Scripture: Luke 6:19-31
There are days when I really wish there were not rules. Like when the road is totally clear of all traffic and yet I am required to drive at a regulated speed. Then there are silly things at work, they are called guidelines or best practices, that require certain things out of me that must be recorded, many of which actually seem to slow me down. But generally these regulations and best practices are put into place by organizations to provide for the general welfare of that organization. The thing about many of these guidelines, rules, and laws is that you can break them countless times without hurting a single person, but then one day in a moment something happens and suddenly the guidelines seem to make total sense. For me the seemingly open road was suddenly filled with numerous deer. The speed limit is in place not because the government wants to be jerks and keep us from making it to places on time, but because as speeds increase there is a greater chance we will not be able to avoid accidents.
It is often hard for us as individuals to accept many of the rules we have in our society. At times we wish to throw off the regulations entirely but because we have grown accustom to that safety we forgot why it is certain things were originally put in place. I mention the chafing of regulations today because immediately when reading this passage of scripture our minds are directed into areas of judgment. I do not desire to speak on areas such as these because I frankly find that focusing on judgment tends to have an opposite effect on people than what is intended, the same effect that the regulation on speed has on the many drivers on the roads.
We meet today two men. One is rich and the other is poor. At first glance we may see that Jesus is condemning wealth and honoring poverty, which is an interpretation that can be made in this passage. But if we were to just stop there I believe we would miss the point. There is a reason Jesus so often honors the poor, not because the lack of means is a great place to find one’s self in, but because there is a perspective that can be seen through the eyes of the poor that is rarely seen by those of means. That perspective is need.
The poor are often in need. At any given moment they could lose the roof over their head, their forms of transportation, or the ability to eat. This perspective of need prompts us to seek relief. This is something that people of means rarely have to face. And when we do not need, our perspective can be skewed. We have two extremes in the conditions of the people in this parable of Jesus’, comfort and discomfort.
The first person that we meet is the rich man. This man is dressed in purple and fine linen, and he feasts every day. I want us to really consider what Jesus is saying about this man. Not only is he a wealthy individual but an individual that has so much wealth he must come up with ways to spend the money he has. Dyed fabrics in the ancient world were things of luxury. If you owned a garment that was dyed it would probably be something worn only for the most special of occasions. Now with that being said, dyed fabrics were not uncommon. The color of the dye is what sets one apart from the masses. It would be common to have natural colors in clothing because often dyes were made from natural occurring minerals or plants that would stain the fabrics. It is fairly easy to obtain an orange tint to fabrics by letting it soak in an iron rich soil solution. The problem with these is that the color fades. The rich and dark blues and purples are very special. We can get a blue with indigo the dye that is commonly found from a plant. Indigo was an expensive dye, but that is not the purple or blue that Jesus is referring to in this passage. It is one of a more sacred and rich variety. It is a royal or Tyrian purple. This dye is so special because of where it is found. It comes from a mucus membrane in a specific species of sea snail. People would dive into the see to gather the snails, they then would have to remove the membrane and then mix it in the dye solution. It was very labor intensive and thus expensive. It is prized because as the sun hits the dye it does not fade away like the dyes derived from plants, but instead gets richer and brighter. This was a type of dye that was used to make the stripes on the Hebrew prayer shawls and other ritualistic garments. So cloth of this variety was used to distinguish the separation of the sacred and the secular, the righteous from the sinner. To have a robe made entirely of this rich dyed fabric is making a profound statement, usually such wealth as this was reserved only for royalty or the royal courts, or in the case of the Hebrew people the Priestly class.
I mention this to establish something that this rich man was most likely a profoundly religious man, because of the cloth used to clothe his body, and because Jesus is speaking this parable to Pharisees. Jesus does not stop with the clothing, but he then speaks about the man’s diet. Jesus says that this man had luxurious feasts daily. The term feast implies that there was some sort of celebration. Scripture records several types of feasts, wedding feast and several holy feasts like that of Passover or the feast tabernacles. The first century people did not feast often; most could not even afford meat to eat regularly so a feast was a scared and holy thing. Luxurious meals were often attached to sacrifices offered in worship both among the gentile cultures as well as in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem. Again Jesus is inferring to the crowd that this man was a religious man one that the community would see as being blessed by God.
Then the second man we meet is Lazarus, a poor man. This man longed to be able to eat the crumbs left around the table but instead he sits at the gate covered in sores. This man was so badly cared for that only the dogs came by to bring cleansing to the wounds, which is not exactly a balm of comfort.
Let us imagine the two men for a bit. One a religious leader wearing sacred cloth and eating celebratory meats of worship daily, and the second a wounded and broken man. They both die seemingly on the same day. Lazarus is carried by the angels to be with Abraham, and the rich man is buried and tormented in Hades. Wait the rich and righteous man goes to hell? That is what Jesus says. Yet the poor man is whisked away by angels to the Bosom of Abraham.
