Sunday, September 26, 2010

Living Relational Justice – 9.26

(Shared with the Northridge New Life Church of the Nazarene, whose pastor is Dr. Charles W. Smith)
Scriptural Texts: Luke 16 & 1 Timothy 6
    The Gospel text we will be looking at this morning comes to us from Luke chapter 16. It's a parable Jesus tells of a Rich Man clothed in purple and a beggar named Lazarus covered with sores.

But I don't think we can go too far into the text today without first reading the Lectionary text from 1 Timothy chapter 6. Paul is writing to Timothy and sharing some powerful words with him concerning who we are and what we do.

He says: 7 We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

11 But you, (Speaking to Timothy – and I believe all of us) man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called…

Paul goes on to say: 17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

There is a lot of powerful stuff here, as we are commanded to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. Do Good, be rich in Good Deeds, and be generous and willing to share! Then we will take hold of the life that is truly life.

    When we are doing good, when we are generous and willing to share – it's then that we will know, and begin to understand, and take part in what is truly life.

    The texts our joined together in the Lectionary today for a reason, they go hand in hand. They speak to the same concepts and kingdom practices – our kingdom ethos, if you will. They speak to the heart of God.

I constantly think of the time in Mathew when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is. And his response, directly taken from Deuteronomy:  'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself.' We can't get away from loving our neighbor. It's foundational.

Join with me as we begin reading with verse 19 from Luke chapter 16.

19"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He 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.' 25But 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. 26Besides 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.' 27He said, 'Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' 29Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' 30He said, 'No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'31He 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.'"


There's a lot to this passage isn't there; a lot to grapple with. It is ripe with imagery and metaphor. It speaks to us here and now – as well as to perhaps what is to come. Jesus points us to reflect upon our future, our present, and our past.

    My future, to be honest, is unknown. I don't know! Somewhat it's up in the air.

    My present on the other hand is known. I currently live in Seattle, I'm on staff at Seattle First Church of the Nazarene. My primary responsibility is overseeing our community coffee house where I get the joy of interacting with our neighbors, our community – daily.

    My past, my past is known. My father is a Nazarene Pastor, my mom, a compassionate Special Education educator, my sister, a third grade teacher. My parents went to Pasadena College. My sister went to Point Loma. My dad graduated from NTS. I went to Point Loma, NBC, Mid-America and NTS. I'm a second generation product of our Nazarene Schools. I personally have attended 4 of them.

    My past says I'm from a Christian home with a Nazarene flair. My present says I'm a Christian with a Nazarene flair. And I sure hope my future will say I'm a Christian, with some flair! With some passion! With some vibrancy!

    You know as I share this little bit about my story, I hope it causes you to reflect upon your own life. What your future may bring, what your present now says, and what your past has been. But beyond the individualistic stories we have; my personal story differs from yours. We also have a collective past, present and future. We as the Church of the Nazarene have a rich history of transformation. We have a rich history of good deeds – our historical foundation is on the streets of LA, ministering to the poor, the broken, and the disenfranchised. Our known past spoke life to the homeless. We broke bread with the hungry. We knew our neighbors.

    In our Gospel text this morning, we hear Jesus tell us a parable about a rich man clothed in purple and a beggar named Lazarus covered with sores. We hear the history of two men, one who lives in luxury – the other longing for scraps. We hear about the past, the present – and Jesus takes us to the future, one where both men have died and gone on to everlasting life – just in different places.

Jesus sets the scene for us beautifully. It's one which is easy to imagine. Inside the beautiful mansion sits a rich man. He's got it all, everything in his life is comfortable and elegant. His walls are covered with beautiful art, and he has a beautiful family. He is lavished in what seems to be a blessed life. Yet outside, by the gates of his driveway, sits a poor man - covered in sores, who is cold and hungry. He is an outcast, a loner, a misfit, disenfranchised, without friends, family or community.

