This morning’s readings dovetail perfectly with our current themes of Christian Social Witness and Stewardship and our responsibilities to our neighbors. In the gospel reading from Luke we have a rich man, possibly even a member of the royal family. He dresses in purple and fine linen which could be afforded only by the very well off. We are told that he eats very well every day. In contrast his neighbor Lazarus is very ill and very hungry and presumably very poorly dressed with no place to rest and no place to find comfort in his distress. When they both die, Lazarus is comforted and rests in peace in the bosom of Abraham while the rich man has a grand funeral and finds himself tormented in Hades. Their roles have been reversed. Why is this so? We have not been told that the rich man ill-treated Lazarus. He did not call the police and have him removed. He did not meet with the Neighborhood Association and put up “No Loitering” signs or make rules about who could live in the neighborhood. The rich man’s sin appears to be the fact that he totally ignored Lazarus that he didn’t see Lazarus’ needs for basic health care and a simple meal or recognize Lazarus as a fellow child of God. Even in death the rich man’s contempt for Lazarus is apparent when instead of addressing Lazarus directly he asks Abraham to send Lazarus to bring him water for relief of his thirst and again the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers to warn them to change their ways.
In our baptism we promise to repent and to turn to Jesus and to believe in Jesus Christ. In our baptism we are welcomed into the family of God where we are all beloved children of God. We promise to live our lives so as to bring honor and glory to God, to embrace our neighbors as brothers and sisters in the family of God and to actively fight to correct the injustices found in our society and to treat all people with respect and dignity.
Our vestry has spent a lot of time visioning St. James’ future, identifying who we are and what Ministry God is calling us to. The mission of THE Church is to restore all people to unity to God and to each other in Christ. The ministry of St. James’ in Albion is to build relationships within our St. James’ family and with our neighbors through our Food and Education ministries to fulfill our vision as a Christ Centered Community, loving God, our neighbors, ourselves and all of God’s creation.
Your vestry is working on a five year plan and our ten year aspirations for the future, our plan for how we will stretch and grow into our baptismal vows. Over the next few weeks we will be asking for your financial pledge for the coming year and your continued commitment of your time and talents to support our internal and external ministries.
A large portion of our 2017 budget will be for our overhead expenses, our costs for existing, for being in business so to speak. These costs include our ability to pay our payroll, to keep the lights on and to open our doors for weekly worship and to pay our diocesan apportionment to support the work of the diocesan, national and global church. We also look to the future when we will need a new roof for the parish hall, the need to bring the electrical wiring in the rectory up to code, the need to add dehumidifiers so that we can use our Sunday School rooms in the lower level and to save for future payroll commitments.
I am proud to be your rector where we have a beautiful new sanctuary and fine music and choristers so that we can give joyful praise and thanksgiving to God. I am pleased that we provide Christian Formation with “Weaving God’s Promises” for the children and youth, book studies and Bible Study for the adults, and have just begun a confirmation class for four. We ARE a welcoming and affirming community who are willing to struggle with what that means for us personally and as a family as we face the challenges of a rapidly changing society. We are a vibrant group engaged in our church and in our community with floats in the parades, purse bingos, volunteering for Healthy Baby Days, weeding petunias, and Vacation Bible School, providing community suppers, Reading Camps and our new venture, Albion Community Gardens.
A true measure of the sincerity of the vision and ministry of an organization is the percentage of the budget that is designated for this work. Over the next few weeks your vestry hopes to provide some transparency on how we are doing. Are we a tithing church who provides at least ten percent of our budget towards our outreach ministry? Do we feed the hungry and fight to end the injustices that cause hunger and despair? Do we welcome the other and forgive them for being different from us?
The rich man in this morning’s gospel asks Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to the living so that they would change their ways. Abraham replies that the living have Moses and the prophets, that even if a man rose from the dead his brothers would not change their ways. O God help us to remember that a man has risen from the dead that you sent Jesus Christ to us proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven, teaching us to repent and follow the example of Jesus, commanding us to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. O God help us to see the hungry, the sick, the unloved and to provide food, health care and love, and to fight tirelessly to end the social injustices that cause these problems in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Track 2: Amos 8:4-7, Psalm 113, 1 Timothy 2:1-7, Luke 16:1-13
Today’s gospel is difficult to follow. Is the rich man really commending his property manager for being dishonest and is Jesus also approving? No, the manager still lost his job. The property owner is acknowledging that the manager has been very shrewd in placing those who owed the property owner money in his debt. The manager has reduced their debt by the amount that was likely his commission. In so doing they are in his debt and are culturally bound to assist him when he comes to them for help after he is fired. This was a smart thing to do and the property owner says so. The manager still lost his job for being dishonest even if he was prudent. Too bad he was not more prudent in managing his boss’ affairs.
