September 25, 2016

Scripture: Luke 16:19-31
19 
“There was a certain rich man who clothed himself in purple and fine linen, and who feasted luxuriously every day. 20 At his gate lay a certain poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. 21 Lazarus longed to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Instead, dogs would come and lick his sores.
22 
“The poor man died and was carried by angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 While being tormented in the place of the dead, he looked up and saw Abraham at a distance with Lazarus at his side. 24 He shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I’m suffering in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received good things, whereas Lazarus received terrible things. Now Lazarus is being comforted and you are in great pain. 26 Moreover, a great crevasse has been fixed between us and you. Those who wish to cross over from here to you cannot. Neither can anyone cross from there to us.’
27 
“The rich man said, ‘Then I beg you, Father, send Lazarus to my father’s house. 28  I have five brothers. He needs to warn them so that they don’t come to this place of agony.’ 29  Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets. They must listen to them.’ 30  The rich man said, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will change their hearts and lives.’ 31  Abraham said, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, then neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’”

 

“Looking at the Man in the Mirror”

Fall is finally in the air. It’s the time of year when we celebrate the great American tradition: pumpkin spice lattes. And football season, I guess. Some of you may know, outside of Easter and Christmas, which are the obligatory favorite pastor holidays, Halloween is my favorite holiday.

 

Halloween was always fun for a kid like me who loves parties. We all get to be silly and funny and live out our favorite characters and puns. As I got older, friends started going to haunted houses. Not my style. I don’t do scary. One year, my youth director convinced us to go to a “special” haunted house: Judgment House.

 

[For those of you that don’t know about these things, they are based on haunted houses but they show you all the bad choices people can make and how those choices send you to hell if you don’t turn your life around. Usually there is a crashed car present. Strong and only effective in the short run.]

 

For some reason, my more Bible-thumping friends felt the best way to get Jesus into people was to scare the bejesus out of them. Again, not my style. But I get it. Cautionary tales always seem to really drive the point home when we want people to get what we are saying.

 

As much as Jesus loved using parables about sheep and birds and wheat, occasionally, he felt a need to be a little more direct with his point, too. Here, we hear of the rich man who has no name and the suffering man Lazarus. You may be thinking this Lazarus is the same Lazarus who Jesus raised from the dead. He’s not. Lazarus in Hebrew is Eleazar, which means “God has helped.” It’s a literary device to foreshadow what’s going to happen: God helps those who are named God helps.

 

On the other hand, the rich man has no name, because anyone can be rich, and the listener is the one being cautioned. The number one thing Jesus talks about in the Gospels is money, so he doesn’t name the rich man something in Hebrew that means “God made rich” because he typically doesn’t say anything good about riches.

 

Now, if I am making you uncomfortable, you can rest. Just like in Judgment House, where the depictions are often exaggerated, Jesus paints an overly bad picture of this man to soften the blow. He lives luxuriously and eats lavish meals while a beggar literally lives outside his front door. But just because he is painting a dramatic image doesn’t make it any less valid. People listening to this story knew what he was saying: take a strong hard look at your life and whether or not it is pleasing to God.

 

I’ve often heard that people in church don’t like to hear about money or politics from the pulpit. Ironically, Jesus talks a lot about these things, and we have to deal with them. I imagine we make this unsaid, or sometimes very explicit, rules because it helps us leave out where Jesus asks us to look at ourselves in less-than-forgiving lights. It’s so much easier to judge others for their problems, so we tell ourselves we don’t have to deal with our own. To help,  I decided to look toward another major figure in my life to help me explain: Michael Jackson.

 

[Yes, I sang this from the pulpit] “I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. And no message could have been any clearer. If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change.”

 

When I come across these hard lessons from Jesus, I realize that I cannot preach about them unless I myself am willing to admit where I could use room to grow. During October, I am going to do a preaching series on personal faith and growth in the five areas we promised to do so in our baptism: prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. When we joined the church, we made a promise to God and each other. Think of today as the introduction. We have to get past the “what’s mine is mine” mentality.

 

So, now that the ice is broken, I’m going to talk about money.

 

Full disclosure: the New Testament doesn’t make any clear statements on what giving is enough. In the early church, we see no mention of tithing. In his letters to the Colossians, Paul says to give freely, but he doesn’t say how much. In Matthew and Luke, Jesus fusses at the Pharisees for tithing but not being merciful. That doesn’t mean don’t tithe – it means tithing isn’t enough to make a person good.

 

Without clear guidelines, I choose to tithe 10% and to continue to give on top of that. I make $3250 a month. I give $300 a month to the church and give the additional $25 to charities or needs. Since starting here, I’ve donated to the Humane Society, Vanderbilt, UGA, and offerings to other churches when I attend. Emily follows a similar practice.

 

The reason we give what we give is because we understand that the church has the ability to do great things for the world. I like that my money goes to support our mission here and the missions of the larger UMC. If I meet someone in need, I will buy them dinner or socks or whatever depending on their needs, because I never want to neglect a Lazarus in the world. But that also helps me not be an enabler.  The great majority of my giving goes to helping.

 

If you give, let me ask you a couple of questions: Who do you choose to give to? Are you giving to places that offer you a benefit, or are you giving because you feel that is where God is leading you to give? Have you prayed about each place you give? I will be honest: I often fail to continue to keep my giving in my prayers. I still give, but I tend to set it and forget it. Jesus tells us to continue to keep making leaps of faith which requires a lot of prayer and consideration. Are you praying enough?

 

If you are not doing regular giving, why? Hard times fall on people, and God understands that. When Jesus tells of the widow giving her last two mites – all she likely had – he knew the community would support her. If we don’t do that, what can the widow give? Her time? Her efforts? There are ways we can still serve God without saying, “well, I don’t have enough so I’m off the hook.”

 

As we talk about faith, we will also explore what other ways we give to the church. The crux of the Bible is salvation through faith in Christ, and faith requires transformation. Transformed people don’t just go to work then go home and do nothing for God. That’s just….waiting.   How are we choosing to honor Christ in our vows?

 

When I started working on tithing, I started with $20 a week. Then I moved to $150 a month, then when I got here I said I have to be a witness to faithful giving. I took a look at the man in the mirror and said to myself that the change in the world has to start with real decisions to follow Christ every day. I choose to do that, because there are so many Lazaruses in the world who need the healing touch of Christ.

 

And I still have room to grow. In addition to giving often, I must pray more. I must bear witness to Christ more. I must read Scripture more and meditate more and hope more. I must calm my heart more. I believe that if I think about Christ, Christ will bless me. And if you do the same, Christ will bless you.