Friends, once again this week we are challenged to care for those who in our society and world, live with less because we live with more. You all know that we in the First World have managed to accumulate the lion’s share of the world’s goods and we are willing to fight to keep it, and whether we personally believe that or not, our country does and that is why we fight many of the wars that we do, to protect our interests around the world.
Lives are being lost today, as throughout history, on both sides of battles, over nations wanting more, rather than trying to find a way for all of us to have the basics which will ultimately mean some having less so that everyone can have some.
Our United States is really good about giving humanitarian aid throughout the world when disasters strike, with the exception of the last few years possibly, and so we should! We can look at the unequal distribution of the world’s goods and say truthfully, that no one of us is responsible for this situation—but people of heart and character will always struggle over what to do to help, and so we should!
The Scriptures today don’t speak so much against having wealth when others do not, but against being complacent in our lifestyles. Complacency seems to be the greater evil for which the prophet Amos has his dander up with the Israelite people today. Complacency is about being so wrapped up in our own world, our own lives, and our own projects that we cease to see the “Lazarus” people at our door, looking for the scraps.
Recently, figures came out letting us know that the poor have become poorer and the rich—richer, since the last census figures were taken. Complacency drives us to see our own children and their needs and wants without realizing that we are likewise connected to all the children throughout the world, especially to those who have no food. And furthermore, we do, each of us, bear some responsibility toward those in this world who suffer from lack of the necessities of life. This is so because of our membership in the human race, to say nothing of our membership in the People of God, which in a very broad sense, is what all our religious denominations are about. Every religious belief system calls its people to service of the less fortunate and the deeper message and challenge is always to understand why the imbalance exists, and then, to do what we can to right it.
I think we find ourselves troubled by the story of the rich person and Lazarus today—probably more so by the cruel-seeming outcome for the complacent rich person. We speak often here in our gatherings of the great love and mercy of our God—a few weeks ago we had the story of the prodigal child—wasteful of this world’s goods and the prodigal, wasteful, almost, love of the parent in accepting the wayward one back. So why today, do we see no leniency for the rich person?
It seems the difference is that this wealthy person never made the connections in his life, even though fiery prophets such as Amos and others, one after another, came and proclaimed, challenged that there be a better, more just way of life for all. The rich person didn’t heed the message whereas the prodigal found the way home and did see the light.
My friends, we all have free wills—no one from on high or from below will ultimately be able to force us to do anything—we will need to choose. The responsibility is ours and so too the consequences. I believe that Jesus wants us to get the message, in no uncertain terms, that many things, while not good, can and will be forgiven, but when we simply don’t care or can’t be bothered, or for whatever reason, don’t attempt to see the connection to the whole; we are on shaky ground. I have to wonder about some in Washington these days—if any belief system is part of their lives—talk about complacency!
It has been suggested that the poor, destitute person, Lazarus, has a name in the story and that the rich person does not to uplift the plight of the poor man and to downplay the actions of the rich person. It has also been suggested that we try and see how we might be like the rich person; not that the situation is the same—of not feeding the hungry, but maybe there are other ways that we are capable of sharing in issues of inequality. Can we perhaps make a call; write a letter, saying “no” to a congressperson that we don’t agree with? Who are the people right in front of me, at my doorstep, so to speak, whose needs I am ignoring?
And friends, that is truly what it is all about—taking the Scriptures and making them come alive today; applying them to our current life situations. That is what Jim Wallis, international speaker, writer, and founder of Sojourner Magazine, in his new book, Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus is doing. Going back to the message of Jesus and asking, where are we in our nation going wrong? He, a religious leader, along with many other religious leaders are in agreement that our nation has lost its soul and if many of us who claim to be truly Christian, would return to the words of Jesus; we would find our souls again!
The Spirit of God is continually renewing the face of the earth, calling each of us to be our best selves; and that isn’t about a narrow, strict following of man-made law and regulation, but about the law of love, prodigal loving even, that Jesus talked about. We simply can’t be about living our lives with reference to “black and white” rules when the solutions to many of our world’s problems; climate change, gun violence, unending wars, hypocrisy in leadership in both Church and State throw us into “gray areas” where “heart action,” not “head action” alone, is needed.
Being “black and white” as a response to the needs of this world, can often leave us feeling really disconnected from our best selves. We can’t fully know what it is like to be on the receiving end of a law, such as those against the LGBTQ community, women and more, that are devoid of love, or to be discriminated against for the way we were born, if that hasn’t been our reality, unless we walk in someone else’s shoes for a while. We can’t always do that, but we can try very hard to treat others as we would want to be treated. In every situation where we encounter strife, animosity or division; we must apply the law of love. We can’t just talk about labels devoid of the human component. Once we give the label a human face; we can never again be complacent; we can never again say, “It’s not my business.” We can no longer walk away.
If we choose to stay and confront the evil present; (remember, evil is easy to spot—it is that which is devoid of love) then we must be good listeners of people’s stories; we must have ears that can truly hear and hearts that can feel their pain.
It isn’t an easy thing to confront the powers-that-be when they speak. We have all been taught to give them the respect of the office; but we must always remember that we answer to a higher power. We all know right from wrong and must simply speak up when people are being misused and abused—no matter who is speaking the untruth. It was what our brother Jesus did, and it is what we must do!
We have such a wonderful example at present in Swedish-born, Greta Thunberg. She spoke with much emotion this past week at the United Nations, imploring the leadership of this world to lead in order to save our planet for the next generation. And she was right-on to ask, to demand even that each of us steps up, refusing to be complacent any longer.
The times in which we live friends, are crisis-laden, lacking in morality—selfish times, that we must, simply must address with love—continually ask our brother Jesus to stand by you as you endeavor to be “the light” this world needs.
In conclusion, looking back at today’s gospel, the rich man was apparently “condemned” not for his selfishness, but for his complacency that effectively allowed him, “not to see” the suffering right in front of him! Let us not be guilty of the same! Amen? Amen!