Still Time

Scripture:  Luke 16: 19-31

                One compulsive gambler bet on losing horses so regularly that even his bookie felt sorry for him. When the bettor kept insisting on betting on one particular nag, the bookie told him, “You’re throwing your money away. The odds on the horse are 150 to one. That horse has got no chance.” The bettor wouldn’t budge. In exasperation, the bookie said, “Look, I will personally give you a million-to-one odds on him.” The bettor said, “I’ll take it.” You guessed it, the horse won the race. The bettor showed up at his bookie’s place and began stuffing thousand-dollar bills into a suitcase. However, the bookie noticed, this huge winner still looked sad. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “You’re walking out of here with the biggest prize I ever saw anyone win, and you still don’t look happy.” The bettor looked at him morosely. “I’ve been betting on horses all my life and never had much luck. At last I win a race on a million-to-one shot. And what have I got on it? A lousy two dollars”

The greedy can never get enough. (1)

Today we read about a real greedy fellow, Dives. He so personifies the rich that his name in Latin means, simply, Rich Man. Nothing personal about that, just as there is nothing personal about evil, about placing all our faith in riches. Interestingly, the other fellow has a name and so is a real person: Lazarus.

Jesus teaches us in this gospel that we are not to place our trust in riches. Rather, we are to live according to the gospel, which turns our attention to the poor. We are to help the poor.

Don’t get me wrong.  As Luke tells it, Jesus is not against wealth. He even tells us in the Acts of the Apostles how Lydia, a rich woman, helped the apostle Paul in his work.   As one commentator put it, money is congealed sweat, a power to get things and to get work done.  How it is used is paramount.

Throughout the ministry and the teaching of Jesus, there was one attitude which clearly was key in being able to recognize God’s signs and God’s desires for us.  Without this attitude, this characteristic, it seemed impossible to understand what Jesus was saying.  Without this attitude, you might have all knowledge and still not know the secret of life.

The essential attitude was and is compassion.

Compassion, from the root words, pati = to suffer, and com = with.  To suffer with another.  Without that compassion, there was no chance of understanding what God intended.

Our situation here in church this morning speaks to this matter.  Those of us who knew and who loved Jo Dawn Noble have no difficulty in sensing compassion. There is an aching shared with the Carl and the family.  There is concern shared with them for the days ahead.  There is the common bond of our own limited mortality, the knowledge that all of our days are numbered, and that even within the span of days allotted to us, that there are limits as to what are able to do to make things better.  At the same time, in compassion with Jo Dawn’s extended family and  we can sense the undergirding power of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, carrying the distraught through troubled waters, quite sure that there is safety on the far shore.  Compassion is clear.  I can see etched into your faces.

The question of compassion as the scriptures raise them this morning, is not whether the rich man in the story, named Dives by church tradition, is compassionate towards his father’s house and his brothers whom he seeks to save from the torment that he finds himself in.  The question isn’t whether or not we can love those who are close to us: family and friends, people with our own skin color, with our own social status, with our own political views.  The question is whether we are able to love the outcast, the sojourner among us, the ones that are invisible.

It is instructive that Jo Dawn who this morning is the terrific model of our compassion as a fellowship, who over decades and especially this past year working with our Outreach Council urged our own outreaching compassion to those different and distant from us.  In response in part to Jo Dawn’s encouragements we as congregation distributed $400,000 carefully and precisely to Lazaruses of the world…entirely motivated by compassion.  Many of you are on the Outreach Council or the Church Board and  I ask you this morning, was it not because of your care for and sense of responsibility for, those Lazaruses you so carefully crafted your outreach recommendations?

The sin of Dives, the rich man, lay not in his wealth, but in his apathy. He just didn’t see and didn’t care about that poor man, Lazarus, lying at his gate. And we don’t necessarily see Dives as any different from his rich neighbors, family, and friends.  In their world – you know- those others just don’t come to mind.

And when we ask, ”Where does such apathy come from? “It’s handed down, of course.  It is not taught intentionally.  It is CAUGHT unintentionally, but just as surely.

