The Rich Man and Lazarus

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 16:19-31.

This week the South Shore Family will be joined in worship leadership by Rev. Josh Bell. Josh is an elder-in-full-connection in the Florida Conference. He serves in extension ministry, meaning that he serves beyond the local church while maintaining his ordination credentials. Josh is a grant writer for the incredible Community Hope Center in Osceola County – an organization that serves daily to eliminate poverty through proactively addressing justice issues faced by persons experiencing homelessness. One of Community Hope Center’s present initiatives is transforming the property of a closed United Methodist Congregation into affordable, purpose-driven, community housing!

Learn more about the Community Hope Center’s amazing work by visiting www.hope192.com.

Josh also serves as adjunct Religion faculty at Valencia College in Orange and Osceola Counties. He teaches classes in World Religions and in inter-religious dialogue. Josh has a true passion for gathering with folks around tables for engagement, encouragement, and enrichment.

He also has three of the most precious boys ever!

Thank you, Josh, for sharing your gifts and leadership at South Shore this Sunday!

Sometimes our faith is confusing. Sometimes the holy text we use to guide and shape and ground our faith is confusing.

There are many Scriptures that could be drawn upon that affirm these paradigms:

Wealth + Health = God’s Favor and Prosperity

Poverty + Disease = God’s Disfavor and Punishment

A person beginning his or her reading of this Sunday’s text could acknowledge the presence of these paradigms. The rich man prospers. The poor man suffers. And it is well. It is – the people believed – as a result of generations of Scripture reading and interpretation in conversation with life experience – as God intended.

Until it isn’t.

Because Jesus is Jesus and in being Jesus completes a total role reversal. The one who prospered in this life is in agony in the next…the one who was lying among the dogs now sits an as honored guest at a royal feast.

Upon seeing Lazarus the Rich Man – because of these present paradigms – could have passed Lazarus by because of the notion “This is what God intends. Who am I to interrupt what God is doing?”

Pastor and theologian Fred Craddock observes that some church people have used this same reasoning to refrain from helping those experiencing hunger and homeless.*

Friends, that is not the Kingdom of God. That behavior is not becoming of residents in God’s Kingdom. I agree with Craddock, “Wherever some eat and others do not eat, there the kingdom does not exist, quote whatever Scripture you will.”**

I am grateful for agencies, organizations, and ministries that actively serve to eliminate the gap between people and resources – between people and basic human rights. Agencies like our United Methodist Committee on Relief. Organizations like Community Hope Center. Ministries like Backpacks on a Mission. These initiatives help us tell the world a different story. These initiatives help us tell the world God’s true story – where the lowly are lifted, where the last are brought to the front, where the least are drawn to the center as Christ’s circle of friends ever-expands.

Prayer: “Oh, fix me, oh, fix me, oh fix me; fix me, Jesus, fix me. Fix me for my journey home, fix me Jesus, fix me. Fix me for my dying bed, fix me Jesus, fix me. Oh, fix me, oh, fix me, oh fix me; fix me, Jesus, fix me.”*** Amen.

*Int: Lk196.

**Int: Lk197.

***“Fix Me, Jesus,” The United Methodist Hymnal 655.

Alpha, Omega and Everything In Between ~ Incarnation-Salvation

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Philippians 2:1-11

This week we turn to the first major theme in the New Testament: Incarnation-Salvation.  I couple these themes together because I believe the presence of one brings about the presence of the other.

When discussing Incarnation-Salvation we are talking about God’s one and only, begotten not created, Son – Jesus Christ.  As we read the Gospels and examine the epistle texts, like this week’s from Philippians, we gather from Scripture that who Jesus is – Christology: the study of the person of Christ – is inextricably linked to Soteriology: the study of what the person of Christ does, which is save.

So when Jesus was incarnated and entered the world, it was with a specific purpose – to save humanity and redeem all of creation.  Incarnation-Salvation.

In our Scripture lesson this week Paul describes that in Jesus’ incarnation Jesus emptied himself that he would be able to save humanity.  Paul sets Christ as an example for all humanity in this text.  Paul encourages us to empty ourselves that we may be God’s hands and feet and participate in the salvation of the world for ourselves and for others.

Paul wanted the Philippians to do this, but it wasn’t in the vain of “do this for me.  Win this one for me.”  The Philippians empty themselves not for Paul’s sake, but for Christ’s sake.  Pastor Fred Craddock writes, “If [the Philippians] failed to live by faith in the grace of God and to offer themselves to each other and the world as servants after the manner of Christ, then Paul saw himself as having labored in vain” (Craddock, Philippians, 36, emphasis added).

When we empty ourselves – following the example of Christ – we do so for Christ and Christ alone.  When a person encounters pastors, religious leaders, Sunday School teachers, small group facilitators and is asked to respond to particular teaching it is not (and should not!) be in the vain of “do this for me.”  It’s not about them.  (And for the folks at Reeves, it’s not about me!)  It’s about the budding relationship between the individual and Christ, about what Jesus has asked and asks that individual to do.

In emptying out ourselves we prepare our minds to turn our focus towards our neighbors.  We do not lose our identity our individualism in this emptying.  Paul supported individualism “in the sense that one is to be responsible for oneself and bear one’s own burden” BUT “if minding one’s own business meant unwillingness to bear another’s burdens, a distracting oneself from partnership in the gospel, an aloofness from the common joy and suffering, a coldness to all the ways we are members for one another, then such individualism is destructive of the community and a contradiction of the gospel which speaks and sings of a Christ who was first and always the servant of others” (Craddock, Philippians, 38).

*whew!  That was a long sentence…definitely a good one!  Marinate on those words for a while: unwillingness, distracting, aloofness, coldness – all of those are destructive.  All of those words paint of picture in opposition of who and what Christ wants us to be.*

In emptying ourselves, our visions become clear.  This clarity hones our focus.  No longer are we unwilling, distracted, aloof, or cold.  Our focus is our neighbor.

In emptying himself, Christ’s vision became clear.  This clarity honed his focus.  He was never unwilling, distracted, aloof, or cold.  His focus was and is his neighbor.  You – me – humanity – for eternity.

Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Gracious Lord, in the words of Wesley’s Covenant Prayer:

I am no longer my own, but thine.  Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.  Put me to doing, put me to suffering.  Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee.  Let me be full, let me be empty.  Let me have all things, let me have nothing.  I freely and heartily yield all things to they pleasure and disposal.  And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine.  So be it.  And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.  Amen.