Lectionary Reflection for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 29, 2013
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty to 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. 1 Timothy 6:17-19
All right, folks: This week there is simply no realistic way to get around addressing the proper use of resources and economic justice, unless you plan to go off-lectionary or talk all around the lessons without ever hitting the main points. If talking about money, wealth, and justice are not your forte, perhaps you might view the nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost as an opportunity to hone your skills and reduce any fear you might be experiencing. Even the psalm won’t let us off the hook!
I’m going to operate from the premise that most of the people we serve are wealthy, at least by global standards. Even when one averages out the differences in the cost of living and wages, most folks in the United States and similar nations are rich–flat out rich. Most of us have shelter, food, clothing, shoes, some form of transportation, the opportunity to pursue an education, and choice. Yep, we have plenty of choice, and that’s wherein the trouble often begins. The more one has, the more opportunities there are,and the more choices one has and must make. Add to this reality the fact that our culture operates from a perspective of scarcity and desire, and it’s easy to see how folks become confused, fearful, obsessed, and as a result downright stingy about their resources. In short, we all-too-easily buy into the lie of consumer culture: There isn’t enough to go around, and you’d better get your share because you deserve it.
This is not the message of the gospel. This is not what the prophets proclaim or the psalmist sings or Paul writes to a young pastor. The world as we know gets turned inside-out and upside-down when the Spirit blows through our lives; in God’s economy things look a whole lot different.
Amos tries to tell the people of Israel that they’ve forgotten how things are with God. They’ve become comfortable, lazy, fat, and selfish, and the prophet foretells the misery to come as a result of their choices. The psalmist sings praises to God, who is just and who cares for the stranger and sustains the widow and orphan. God, the psalmist sings, is the real deal; God will reign forever.
In the epistle lesson, Paul reminds Timothy of what it means to be a follower of God. The disciple looks outward rather than inward, is content, and pursues “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.” The message is one of abundance, provision, and faith in the goodness of God. The reading ends with an admonition to the rich (and that’s pretty much all of us) to “do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share…so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”
Jesus, in a much less warm-and-gentle response, tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus. It’s a story of not seeing the obvious and of failing to do anything about it. His inability to see the suffering of his neighbor created a “great chasm” that could not be crossed. The story ends with a rather dire prediction: if the rich man’s family doesn’t “get it” from listening to Moses and the prophets, they’re not going to get it any other way. Ouch!
How do we help our communities of faith hear, understand, and live into the message that true wealth comes in having the “life that really is life”? It will not happen out of guilt or duty. It will not happen through consumer culture. Perhaps it comes through love, by seeing one another as we really are–broken, beautiful, and created in God’s image–and affirming the wealth that comes though that alone. In community we can affirm one another, assure one other that there is enough when we trust, share, and care, and learn to hold lightly as the good things of God come into our possession and flow forth in a river of goodness that sustains this weary world. We do have true wealth, you and I. We have Jesus. We are loved. And we have the beloved community in which to learn, worship, grow, and serve with glad and generous hearts. Indeed, “happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help, whose hope is in the LORD their God” (Ps. 146:5).
Consider using the story of the rich man and Lazarus to talk about the invisible poor. How could the rich man have passed Lazarus every day and not ever have seen him? It seems so obvious, but we do it today, too. Invite people to ponder who they do not see in their neighborhoods and communities. Does Lazarus sit right outside the congregation’s doors? Or could Lazarus even be sitting in the same pew? If you have the ability to project images and text, consider showing images of poverty from your own community, state, country, and world. Talk to people in your community who serve those on the edge. What are the stats for your community? How many children receive free and reduced lunches at your local elementary school? How many elderly are food insecure?
How might you link this thread with the hymn “You Satisfy the Hungry Heart”? We are fed at Christ’s table so that we may go out to feed a hungry world. Pay particular attention to the fifth verse: “You give yourself to us, O Lord; then selfless let us be., to serve each other in your name in truth and charity.”
Consider having a discussion of the lesson from Amos. You might want to use this article “Pope Francis says wasting food is stealing from the poor” from the June 5, 2013 online edition of The Telegraph for comparison. Invite youth to make connections in their own life and cultural context between what Amos says, what Pope Francis says, and what other religious leaders have to say about wealth, justice, poverty and our response to it.
God’s Job Description
In Psalm 146, the psalmist sings about various things God does–a sort of divine job description. Consider asking children what they know about job descriptions. Ask some volunteers in your congregation to prepare simple job descriptions (teacher, fireman, police officer, banker, plumber, etc.) in bullet form for you to read to the children. You can even do it “Jeopardy” style by reading the description and inviting the children to figure out what description goes with which person. Then read the “job description” for God from Psalm 146:
- Made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them
- Keeps promises forever
- Gives justice to those who are oppressed
- Feeds those who are hungry
- Sets the captive free
- Opens the eyes of the blind
- Lifts up those who are bent over
- Loves the righteous
- Cares for the stranger
- Sustains the orphan and widow
- Frustrates the wicked
- Reigns forever
(Note: You may want to simplify the language for younger children.) It’s a pretty impressive description, isn’t it? Our God is an amazing God–deserving of our praise and worthy of our trust every single day. Being on God’s team truly leads to “life that is really life.” Be sure to thank the volunteers who agreed to share their job description and remind the children that these people are living lives in service to others and to the glory of God. Hallelujah!