In time, both men die and find their positions completely reversed – The rich man without all his comforts and possessions is in hell while the poor man who had nothing, now finds himself in the security of heaven.

    So what do we do with this story? Why is it here? Why did Jesus share this parable?

As we look at this section, we must see it within its context. As we do so, we see that Jesus was telling this story to the Pharisees who believed in life after death. The Pharisees believed, the Saducees didn't. The Pharisees also saw themselves as children of Abraham. What does that mean? 1. They believed in the afterlife 2. They believed as direct descendants of Abraham, God would fiscally bless them.

For the Pharisees, this parable from Jesus would have been an uncomfortable distinction. They believed prosperity was the sign of God's blessing. God had promised prosperity to Abraham and his descendants. Yet, here in this story the rich man was cast off from Abraham and the family of God. While the poor man - who, they believed was poor for the very fact that he "was not in God's favor" – it was he whom Abraham claims as his own.

The Kingdom is upside down.

As I think about this story from Jesus – I can't help but wonder about the Rich Man's plea to Abraham concerning his brothers. The whole dialogue is so intriguing, from the reference of "Father Abraham" to the number of brothers. There is a lot of imagery here.

I love when the scripture writers subtly reference something. I love where there are familiar stories, ones you've read time and time again – yet something new jumps out at you; the subtleties, the irony, the imagery of the story teller. This happened to me as I read this story in regard to the number of brothers. Luke tells us the Rich Man had 5 brothers.

I like the implied symbolism found in Scripture. As I mention numbers, let me tell you I'm not a big numerology guy, but sometimes I like their implied symbolism. So as I think about this story, I can't help but wonder if there's perhaps some significance to the number of brothers. Is there irony? Is there some underlying symbolism?

Perhaps there's irony in the numbers. There clearly is irony in the Rich Man's statement "if someone came back from the dean THEN his brothers back on earth would listen and change their ways…

As we talk about numbers, what are some significant numbers we find in the scriptures? What are they connected to, what do they mean? 40, 12, 7, 3…

If we follow the Biblical narrative back through the Old Testament we find that many times brothers chose one as a scapegoat. What often happened was that the brothers needed one of them to pick on. There was always one sibling who didn't fit in. It seems like the Old Testament stories always had one brother who was made fun of, sold into slavery, murdered, or looked over. There is one particular family who had 7 sons and 2 daughters and this was their story. Do you know who? David.

King David, before he was king and before David & Goliath, he was the youngest of his 6 brothers and he was over looked. He was passed over – sent out, practically not counted. When asked – his father said "oh ya, I've got another son, but you don't want him. He's too young, he's just a little guy, he's out tending the sheep."

The Rich Man says he had 5 brothers. So, that means the Rich Man himself would be brother number 6. But the interesting thing is that in the culture of the day, if a father was going to have a son, he'd better have seven sons. Since the number seven represents "completion", having seven sons would symbolize the "father's perfection". So, if the Rich Man comes from a thoroughly Jewish family – it could be implied that he would have one more brother. Which begs the question, "Who's the 7th brother?"

    In Matthew we hear Jesus say: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength… and your neighbor as yourself.' And here in Luke we are reminded of the inter-relational lives we live. We hear Jesus subtly asking the Pharisees (and us) who's the 7th brother?

Are we overlooking our brother or our sister – as they sit at the gate, with sores being licked by dogs, begging for scraps from our lavish table?

    As member of the Church of the Nazarene, we must not forget our heritage. We must not forget the message of reconciliation Jesus came proclaiming and living. We, who call ourselves followers of Christ – imitators of Christ – ambassadors of Christ – we must not become complacent in our purple robes. We must not become complacent as our Global World is shrinking and our 1.2 billion brothers and sisters who live on two dollars a day or less – sit just outside our gate.

    As we look to our past, and remember our heritage, which consists of providing room at the table for the homeless, the poor, and the disenfranchised – we must look at who we are today, be encouraged by the Gospel, and ready to step out into tomorrow.