Blessed are the Poor because they will be comforted, woe to the rich for you have already been comforted.
This passage is one that is difficult to speak on, because it can judge each of us in some way. I believe that through it Jesus is teaching the discipline of simplicity and contentment, as well as ministry and blessing. It speaks of lavish displays of righteousness and a heart that is void of light. Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth, but woe to the laughing now for they will weep and mourn.
The poor man Lazarus was content in his place. I see this because he allowed the dogs to minister to him as he sat at the gate. He knew that there was no other help around, he could have tried to scare the dogs away but he let them come and offer whatever comfort and companionship they could offer. Yet the rich man was not ever satisfied, daily he had to feast. Contentment is often a misunderstood term. Often it is seen as lacking ambition and at times fatalistic, those that are content have no desire to move beyond their current state and just stop where they are. But I challenge that because Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, that he is content in whatever state his is in, he has not given up but he has adjusted his life to be satisfied with little so that he can be a blessing to others. If he is well off he praises God because he has more to share, if he is poor he is satisfied because he has enough and praises God still. The poor man is content, sure he longs for food, but in his need he becomes a blessing to the dogs. The rich man in all his wealth has a poor man needing assistance sitting at his door yet in all his righteousness is not moved to offer him a morsel.
Woe to the rich, for they have already received their comfort. Behind the Kingdom of God, Jesus speaks more often about wealth and money as he taught through Israel. Eleven out of the Thirty-nine parables are about money and on average one in seven verses in the Gospel of Luke is about money in some form. This should tell us something about the subject, money is a tool that can consume us or can be used to bless others. But in most of those cases there is a central theme, God does not care about how much money we have but how we are using it.
In Luke the Gospel where Jesus is recorded as speaking the most about wealth Jesus encourages the wealthy members of society to use what they have to bless those that have little. He encourages them to give them jobs, and to provide assistance to those that cannot work. He told the rich young ruler to sell all he has and give it to the poor. He is calling us all to readjust our lives to live on less, so that we can be in a better position to help more. Only when we are released from the bondage of currency can we be free to serve God. James the brother of Jesus said that that is the true purpose of religion.
The rich man of the story is consumed in himself, rich foods rich clothing. This is a prophecy against the consumption aspects of our culture; every aspect of our economy is based on consuming goods and services. Rich or poor we consume. Every facet of our culture is consumed by greed, envy, and selfishness in some form or another. CEO’s want more profits, labor wants more wages, and assistance programs want more to offer. We think we need and some of us might actually be in need, but overall the issue is that we are not content. We can never be content when we are focused on consumption.
Which is why we need to rediscover the discipline of simplicity that the Society of Friends was known for. True simplicity is not cheap; cheap is an imposter to simplicity. Simplicity is to use wisdom where cheap is to cheat. Simple is sacrifice for the good of others where cheap is to sacrifice for the good of self. Cheap is consumption where simplicity is blessing. We cannot follow Jesus and have our lives based on consumption because in the kingdom of God the relationship with others and being a blessing to others is more important than our own pleasures and status.
Both of the men in the story die and one is comforted and the other is tormented. The rich man looks across into the distance and cries out for mercy yet there is no comfort. He cries yet there is a chasm of separation that cannot be crossed. He then pleads that Lazarus would go back and warn his brothers, and Abraham says to the man that if they do not listen to Moses and the prophets than even someone returning from the grave would not convince them.
It is a sad story, a story of judgment and condemnation, but also one of hope. It is one of hope because there is one that has returned from the grave that has bridged that chasm of separation, and can bring comfort. Repent for the kingdom of God is near is the gospel, the good news brought by the one that brings hope. Repent or turn. The Kingdom of God is the most often mentioned thing by Jesus. The Kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of mankind because the kingdom of God is based on different things. Jesus is not a king in the same sense as the leaders of our world. He is not a tyrant because tyrants consume, but instead he lifts his subjects into his glory. His inheritance is shared with all of those who call on his name, and turn from a lifestyle devoted to worldly consumption and realigning themselves with the things valued by God.
What does God value? God values us. He created us in his image, he set us above all of creation, and he created us to walk in the cool of the evenings with him. God values the relationship, and we honor the things valued by God when we use all that we have been given to bring blessing to those valued by God. Rich or poor, in want or in plenty we honor God by being content with what we have and striving to be greater blessings to the world around us as we proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. Jesus came to bridge that gap separating us from the comfort of God. And we can live today in His kingdom when we turn and begin to use our minds, bodies, souls, and strength to build and honor the lives of those around us. When we use the talents and gifts of the Spirit to bring honor and glory to the things God values, and when we lay the chains of currency at his feet.
