More on God’s Economy

Author’s note: I remain completely challenged by the issues of city life and its extremism; I admit that is no excuse and puts me in line with the rich fool in Luke’s story, regardless of my personal wealth.  So, I remain convicted by Jesus as I struggle to work out my own salvation.  The following is less a sermon and more a verbalized struggle with the text.

Scriptures: Jeremiah 32:1-19, Luke 16:1-13

Let us pray:

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts find your true light illuminating our darkness. O Holy Spirit, nurture us to grow into who you want us to become, not who we think we are or ought to be. Amen.

I don’t know about you, but both Jeremiah and Luke have passages full of lessons for me this week…I know this because of my reaction to the stories. If I get riled up about something, there’s a pretty good chance something about which God can – no, needs – to work on is happening in me. I’d like to offer you an invitation to multi-task today. As I move through the sermon, I want you to reflect on three questions:

  1. What is an appropriate Christian attitude toward wealth?
  2. How are we called to treat those who are poor?
  3. How might you define “the poor” today?

Are you ready? Let’s begin with the Hebrew Scripture.

“Jeremiah’s word this week is one that counters our desire for immediate gratification. The prophet calls us to take the long view. The prophet tells us that God’s promises are sure even when Jerusalem is under siege and we are in locked in prison. This text brings to our consciousness those earlier words in Luke 12 to invest in things that do not wear out. Put our time and energy and attention into the kingdom, not our possessions. In front of God and everybody, no matter how foolish it looks, lay out your coins, buy the field in Anathoth, bury the deed and trust that investing in God’s work is a sure bet.

What if we listened to Jeremiah this week and took the long view – the really long view -believing in God’s promises to provide, to save, to see us through the darkest valley, to bring us home no matter how long the exile… would we more eagerly let go of our coat, our crumbs or care?”

Then we have the story in Luke:

“The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus narrates the very reversals of fortune that we find promised in the Magnificat (1:52-53) and the Sermon on the Plain (6:20-26). As such, the parable drives home Luke’s relentless concern for the faithful stewardship of goods.”[1]

I have to admit, it is harder for me to see an application for this in Trout Lake because I don’t know the ins and outs of the economics of this community very well yet; so I don’t really know much beyond the real estate signs I continually monitor as I walk, bike, or drive my way through the valley. Current listings I’ve monitored range from a simple cottage at $185, 000 to the current McMansion listed at $1,450,000. If that is any indication of the economic culture in the valley, there is quite a variety. I’m left to wonder what is it actually like day in and day out economically here for the non-weekenders. All of that aside to say, the following observation from Commentator Scott Bader-Saye reflects more of the reality I am familiar with in city life. He writes,

“This parable challenges us not simply to share wealth but to become attentive to the poor and suffering persons who are before us, who dwell at our doorstep or, more likely, in another part of town where we do not see them if we do not want to.

Where is the invisible suffering in our world: the suffering of women and children in sweatshops, who are invisible behind the labels we buy; the suffering of animals in factory farms, who are invisible behind our fast food; the suffering of the suspect who is tortured behind locked doors to calm our cancerous fears? We live within political and economic systems that feed upon the sufferings of others, all the while keeping those sufferings invisible. The call of Christ is to refuse to live any longer by those convenient fabrications.”[2]

When I think about God’s economy, the word comes through loud and clear from Luke’s gospel that God is about those who are marginalized, in need of protection, and the poor. Which begs the question: where does that leave me – or possibly you if you resonate with the illustration?

Why does Luke harp so much about money and stewardship anyway? Is he intentionally trying to make all of his readers squirm in their seats…or in my case at the pulpit where I have to talk about this stuff? I really don’t feel up to it, Luke; what kind of congregation did you pastor, anyway?

Living where I do, I struggle with the daily question: How am I supposed to take care of “them,” if that is indeed what the Lord is commanding me to do? Conveniently, my mind plays all the right tricks on to keep me from doing anything at all. For example:

“Oh, that one’s been on that corner for several weeks now, she must be one if its new regulars.” “I’ve seen that fellow on his corner with his sign and water bottle for years. Is that how he makes his living?” “Oh, that wheel chair guy is back outside Costco again; what’s his story and is he for real?” “How can I be sure they aren’t just looking for cigarette, drug, or booze money?”

You see how clever my minds is? I talk and think my way out of reaching out to the destitute very easily. I live for the weekend when I can run away and leave it behind, instead of turn in service as Christ probably would rather I do. But I don’t even know how to embrace them they are so, so, so…

To my shame, I don’t even want to serve that population or have any interaction with it at all if possible. I feel like I am barely making it through parenthood, much less all the super-dad 1950s housewife things I seem to have found myself saddled with. Sometimes I wonder – if the four of us make it through to the fledgling stage alive we’ll be lucky.

I supposed I could say, “Well, I’m poor in spirit, so God is on my side, too, right?” Or, am I just to trying to make myself feel better; maybe help me believe God is actually on my side, even though by the world’s standards, I’m one of the wealthy who will get their just desserts? It is kind of a bleak picture if this parable from Jesus is any indication – if I’m not paying attention to the under-served – Oh, wait, this is a parable, right? So I’m supposed to find a deeper meaning and not necessarily take it as literal truth…even though many do. Hmm, a deeper meaning? Perhaps it’s more directly about suffering…and alleviating suffering.

Are you more like Lazarus or more like one of Abraham’s many-times great grandchild? Either way, what countenance do you suppose Jesus is teaching us to embrace here?

Returning to our questions from the beginning, take a few moments and turn to your neighbor and ask:

  1. What is an appropriate Christian attitude toward wealth?
  2. How are we called to treat those who are poor?
  3. How might you define “the poor” today?

In a few moments, I’ll wrap us up and we’ll pray.

Let us pray:

May all glory be to the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is our merciful Christ. Amen? May it be so.

[1] Bader-Saye, Scott. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ).

[2] Ibid.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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