    We live in an era in which we who call ourselves followers of Christ must be Living Relational Justice. What does that mean? I think it can mean two beautiful things.

  1. Living Relational Justice – It's alive. It's not dead. We, collectively are God's ambassadors. We are his hands and feet. We, the Christian Church are a living body… We are relational beings, and we are called to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.
  2. Living Relational Justice - we are part of an active, on going – not stagnant, life giving, hope inspiring, transformative message of love which is found in our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ and embodied through our doing. As Paul says, we must Do Good. We must be rich in Good Deeds, and be generous and willing to share! It's an action. It's a daily thing. It's a lifestyle. It's not alone, it's not self-centered. It's together. It's continual! It's who – in Christ – we are!
This week I was able to hear a beautiful poem by Dr. Gloria Burgess titled Song to Myself. It was shared at a benefit for a local agency involved in providing education access to those our society rights off – homeless teens and young adults. Seattle Education Access provides the opportunity for disenfranchised youth to go to college. As I heard the stories of hope, access, opportunity and transformation – my heart was warmed. I'd like to share her poem with you this morning. I think it speaks, as a parable, to the heart of the Gospel.

Song to Myself – Gloria Burgess

It doesn't matter to me

    What you do or where you work.

I want to know

    Who you are

    When the sun goes down

    And if you are willing

To put everything on the line to fulfill your soul's desire.

It doesn't matter to me

    How much bread you can afford

    To put on your own table.

I want to know

    If you will knead and wait

    And bake the bread and share

Your blessings at someone else's table.
I want to know

    If you can look into the eyes

    Of the young woman

    Who sleeps with fear each night

    The one who dared to walk

Away from the hands that pummeled her.
I want to know

    If you can share her pain.

It doesn't matter to me

    What neighborhood you live in

    Or what kind of car you drive.

I want to know what drives you

    What compels you

    To follow your soul's longing.

I want to know

    What pierces your heart

Awakens you at night and inspires you
    To devote yourself to whomever

    Or whatever moves you.

I want to know

    How many times you've opened

    Your heart and extended a hand

To your homeless sister or brother.
I want to know

If you will sit in the quiet dark hours
Between midnight and dawn listening
    To another's heartsong.

It doesn't matter to me

How many unspeakable secrets you have.
I want to know

    If you will share your secrets

    To liberate your demons

    So they don't devour you

    Or those you love.

I want to know

    If you will risk looking foolish

    To embrace your bliss.

I want to know

    If you will grasp the sleeve

Of a nameless elder stumbling on his way
    And lead him in from the cold.

I want to know

    If you will throw away your cloak

And show your heart if you will dare
    To wear your soul on the outside.

It doesn't matter to me

How many mountains you've climbed or will climb.
I want to know

if you've fallen down in the valley of despair.
I want to know

    If you've scarred your kness

On the stones of self-abandonment.
I want to know

How long you've been hidden in the shadows
Of hypocrisy prejudice addiction abuse.
I want to know

    If you will stop

To light a candle and pray with others
    Who will surely wander there.

It doesn't matter to me

What you say you will do for others.
I want to know

    If you will act

    With courage and conviction

If you will daily cradle the frail hand of your mother when she no longer knows your name.
I want to know

    If you will look into the hazel

    Grey or ebony eyes of a stranger

    And say "yes" to affirm your sister

    Your brother yourself.

I want to know

    If you will take the time to be still

    Call the names and pass the cup

    To honor the ancestors

    Who cleared a path

    And broke new ground

    For you and your children.

It doesn't matter to me

that you have a past.

I want to know

    If you will celebrate your present

    If you will take a stand

    Declare yourself sing I am

    Boldly and with rejoicing

    Not only to the stars at night

    But to anyone


    Without apologies

    Or regrets.