A church school teacher asked to see the pastor one afternoon. The pastor was very busy, working on monthly report to the Church Board, and wanted to say, almost needed to say, “No, I just don’t have the time right now.” But the teacher was quite near tears. The pastor took her into the office, sat her down and asked what was troubling her.

The teacher told her pastor that in her class she had recently started a unit on social justice. One of the exercises was to go around the room asking the children what Christians could do for the homeless. The teacher, tearing up again, collected herself once more and continued saying that the very first child said that we didn’t have to do anything for the homeless. He said that his father always told him that it was their fault they were homeless., so we shouldn’t help them. Then the next child responded that her mother had told her to stay away from the “street people” because they stole children and did bad things to them. Yet another said that whenever he was with his mother she always said to look the other way, and those people would just go way–to just pretend that they were not there.

The stories of how parents were teaching their children just got worse. Not one child offered a positive response. The teacher said she was wondering  why she had even bothered to teach in a the church school if this was the attitude of the parents. The pastor was also stunned.

The then Bishop of Recife, Brazil, 1,000 miles north of Rio and in those days an unbelievably poor area, spoke in 1979 to our Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) gathering in a General Assembly in St. Louis.  I had read some of his writings so I sat up in a front row where I could see him well.  In the most loving, but most sincere way, Dom Helder Camara said to us affluent Americans that, ”Money, has a dangerous way of putting scales on one’s eyes, a dangerous way of freezing people’s hands, eyes, lips and hearts.” Perhaps it is this cold, hard shell of affluence that is Jesus’ real target.

15 years ago I attended a lecture by the renowned Roman Catholic ethicist Charles E. Curran who was in the midst of analyzing how our nation stacks up against other nations in our honoring of human rights.  He determined that in one major category we are unassailable!  When it comes to people’s political rights:  the rights of assembly, the rights of free speech, to engage in business, to private property, to vote… we are a model nation.  And when we hear human rights, that is usually all we even think of.

But, Curran said, there is yet a whole category of human rights that we in America do not even officially yet recognize as human rights.   With some shame he reminded us that though we are unquestionably the most powerful nation the world has ever seen, yet we are the only Western nation that does not recognize basic health care is a human right.  We have not stated that adequate shelter and adequate food are human rights.  We do not see the beggar in the streets as a national failing, but as the children in the classroom said, as individuals suffering for their own laziness.  The whole category of economic rights has yet to be admitted… even though 2,000 years ago Jesus was trying to teach us of it.

In a time when we Americans are flabbergasted that many in the world actually hate us… and we can’t understand why… think back .  If you’ve ever walked through a market in Africa, Mexico or India you will certainly have witnessed well-heeled tourists bargaining over a few dollars with a poor craftsman as if their life depended on it.  You may have even jumped into such a deal-striking adventure of your own!  As one Zimbabwean statue-maker remarked loudly to another, just after a rich British visitor had spent ten minutes beating down his price, “So I am to suppose he needs the money more than I do?” You see, for the tourist it was just a game, a matter of pride. For the statue-maker, it was food and shelter for his wife and family.  Have we recognized that our financial dealing has such moral challenge implicit?  Have we used our Christian faith as the ethical yardstick by which we measure the economic system that has made us… and I say every one of us here—RICH, RICH in the eyes of much of the world?

Earlier in Luke, Jesus puts it succinctly. “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required”

You see, unlike Dives for you, and for me, THERE IS STILL TIME… time to recognize our place in this universe

time to hear our calling to serve… to serve those with less material; with less opportunity; with less joy; with less hope.

Unlike Dives While we have time, while there is STILL TIME… let us take some STILL… TIME… to ask that God receive us, forgive us, and heal us, that we might be used as Divine instruments of God’s divine mercy… most especially for the poor.[1]

Amen.

[1] Some of this sermon is predicated on a homily by Fr. Jerry Fuller, O.M.I. entitled “Dives and Lazarus.”  I do not know when or where it was delivered.  I ran across on a website in Sept. 2001.

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