Jesus is not commending the manager for his dishonesty, but Jesus is commending the manager for his resourcefulness in preparing for his future. Jesus is wishing that the people of God would be as resourceful and prudent in preparing for their future. I like the New Living Translation of Luke 16:8-9, “The rich man had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd. And it is true that the citizens of this world are more shrewd than the godly are. I tell you, use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. In this way, your generosity stores up a reward for you in heaven.”
We know what to do to prepare for our future retirement. We save to our 401K’s. We prepare a will and advance directives. We pre-plan our funerals, perhaps even purchasing a plot and a headstone. As new parents we save for our children’s education, perhaps even for their wedding. We buy health insurance, life insurance, accident insurance and perhaps even long term care insurance. We want to know that our family will be taken care of in the event of our untimely death. We want to know that we will be taken care of when we grow old and in the event that we become ill or unable to care for our self.
As good American citizens, we get an education, we get a good job, we pay our taxes, and we join the armed forces to protect our country and way of life. We run for office, we obey the laws of the land and we recycle. These are wise and prudent things to do in our North American society, as American citizens.
The point Jesus is making is, are we as wise and prudent as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven? As we save and plan for our families and our futures here on earth, do we also save and plan as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven?
It is important to note that money in itself is not evil. The First Letter to Timothy chapter six verse 10 actually says, “For love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” Money is the means by which we make transactions in our society. This is not wrong. It is when we are greedy, desiring more and more for ourselves without thought for others that we sin. Incarnation is an important belief to Episcopalians and members of the wider Anglican Communion. We believe that God through Jesus Christ came and lived on earth as one of us. We believe that God’s creation is intrinsically good, simply because it is. In the creation story God repeatedly says that what he created is good. It is an important belief in Anglicanism that a strong connection exists between the Incarnation—the fact that God became a human being in Jesus—and social action. We ask ourselves ‘How does a strong belief that the church is, in the words of theologian James E. Griffiss, “called to witness to the Incarnate Christ in all the conditions of human existence” inform our social witness?’ (Harold T. Lewis, Christian Social Witness, p. 160)
What is social witness? Answer.com answers with, “It means letting God’s love shine through your lifestyle. You don’t have to preach. When someone asks you why you are different, then you can share your faith and how God changed you.” For a Quaker this might mean encouraging a wider and deeper understanding of peace, promoting positive social change and helping groups to increase their effectiveness using active non-violence and advising and supporting schools and teachers in conflict resolution and peer mediation programs, supporting the justice system through restorative justice.
In April 2015, the Presbyterian social witness policy group advocated for tax and economic reform. The study looks at the U.S. tax system through the lens of five principles built on General Assembly policies: progressivity in allocating the tax burden across households at different wealth levels, transparency that fully informs democratic decisions, social solidarity supports our life together as a community, ecological and fiscal sustainability that take a longer term view of systems that fuel the economy, and adequacy in raising revenue to fund appropriate and necessary government activity. (accessed from pcusa.org, 09/17/2016)
Christian Social Witness is faith in action. It is what we do as a consequence of what we believe. The church, sometimes corporately and officially, sometimes through the actions of its individual members, makes choices, takes stands, [advocates] and speaks out on issues affecting both its own life and the life of the society of which it is a constituent part. It does so because it is guided by its theology, by its understanding of scripture, and by its life of prayer. A church that makes no social witness is unimaginable because such witness is part and parcel of our job description as church. (Lewis, p. 1)
In today’s gospel the message is that we are bestowed with many different gifts and resources, intelligence, good health, a cheerful spirit, skill at making money and spending money, healing, teaching, communication, gardening, tool making, driving, spatial perception, mechanics, and the list goes on. The choice is what we do with these gifts and resources. Do we use them for self-gratification or do we use them for the benefit of our neighbors and to the glory of God; do we use them as good citizens of the United States of America and do we use our gifts and resources as good citizens of the Kingdom of God.
Almighty God, whose prophets taught us righteousness in the care of your poor: By the guidance of your Holy Spirit, grant that we may do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in your sight; through Jesus Christ, our Judge and Redeemer, who lives and reigns with you and the same Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.