Sunday, September 29, 2013

Scripture’s message to those in Poverty and in Wealth.

        15 years ago, I preached my first sermon…
on this very text—I preached about the parable of Lazarus and the Rich man. I declared the Rich man to be an example for us all on how not to treat the poor.
         In fact, I think I came pretty close to condemning all rich people to hell in that sermon—(as only a 15 year old boy can.)
         After all, this Parable is much more direct than last week’s Parable. When it chews on you, it’s not because you’re trying to grasp it’s meaning, but instead because the meaning is so plain you worry about wailing and gnashing of teeth.
         The Rich Man goes to hell and the Poor Man to heaven—and there’s a chasm between them.
         But if it’s wealth alone that sends us to heaven or hell, where’s the line? Where does this valley separating the rich and the poor lie?

         For example, in a study released this week by the Census Bureau the top 1% now control just under 20% of the wealth in this country—this is the highest rate of inequality since the year 1927.
Would that be the line in the sand, the people with the highest 1% of incomes in this country are “The Rich?”
         In another study, economists found that if you make less than 140,000 dollars a year you are, more likely than not, worse off economically than you were 33 years ago.
Are those worse off, the Lazaruses of the world?

         Or… there is the fact that someone who makes in a year what I make in a month is richer than 80% of the world.
Is that the dividing line—3,000 some odd dollars a year?
         I suppose the location of the line—the chasm—between Lazarus and the Rich man,
between Rich and Poor,
is not as important as the message given… in all our readings from Scripture, to those experiencing poverty and those experiencing wealth.
Scripture’s message to those in Poverty and in Wealth.

Scripture’s message to those in Poverty and in Wealth.
         To the Poor, today’s lessons echo a larger message found throughout scripture, but found especially in the Gospel of Luke:
Jesus came into this world while his mother sang about the hungry being fed,
he came to preach good news to the poor,
and he constantly extended the Kingdom of God to those who had been cast out, the blind, the lame, and yes the poor.
         And today, we are reminded by Timothy that Contentment and Godliness does not come by way of the coin.
         Today, the Prophet Amos reminds them—reminds us—that God sees injustice
 and calls it out for what it is, a sense of false security, a trap, and a sin.

         And to the Lazaruses of this world, Jesus’ parable points out that God doesn’t just see injustices, but also sees the victims of injustices—and even knows them by name.
         Lazarus is, in fact, the only character in a parable who Jesus names—
this poor man ignored by everyone except dogs—
is named by the One Who Has A Name Above All Names.
         He’s named, and he’s seen.
         Now, I’ve had a few homeless friends, and all of them say the worst part of being homeless is that no one sees you—
it’s like you become invisible—
people avert their eyes and ignore your existence.
Well, to you—and all those in poverty—let it be known God sees you.
God really sees you.

         As for the rich, they are frequently told about camels not passing through the eye of a needle,
about storing up treasures only to die,
about rich rulers being unable to follow Jesus.
         And today, Amos calls us—calls them—onto the carpet.
         He reminds the rich that they have immense power to shape their society for the good. Their nation is at a cross-road, and at a point headed for calamity, but can still repent and reverse things…
Yet the rich prefer to entertain themselves to death instead of seeking justice and righteousness.
          They’re on the Titanic headed toward an iceberg/ and chose to fiddle with the deck chairs and drink pina coladas.
         And our Gospel lesson paints the Rich a rough color.
         The Rich Man refuses to see, or care, for his neighbor in need.
And this rich man fails to repent, even in Hell.
He assumes his wealth meant something, even in Hell.
He thinks he can order Lazarus around, even in Hell.
Riches can be truly hellish.

         In the letter to Timothy, we are warned that riches are traps.
They’re held on to, and evaporate.
We easily trust in wealth, and find our worth—over against the worth of other people—in our wealth, and ultimately lose both our respect for others and our own worth.
Wealth can be corrosive to our faith.

         So far, a pretty tough take on wealth. But do not despair my 1% friends, God loves you too.
         We also find here in Timothy, that all that is necessary for the good life, is from God—
Remember your Large Catechism, it rains on both the just and the unjust—God provides bread enough for all, as long as all use and share it well.
         Ultimately, recognizing that all we have, is bread from heaven, given to us by grace, through no work of our own.
That is the key to it all.

         It is, to quote St. Augustine, “the very commerce of the City of God.” We do not so much buy and sell, as receive and give.
         Receiving from God, but not holding on to it, instead being rich in goodness and generosity.
That is where true riches lie.

         Scripture’s message to those in Poverty and in Wealth, no matter where the line is drawn… is clearly too complex for one sermon, but here’s some strands of it:
         To the rich, you are called to responsibility and to remembrance of the source of true riches.
         To the poor, you are seen and you are named. A+A