I really need to quit reading David Lose's columns from Working Preacher, because I get these ideas and actually do them, and one of these days I'm going to get fired. So, my congregation has an almost $200,000 endowment fund that literally is keeping the building running for 30 people. And it makes me a little angry...that maybe we're the rich man, walking past Lazarus each and every Sunday, just so we can worship in the same building their grandma did. So, my intent is to challenge them a bit--they'll each get $5 of that $200,000, and maybe they'll love spending it so much, they'll want to give it all away. If not, maybe it's time for a new call, anyway...So,here's rough outline of what I'm planning to say tomorrow. Tomorrow might end up with a Jesus loves you...Amen kind of sermon. (ps. Thanks for listening yesterday, you guys...I love you all.)
Another one of these tell you what I really want to say kind of sermons.
I read an article written recently by an English professor—and her concluding sentence. Greed is bad…it is really, really bad.
I think Jesus might agree—you know what Jesus talks more about than absolutely anything else—more than sex, more than heaven, more than fig trees—money. And why? Well, probably because we think about money more than…well, more than fig trees. Our entire lives seemed to be consumed with it—how to we earn it; how do we get more of it; how do we spend it; how do we keep it so one day we don’t have to work for it anymore. And, you know what? That makes Jesus really, really angry—because what does he want you to think of more than anything in else—no, not fig trees…but, he wants you to serve him? And that leads to how do you serve him? By seeing all those Lazarus’ on our doorsteps.
I saw him on Thursday; I was making a quick trip while the kids were at their piano and violin lessons—I saw him twice; first on my way into Wal-Mart, and then on my way out. And both times—all those questions went through my head—you know them. I wonder what he did to get here? I wonder what bills he decided not to pay. It says he has a family—probably just a ploy to make me feel bad. What good would my little dollar do. It’s not like giving him something would change the world—heck it wouldn’t even change his world. So, I drove on—cursed the stop light for being red, and for making me have to sit there and look at him for so long. And then grateful when it finally turned green, and I could drive on—pretend that he was no longer there and let someone else take responsibility for him.
You know that’s actually what happened to our dear Lazarus. Of course the English doesn’t tell us, but the Greek makes it clear that Lazarus was actually tossed haphazardly onto the front doorstep of that rich man. People who didn’t want to take care of him any longer, picked him up, dragged him across down and threw him upon the mercy of someone who had the resources to actually care for him. They threw him down upon the mercy, upon the compassion of someone who was supposed to…upon the mercy of someone who should care for him.
Most of the time, I think we’re the guys who throw Lazarus onto the rich guy’s doorstep. We think we don’t have enough; that our little bit won’t make a difference, so we give up, overlook our responsibilities and turn the problem over to someone with a little more authority, a little more clout, a little more money to share. But, you know what, we’re not them…we’re that rich guy. We have everything we need…we have more than we need—we’re told we don’t with all those blasted commercials, and new clothes and cars and things we could have—but we have more than enough. And instead of moaning that we don’t have enough—we’re called to look deeply into the eyes of that man standing at the Wal-Mart intersection…we’re called to not get defensive or suspect or doubtful…but we’re called to give out of the gifts that God has given us…and actually give it to him---give him the scraps off our table...because as one preacher said “not a single one of us will get into heaven, if we don’t have a reference letter from the poor.”
Here’s where I’m going to get a little too concrete for you—but you know who the rich man is among us? This congregation. As a whole, we have enough money to build a homeless shelter; as a whole we have enough money to feed thousands of children for a number of years; as a whole we could do a whole lot more than simply give someone the scraps that fall of our table. As a whole, we have hundreds of thousands of dollars sitting in accounts, so that we can keep these lights turned on and the fans running. I think Jesus is angry—because instead of seeing Lazarus sitting at our front gate…we’re making our own couches more comfortable and our own wine easier to swallow.
Now, before you start a coup and try to throw me out of here…I’d like to try a little experiment—because it’s quite possible I’m wrong—and the money in those accounts should just sit there to help us survive—maybe there’s something bigger and better we’re waiting for. But in the meantime—remember how we looked at our hands and saw they were God’s hands and by doing so made us use these hands differently.
What if we actually looked at this money and saw it as God’s money? What if we actually believed what we said…and acted as ones who’s lives overflow with compassion for those who are poor-who were overwhelmed with mercy that God longs for us to have for each other. What if we lived as ones who served only one Master—who served only God, and not the money we cling to.
So, this week—you indeed have a challenge. Take this $5 and use it. Keeping in mind that this is indeed God’s money—money that two days ago was sitting in our church’s account wondering what it was to be used for. Give it away—give a quarter to 20 people; give a five to one; buy a cup of coffee for someone who is lonely. But, while you’re pondering how to use it—pay attention to what happens to your heart. Do you see this money differently, because you know it’s not really your’s? I wonder then…is any of your money really your’s? Does it make you angry that you have to give it away, or does it make you joyful? Maybe…just maybe giving it away, will change more than the one who receives. Here’s the thing. Ihave no idea what’s going to happen here. I have no idea if this is the right thing to do. But, what I do know, is that Jesus wants us to serve him, through those sitting at our gates…I do know that serving, clinging to, loving our money, is not the way to get that done. What I do know, is that I’m tired of simply talking about what I believe, I’m ready to actually live it...And I also know this—that Jesus promises that whenever we give a cup of water, a bit of friend, the coat off our back to the least of these…we give it to him. I’m ready to meet Jesus…and if it takes me to give away God’s money to see him…maybe that’s a price we should be willing to pay.