Index

Sundays
Fourth Quarter
2019

 

J Nichols Adams et al

September 29, 2019, 16th Sunday after Pentecost, Ord Time 26, Proper 21

 

 

LectionAid 4th Quarter 2019

September 29, 2019, 16th Sunday after Pentecost, Ord Time 26, Proper 21

Do Not Walk Around

Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 or Psalm 146 , Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 or Amos 6:1a, 4-7 , 1Timothy 6:6-19 , Luke 16:19-31

Theme: We’re On A Mission From God

Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON

Starting Thoughts

One night a Boy Scout showed up rather late for his troop meeting. When he arrived, he looked battered—his shirt was torn, and his knee was scraped. The troop leader glanced at him and asked, “What in the world happened to you?” The boy replied, “I was trying to do my good deed for the day by helping a little old lady across the street.” The scoutmaster asked, “But how did doing a good deed like that cause you to get so roughed up?” The Scout said, “She didn’t want to cross the street!”
This parable about the rich man and Lazarus is certainly a story about the importance of doing good deeds and helping people. Yet there is much more to the story than that. As we read the parable, we need to recognize that nowhere does it say that the rich man was mean to Lazarus. Nowhere in the narrative does it say that the rich man actively abused Lazarus. The problem was not that the rich man was sadistic to Lazarus. Rather the problem was that the rich man was blind to Lazarus. Lazarus was right there on his doorstep, day after day, starving, but the rich man never really saw him.
It’s similar to what happened a number of years ago down in Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti, which is one of the poorest nations in the Caribbean. A luxury hotel was being constructed near the capital. But the owners of the hotel soon found that they had a problem on their hands. The view from that grand hotel was being spoiled, because a nearby slum could be seen from the hotel windows. The owners, however, soon found a solution. No, they did not go out and try to clean up and improve the slum area. Rather what they did was they built a wall around the hotel, so that the guests at the hotel would no longer be able to see that the slum was there.
Who are the Lazaruses that we have been blind to? What are the walls that we have put up to keep ourselves from seeing the needs that are right there around us? For instance, each year between 15 and 20 million people around the world die from starvation or hunger-related illnesses. About 12 million of those deaths are children who die before they reach the age of 5. Each year 250,000 children around the world become blind simply because their diets do not include enough vitamins. Latin America has somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 million abandoned street children, young people whose parents have died from diseases or who have been killed in civil wars or who have simply run away from their children because of the cost and responsibility that is involved. Lazarus is out there. It’s only a question of whether we are willing to look and see.
Again, the rich man’s sin was not that he hated Lazarus or that he mistreated him. Instead, the rich man’s sin was that he was indifferent to Lazarus. He was blind to him.
There are so many Lazaruses all around us, but often we fail to see them and to realize their plight unless we make a conscious effort to do so. That is why many churches sponsor mission trips, opportunities for church members to work with people in need on a face-to-face basis. Through experiences like that, many church members find their lives forever changed, with their eyes being opened to situations that they never knew existed.
A few years ago I led a mission trip to a town in the southeastern part of West Virginia. While there, one of our assignments was to do some work for a shelter for abused women and children. As we interacted with the staff and the residents at that facility, we came to learn that in the United States that for every seven animal shelters we have, there is only one shelter for abused women and children. Through that opportunity to have one-on-one encounters with those hurting people, our eyes were opened to some horrors to which we had previously been blind.
So how can we help open the eyes of all to see the Lazaruses that we have never seen before? Here are a few suggestions and challenges: First, learn about what mission workers in your denomination are doing. Read about the kinds of challenges that people are facing in the places where they labor. And pray for those mission workers and for the individuals they minister to. Another idea is to write to mission workers. Many missionaries will write back, telling you about what they’re doing and about the environment in which they work. That’s a great way to have your eyes opened to what’s going on in the world. Another way to be involved in mission is to give. Through your contributions, support people who are caring for the Lazaruses of the world. Offer your financial assistance to care for the Lazaruses in your town, in your state, across the nation, and throughout the world.
But perhaps most important of all, get involved and care for a Lazarus yourself. Watch for opportunities in your local community. Or look for mission trips that you can be a part of—either domestically or internationally. But if you do something like that, be careful! The risk is that your life will probably end up being irrevocably changed.
Are you ready to see Lazarus? Are you ready to have your eyes opened, so that you can move from indifference to caring? God is on the move in our world, caring for the hurting and hungering people. If you close your eyes and sit on the sidelines, you’re going to miss out. So, jump on God’s bandwagon and get involved in mission! And be prepared for the ride of your life!

