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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

September 29, 2013

1st Reading: Amos 6:1a, 4-7
2nd Reading: 1 Timothy 6:6-19

My first year of college, I auditioned for and got a part in our college play. I was a “townsperson” in “A Christmas Carol,” the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, or Scrooge McDuck, depending on your favorite version. It was a good way to make friends and meet new people. I have a lot of good memories of that time.

Every good story borrows from others. We can all see how “A Christmas Carol” comes from this Biblical story of the rich man and Lazarus. Neither of these stories are meant to be factually true—they are stories to teach us how to relate to one another.

Sadly, our money can distort our view—keep us from seeing those around us. Scrooge couldn’t see the suffering of Bob Cratchit or any of the other people he had been hurting. The rich man couldn’t see Lazarus right out in front of his gate. Prosperity can get in the way of us seeing the people around us. We avoid what is distasteful so our enjoyment doesn’t get disturbed, so we don’t see the suffering of those around us. Money and possessions and comfort draw the curtains on our awareness, create a chasm between us and other people. If we are well-off, we might not think we need other people and may push them away as we pursue our own comfort.

So what is going to open our eyes? What is going to bridge the chasm? What is going to make us aware of those around us who don’t enjoy the benefits we do?
A scripture like this one can do the trick. A story like A Christmas Carol, can help us to do that. In these two stories we look at our own lives through the eyes of the characters. It puts a safe distance between us and the topic so we can really look at it clearly. We might not be as greedy and blind and as the rich man in this story, yet we all have been tempted by money and possessions. We might not be as grouchy and lonely as Scrooge, but we have been those things to a certain extent. His story casts light on our own story. These two stories get us thinking—When have I been greedy? When have I pursued money at the cost of relationships? When have I ignored someone suffering on my doorstep? What do I pursue in my life—what am I eager for? What do I most want out of life? When we ask those questions honestly, we’re going to start seeing what we might not have seen before. We will start to examine our own life. We will start to see people we might not have seen before.

I love the journey that Scrooge takes. First he looks at his life in the past. He sees all the potential in his life. He sees that his life might have been different. His heart is softened toward himself. He is able to find the distance necessary to let his guard down to truly examine how he got where he is. Without this step, he would just be defensive and never be able to see what he needs to see.

In the same way, it is important for us to have compassion on ourselves. To ask, “How did I get where I am?” helps us to see that we could have taken another path and we can, still. It helps us to have forgiveness for ourselves. We don’t just start out this way. Usually there is good reason that we are how we are. This doesn’t mean we don’t have choices—it shows we do. We chose to respond a certain way to the troubles and pressures of life and that’s how we got here. Going over the past, helps us see how we don’t need to repeat that in the present or future.

We don’t know how clearly the rich man can see his past, but we know he sees it well enough to remember the name of the man he repeatedly stepped over to get to his house. We know he is seeing this man now, who he seemed not to see before. Maybe it occurs to him that he could have helped and he wouldn’t have even felt it.

So then we come to the present. Scrooge sees the consequences of what he has done. He sees how he is hurting people right now, how he is missing out on relationships and love, how he is disconnected and all alone. He sees how people are making the best of their lives despite how he’s cheated them and how they have love for each other—something he doesn’t have.

How often do we stop and look around and say, “Is this where I want to be?” This story helps us do that. When we do we might see how some of our relationships could be improved or what we’ve done to mess them up. We might look at our list of unfinished business and see if there is something we could check off—someone we need to talk to, apologies we need to express, hopes we need to pursue. So often we are distracted by just the day to day things that need to be done, we forget to stop and look around and see if our life is going the way we intend it to and see how we can better respond to the things life throws our way.

Finally, Scrooge gets to see the future. This part used to scare me a lot, when I was growing up. He gets to see what might happen if he continues to act this way. He sees that Tiny Tim has died as a consequence of his actions. He sees his own grave.

This is the part of the parable that Jesus tells today. He tells the scary part. I am not that excited about using fear and threats as motivation, yet both these stories make us sit up and pay attention. They both tell us that there are long-term consequences of our actions. What we do in this life has ripple effects for a long, long time. The hurt that we cause goes on and on after we die. To feel that jab of guilt now, can motivate us to make a change that is going to better for all of us.

Scrooge wakes up, realizing that he’s been given a second chance. He is absolutely giddy with joy in being generous. It is too late for the rich man, but remember that he is a fictional character. This story is for his brothers who still have a second chance to sit up and pay attention—who still have a chance to see what he missed in life. We are all those brothers, invited now to pay attention—to look around at all those we’ve ignored and bridge those gaps, show compassion, build those relationships, and be generous.

The media tries to convince us to look up to the rich and famous. The Bible is a counter point to all of that. It elevates the poor as the ones who are blessed. The rich are the ones to feel sorry for. That is bad news for us, because we are the rich, right? What is helpful is that we have this warning, this wake-up call to remind us to see what is right in front of us. And there is more good news in 1 Timothy. Yes, the rich have more woes. We’ve got to watch out for all these extra temptations and keep our eyes clear and focus on what really matters. Our lives can’t be about just getting more stuff and money. That isn’t going to be good for us or anyone else. This scripture shows mercy even on us wealthy folks and gives extra advice to us since we are going to need it. It reminds us to focus on generosity, being rich in good works, and not to be haughty, and to pursue righteousness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. There is even good news for the rich.

Someone has come from the dead to tell us about the life that really is life. We read that and we know that Jesus came. It is that little wink to us because we know the rest of the story. But does knowing the rest of the story help open our eyes or keep us comfortable. Jesus is going to keep coming to us in stories and the people we meet to wake us up to take hold of the life that really is life and bridge the gaps in this life. God bridged the gap between heaven and earth and bridges the gaps between us. We have a choice what kind of life we will live. Will we live like Jesus, bridging gaps or like the rich man, increasing them? Will we really live for relationships or for our stuff? Jesus wants to give us new life right now, will we accept it, or refuse to see the realities before us.

I think one of the Lazarus’ at our door is our earth. It literally lays at our doorstep, wounded and crying out. And we step right past on our way to church or our job or to our parties. Will we wake up to see the distance we put between ourselves and this earth to which we are closely linked and which God made for us to care for? Will we realize it isn’t too late for us or for future generations and start acting generously storing up the treasure of a good foundation for the future and invest in the life that really is life?

Let us give thanks for God who shows mercy on us and gives us a second chance to be rich in what matters. Let us give thanks to God who bridges the gap to come to us to give us life. May our eyes be opened to the realities all around us. May our arms be opened in generosity to those Jesus puts in our path of life. May we share that life with all we meet, sharing the life that really is life.

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