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.

Faithful Living

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16.

When I read the words “Let mutual love continue” I immediately think of Mr. Bill Gill. Bill is a member of Gray Memorial UMC in Tallahassee and I had the privilege of meeting Bill during my interview for membership as a provisional elder in the Florida Annual Conference in January 2010.

It was one of those damp, cold January days. I flew in from Atlanta the day before, ventured to Polk County for a quick siesta, and then after receiving thorough instructions about driving my mother’s brand new car to my interview, I drove to the Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park. I was invited to come for lunch; my interview would start at 1pm. I remember being too nervous to eat and standing awkwardly at the back of the dining hall, quaking in my stilettos, seeking a friendly face. Bill’s gaze caught mine and his wise, kind eyes assured me that everything, in fact, was going to be okay.

Bill looked in on me throughout the afternoon. He was caring and comforting. And as a prelude to the news that I would be commissioned that year at Annual Conference, he smiled and said, “We have much to expect from you. God is doing great things in you and I am going to enjoy watching it all unfold.”

When it came time for my ordination interviews Bill sought me out again – this time a friendly and familiar face. Bill and I always seem to find one another at Annual Conference without planning it – God keeps seeing fit to draw us together. He asks about my appointment. He asks about my family. And he shares the great things going on at his church, which one of my friends happens to serve.

(Sometimes Bill says that Jack is up to something…and that is when I assure Bill that pastors are always up to something…)

Whenever we are together Bill humbles me with his encouragement. “We have much to expect from you. God is doing great things in you and I enjoy watching it all unfold.” And now his encouragement includes this phrase followed by a hug, “I am so proud of you.”

I feel, know, and treasure Bill’s love in my life. He showed me hospitality as a stranger and in him I have found such a generous friend. The relationship I have with him and the care I continue to receive from him has shaped and continues to shape the relationships I have with others. As I said in my sermon last week, “small acts have expansive consequences.”* Bill’s small act of sharing love in my life continues to live beyond both of us from that moment we shared on a Tuesday afternoon that last week of January in 2010. That love, which is Christ’s beautiful love, is living on in me and I know it is living on in him.

Thank you, Bill. Thanks be to God for you. May Christ’s mutual love always continue in you and through you. May Christ’s mutual love continue in and through all of us.

Prayer: “Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you. Neighbors are rich and poor, neighbors are black and white, neighbors are near and far away. These are the ones we should serve, these are the ones we should love, all these are neighbors to us and you. Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you.”** Amen.

*Craddock, F. B. (1990). Interpretation–Luke. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 171.

**”Jesu, Jesu,” The United Methodist Hymnal 432.