Exegetical Comments

The parable constructed with such consummate skill that not one phrase is wasted. Let us take at the two characters in it. (1) First, there is the rich man, usually called Dives, which is the Latin for rich. Every phrase adds something to the luxury in which he lived. He was clothed in purple and fine linen. That is the description of the robes of the high priests, and such robes were hugely expensive, costing many times the value of a working man’s daily wage. He feasted in luxury every day. The word used for feasting is the word that is used for a gourmet feeding on exotic and costly dishes. He did this every day. In so doing he definitely and positively broke the fourth commandment. That commandment not only forbids work on the Sabbath; it also says six days you shall labor (Exodus 20:9).
In a country where the people were fortunate if they ate meat once in the week and where they toiled for six days of the week, Dives is a figure of indolent self-indulgence. Lazarus was waiting for the crumbs that fell from Dives’ table. In that time there were no knives, forks or napkins. Food was eaten with the hands and, in very wealthy houses, the hands were cleansed by wiping them on hunks of bread, which were then thrown away. That was what Lazarus was waiting for.
(2) Second, there is Lazarus. Strangely enough Lazarus is the only character in any of the parables who is given a name. The name is the Latinized form of Eleazar and means God is my help. He was a beggar; he was covered with ulcerated sores; and so helpless that he could not even ward off the street dogs, which pestered him.
Such is the scene in this world; then abruptly it changes to the next and there Lazarus is in glory and Dives is in torment. What was the sin of Dives? He had not ordered Lazarus to be removed from his gate. He had made no objections to his receiving the bread that was flung away from his table. He did not kick him in the passing. He was not deliberately cruel to him. The sin of Dives was that he never noticed Lazarus, that he accepted him as part of the landscape and simply thought it perfectly natural and inevitable that Lazarus should lie in pain and hunger while he wallowed in luxury. As someone said, ‘It was not what Dives did that got him into jail; it was what he did not do that got him into hell.’
The sin of Dives was that he could look on the world’s suffering and need and feel no answering sword of grief and pity pierce his heart; he looked at a fellow human being, hungry and in pain, and did nothing about it. His was the punishment of the man who never noticed.
It seems hard that his request that his brothers should be warned was refused. But it is the plain fact that if people possess the truth of God’s word, and if, wherever they look, there is sorrow to be comforted, need to be supplied, pain to be relieved, and it moves them to no feeling and to no action, nothing will change them.
It is a terrible warning that the sin of Dives was not that he did wrong things, but that he did nothing. (Barclay, W. The Gospel of Luke [2001, Louisville, KY] p 253–254)
We have all seen him. He lies on a pile of newspapers outside a shop doorway, covered with a rough blanket. Perhaps he has a dog with him for safety. People walk past him, or even step over him. He occasionally rattles a few coins in a tin or cup, asking for more. He wasn’t there when I was a boy, but he’s there now, in all our cities, east, west, north and south.
As I see him, I hear voices. It’s his own fault, they say. He’s chosen it. There are agencies to help him. He should go and get a job. If we give him money, he’ll only spend it on drink. Stay away—he might be violent. Sometimes, in some places, the police will move him on, exporting the problem somewhere else. But he’ll be back. And even if he isn’t, there are whole societies like that. They camp in tin shacks on the edges of large, rich cities. From the door of their tiny makeshift shelters you can see the high-rise hotels and office blocks where, if they’re very lucky, one member of the family might work as a cleaner. They have been born into debt, and in debt they will stay, through the fault of someone rich and powerful who signed away their rights, their lives in effect, a generation or two ago, in return for arms, a new presidential palace, a fat Swiss bank account. And even if rich and poor don’t always live side by side so blatantly, the television brings us together.
So, we all know Lazarus. He is our neighbor. Some of us may be rich, well dressed and well fed, and walk past him without even noticing; others of us may not be so rich, or so finely clothed and fed, but compared with Lazarus we’re well off. He would be glad to change places with us, and we would be horrified to share his life, even for a day.
Jesus’ story about Lazarus and the unnamed rich man (he’s often called ‘Dives’, because that’s the Latin word for ‘rich’, but in the story he remains anonymous) works at several levels. It is very like a well-known folk tale in the ancient world; Jesus was by no means the first to tell of how wealth and poverty might be reversed in the future life. In fact, stories like this were so well known that we can see how Jesus has changed the pattern that people would expect. In the usual story, when someone asks permission to send a message back to the people who are still alive on earth, the permission is granted. Here, it isn’t; and the sharp ending of the story points beyond itself to all sorts of questions that Jesus’ hearers, and Luke’s readers, were urged to face.
