenagers what to do when a person on the street approached them asking for money. He said that they should do what they felt like doing. If they give them money, they need to know that it may be used for food, but it can also be used for something else. He said to follow their gut as they make that decision. Then he added the critical point: Say, 'yes,' or say, 'no,' but treat me like a person, he said. We spend our whole day not being seen. Do not act like we aren't there.
In her book, Down and Out in Providence, Episcopal bishop Geralyn Wolf accounts a month of a sabbatical she spent living as a homeless person. She described how hard everything was – getting food, finding a place to sleep, and getting a library card with no address. The hardest thing was being ignored by people as if she didn’t exist.
Both of the texts today invite us to consider what it means to live. Jesus isn’t trying to demonize wealth or poverty, but he wants us to realize that we are in this together. Every day we choose how we will live. It doesn’t seem that the issue in the gospel is how much money the rich man had, but the way that money seemed to blind him to the needs of those around him. As Laron Hall says, “There’s no shame in having money. The shame is when money has us.” (Laron Hall, No Darkness at All, p. 269)
Timothy is often misquoted as saying, “money is the root of all evil.” The text actually says is the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. How many stories have we heard of people making unethical choices for their own financial gain? Human Trafficking is one example of evil that is motivated by a desire for wealth. This isn’t some distant problem - it happens here in New Mexico. Whenever a person or a group of people is invisible, we need to take notice. Jesus saw the ones ignored by everyone else. It is interesting that in all the stories he tells, the only time he ever names a person is the poor person in this story: Lazarus. The word means “God helps.” The rich man is not given a name in this story. Jesus took the time to connect with the most vulnerable. He restored their humanness. In Matthew, Jesus calls followers to task for ignoring him and praises them for showing compassion to him. When they are baffled by his words, Jesus tells them that when they ignored or cared for the least of these, they were ignoring or caring for him.
Who are the invisible ones among us today? Is it the child who is being abused? Is it the woman in prison? Is it the black man who is treated with suspicion when he walks into a store? Is it the teenager who has been kicked out of her house after coming out? Is it the immigrant who risked his life to get here? Is it the woman struggling with depression? Is it the man who grieves the loss of his wife? Is it the man who hopes to earn enough pulling weeds to feed his family tonight?
Whoever it is, it is a child of God. It is one who shares this planet with each of us. It may be that each one of the invisible ones is the key to our wholeness as a human being. You will pass them every day. Don’t miss an opportunity to see this beloved person.
Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about this parable at Montreat, North Carolina in 1965 saying: "I submit this is the challenge facing the church, to be as concerned as our Christ about the least of these, our brothers and sisters. And we must do it because in the final analysis we are all to live together, rich and poor, lettered and unlettered, tutored and untutored. Somehow we are tied in a single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality." "And for some reason," King says to us, "I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God made the world...we must all learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or we will all perish as fools."
The reading from Timothy ends with a call to take hold of the life that really is life and a reminder that life is richest when we give it away. We live our best life when we are generous and when we recognize that our lives are bound together. We hear once again that our worth and our happiness are not found in what we have or what we can accumulate, but in living in a way that honors every human being.
What if this strange parable from Luke is really a story about regret? What if Jesus is asking us to live today in a way that we won’t regret later?
Tracy Kidder wrote a story called Old Friends about people living in a nursing home, many who are plagued by loss of memory. One of the residents has the opposite problem. Art just lost his wife of 60 years and he’s tormented by memories of failure in their marriage. He remembers a time his wife dropped a frying pan early in the marriage and he yelled at her. If he could have her back, she could drop all the frying pans in the world and he wouldn’t be upset. His wife wanted him to tell her that he loved her more. He kept telling her that wasn’t his way. When she was in a coma at the end of her life, he told her he loved her over and over. Now that she is gone, he wishes he could tell her he loves her.
Maybe our six-word memoir could be “live your life with no regrets.”
Another way to say it is every person is a child of God. You have the opportunity to care, to share your resources, to see the person in front of you. Don’t miss it.