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Sermon for September 25, 2022 – Proper 21

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life Script 4044 | The Investment of Contentment
Jeff Broadnax

They were known as the Roaring 20s in American history. It was a time of unprecedented prosperity. Unemployment rates were nearly non-existent, loan rates were unbelievably low, and the American economy seemed unstoppable. This seemingly unending dream of financial prosperity would soon be replaced by the nightmare event that ushered in the Great Depression – the stock market crash of 1929.

Looking back on this tragic time, economists point to several factors that contributed to the worst financial collapse in modern history – but it seemed the most common denominator was greed.

With stocks at an all-time high, much of the middle class decided they wanted in on the action. What had previously been the domain of the super-wealthy was now open to anyone interested. Some families borrowed money from banks to purchase stocks, having been assured the market would continue rising “to the moon.” Then as the market value began to freefall, banks began calling in those loans and thousands of families lost everything. The same families who would have been fine if it hadn’t been for greed.

Contentment seems to be a concept that is foreign to the world that we are living in. The pervasive message that is continually pitched to us is that “more is better.”

The allure of riches followed by the consequences of greed has plagued every civilization – including those in the first century. The apostle Paul issued some stern warnings to all followers of Christ regarding the issue of chasing after wealth at the expense of your spiritual well-being. In his first letter to Timothy, he writes:

But Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
1 Timothy 6:6-10

Someone once said, there are two tents: content and discontent. It is up to you which one you live in. Living in discontentment is a life where your thirst for more will never be quenched. Paul warns us to guard against this as the consequences of living this way are ultimately destructive and tragic.

On the flip side, a life of contentment helps you distinguish between wants and needs. When you are content, you are in a state of gratitude. Your focus is on what you have and not on what you wish you had.

Let us not get fooled into thinking that we are missing out on something. We have Christ. In Christ, we have been given everything needed for life and Godliness. With hearts of gratitude, we look to Jesus, who richly supplies all our needs, not our greed.

May Jesus help us be the church that ushers in the Great Contentment.  

I’m Jeff Broadnax, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 91:1-6 (14-16) • Jeremiah 32:1-3a (6-15) • 1 Timothy 6:6-19 • Luke 16:19-31

This week’s theme is God’s caring provision. In our call to worship Psalm, we can proclaim that God is our refuge and our fortress we can run to. In the Old Testament, Jeremiah acts out the word of the Lord, communicating that God has not forgotten his people, but has plans to restore them. In the epistles, Paul encourages us by sharing that God cares enough to provide everything that we truly need in this life. And in Luke, Jesus gives the parable of Lazarus and Dives, showing how Lazarus was comforted and cared for by God in the next age.

The Heart That is Moved

Luke 16:19-31

Oscar Schindler was a German industrialist during World War 2. He was also considered a proud member of the Nazi party. But when he began to witness the plight of the Jews who were in concentration camps, his heart was moved with compassion.

He knew that he could not possibly save all the Jews, but he could save some. Schindler used his wealth and privilege as a respected member of the Nazi party to bribe the German prison officials. The bribes went towards releasing Jews to work for him at his factories. This compassionate act on the part of Schindler saved many Jews from death.

By the end of World War 2, Oscar Schindler had spent his entire fortune saving the lives of more than 1200 Jews. Here was someone who could not live with himself if he knew he had the opportunity to save others but chose to do nothing.

We may not have the finances or status that Oscar Schindler had, but what matters is where our hearts are. Are we open to seeing to the needs around us when it is in our power to do so? Do we have hearts that can be moved?

Today, we are going to look at a parable that Jesus aims at the Pharisees. It’s a story about a man of great wealth and privilege. But despite all his great resources, he chooses not to help someone in need, even though the opportunity was always at his doorstep. And while this story is told to the Pharisees, may we have ears to hear it as well.

Read Luke 16:19-31

Earlier in Luke’s Gospel we see Jesus telling several parables concerning finances and resources. The parable just before this one was about the shrewd money manager. Jesus is on a roll here and is having another go at the Pharisees, whom he has identified as greedy and lacking in compassion.

Jesus pulls no punches with this parable. He sets up a story about two men who were polar opposites in their worldly circumstances. The first man is described as someone who is extravagantly dressed and wasteful–a wealthy man, who tradition calls Dives, meaning “rich.” The fact that Jesus gives the detail that he was dressed in purple shows that he was in the top tier of the population. When Jesus says that Lazarus longed to eat the bread that fell from the rich man’s table, he was talking about the practice of the super wealthy using their bread as napkins to wipe their faces and discarding the crumbs.

Next, you have the beggar, Lazarus, who was laid at the rich man’s gate. Being laid there more than likely meant that he was dumped there. This indicates that he may have been crippled or suffered some disfigurement or disease. In any case, he didn’t even have the strength to fight off the wild dogs as they came and licked his sores.