The parable is not primarily a moral tale about riches and poverty—though, in this chapter, it should be heard in that way as well. If that’s all it was, some might say that it was better to let the poor stay poor, since they will have a good time in the future life. That sort of argument has been used too often by the careless rich for us to want anything to do with it. No; there is something more going on here. The story, after all, doesn’t add anything new to the general folk belief about fortunes being reversed in a future life. If it’s a parable, that means once again that we should take it as picture-language about something that was going on in Jesus’ own work.
The ending gives us a clue, picking up where, a chapter earlier, the story of the father and his two sons had ended. ‘Neither will they be convinced, even if someone were to rise from the dead’; ‘this your brother was dead and is alive again’. The older brother in the earlier story is very like the rich man in this: both want to keep the poor, ragged brother or neighbor out of sight and out of mind. Jesus, we recall, has been criticized for welcoming outcasts and sinners; now it appears that what he’s doing is putting into practice in the present world what, it was widely believed, would happen in the future one. ‘On earth as it is in heaven’ remains his watchword. The age to come must be anticipated in the present.
The point is then that the Pharisees, being themselves lovers of money, were behaving to the people Jesus was welcoming exactly like the rich man was behaving to Lazarus. And, just as the steward was to be put out of his stewardship, and was commended for taking action in the nick of time to prevent total disaster, so the Pharisees, and anyone else tempted to take a similar line, are now urged to change their ways while there is still time. All Jesus is asking them, in fact, is to do what Moses and the prophets would have said. As Luke makes clear throughout, his kingdom-mission is the fulfilment of the whole story of Israel. Anyone who understands the law and the prophets must therefore see that Jesus is bringing them to completion.
If they do not, then not even someone rising from the dead will bring them to their senses. The last sentence of the parable, like a great crashing chord on an organ, contains several different notes. It speaks of the whole hope of Israel for restoration and renewal. It speaks, as does the story of the prodigal son, of the poor and outcast being welcomed by Jesus. And it speaks, for Luke’s readers from that day to this, most powerfully of Jesus himself. One day soon, the reader knows, the law and the prophets will all come true in a new way, as Jesus himself rises again, opening the door to God’s new age in which all wrongs will be put right. (Wright, T. Luke for Everyone [2004, London] p199–202)
The story generally known as the parable of the rich man and Lazarus takes up common Lukan themes such as the dangers of money, concern for the poor and disadvantaged, and the need for immediate conversion and repentance. To these themes are added the continuing validity of Old Testament teaching, the irrevocability of judgment upon death, and the inadequacy of miracles in themselves, no matter how great, to produce belief. If one fails to make right use of the opportunities available now, it will be, fatally and finally, too late.
This parable comes in the immediate context of teaching on the use of earthly possessions (16:1–15), verses containing sharp words on the impossibility of serving God and mammon and on how what humans prize is an abomination to God. Verses 16–17 vigorously affirm the ongoing authority of the law, despite the further revelation that has now come. Thus the story follows easily in the development of the chapter as a whole. (Verse 18, on divorce, seems like something of an intrusion. That divorce manifests or results from the kind of hardness of heart that the parable itself critiques is a possible but rather speculative connection.) The material following the parable (chap. 17) does not appear to connect to it closely. However, it is of great importance that, in the broader design of the Gospel, Jesus is here on his way to Jerusalem, to his own death and resurrection. One can hardly escape the reference to the fact that Jesus’ resurrection will not prove enough to convince those who turn away now.
