How Rich Are We?

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Luke 16:19-31

I grew up with Bernice. Okay, not literally. However, she was a fixture in my hometown for as long as I can travel back in my memories. You would see her pushing her shopping cart around town and digging through the garbage to see if she could find any cans to return. Did I ever talk to her? Not that I can ever remember. We are so often in the position of the rich man from our parable this morning that we don’t stop to think about it.

Now, this is not just any rich man. This rich man in Jesus’ parable appears to have so much money that he can feast sumptuously everyday. Imagine being able to eat at the most expensive restaurant day in and day out, not just for one meal but for all of them. He is so self-consumed in what goes on within his gated community that he shows no regard for Lazarus, the poor man sitting outside the gate.

Lazarus in our parable this morning really is not much different from the Bernice that roamed around my hometown while I was growing up. I am sure every town has a Bernice, and you may be very well of who that is in your town. Poverty is a real thing that we are surrounded by and we usually do not even know that it is there. Not everyone is like a Bernice that pushes her shopping cart around town collecting cans. Not everyone is like Lazarus looking for crumbs outside the gates. Did you know that the poverty rate in Macomb County in 2014 was 18.3%. Or perhaps you did not know that 42.6% of children in Macomb County are receiving free or reduced prices for school lunches. Before you go thinking that most of those that are seeking assistance come from the southern part of the county, it truly doesn’t matter. When we look beyond our own country, we are truly some of the richest people in the world, even if we have an entry level paying job. How do we choose to use our riches?

Perhaps it is even more amazing that what was considered dirty in Jesus’ time, dogs roaming the streets, are the ones who showed compassion for Lazarus. In the licking of his sores, the dogs showed a greater compassion than the rich man and his family. This could possibly even be seen as a form of healing as they cared for Lazarus. Often times we overlook these little actions. It is also in these little actions that we can witness Jesus working in our midst. Aren’t we told that it is a  child that will lead us. 

We have done a great job of making divisions among ourselves that we fail to see them, unless we have eyes like children. Those divisions are what lead to our perceived inability to help those that are in need. In the parable this morning the rich man managed to place a division between himself and God. This is not just any division. This is a division so great and deep that it is a large chasm. Imagine going to the Grand Canyon and being at the part that is farthest away from the other side. This is the chasm that the rich man has found that is separating himself from God. And yet, he still has the nerve to ask Lazarus to serve him.

Among the chasms that we have constructed in our own society is between the rich and the poor. We use terms like, “those people.” We walk on the other side of the street because we are afraid. We fail to take the time to listen to their stories. While we are called to serve our sisters and brother, we do not have to bridge this chasm on our own. It has already been done for us.

The chasm has been bridged though Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is through the cross that we experience God’s grace and God eliminates that chasms that we have developed in this earthly world. Because of the bridging of this chasm Jesus is in our midst. We are all invited to feast sumptuously at the Lord’s table.

Trinity has a history of being hospitable and welcoming in all people. We have the opportunity this next month to share love as we open our doors to 30 men in the MCREST program. These men have stories to share. These men are not much different from the homeless you witness on our streets today. These men are not much different from us. This is an opportunity to give of ourselves, our time and resources. It is also an opportunity for us to share love and receive love.

I’d like you to think about this. As we open our doors next month, are we welcoming the homeless, or do we welcome Jesus Christ?

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Jesus Said What?

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Luke 16:1-13

After being around sales representatives you begin to learn a thing or two. You learn how to sneak a thing or two past the managers or owners of stores and you learn how to help yourself in the long run. After graduating from college I spent close to five years in the grocery industry as a manager and some of those sales reps pulled some quick ones on me and at other times I caught them in the act and called them out on it.

It was kind of ironic to find myself on the other end when I became a sales rep for a beer distributor. It was my responsibility to call on large grocery chains and small party stores in my given territory. I learned some tricks along the way on how to meet my quotas and product placements so that I would get paid and support my family; since the majority of my pay was incentive and commission based. I got praised for my shrewdness and was one of the top sales reps. I was not necessarily proud of this because it just felt wrong as I took advantage of my accounts so that I could benefit in the long run. Does this story sound familiar? It honestly is not much different from the parable that Jesus shares of the shrewd manager. In both cases, there is injustice occurring and in the long run relationships are damaged. Our God is a God of justice and when injustice occurs we are led farther from God’s righteousness and ultimately our relationship with God.