Today as we enter this time of open worship, I ask what kind of people are we and which side of the chasm do we dwell? Will we be a people of blessing or of comfort?
Scripture: Luke 14:1, 7-14
Every so often regularly scheduled programs are interrupted for celebrity events: the Oscars, CMA, Miss America pageants, or the now infamous Video Music Awards. Each of these events have un-televised banquets, pre-parties, and after parties associated with them that are just as coveted to attend as the public show. Many people for a price can attend each of these events. There are other events that are held by politicians where for hundreds or thousands of dollars you could eat in the general vicinity of the next president… at least in the same building. Celebrity events are money making opportunities, people with pay a great deal to be near and if you attend you might have an opportunity to find yourself in a different social class than you were before the event.
Events such as these are not new to our contemporary age. There have always been royal feasts and banquets throughout history. If you were to read about the tributes the tribes of Israel paid their kings it is astonishing. The amount of livestock and grain would be enough to feed a nation, yet it was for one family. When the queen of Sheba visited Solomon she was astonished not only by the wisdom of Israel’s king but the wealth. There was more gold, food and spices readily available for them to enjoy than she had seen. These banquets and feast were not only in Israel; the feasts in ancient Rome would last days where the attendees would engage in gluttonous activities. They would gorge themselves, and then purge, so that they could again eat. Yes its is a disgusting thing to speak about but that is how things were and unfortunately still are.
Feasts are to be enjoyed. But as with all things moderation is the key. But why do we go to events, parties, and banquets? About a year ago most of us attended a feast celebrating the union between two of our members. We went because it was a time to share the joy of two people joining their lives together in marriage. Marriage is something to celebrate, one theologian wrote this about marriage:
We do not even remember today that marriage is, as everything else in “this world,” a fallen and distorted marriage, and that it needs not to be blessed and “solemnized” – after a rehearsal and with the help of the photographer- but restored. This restoration, furthermore, is in Christ and this means in His life, death, resurrection and ascension to heaven, in the Pentecostal inauguration of the “new eon,” in the Church as the sacrament of all this. Needless to say, this restoration infinitely transcends the idea of the “Christian Family,” and gives marriage cosmic and universal dimensions… Here is the whole point. As long as we visualize marriage as the concern of those alone who are being married, as something that happens to them and not to the whole Church and, therefore, to the world itself, we shall never understand the truly sacramental meaning of marriage: the great mystery to which St. Paul refers when he says, “But I speak concerning Christ and the Church.” We must understand that the real theme, “content” and object of this sacrament is not “family,” but love… It is the sacrament of divine love, as the all-embracing mystery of being itself, and it is for this reason that it concerns the whole Church, and –through the Church- the whole world. (For the life of the World, Alexander Schmemann, 82.)
We celebrate marriage, not because it is just a happy thing shared between two people, but because it is a happy thing shared between the Church, and the world. It is a mystery that links us into the life of Christ and to the very foundations of the world. It is a means of grace that sanctifies and forgives all of our relationships, and should give us a glimpse into the Kingdom of God. Marriage is not about family, although families are often a product of marriage, but it is about Love. Love of God to humanity, love of men and women, love of parents and children. We celebrate because marriage and all that it entails is worship. With that being said, marriage can become an empty ritual that is void of all meaning if we do not keep the focus in the proper place.
In the passage Jesus is invited to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal. They are watching Him closely, and he is watching them. He notices that people are trying to get the places of honor, trying to get as close to the celebrity as possible. Who knows they may have spent $10,000 to eat this meal and they want to at least be able to see this leader chewing his food. Jesus begins to speak and teach. Through his story he encourages us not to assume a place of honor, but to be humble and to sit with the common people. I thought about this quite a bit this week. I struggled with the meaning, is it about honor or is there something else? I got to thinking that we put a lot of stock in honor in our culture. Jesus goes on to say if you are inviting people to the feast, not to invite the rich neighbors. Which made me realize that if this is about honor it is not the type of honor that we often hope for.
We spend money to have a chance to eat with the famous. It would be an honor to come home and say that I was there. But just like marriage in our culture today we have a distorted view of honor. Honor is not something that we can obtain, but it is something given by others. This is what Jesus is getting at. In the first section he says to sit with the lowly and let the host lift you up if the host desires. If you were to take the place of honor or to demand honor it will cause a scene, and only embarrass you. Who is honored at a wedding celebration, usually the man and woman that have been married, but then they ask those that have been important in their life to sit with them. It is not something that is demanded but a gift. When Tash and DeWayne were married, it was an honor to be asked to participate with them. To be honest I did not think that I was going to be asked oversee the ceremony, I only wanted to celebrate, but when DeWayne asked if I would be willing to participate I was overjoyed. In that simple invitation they honored me, in that simple invitation they told me that I played a significant role in their lives at that point. Of course I was not the only person they gave honor to that day, and by attending we all gave them honor as well.
