Rev. Jim's Sermon for September 26, 2010
“Who Ya Gonna Listen To?”
Rev. Jim Merritt
September 26, 2010
Luke 16: 19 – 31
Psalm: Although it is my intention to preach on the Gospel text this morning. I just have to take a minute to discuss Psalm 91 with you. It is one of my favorites, and a favorite of many all over the world. I know it best in a newish hymn that I learned in the Catholic Church. That hymn says, “You who dwell in the shadow of our God, who abide in God’s goodness for life. Say to the Lord, My Refuge, My rock in whom I trust. And God will raise you up on Eagles’ wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to rise like the sun, and hold you in the palm of God’s hand.” And I don’t know about you this morning, but I’m THANKFUL for a God who bears me on the breath of dawn. I’m THANKFUL for a God who raises me up on eagles’ wings even when I feel like I can’t get up. And I’m thankful for a God who holds me in the palm of God’s hand no matter what comes my way. What a mighty God we serve. Our God is the alpha, the omega, the beginning and then end, and my sisters and brothers when it seems like nothing is going our way, when the world is out to give us a hard time and when it feels like it’s time to lie down and give up, This God says to us get up and WALK in the name of Jesus because I am walking beside you and if I have to I will carry you in the palm of my hand! Can I get a witness this morning? Can I hear and AMEN. Do you believe in this God, our God, THE God who will never, ever, let us down or forsake us?
God we thank you this morning. We come to lift you up, to give you honor and glory and praise. Open our ears to your words this morning and make the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts pleasing to you O God. AMEN.
Thanks be to God, today’s Gospel reason is not nearly as difficult to interpret as the one we had last week. I appreciate your comments about how much you enjoyed my struggle with it. It was quite an adventure.
This Gospel, overall, is about a great reversal. A man who was incredibly rich asks to be brought under the mercy of a very poor man that the rich man once cast away. How do we know; because the Bible tells us so? It tells us right up front that the man was wearing purple clothes and fine linens. Secular history tells us that only the VERY rich or even royalty could afford to wear purple and that fine linens were out of the question for all but the wealthiest people. This man was more than just some measure of wealthy. He was SUPER wealthy.
We learn that he used to see Lazarus begging around the city gate, and that he didn’t just ignore Lazarus, but he also pushed him away. He told his servants to get rid of Lazarus, to keep Lazarus away from him. He didn’t want to see Lazarus, he didn’t want to hear Lazarus and I’m sure he didn’t want to smell Lazarus either.
So now we see this role reversal. Lazarus is in Paradise and the wealthy arrogant man is being tormented. And can you believe it, this rich man is still completely full of himself; an arrogant jerk who thought somehow he and his family were worthy of special treatment. Can you explain to me why he deserved a sip of water any more than any other person in the same tormented situation? Can you explain to me why his family deserved an intervention from heaven and the grave more than any other family? The only answer to those questions is that the man had allowed his wealth to spoil his life, to rob him of his religion and to make him one of the most self-righteous, arrogant, self-centered people who had ever walked on the planet. This is NOT a good thing.
Now let’s be clear. The man is not punished because he is wealthy. His is punished or tormented because he abused what he had been given. Rather than bless the poor, he oppressed them. Rather than sending a little food down to the hungry, he contributed to their ongoing hunger. Rather than sharing a kind word with the needy, he scoffed at them, looked down his nose at them and continued to function as a powerful contributor to a system that would keep them down, push them down further and thereby cost them their very lives. It is not wealth that gets the man into trouble with a capital T; it is his misuse of money by contributing to the oppression of others.
We know about reversals, don’t we?” We’ve seen those who misuse their power at the expense of others lose their power. We’ve seen those who commit acts of spiritual violence fall from their powerful positions and experience rejection like many of us did. We’ve seen sadness turned to joy. We’ve seen the sick healed. We’ve seen dim glazed eyes come to life with the spark of the Spirit of God who can turn our lives around, raise our spirits up and bring us back from death to glorious life in the kin-dom of God.
My friends, I am so happy to share with you that last Sunday we received more than $35,000 in pledged toward our budget. Today I want to share with you that we have set a goal of $50,000 in annual pledged by then end of these 4 weeks of stewardship emphasis. If I’m forecasting our budget correctly, I believe $50,000 will be about ½ of our 2011 budget. Don’t let that worry you. We can do it and we will do it, because this God of the great reversal wills for it to be so. I remember when I was a very small boy attending the Eastside Baptist Church in Auburndale, Florida. My parents sang in the choir so my brother and I would always sit with our grandparents. Every Sunday during the offertory prayer, “Papa” would slip a nickel into the palm of both of our hands, and with great excitement, we would throw those nickels up onto the wooden part of the offering plate so we could hear the sound they made. You know I never tried to keep the nickel. It felt so good to me, even as a child, to know that I was part of that church, that we were doing the right thing, that I was following God’s command to give.
I know that a nickel seems like a lot for some of us. I also know that some of us can give that many many times over again. And today, because I’m called to, and because I believe in the spiritual practice of giving and I know how good it makes me feel, I have two requests for all of us.
This is not a legal contract. I’m not going to send you a bill. As a matter of fact, I am not going to look at these cards at all. Our Treasurer will let me know our total each week and what our giving is each week and I promise to keep you informed all along the way.
My sisters and brothers, who are you going to listen to? Will you listen to a world that says over and over again, “Get everything you can for YOU. Look out for number one! Let everyone fend for themselves.” Or will you listen to the word of God and use everything God has given you for the benefit of all God’s creation? Who are you going to listen to?
God bless you. AMEN.