As Dr. Burgess – a beautiful, powerfully emotional black woman – read her poem; I sat there and could just hear Poppa speaking to me. I could hear him saying: It doesn't matter to me where you work. It doesn't matter to me what neighborhood you live in or what kind of car you drive. It doesn't matter to me how many mountains you've climbed.

It doesn't matter to me how much bread you can afford to put on your own table. I want to know if you will knead and wait and bake the bread and share your blessings with someone else, to share your life with those who are at the gate. Share it with those who our society over looks, with those whom I love.

    I hear Poppa saying: It doesn't matter to me what you say you will do for others. I want to know you will act with courage and conviction. I want to know you will do good. I want to know you will pick up your cross and follow me. I want to know you've opened your heart and extended a hand, my hand – of my love, to your homeless brothers and sisters.

    I hear Poppa, Abba, Yahweh, Jesus saying – What matters to me is following after my heart. What matters is my compassion, my peace, my joy, my hope and my love. What matters is this upside down kingdom, where I've come as a servant, not upon a white horse, but a donkey. What matters is that you pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. What matters is that you step up, step out, and boldly live as I empower you! I hear God saying to you and to me - What matters to me – isn't a what – but a who.

    We have some pretty powerful passages of Scripture set before us this week. Besides simply reading the texts, what do we do with them? The question perhaps staring us in the face is: Who is your 7th brother? Who is sitting at your gate – wishing to be fed your scraps? Who is God calling you out of your robes of luxury to embrace with his upside down kingdom?

    The kingdom of God is an interwoven relational being. We cannot do it alone. We, like our triune God, are relational people and we must be living relational justice. Can you hear Poppa, Abba Father, calling you to remember your past, as you prepare for action today and into tomorrow? We are called to living relational justice of hope to a broken and hurting world – desperate for the love and embrace of the One who cares.

    Who is the brother or sister sitting outside the gate – who Jesus is calling you to step out of your purple robes – and love?

As you go – Step out of your purple robes and into God's unconditional love of grace. Go and Love.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

the challenge: to keep meeting.

We have been blessed with the opportunity to go out without our son – each Thursday – for about two hours. This time together has been beautiful in remembering what life was like pre-Phin, while also allowing us the opportunity to share in the quiet. Since my wife's parents live & work nearby, we are gifted with the ability to spend one evening alone, together.

Tonight we chose to spend the evening with some friends we met at Mosaic. We have actually known them for a few years and have talked many times about gathering together outside the coffee house. Tonight we finally put our words into action. Knowing our friends are Vegetarian and knowing of a fantastic restaurant with amazing Veggie burgers – we all joined up for a meal together at the Counter.

Once home, tonight's outing caused me to think about life and two challenges we (and I suppose many others) find ourselves facing:

  1. Children: We love to spend time together. However, now for 17+ months having a child has drastically challenged us in coordinating nap times, bed times and finding time to spend with friends. As social people, children cause us to slow down and re-evaluate. We re-evaluate our furniture placement, our audio and visual entertainment, and our time away from the home. Having a child (or multiple) causes us to put our child's needs before our own. Not a bad thing – but it happens. It is harder to go out when your kid needs to go to bed.
  2. Finances: As we strive to live simplistically, fiscally responsibly, and kingdomly (that's not really a word is it?) it is quite difficult. Our culture is not designed to encourage us. Our society thrives on our over indulgence. The very act of gathering together with friends necessitates the spending of resources.
Tonight's date-night or night-out, or whatever we want to call it, serves as an excellent reminder that in light of the challenges facing us – we must continue to meet together. We must not allow the temptation of location to lull us to sleep. We must not permit the excuse of children, work, pets, family, and dare I say finances (?) to distract us from perhaps one of our most basic needs – gathering together, telling stories, laughing together - and sharing life.

I hope in the coming days, weeks and months that we continue longing for the interactions of the familiar face, loving embrace, and grace filled walk of friendship.