This pitiful and grotesque condition of Lazarus should have elicited a response out of even the most hard-hearted and greedy individual. And yet, Dives ignores the suffering of someone at his lowest point as Lazarus lays there at his gate.

The disturbing picture that Jesus has just painted for the Pharisees was done to get a reaction—to cause them to feel outrage over the lack of compassion in the rich man. We read later that the lesson was lost on the Pharisees just as it was on Dives.

At this point let’s check in with how this parable makes us feel so far. Do we feel the outrage that Jesus intended? Are we tired of seeing the greed that causes so much harm to others? Are we responding to the needs around us when we are able to do so?

Owen Cooper was a chairperson for the Mississippi Chemical Corporation. He had amassed much in his lifetime. As he got older, he reflected on how he had lived his life. A friend asked him, “If you had your life to live over, what would you do? Here is an excerpt of his answer:

If I had my life to live over, I would love more, I would especially love others more. I would let this love express itself in a concern for my neighbors, my friends, and all with whom I came into contact. I would try to let love permeate me, overcome me, overwhelm me and direct me.

I would love the unlovely, the unwanted, the unknown and the unloved. I would give more and I would learn early in life the joy of giving, the pleasure of sharing, and the happiness of helping…

I would choose to go where the crowd doesn’t go, where the road is not paved, where the weather is bitter, where friends are few, where the need is great and where God is most likely to be found.

Let’s read on in Luke 16:

The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. (Luke 16:22-23)

Now we get to the part of the parable where everything is equal. Death doesn’t play favorites; we are all taken at some point. Lazarus and Dives are both in the place of the dead. However, one person’s experience is that of comfort and relief and joy – paradise – and the other experiences the torment and misery of Hades. The tables have been turned. Now it is Dives who is separated from his life of ease and extravagance while Lazarus has been restored.

Any improvement in Lazarus’ situation would have been greeted with shouts of hallelujah. It wouldn’t have taken much for him to feel relieved, to know that God has seen him. The name Lazarus means He who The Lord helps.

At the same time, Dives was so accustomed to having it all, that to take the slightest step down would have been unbearable. To be stripped of all his wealth and privilege and to be on equal footing with everyone else would have been agonizing.

Despite the torment and agony that Dives is experiencing, he has still not had a change of heart. This is evidenced by his unchanged attitude about Lazarus.

So he called to him, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” (Luke 16:24)

In verse 24, and again in verse 27, Dives pleads with Abraham to send Lazarus to do something for him — to serve him. He still doesn’t understand the position that he is in. He still thinks that he is above everyone else, especially Lazarus, as if Lazarus should bow to the whims of Dives. Dives has not humbled himself even in death.

Thomas Merton once wrote,

Our God also is a consuming fire. And if we, by love become transformed into him and burn as he burns, his fire will be our everlasting joy. But if we refuse his love and remain in the coldness of sin and opposition to him and to other men then will his fire (by our own choice rather than his) become our everlasting enemy, and Love, instead of being our joy, will become our torment and our destruction.

Let’s continue with the text:

But Abraham replied, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” (Luke 16:25-26)

Abraham reminds Dives how different his life was from that of Lazarus. The difference was more than what was seen on the outside. The difference was the condition of their hearts. The real problem was not that Dives was wealthy, it’s that he refused to do anything with his wealth to aid others. He had a life of opportunities and hoarded everything for himself.

The chasm that could not be crossed in Jesus’ parable was the condition of Dives’ unchanged, prideful heart. When we ignore the suffering of others, our hearts become hardened. As pitiful as Lazarus’ physical condition was, it was only physical. But on the inside of Dives was a grotesque condition that was far worse. It was the condition of a greedy, unrepentant heart.

Although Jesus tells this parable to the Pharisees who were stuck in their greed, this parable has something to teach all of us.

Jesus, through his Spirit, is looking for open hearts – hearts that can be moved with compassion for others. We have all been given gifts, resources, and opportunities. And this Spirit is always with us, longing to commit us to the acts of God directed towards others and to remind us of our temptation to center on self.

May we do what we can with what we have, to be able to share with those who have so little. May we be reminded that when we have done something for the least of these, we are doing it to Christ.

Let us be warmed by the fire of God in our hearts as we seek to keep others warmed by that same fire. We anticipate the joy that awaits us as we see others through the compassionate eyes of our Father in heaven. We embrace the self-giving life of his son, Jesus. And we submit to the guidance of the Holy Spirit who moves our hearts to serve those who are in need.

Gospel Priorities w/ Rex Dela Pena W3

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September 18 – Proper 20
Luke 16:1-13 “Trustworthy”

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Program Transcript

Gospel Priorities w/ Rex Dela Pena W3

Anthony: Let’s transition to our next pericope, which is Luke 16:1 – 13. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 20 in Ordinary Time, which is on September the 18th.

