Good morning, all! Just a quick observation that this is my 150th post on this blog. My 100th post was my first lectionary reflection, so it’s amusing to me that #150 falls on a lectionary post, too. The readings for this coming Sunday in the Episcopal Church are…
So it appears that this week, we are continuing in the grand tradition of really tough readings during Ordinary time. Bleah. Once again, I’m so glad I’m not preaching on these week after week, having to find a kernel of truth that won’t make my congregation want to throw me out of the pulpit, but still get across the really tough things that Jesus is telling us here, and in such harsh language, too!
Amos is cranky again this week, but Amos is always cranky. I’ll admit that I love the imagery in the second section of this reading, even if he is condemning these things. I can just place myself in the picture and experience them all…
4Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory,
and lounge on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock,
and calves from the stall;
5who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp,
and like David improvise on instruments of music;
6who drink wine from bowls,
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
7Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile,
and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.
… and while beds of ivory don’t sound exactly like my cup of tea, that all sounds like pretty nice stuff there! At least, it does until he says that those of us who enjoy these luxuries are going to be the first to get the axe. Ouch.
The story of Lazarus and his rich master from Luke’s gospel isn’t much nicer for us. The rich master is in agony in the flames, and he wants to warn his family and friends, but is told nope, sorry, they have their chance and you aren’t going to change their minds. (And I have to admit that I read this story and wonder if this is where Charles Dickens got the idea for A Christmas Carol.) Yikes. ‘Cause I know – I read Moses and the prophets and the gospel, and I squirm uncomfortably and think about the things I could and should be doing… and then I continue not doing those things. So yes, I’m the rich master, too. And while I wouldn’t ask for a servant to bring me water in the flames, I’d certainly be looking for the indoor plumbing to get a drink from the tap.
This week, we get our comfort from the epistle and the psalm. The psalm is nice in that it shows the downtrodden being uplifted, but it doesn’t say that those of us who already live in abundance are going to be tossed into the pit. And I have to say that it hardly seems fair for God to toss away so many of us, who were born into abundance and wealth completely by accident. I find it hard to believe that God loves me less than someone else, because I bring home a larger paycheck.
I know that God’s kingdom is very different from the one here. Perhaps the language of lifting up the poor and pulling down the wealthy is part of helping us see that in God’s kingdom, we’re all together, in the same place, without advantages from material things. But I have to think that in God’s kingdom, I just won’t care about material things or the advantages they lend. I see the kingdom being beautiful and wonderful because of the union with God and with all of my brothers and sisters in the communion of saints – not because of riches or clothes or food or cars or computers or houses or land. In God’s kingdom, it is about love and peace and harmony and unity. Achieving those in this world is hard, because we have to strain to hear God’s voice – heck, we have to strain to hear each other’s voices, and we’re all here together! We don’t know how to achieve union, oneness with God and with each other. But God does. And God will show us.
It is nice to get some practical advice at the end of the letter to Timothy. While Amos and Jesus say important things, Paul gives us advice on how to love those things out. Don’t be haughty. Don’t count on money to be the solution to everything. Trust in God. Do good things. Share. Be kind. Be generous. And my favourite, take hold of the life that really is life.
That’s a powerful statement there, and I suspect that’s why it was chosen to be the end of this lesson in the lectionary, to leave us with that thought. Jesus talks several times about what is real and what is an illusion, and how we fool ourselves. The life that is real, that really matters, is the life that is eternal. I know there are people who think we Christians are fools for believing that anything is eternal – heck, sometimes I think we’re fools for believing that anything is eternal! – but this is the hope that we pin everything on. The hope of a Christian is that this world is not all there is; that our bodies in this world may die, but that Jesus will bring us into God’s kingdom to live forever; that we will be united with the God whose scandalous, extravagant love and ache for us is so completely incomprehensible; that we will all join together in that kingdom, still unique and special, but now part of such an amazing whole, united in the Spirit’s love and peace.
This is the life that really is life. And we have the choice – right now! – to take hold of it. Every decision we make, we have the ability to take hold of this life. Remember choose life from a few weeks ago? We’re still getting this same theme, but from a slightly different direction – a specific way in which we can choose life by helping those who need help in this world. Amos and Jesus and Paul are asking us to choose life by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the poor, visiting the imprisoned, helping the oppressed find justice. Choose life by being generous and loving. Choose life by sharing what you have with someone who has not. Choose life by helping to make a difference for the wealthy and powerful in this world, before they have gone too far astray like the master of Lazarus. Choose life by praying for the wealthy and powerful, like Paul advised us last week. Choose life by trusting in God rather than in money. Choose life by praising God and thanking God, even (especially?) when we don’t feel very grateful. But the point is – we get to choose.
So go out there, my beloved friends. Go out there and take hold of life – take hold of the life that is real. Choose goodness. Choose generosity. Choose love.