WORSHIP September 25 2022 9:30 Informal Worship Service
“Click” on the arrow to watch the livestream worship service.
Luke 16:19-31 “Remembering What is Enough”
No one wants to be the rich guy in today’s story. No one wants to identify with the character who clearly is the villain. Here is a guy who dresses in the finest clothes and has a big feast of food every night while a poor man named Lazarus sits right outside his gate, sick and hungry. The rich man doesn’t even seem to notice that Lazarus is there or that he is hungry. Who would want to be associated with that kind of person?
But let’s be honest. In reality, no one wants to be Lazarus either. No one wants to be the poor person suffering out in the streets. Let’s be honest, when it comes down to it, we all actually do want to be the rich guy. It’s not that we want to be mean. We just want to be comfortable. We just want to be secure. We may even tell ourselves that if we were the rich person, we would be a nice rich person, not like the guy in the story. The real problem, we tell ourselves, wasn’t that the guy was rich, it was that he was mean.
But the story doesn’t say the rich man was mean. It doesn’t say he was cruel or intentionally hurt Lazarus. He just doesn’t seem to notice the poor guy. It is like his life of luxury has just blinded him to the needs of others or made him indifferent. Maybe this is one of the points of the story Jesus is trying to make—that having too much or pursuing only our own wealth can cause us to be indifferent to the needs of others.
I think Jesus is using the image of the afterlife in this story to shock his listeners a little and get them to think about the present life. In the time of Jesus, many people believed that those who were rich were more blessed by God—that having more wealth meant you were more favored by God. Likewise, if you were someone like Lazarus suffering in the street, then it must mean you were being punished by God, or somehow deserved to be poor.
Jesus takes that kind of theological thinking and flips it on its head in the story he tells. By taking things into the afterlife, he reveals that the poor man is actually the favored one—that God actually does notice and care for the poor—which would have shocked many of his listeners and caused them to re-examine their assumptions about how God operates in the world. It would have got them thinking about perhaps taking notice of people who they had been ignoring before.
To me, this is one of the main points Jesus is trying to make—that having too much and focusing on riches can lead to separation within the community. Reading the passage this week, what struck me is the image of the chasm that Jesus talks about. Normally when we think about heaven and hell we think about heaven being up and hell being down. But in this story, they seem to be side by side, with the rich man on one side and Abraham and Lazarus on the other side. Earlier in the story the rich man and Lazarus were physically very close to each other. Lazarus lay right outside the rich man’s gate. Yet even though they were physically close, they seemed to be socially, spiritually and emotionally far apart. Jesus uses the image of the chasm in the afterlife to expose the gap that exists between the extremely wealthy and extremely poor in earthly life. He uses the image of the chasm to show how when we don’t pay attention to each other a gap grows between us that ends up hurting everyone.
So what might be the antidote to this separation? What might begin to bridge the gap or help it from growing in the first place? From what we heard in the first reading today, I think it has to do with remembering what is enough. After the Israelites had been freed from Egypt and began their journey across the wilderness, a gap began to grow between them and God. A chasm began to form as they started to complain that they didn’t have enough to eat. Moses sees this gap growing and makes an appeal to God to hear the cries of the people and not be angry. God responds with mercy and sends quail into the desert along with a flaky, bread-like substance called manna, and tells the Israelites to gather what they need.
I like the way the passage from Exodus ends in the reading today as we hear about the people picking up the food sent by God. It says that some gathered more, and some gathered less, and everyone had exactly what they needed, just the right amount. It doesn’t say that everyone gathered exactly the same amount, but they got the right amount. They received enough. By receiving enough, peace is restored among the people. The grumbling begins to subside and the chasm between the Israelites and God begins to shrink so that they feel close to God again.
Later on, as things have settled down and the Israelites are on the verge of entering the promised land, Moses warns them not to forget about God in their future prosperity. He tells the Israelites, “…do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the Land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and horrible wilderness…who made water flow for you from the rock and fed you with manna…Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth. But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant with your ancestors.’” (Deut. 8:14-18)
In order for the community to stay humble and whole, Moses reminds them of where the source of their strength comes from. They are to remember how God provided for them. As they are preparing to enter the land where their wealth will grow, the people are to remember what it was like to have the right amount, what it was like to have enough. This remembering will help them combat the temptation to amass more than what they need and prevent gaps from growing in the social fabric that binds the community together.
In the coming weeks we are going to be exploring how our faith story connects to our money story. When I say our money story, what I mean is those things we have been told or that we tell ourselves about how money works in the world which have influenced our views and relationship with finances.
One of those things that we can often feel about money is that there is never enough. For some people this is more of a perception. For others it is more of a harsh reality. It either case, it causes anxiety and worry that we won’t be able to provide for ourselves or our loved ones, or that we won’t be able to accomplish what we hope to in life. Has there ever been a time when you felt like you weren’t going to have enough money to do something? I’ll bet if we stop to think about it we’ve all had moments—probably even multiple moments—when we were worried there wasn’t going to be enough.
For me, one of those times was after I had graduated from college. I was feeling called to continue my education at seminary, but I had spent all my savings paying tuition for my undergraduate studies and didn’t think I could afford to go to graduate school. I ended up deciding that I would try and work for year and see what I could save up. I eventually found a job working as a special education aide in a local school. I loved the work I was doing, but quickly discovered that after paying the rent, buying food and putting gas in my car for the daily commute, there wasn’t much money left over to be saved. As the year went on, I began to get discouraged. I started to feel like there was this growing chasm between where I felt God was calling me to and the reality of where I was.
But just as there are times when we may have felt like there wouldn’t be enough, I have found there are also times we might call manna moments—moments of unexpected grace where God somehow provides for us like God did with the Israelites in the wilderness. The manna moment for me came in January of that year when Bob and Joyce, an older couple from the church I was attending, approached me to house-sit for them. They were going to be gone for a month and half and would allow me to live in their basement rent-free if I would do some light cleaning and yard work.
It hit me that this was the opportunity I had been hoping for! It seemed like here God was nudging me and making a way where I didn’t think one was going to be possible. I thought about it for a while then came back to them and said I would love to help them out, but would they be open to extending their offer for a couple more months because I was trying to save up to go to seminary. I figured it didn’t hurt to ask. To my surprise, they said yes. With this new situation I was able to save up enough to get me started in graduate theological studies.
Have you ever had a kind of manna-moment in your life? Have you ever had an experience where things came together and something became possible when you didn’t think it would? Has it ever seemed like somehow God was providing for you in a difficult situation?
Remembering manna moments in our own lives reminds us that God can provide. It reminds us that there are times of unexpected grace that reveal there can be enough or the right amount for what we need. It also reminds us that we are called to notice those who might be sitting outside our gates like Lazarus, those who may seem to be on the other side of the chasm from us. Remembering how God has provided for us can also move us to be instruments of grace for others who might need it. Amen.
-Pastor Erik Goehner