Sunday, September 26, 2010

“Rich and Poor”

Amos 6:1a, 4-7
Alas for those who are at ease in Zion,
and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria, Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory,
and lounge on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock,
and calves from the stall;
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp,
and like David improvise on instruments of music;
who drink wine from bowls,
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile,
and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.

1 Timothy 6:6-19
Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 7for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 0For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time — he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

Luke 16:19-31
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.' He said, 'Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house — for I have five brothers — that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' He said, 'No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"

A Message from the Pastor
I don’t think there is any doubt about what the subject of the readings are all about. The scripture is talking about the rich and the poor. The question for us is, “Where is God in all this? Furthermore, what is God calling us to do as God’s disciples?

The first reading has Amos admonishing the people of God of the Northern Kingdom. (It was called Israel while the Southern Kingdom was called Judah.) Israel was industrial, powerful, and successful. The nation was powerful and highly influential in the region. The elite of the nation enjoyed the wealth that emanated from its position. However, as history reveals, when nations develop this status, the wealthy, many times, enjoy the benefits on the backs of the poor. God was upset with that and called Amos. Amos was not a “professional” prophet. He was neither a priest nor a Rabbi. Amos was a dresser of sycamore trees. (Now, don’t ask me what that was all about. I have no idea.) Amos was involved with agriculture.

Amos went to the wealthy and powerful and noted about how they lived. Who needs ivory beds to get a good night sleep? That wealth could be put to better use. For most of the people of Israel, calves and lambs could not be slaughtered. That would be unwise since the mature animals provided the necessary by-products for life. Then, who drank wine from bowls? This was an indication of over indulging. Amos also was critical of self-indulgence through entertainment.

Please note that God did not criticize wealth. He was critical of how it was used by the wealthy of Israel.

The writer of the letter to Timothy was reminding Timothy of his priority, namely, to focus on God and the resulting contentment. After all, said the writer, we come into the world with nothing and leave with nothing. The important fact is that we have clothing and food for a life with God. Furthermore we focus on our faith, fighting the good fight. The result is love, godliness, endurance, and goodness. These are what are important.

The problem with money is when someone loves it. With that attitude, and the desire for more, we turn from God and turn to money. Money becomes our God and turns us from God. Again, it is not wealth that is the problem, but the attitude toward it.

We don’t need to reiterate the story of the rich man and Lazarus. It is self-explanatory. What we can think about is the rich man’s attitude towards Lazarus. Obviously, he knew Lazarus. He called him by name. In addition, Lazarus was at his gate, hoping for crumbs from the table. Every time the rich man left or returned to his house, he would see Lazarus. He would see how emaciated he was from hunger and the skin ulcers that were licked by the wild dogs that surrounded Lazarus.

What also tells much about the rich man was his attitude toward Lazarus. Even though he was in Hades and Lazarus was with God, he still considered Lazarus his lackey. He asked Abraham (he didn’t even ask Lazarus directly) for Lazarus to touch his tongue with cool water. When that was not possible, he asked Lazarus to go to his five brothers to warm them.

Notice, again, the parable does not criticize riches. The parable notes the attitude towards assisting the poor.

I think I know most of the worshippers and safely say that there are very few, if any, of us who could be classified as wealthy. So, when we hear the readings for today, we’re more likely to identify with the poor than the rich. However, we need to think about this.

First of all, we live in the wealthiest nation this world has ever known. We benefit from this wealth in a myriad of ways. However, if I have my statistics close to correct, while this nation represents 3% of the world’s population, it uses over 60% of its resources. In addition, the percentage of the population that is classified below the poverty level continues to increase while the number of millionaires continues to grow; however, while the number of those who benefit from this wealthy country continue to lessen. Furthermore, in major league sports, a certain city just built a one billion dollar sports center. At the same time sports personalities and entertainers continue to receive more and more wealth. Yet, it is difficult for us to put our arms around the challenges that this represents because of its nationwide impact. It is difficult for us to hear how we, as Christians, can respond positively to this dilemma.

However, we can look closer to home. While Tennessee is not the richest state in the nation, it is certainly not the poorest. Yet, its educational impact ranks near the bottom. The number of children affected by obesity is the highest in the nation, and those who use prescription drugs ranks near the top, in relationship to other states. All of this is an indication of the poverty issue. Lately, the basketball coach of UT was penalized by the school for acting improperly with the NCAA. He was penalized $1,500,000. (I wonder what his salary is!)

Washington County is the tenth wealthiest county in the state. Yet, it ranks low on the effect the educational system has on the young people. The educational system of the county could not balance the budget in the amount of $1,800,000. However, just a couple of years ago, a new multi-million dollar justice center was erected. Two new elementary schools were constructed without consideration of the cost of maintenance and the need for staffing.

If you are like me, and my garbage collection from the town was unsatisfactory, I would, pardon the pun, raise a stink. If my water bill seemed high, I would complain and be critical of higher water and sewage rates. I would want good roads and other infrastructural needs for my benefit. I would let local officials know if it wasn’t satisfactory. I would want to be taken care of. Yet, do we ask our local leaders about addressing the poverty issues? Do we talk to them about the need for better education? We also know about the issue of increasing property taxes. We wouldn’t like that. Yet, an increase per family with property would represent about one family meal at McDonalds per month.

I hope you don’t consider this to be a personal political message. I am not in a position to impose my values on anyone. I hope I am presenting facts. Then, each of us has to connect with God, as disciples of Jesus, and discern for ourselves what Christ is calling us to do.

We need to remember that Christ calls us out of love. And, in that love, he wishes for us contentment, faith, gentleness, love, and goodness. It comes from focusing our priorities on God.

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