Our parable this morning is one that I struggled with. If you were left reeling after I read it, you are not alone. For as many commentaries that I read on the lesson for this morning, I got just as many interpretations. My first thought was, Jesus said what? What is Jesus trying to teach in this parable?  It appears that the manager, who acted in shrewdness in dealing with those that did business with the master, is commended for his shrewdness. He is not condemned for his improper handling of money, but is commended. The amount that those who borrowed from the master most likely included a large interest rate. It was not uncommon for interest rates at this time could range anywhere from 25-50%! Think about that for a second. This is injustice and far from the righteousness of God.

In reality, the bible instructs us not to charge interest to anyone. We should give willingly and freely as we have the means to. The master himself is acting outside of the Judaic laws. This is the way that business is done though, isn’t it? This is the way that we do business today. Nothing is free, and their is a cost associated with everything, including money. So, is there injustice happening when we buy our house or a car and get charged interest? It probably depends upon whom you ask. In our society it is common practice that we have come to expect.

Corporate greed is something that we have become accustom to in our society. Recently we have seen this greed in numerous places, including the pharmaceutical industry. Where profits appear to be all that matter and the consumer will just have to pay up. If you remember last year the big story was Martin Shkreli increasing the price of an important AIDS drug 5000%! Within the past couple of months the news has been around the increase of the cost of an EpiPen. It has increased from $200 four years ago to over $600 today. And now, the company that produces is trying to shift the increase cost off on to others. Another example of injustice and not caring for our sisters and brothers.

I truly believe that it comes down to the fact of how we live into relationship with one another. We can not be in relationship with one another when we take advantage of one another for our own personal gain or that of shareholders. St. Augustine has been credited with saying that, “God gave us people to love and things to use, original sin manifests itself when we confuse the two.” As our reading ends this morning, Jesus reminds us that, “you cannot serve God and wealth.” The best way to serve God is by being in relationship.

More than likely we have all taken advantage of a relationship from one time or another. For some we may be able to look back recently, and for others we may have to look back farther. You all should have pieces of paper in the pews in front of you. I encourage you to take a piece and write a name of a person or relationship on one of those pieces of paper as a reminder that you want to deepen this relationship and make it stronger.

Our relationship with God may be one that we can improve upon. However, remember that it was Jesus that died on the cross for us so that we could experience his abiding love and the grace that welcomes us in. We are already forgiven, he is just waiting for us. It is in this that we should work towards justice with one another and learn to love.

Are You Able to Rejoice?

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Luke 15:1-10

I couldn’t have been more than nine years old when I can remember the first really important thing that I had lost in my life. I was out in the backyard playing or something, and was asked to keep an eye out for my sister that was probably about three at the time. Needless to say I got wrapped up in what I was doing and was not paying attention. Really, that has not changed much today as I do a fine job of ignoring those things around me when I am focused in on something, just ask my wife. The fact is that I got so wrapped up in what I was doing that my sister managed to venture off. I honestly do not remember what happened in that “in between time.” I am not sure who realized that my sister was not out there with me, whether it was myself or my parents. I do recall a bit of anger as it came to my parents. There may have possibly been some loud voices involved.

I am sure that if I could to sit down and talk to every single one of you, you would have your own stories of things that you have lost throughout the years. We lose material things. We lose contact with people that we have had friendships with throughout our lives. Relationships are broken and we lose people that were close to us.  We can lose our health in many various ways. We lose loved ones in death in this earthly life until Jesus comes again. In the midst of losses that we encounter throughout our lives, do we look for times to rejoice as well?

In our gospel lesson this morning Jesus is continuing to teach his disciples in the midst of the grumbling from the Pharisees and the scribes. There concern is that Jesus is also teaching the tax collectors and sinners. Jesus uses this time to share with them the lost parables. Chapter 15 not only includes the two parables that we hear this morning in the lost sheep and the lost coin, it also contains the parable of the prodigal and his brother. In the midst of these parables there is the common denominator that something has been lost and is now found. The shepherd is not concerned with the other 99 sheep that are near him, he is concerned for the one that is lost. Once he finds the lost sheep, his response is to place the sheep on his shoulders, a sign of closeness that shows the  love the shepherd has for his flock. The woman is not concerned about the 9 coins that are accounted for, she is busy looking for the one that is lost. In the story of the prodigal, if you recall, the father is not worried about his son that is still present and doing his work on the farm, his concern is for the son that has not returned. He sits and waits and runs to him when he sees him coming.

All of these parables bring about a cause for celebration. A chance to rejoice with everyone present and throw a wonderful party celebrating that the lost has now been found. Have you ever thought that to Jesus, the lost in this does not come to us in the parables, but in the tax collectors and sinners. They have chosen to follow Jesus and listen to his words, they were lost and now are found. What about the Pharisees and the scribes? Perhaps they are the ones that have been found through hearing Jesus’ parables. God rejoices whenever anyone comes to be in relationship with God.  This is a cause for celebration and one that should be ongoing.

