Lectionary Reflection for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
September 25, 2016
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. 1 Timothy 6:17-19
What’s the root of all evil? (Hint: Refer to this week’s epistle lesson.) Yes, that’s right, it’s the LOVE of money, the worshiping of money. It’s not money itself. Money is a tool, and like any other tool it finds its expression in the hands of its user. A knife can be used to prepare dinner or stab a person. Money can be used for tremendous good or great ill.
This week’s gospel lesson recounts the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Note that the poor man has a name, but the rich man who has used the tool of his riches for his own selfish purposes, and in the process continued the suffering of Lazarus, remains unnamed. Could it be that in his sinful management of such a powerful tool he has lost his identity as God’s beloved child? Is it possible that in serving only himself and his desires, that the rich man and his kin (who evidently use money in much the same way) have lost their ability to hear a word of warning? The story is unsettling and speaks as strong a word today about our use of money and our love (or lack thereof) for our neighbors as it did to those who first heard this good news.
Wait! What good news? Are you kidding me? How is this news about a great chasm and Hades and suffering good news? Where’s the hope in this passage? Is it only found in the truth that the poor and marginalized will one day be relieved and comforted? What about the rest of us poor sinners (and yes, most of us reading this are probably among the world’s wealthiest folk)? How does one stanch the mental flogging that may result as one is driven to the foot of the cross in painful recognition of one’s shortcomings, failures, and inability to put first that which really matters?
First of all, it presumes that one truly hears the word and is convicted, because we humans are bound to fall short in our use of this powerful tool (i.e money). It’s part of our broken condition and sinfulness. Perhaps Jesus is foreshadowing his own death and resurrection when in the story Father Abraham tells the rich man that even Lazarus coming back from the dead to warn the rich relatives will not be enough; they will not hear him. After all, not everyone hears Jesus (who DID come back from the dead) and his words of warning, of wisdom, and of mercy, love, and grace. Plenty of people try to reach for the brass ring and take hold of “the good life” in hopes of filling the empty places in their hearts and souls. Far fewer folks, however, choose to take hold of real life, of life that lasts.
Paul, writing to Timothy, offers some solid advice for how to take hold of real life. It’s not about amassing riches and more and more “stuff” but rather in loving and serving God, in being good stewards of God’s abundance, and in loving our neighbors. That is how we take hold of the life that is real and lasting.
Yes, this week’s lessons are also stewardship lessons because stewardship involves every decision we make in response to God’s grace-full “YES” to us. As beloved children of God we are entrusted with the right use of the abundance God’s provides. There is enough (and then some) for all of us, but only if we are faithful in our use of resources, and only if we keep our focus on the provider of all good things and our Lord and Savior. In this is life, and in this life the blessings pour forth so that we have enough and plenty to share. All are invited to the table, to Christ’s table, where all are fed and where no one is turned away. Listen up, dear people of God. Forget the brass ring, the shiny bling, and the false promises of that infamous root of all evil. Listen up and take hold of real life.
Consider singing “Be Thou My Vision” this week as a way to remind congregants that our focus is to be solely on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. You’ll find many versions on YouTube. Here’s one by 4Him.
Spend a little time with the psalm this week. Focus on verse three where it tell us not to put our trust in princes or mortals. What would be the 21st century equivalent? In whom should we not put our trust. Spend some time talking about the nature of God according to the psalmist. How can we be agents with God in showing mercy, justice, and love for those on the margins and for all our neighbors. Our Lord welcomes the stranger, feeds the hungry, upholds widows and orphans, and executes justice for the oppressed. How can we be partners with God in this work? One way is to help the hungry and the refugees in your community. If your community is resettling refugees consider having the youth help with a project to collect items for kitchen, bathroom, school, and bedroom welcome kits. You might also plan a food drive for your local food pantry.
A Recipe for a Generous Life
In Paul’s letter to the young disciple, Timothy, he provides instruction for how to live a good and generous life. Remind the children of all the blessings of God we have been given. It should be easy. Most likely the children in your congregation will have housing, food, clothes, the right to go to school, toys, and family members who love them. Of course, depending on your context, that may not be the case with every child. Poverty does exist in most all communities. Still, most of us have blessings aplenty.
Bring a mixing bowl, four ingredients (be attentive to allergies) to make a snack mix, a measuring cup, a wooden spoon, and baggies or paper cups. Tell the children that you are going to cook up your own version of “Timothy’s Generous Snack Mix: Designed to be Shared with Others.” Assign each ingredient a name using verse 18 from the epistle reading. Add one ingredient and call it “Doing Good.” Add the second ingredient and call it “Rich in Good Works.” Stir the two together and talk about how doing good and good works go hand and hand (like M&Ms and pretzels, for example). Add the third ingredient and call it generosity (maybe use popcorn–something that expands just like being generous expands). Finally, add the fourth ingredient and call it “ready to share.” Tell them that the snack mix is now a recipe for a generous life because it’s meant to be shared. Give each child two baggies of snack mix–one to eat and one to share. Remind them that God provides enough for all of us if we will hold loosely to our possessions and be willing to share with others. Finish with a simple prayer: Dear God, Give us generous hearts so that we may share all your good gifts with others. Thank you for loving us. Help us to love our neighbors. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
(Photos: Nosha and Joe Campbell, Creative Commons, and © Wellford Tiller – Fotolia.com)