The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his five brothers. It reminds me of Hamlet, how it starts out with a ghost returning from the dead, and yes, Hamlet has a hard time believing his father. The rich man, in pain, wants Lazarus to go back, though. He’s still ordering about those he deems less than himself. But no. Abraham explains two things: during your lifetime you received your good things but Lazarus received evil. Now he is comforted and you suffer. Second, if they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.
What is it about Moses and the prophets that should be listened to? What are we to understand from the scriptures, that without it even supernatural acts cannot be taken in? Because we do know someone who rose from the dead, and yet it’s certainly not the whole story to tell people, “Jesus rose from the dead, therefore you should trust him for your salvation.”
By Moses the original hearers would know Abraham is referring to the first five books of the Bible. A Fuller professor whose class on the pentateuch I audited said that they were written to tell God’s people who they were and what they were to do. Abraham pointing to Moses is quite funny actually, because he’s pointing to the record of his own story, and Abraham’s story is all about God coming to him, and his knowing and believing God and obeying him. Listen to Moses and know who God is, who you are, and what you are to do.
The prophets? Well we have a reading from Amos and it’s not pretty. Woe to those who are complacent and secure and do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph. They will go into exile and their revelry shall pass away. There was a time when Japan was at war in China and China had two main armies. So there were three groups warring. But there were areas called concessions owned by other countries in some of the large cities, like Shanghai and Peking as they called it at the time. There were missionaries who left the safety of the concessions and went into the war zones to rescue dying soldiers and village folk alike and bring them all to the hospital. Eric Liddell of Olympic fame served his brother’s hospital and the villages on the great plain as both a pastor and a Red Cross agent bringing in the wounded although he was shot at and such. When the war expanded to WW2 and the concessions were emptied out by the Japanese, Eric was made the leader of a third of the people going to an internment camp. Men in suits as if going to a concert, ladies in high heels, fur coats and full jewelry, shocked to learn their Chinese workers wouldn’t be allowed to carry their luggage, left behind untold wealth and carried their own suitcases for miles, and when they finally reached their destination it was to find that the camp (which had been a mission compound) had been stripped bare, even of plumbing by the soldiers. If they were to eat, they had to organize cooking. If the toilets (which were in the worst shape imaginable) were going to be clean, someone was going to pump buckets. How much worse it was for the rich than for Eric who’d already been grieving over the ruin, helping the bombed villagers. They did admirably, organizing a community which worked together for two years and one month.
I mention this story because it gives me understanding when I read the last line of our Amos passage. Though they have lived it up, now when they face exile it will hurt them the most. However, if they had grieved over the ruin of Joseph, they would have been able more gracefully to face exile.
Praise the Lord, our psalm begins, and then warns against putting hope in princes. Then the psalm goes on to tell us about our God:
Who made the heavens, earth, sea, and all that is in them.
Who keeps faith forever.
Who executes justice for the oppressed.
Who gives food to the hungry.
Who sets prisoners free.
Who opens the eyes of the blind.
Who lifts up those who are bowed down.
Who loves the righteous.
Who watches over strangers.
Who upholds the widows and orphans.
Who will reign forever.
Praise the Lord.
The Old Testament tells us what the God of Israel is like. He is provider and rescuer, maker and keeper, and he is worthy of praise. That same God who reveals himself in scripture is revealed in Jesus. Therefore we who come to faith in Jesus cannot believe just because he was a man who was crucified and rose again. No, the act of power is not convincing without the understanding gained by reading of God’s declarations to and relationship with his people. Faith in Jesus is the same as faith in the God of Israel and all of that story is ours to know our God. It’s for teaching us who we are and how we are to live.
In that context Paul writes to Timothy. Words which are good and gracious, even delightful for us, struggling with being the rich in this world (trust me, we are in the top one percent). Great gain in godliness combined with contentment…if we have food and clothing we will be content. G.K.Chesterton wrote that there are two ways to be satisfied: one is always to be gaining more, the other to want what you already have. Ann Voskamp, in her runaway best seller One Thousand Gifts, would say contentment comes from writing down things one is grateful for, any time and all the time. But back to Paul: a warning (those who want to be rich fall into all sorts of problems), a guidance (but you pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness), an exaltation (King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light), and a command (as for those who are rich…)
The command is good news for us. Listen to the instructions: command them not to be haughty or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.
Trust in God, not riches, because he richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. James 1:16-17 surprised me when Ravinia and I learned it: don’t be deceived my dear brothers: every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father. Here in Timothy the surprise: He richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment!
I lost 40 pounds in 2004 when I read a book that dealt not only with weight loss but with truth my heart needed. One of the first concepts introduced was of God the provider. If I can trust that God will provide then I don’t need to grab something in case it will be gone when I want it. I can walk in the path of God’s provision. Ann Voskamp would like that; it brings me back to gratitude instead of worry.
God richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment, so share, do good, be rich in good works, generous. We don’t do it out of coercion, a sense of duty, or guilt. We do it from an awareness of God’s rich provision.
Whenever you move you have to decide what to keep and what to get rid of. If you don’t do this on a regular basis (feeling a bit convicted here) it’s rather hard. So one time in CT I think it was, I was asking God how could I ever give away something (I think it may have been a coat) that I loved. He answered it’s easy when you love the recipient more.
The good news is God provides richly for all his children. Sometimes he uses the rich to provide for the poor. To jump to James one more time (1:9-10) the brother in humble circumstances should take pride in his high position but the one who is rich should take pride in his low position because he will pass away like a wildflower. Knowing he will die connects the rich to the poor and giving in love saves him from the fall into all sorts of problems. We who have been blessed with so much can realize it all comes from God and can give it lovingly as he does, empowered by faith and grace.
The truth is we struggle. We don’t always remember who we are and what we are to do. This past week I struggled mightily. In my home life, sometimes I feel pulled in different directions. So as Ravinia did her school work, I grabbed laundry and started doing a chore I normally love but hadn’t planned on doing that day. Grumbling to God about it, I began and then it became a song:
Everybody wants to be served. (angrily)
Everybody wants to be served. (truthfully)
But in the kingdom of God we all serve each other (discoveringly)
And that’s how we honor the Lord. (happily)
And then my service was a joy. It wasn’t just about clean clothes or a load a day, it was joyful service and honoring God who is most worthy of being served but who serves his people time and again, from Abraham and Moses to you and me. He gives generously and calls us to be like him…free the slaves because he does, love the unworthy because he does. He is the same through all of scripture and it is all there for us to read so as to know him and enjoy him, and then we will know who we are and how we are to live. That’s the good news.
I read this tonight to Julie and Ashley and Nikki and Rachel. Julie asked me to blog sermons. To write what I would say if I were preaching a sermon, and then read it to them every week. You know, I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but I have found out (last year in October) that I need to be asked to write. So maybe I will. I’m not a pastor, but I have this idea that everyone should try writing a sermon just like everyone should try poetry: not to be famous but to learn the art and to appreciate the craft and to honor the professionals they know.