The Gospel: Luke 16:19-31
Jesus said, "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' But Abraham said, `Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.' He said, `Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house-- for I have five brothers-- that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' He said, `No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: I was struck this week by the Archbishop of Canterbury's words in his sermon at the Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. I felt these words tied in beautifully with the thoughts expressed in our readings for this morning.
The Archbishop said: "The pattern for many leaders is to be exalted in life and forgotten after death. The pattern for all who serve God – famous or obscure, respected or ignored – is that death is the door to glory."
"In 1953 the Queen began her Coronation with silent prayer, just there at the High Altar. Her allegiance to God was given before any person gave allegiance to her. Her service to so many people in this nation, the Commonwealth, and the world, had its foundation in her following Christ – God himself – who said that he “came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
"People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are still rarer. But in all cases those who serve will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privileges are long forgotten.
These are powerful words and a powerful reminder of the need for us all to remember who give our allegiance to and how that will be reflected in how we live our lives.
I spoke last week about how the Collect of the week can guide our understanding of the readings each Sunday. I feel that the Collect for this week is a wonderful example of that and so I am going to read it to begin my message this morning.
"O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives, and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
So two things, from the Collect, that I would like to examine this morning are:
"you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity"
"that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure"
I would like to bring our focus, particularly to the words "power" and "heavenly treasure." I want us to consider this morning what our understanding of power is and what it is to be used for. I want to also take some time for us to examine how we associate wealth - or treasure - with power.
A secondary question which we will weave in and out of this morning is how do we as Christians act differently if we are seeking after heavenly treasure rather than earthly treasure? How does that affect our understanding of power and how we exercise power?
As we look at the world we live in, at the society that we live in, we don't have to look very far before we see that many of the issues and challenges of our society revolve around who holds power and how they exercise that power.
I would like to suggest this morning that this holds true for a small community like ours or for the exercise of power on a national or an international scale. The desire to gain power and the exercise of that power runs through all of our communities and through all of our lives.
It is important to recognize that God exercises his power in many ways. But the Collect for this morning declares that he "chiefly" exhibits his power in "mercy and pity." God's long patience and in his responding to the people of Israel in mercy and pity many times is an example of God's exercise of power.
So, what is it that we can see, learn and apply to our own lives because of these readings this morning?
What is that we might term the "heavenly treasure" of these readings?
Can I suggest that the reading from Jeremiah leads us to examine how we might maintain hope in our world even when the circumstances which we face seem anything but hopeful? Who is this God, of mercy and pity, that Jeremiah, and we, are being asked to put our hope and trust in?
Jeremiah is under arrest and the city is under siege when the word of the Lord comes to him and tells him to purchase a field. Why under those circumstances would you want to invest in buying a property? Well, it seems that the point of this story is that Jeremiah is being asked to express his hope and trust in the Lord to right the situation of his life. He is being asked to put his trust in the God of mercy and pity, and to invest in a "heavenly treasure" that he cannot yet see.
"For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land." Jeremiah 32: 15
The language of 1 Timothy 6 is even plainer. I am not going to read the whole thing. I would encourage you to take the Bulletin home this morning and to take some time sometime this week to read through 1 Timothy 6: 6 - 19. Paul speaks in a very straightforward manner about the challenge of wealth and our attitude toward wealth. He begins in verse 6 this way: "There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment." Then he rounds out the first paragraph with these very challenging words in verse 10: "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains."
Remember I said at the beginning of my message that many people associate power with wealth. The desire to hold and maintain power is sometimes so closely connected with the accumulation of wealth.
Paul goes on to challenge that kind of reasoning in verses 17 through 19: "As for those who in the present age are rich, 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."
It is clear here that Scripture is not against accumulating wealth. But it certainly challenges those who have wealth or are keen to accumulate it, should remember the purpose of wealth. It is not for the creation of personal power.
The Gospel reading this morning is once again an admonition and a reminder of the example we have to follow in God's exercise of power.
That is why the Archbishop of Canterbury's words were so powerful this week. He reminded all those present in the cathedral and the millions of people watching across the world of Queen Elizabeth II's commitment to humble service. Because of her commitment to her Christian faith, she committed her life to the service of others.
The Archbishop said: "In 1953 the Queen began her Coronation with silent prayer, just there at the High Altar. Her allegiance to God was given before any person gave allegiance to her. Her service to so many people in this nation, the Commonwealth, and the world, had its foundation in her following Christ – God himself – who said that he “came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”"
May the Lord grant us a deep understanding of the challenge of this morning's readings. May these words shape and guide us in our daily lives here at Christ Church and throughout the coming week. May he grant us the fullness of his grace today and throughout the remainder of our lives?
"O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."
Bishops & Father Mike