And it reads,

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ 3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ 5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 “‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’ 7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ 8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. 10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? 13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Verse two tells us, Rex, to give an account of your management. What my experience is, most people dread hearing come to the principal’s office or we need to talk, or the boss wants to see you, man.

It can just elicit anxiety right away. So, why do we fear being held in accounts?

Rex: Because there is a big part of us that feels we are not able to measure up. When you’re called like that, we fear being held in account. What did I do wrong? We’re focused on my mistake or what did I miss?

Because usually when we are called by our superiors, especially in that tone of a voice, oh, it’s, “Give me an account of your manager.” So, I think it’s by default that we look at ourselves as not good enough. So, when someone ask us about something, whether it’s a report, or it’s a computation, or it’s a whatever we’re supposed to finish, or a project, and there is that fear. Is this good enough? Is this something that’s possible?

I’m a student right now, and I think you are too right, Anthony?

Anthony: I am. Yes.

Rex: Yeah. So, when you turn in your paper, and you look at your paper and you try to see the comments. And I remember even in college where you look for the red marks. You look for the encircled sentences.

And then no matter how well you have done sometimes, that one little red mark could really throw you off. So, no one’s going to say, Hey, come on, call me and ask me for an account of your management.

If you are a fiscal manager, just like what we have in this passage, he knew he was going to find out. He knew he’d be caught wasting the money of his boss. But what’s amazing here is that he was commended. And that’s why this parable really needs to be studied well, because if you just read it, your first reading would be like, what? You’d be asking, what? This is a dishonest steward, and yet he’s being commended?

It doesn’t make sense. What’s interesting here is that in Luke 16:8, the sons of this world. And there’s a comparison, the sons of this world and the sons of light. It’s a distinction. I think it’s a Jewish category of delineating good people. The good question that we need to ask is, why was he commended or why was he commended after all these things?

It’s getting clearer here that he was commended for his foresight. He was not being commended for his wickedness, but for his foresight to take care of his earthly future. And there is that call for us. I think I’m answering the second question here, but there is the point where we as Christians need to be as determined, as focused when we consider our life in eternity. Our eternal life needs to be as determined, needs to be very focused on our priorities, of making sure that our lives become an expression of who we are in Jesus.

Anthony: Yeah. I think sometimes accountability is seen in a negative light, but accountability is not persecution. The Lord wants us to grow up into the head who is Christ, to mature in him. And we always go back to the question: Who is God? Who is Jesus, who is the Spirit, who is the Father?

We realize in giving an account of ourselves (as you’ve already vividly and very eloquently talked about the love of God), there’s nothing to fear in being held in account. We will all give an account. And I think on some level, it is going to be excoriating — not because God doesn’t love us, but we’ll see and be thankful for what God has done for us to wipe the debt. So, in that way, I long for it.

But this is interesting, Jesus talks so much about fearing not, because he knows us. He’s human, and he knows what the human experience and condition is like. So, we’re going to have fear, but the more that we focus on our Lord, that fear begins to slowly dissipate and know that he has given an account for us, and his account says that he loves us. Hallelujah praise God for that.

The scripture goes on to say that no slave can serve two masters. And I hear that a lot. Sometimes it’s preached well sometimes, not. What is the big deal and how can we think through that statement?

Rex: Yes. I think for me, if I’m going to explain this to a person right next to me, I would begin with asking, what’s the most important thing in your life? Because Jesus is making that contrast between serving God and serving mammon. And he’s the one who already told us that you cannot serve both God and money.

He’s already telling us. And Jesus is talking about what we serve or what we worship. Clearly, some people serve money, but we are very much encouraged to really think again and ask. We are to serve God. We need to be making sure in our hearts that we are not serving mammon and money.

And the question is, so how can you tell? How can people serve money? Because typically we’ll just say, I own it, I spend it, I’m not serving it. But when we see it as having its power over us, when we see money as a source of our security, a source of things that we want, we need, when people work so hard to obtain it and treasure it, of course, and all of these things would indicate that money is worthy of all my energy, my time, and my attention.

And there are times when money is looked at as security for the future, or even as something that’s very essential.

There’s so much fear going on in the world right now. And what’s the first thing that a lot of people could think is: I will be unscathed if I have all these riches to protect me. That’s how people serve money when money becomes everything for them.

But the next question would be: how much do we value our relationship with God? How do we look at God? Is he really our security? Is God really a source of all things that we need and want? Do we treasure him? Are we so compelled by his love for us that all of the things that we have – time, money, talent, possessions, and all that – are offered to him?

Anthony: That’s a good word. And a very relevant word for our time, Rex. Thank you.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • How content are you right now?
  • How do you spot when you are falling out of contentment?
  • What are the consequences of greed for us personally?
  • What joy do you derive from non-material things?

From the sermon

  • What inspires you to give to others?
  • How does it make you feel to see people who are experiencing homelessness?
  • Where is God moving you to serve the needs of others?
  • How do we stay humble before God?

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