“Now the Way I See It…” Sept 29, 2019
“Now, the Way I See It…”
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
1 Timothy 6:6-19/ Luke 16:19-31
I remember well the day that someone explained to me how to accumulate wealth. “It’s all about multiplication,” he said. “Sure, you need to work hard and work smart; sure, you need to be frugal with your money. A lot of folks do that, and they do well. But if you want to make gobs of money, you have to multiply yourself. You can’t do it all alone.”
I told him, “Sure you can. You can always win the lottery,” and I think he said something to the effect that I didn’t have the brains that God gave a goose. “Let’s say you want to get in the widget business,” he explained. “You get the tools and materials and if you put your back into it, you can manufacture 100 widgets a day. At 5 bucks apiece, you can make a living, but just barely. But imagine what happens if you were to hire some folks to help you make those widgets. Now, you’re making 500, or even 5000, widgets a day and if your labor costs aren’t too bad you’ll be rolling in it. That’s how it works,” he said. “You got to multiply yourself.”
As the years went by I worked all kinds of jobs and witnessed some nasty labor strikes at the General Motors plant where my dad worked and I figured out that this whole get rich thing is not so simple as “Multiply yourself.” In fact, it’s pretty doggoned complicated. I did hold onto one piece of the advice from long ago, though. I’ve found that it is indeed true: you can’t do it all alone.
Our scripture readings for today are interesting to say the least. First, we find Jeremiah in the process of buying a piece of land while he is in prison. Maybe not a good idea. What’s more, it looks like Judah is about to be besieged by the Babylonians and things don’t look good. If Judah falls, the land sale isn’t going to be worth much – not what you would call a good investment. But Jeremiah is obedient to the Lord who commanded him to get into this real estate business in the first place. So you might say that Jeremiah was investing in his God, not his bank account. Then in the 6th chapter of Paul’s 1st letter to Timothy there are repeated warnings about the dangers and temptations of wealth, topped off by the 10th verse which famously states, For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. We’ve all heard that one before. But it’s the story that Jesus tells about the rich man and the beggar that really takes the cake. This story is told in front of the Pharisees, who were great lovers of money. It is full of the classic imageries of heaven and hell and judgement and punishment and if Jesus meant to make them uncomfortable, he did a good job. The problem is, it makes us uncomfortable as well. But it shouldn’t – at least not for the reason that we think.
You see, Jesus doesn’t see wealth as being good or bad. He is only concerned that wealth can make us blind to the world around us. The rich man passed by this poor man Lazarus every day on his way to dinner with friends or off to do a little shopping, but he never acknowledged his existence.
He was just “that guy that hangs out at the front gate.” He was a nothing; a nobody.
The urgency of this story happens when the rich man and Lazarus have died and find their roles are reversed: the man of wealth is in agony and the poor man is in the arms of Abraham, comforted at last. It’s all very grim and somewhat bizarre but the piece that seems to get missed is that now – finally – the rich man is fully aware of who this poor beggar is. He even calls out to him by name. (vs 23) 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.’ No apologies, no pangs of remorse; and not a clue. He sees Lazarus as a way to ease his suffering, and later he sees him as a way to warn his brothers not to make his mistake. He still sees him as a nothing, a nobody. Debie Thomas writes, “The problem is, none of this is the seeing Jesus calls us to. To see is to risk the vulnerability of relationship. Of kinship.” To see the Lazaruses of the world through the eyes of Christ is a sobering experience because to see through the eyes of Christ is to see with the eyes of love. (1 Jn 4:19) We love because he first loved us. Those who say ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love a God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
“The way I see it,” says the person who stole a kids bicycle parked by the sidewalk, “is that if they were dumb enough to leave their bike out like that, they deserves to get it stolen.”
“The way I see it,” says the rich man, “is that he’s got to be poor for a reason. It ain’t my fault. What do you want me to do about it?” So this is not a story, a lesson, about money or wealth at all. It’s about how we treat each other, it’s about how we see each other, and it’s about rejoicing in the good news that, in the end, we still need each other.
Who here is familiar with Albert Schweitzer? Well, Albert Schweitzer is best known as a missionary doctor in Africa. But did you know this was his 3rd career? He was also an accomplished church musician, an organist; plus, he was a world renowned New Testament scholar who wrote one of the foundational books on the life of Jesus Christ, and, in his spare time, he was a Lutheran pastor. When he was asked why he became a doctor and moved into what was then French Equatorial Africa, he cited this parable – the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. He noted that the rich man, for him representing Europe, had medical care and that Lazarus, representing Africa, did not. Albert Schweitzer heard this story and decided it was inconceivable that he not do something because it was obvious that God was serious about that.
“The way I see it…” Think about that. What if we spent more of our time trying to see “it” the way that Jesus wants us to see: with compassion, with humility, with understanding? Sure, people are still going to get on your nerves. Folks are going to do mean and hateful things; they’ll boggle your brain. They’ll punch every button and fray every nerve. But the way I see it, God in his grace loves them unconditionally the same way that he loves you and me. Think about that, because that is truly the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Amen & Shalom