I was thinking about this as I walked the labyrinth in the parking lot, praying. We cannot demand honor. Honor is not given to people merely because they hold a position in an office. Honor is given because of some connection within a community. It is given to those that serve. This is why Jesus tells those at the party to invite the poor, the lame and the blind. Because if you invite only the people that can repay you, all you are doing is trading favors, but the lowly in the community you lift up and honor. Again I walked in the circle thinking about this, thinking about honor, the poor, and weddings.
I began to realize that this had very little to do with individuals but just as the theologian said about weddings, this passage deals with the church as a whole, and the world with it. It is a story of the restoration of honor, the restoration of the community, and the restoration of love. We as the church are the bride of Christ, invited to the wedding banquet. These are all images that Jesus uses in speaking of the Kingdom of God, or heaven. The one that gives honor is the one that invites us to the party, or God. This parable is about our relationship with God as individuals and as a meeting. How do we determine our standing in relation with God? Can we waltz into heaven demanding the seat of honor?
Jesus in his story encourages us to sit in the lowest place so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher.” We as Friends could get a big head right now, but before we do let us think about whom Jesus calls friends. The passage of our namesake, John 15:14, “You are my friends if you do what I command you,” is preceded by the command to love one another as I have loved you. He goes on to say, “ No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” To have honor with God, we must follow Christ, not only in word but also in action, to live our lives the way that Jesus would live his life. We cannot do this on our own because within all of our efforts is our twisted ideas of honor based on the “world’s” standards. Even the command that Jesus gives can be twisted, “lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Does this mean that we should sacrifice ourselves only for those people we like? Not if we were to follow Jesus’ example, Jesus was often said to be the friend of the sinner and the tax collector. He would be found with the marginalized and the dishonorable people of the communities’ standards. One of his closest friends, and one of the gospel writers was one such man. Yet Jesus went down into those low dark areas to lift them up. To honor them as people loved by God.
What brings us honor as a community and as individuals within this community? It is closely tied to how we respond to the least of the community in which we live. If we want to be close to God, Jesus encourages us to give up our lives for the people he calls friends. The apostle Paul tells us that none of us can lay claim to that title, because while we were still enemies of God Jesus died for us. While we were still missing the mark and trying to do things our own way Jesus gave his life for us. We cannot lay calm to any honor in ourselves. We can only honor others and only others give true honor to us. I am not worthy of the honor of this position within this community in myself. I know this because I am human, I want to make demands and to twist things to go my way, even as a pastor of a church many times I find myself on the wrong side lining up against God, still living as an enemy and not as a friend. That is because if we rely only on our own abilities, if we rely on our own finances, and our own wisdom we will always be like the people at the wedding feast seeking to sit in the high places only to be moved down by our host and our seat given to someone else.
As a community, as a Meeting, and as individuals Jesus is urging us to let go of honor. Let go of the things that give us status and power over others, and in the place turn to the lowly of our community and lift them up, to treat the lowest in our community with dignity and respect. He is calling us to leave our pride behind us, to leave all that worldly wisdom and to trust that he is going to do something great for us and through us. He wants us to truly believe that through Him all things can be made new and be restored. He wants us to truly believe and live in and with him as we walk through this distorted world filled with darkness and sin. He wants us to truly live like we believe that the power that raised him from the dead is available to each one of us. This is not just some fair tale magic but truth. It is when people live in this way that community and cultures change.
I am often intrigued by the history of the Irish people, I often sit back and wonder how St. Patrick and the others early Christian leaders could go into a culture and see an entire nation turned totally away from one religion to another. I asked one friend of mine what he thought, and he said, “Patrick demonstrated a more powerful magic.” Patrick lived a life fully devoted to God, fully committed to the gospel of Christ, he sacrificed everything he had to go share the gospel to a people that once held him in slavery. He showed them through his life and devotion to Christ that there was only one true God, and that one true God did miraculous things that cause all the other religious activities to look like cheap tricks. Imagine if that were to happen here.
We began today speaking about banquets and weddings, I read a passage from an orthodox priest’s understanding of marriage as being not between a man and woman but that it was instead a celebrations of the Church and Christ in divine love, which is a relationship that brings about a new age. I spoke of honor and how often the world twists our understanding of true honor. I spoke of what God sees as being honorable. I now ask as we enter into this time of open worship and Holy expectancy, are we going to be a meeting to which God can say, “friend, move up higher?” Are we going to be a meeting that will live up to our name of Friends? Are you willing to lay down your life for the sake of your friends? Are we willing to enter into the holy mystery of love, and do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit and consider others more highly than ourselves? These are tough questions but how we answer those questions first as individuals and then as a Meeting will dictate if we will participate in the new age that Christ is bringing about in the world around us.