Perhaps, we can even find the lost in the midst of our Good Old Days Celebrations this weekend. God is at work in our relationships and celebrations as we come together and we rejoice at seeing people that may only get the chance to come back to town this one time of year. The excitement that surrounds the entire weekend is the same type of excitement that we should exude in the church on a daily basis. We have all lost things and are at times lost ourselves. It is in Jesus Christ that we experience a saving grace that looks beyond our faults and sins and welcomes us into eternal life. How can we be lost knowing that Jesus is beside us?

In our common beliefs, we are able to worship together and have these awesome services together throughout the year remembering that we are not alone. In this we rejoice in our ministries together.

I am sure you are still wondering what ever happened to my sister. After searching the backyard with to no avail, we expanded the search to the larger neighborhood. We found her about 10 minutes later near the driveway three houses down from ours. Now, we lived in the city, so the houses were closer together. At that moment there was a time of rejoicing as we found what was lost. I don’t think I was ever punished for that incident, but there certainly was a good conversation about taking responsibility seriously. And there was forgiveness and the chance to celebrate.

May you seek forgiveness that comes through Christ as we share communion, and may we rejoice knowing that Christ is here with us.

Laying Yourself Bare

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Luke 14:25-33

It is not unlikely that your first response when hearing Jesus’ words of the gospel lesson brought about a bit of uncertainty. Who must we hate? Why must we hate them? This is quite the challenge that Jesus has presented. However, it may be easy for some as family relationships may be strained already. Jesus appears to be speaking some pretty harsh words to those that are following him in the hopes of being healed and experience what others have been talking about for sometime. Instead he comes to them with a message of what is required for discipleship. Sacrifices, if to be taken literally, seem nearly impossible. These sacrifices require a renunciation of those things that get in the way of our relationship with one another and more importantly, God.

Jesus may be exaggerating a little when he speaks in hyperbole this morning, however, there is also a truth to it that we seem to be ignoring today. We have allowed ourselves to become so wrapped up in our cultural and consumer mentality that the meaning of personal sacrifice does not resonate with us at times. We have become accustomed to making our requests known and being able to satisfy them within a fairly short amount of time. We can go to the store, or even online, and can purchase about anything we want. You name it and you can have it within a couple of days. If you are lucky enough to live within a major market for Amazon, then you can have it delivered to your door within hours.

Jesus’ teaching continues as he discusses the building of a tower and not thinking of the costs ahead of time. This is a requirement if you want to get any type of loan from the bank. You must have all of your costs figured out as you apply and have a plan of action in place to build. There is a cost involved in everything that we do in our lives, and becoming a disciple is not any different. The cost is what we give up to acquire, accomplish, maintain, or produce anything. Whether it is a tower that we would like to build or whether it is becoming a disciple and building a relationship with Jesus. This is the point that Jesus is making as he speaks to the large crowd following him.

Jesus says in a way, “If you truly desire to be my disciple, then you must be willing to sacrifice those things that get in the way of being my disciple.” Does Jesus truly expect us to leave our families behind and follow him? No, he doesn’t. He does expect us to fully commit to a walk with him that puts God first in our lives and at times that may require us to leave certain relationships behind that get in our way of our relationship with God. Remember, there are those things that we must renounce as we come to be in relationship with Christ. One such instance is during our Service of Baptism as we renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God; we renounce the powers of the world that rebel against God; and we renounce the ways of sin that draw us from God.

For some of us, those renunciations may come harder than others. For St. Francis, as he was called to serve and rebuild Christ’s church, he took this renunciation very seriously. As he was called by Christ, he went and sold all of his things and many of the fine textiles his father had to fund the reconstruction of the church at San Damiano. Needless to say this did not make his father very happy. He summoned him before a court and Francis’ response was that he had given up all things of this world and only responds to God and the church, he therefore, will not submit to this request. His father’s response was then to summon him to appear in front of the Bishop. To this, Francis could not deny. It was at this hearing that Francis stripped bare and gave up the rest of his worldly possessions and his relationship with his father because his call to God was much greater.

In that moment, Francis leaves with what he came into the world with and a much deeper relationship with God. Now, I am not asking you to follow this literal example. However, are you willing to lay yourself bare for Christ? Are you willing to open your heart and lay out all of your anxieties and insecurities so that Christ can come in and cleanse and heal them?

We are all called to discipleship, one way or another. Meeting with our Outreach Team earlier this week and hearing of the many wonderful things we are already doing. It is a sign that we are working on our own discipleship at Trinity and yet there is room for many more people at the table. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The call to discipleship is a gift of grace and that call is inseparable from grace.” It is in that grace that we meet Christ.