The basic form of the story, which involves reversals of fortune in the afterlife, is common in folklore and was popular among Jewish teachers (Caird). The story is unique among Jesus’ parables, though, in that Lazarus has a name (a name with the underlying meaning “God has helped”). The rich man is not named; the common appellation Dives comes from the Latin word for “rich.” His wealth is emphasized not only by his costly clothing and feasting, but even by the term for the entrance (pylōna) to his dwelling, which refers to a large gateway suitable to a grand house. Lazarus may have been not only poor and hungry but crippled (the passive of ballein may be used with that force); in any case, dogs licking his sores added to his degradation, since dogs were not well regarded in the culture. The rich man obviously claimed relationship to Abraham, calling out to him as “Father Abraham” (vv. 24, 27, 30; cf. Matt. 3:9 and Luke 3:8, where Jesus rebukes those seeking to justify themselves as being Abraham’s children); Abraham did not deny the claim—he answered him as “child”—but it made no difference in the man’s fate. But it was Lazarus, who is not represented as making any claims, who found himself with Abraham in paradise (“Abraham’s bosom” was a common term for paradise), while the rich man suffered torment. Angels carried the poor man to heaven; no angels attended the rich man’s death. The rich man had “his” good things on earth; the poor man had evil things, but evil things not designated as “his” (the possessive pronoun is lacking in the poor man’s case). The contrasts build relentlessly and are finally established in their reversed form by the great, uncrossable chasm separating the two men in the afterlife. There will be no further changes in status.
The rich man’s request that Abraham warn his still-living brothers by sending Lazarus to them suggests that he felt as if his failures were not entirely his fault: he had needed more information, more evidence, something a bit more convincing; had he only been given what he needed, he would have done differently himself. (One recalls Woody Allen’s famous and only half-humorous plea that if God exists, he should provide a sign, like making a large deposit in his name in a Swiss bank.) Abraham’s answer here—that Moses and the prophets are enough, and that those who do not heed them will not be responsive even to the most astonishing miracle—harmonizes with testimony elsewhere in the Gospels (e.g., Luke 11:9 par.; cf. John 7:17–19; note also that Jesus’ own resurrection appearances would be not to unbelievers but only to his disciples): it is an evil and unbelieving generation that seeks signs, and the way to know the truth is to be obedient to God’s revealed will. Wonders do not soften hard hearts. Punishment seldom softens them either, which reinforces the likelihood that we should read the rich man’s request for a messenger to his brothers as self-justifying rather than compassionate. Even if compassion were the motive, however, it is too late.
Although the rich man’s sin was one of omission rather than commission—he had not, apparently, actively mistreated Lazarus—it was not a sin committed in ignorance (see, similarly, Matt. 25:31–46). He knew Lazarus’s name (v. 24). He recognized the man but had not recognized his own duty. Indeed, it may be that his desire even after death to use Lazarus as a sort of errand boy (vv. 24, 27) suggests his continuing utter inability to conceive of Lazarus as a person of like dignity to himself. And the fact that Lazarus died first means that the rich man lost his final opportunity to do good to him even before his own life ended. “Too late” can sneak up on us. God calls us to account not only for what we have done, but also for what we have left undone.
This story is often referred to in discussions of heaven, hell, and the intermediate state (the condition between an individual’s death and the general resurrection and final judgment). One should be careful, though, about drawing firm conclusions from it because the “scenery” of the story is appropriated from developing ideas at the time; and the story itself is not designed to teach about the details of life after death, but rather about the essential character of acting correctly now. Looking at this “scenery,” we see depicted two regions of Sheol. Late in the Old Testament and in the intertestamental literature, Sheol was sometimes conceived not as the undifferentiated fate of all humans, all the dead being condemned to a shadowy existence there, but as allowing for separation of the righteous and unrighteous—a separation that developed into full-blown conceptions of heaven and hell. In this passage, it seems clear that one’s destination is understood to be fixed at death; there is no thought of purgatory or of a “second chance” (see also Heb. 9:27). Old Testament worthies are assumed to be found in paradise (see also John 8:56; some have supposed that the alleged “harrowing of hell” of 1 Pet. 3:19, 20 relates specifically to these Old Testament saints, though how the work of Christ relates to God’s covenant people who died before Christ’s coming is not made specific; also, the “harrowing of hell” would be anachronistic here). Wealth in itself does not exclude one from paradise, for Abraham was rich; rather, one’s disposition toward God and neighbor and one’s use of wealth are key. The bodily form of Abraham, Lazarus, and the rich man cannot be used to establish our condition in the intermediate state—that is, it does not prove that bodily resurrection immediately follows death—because bodily form is required by the dynamics of the story. References to torment, fire, and agony (vv. 23–25) have often been read as confirming the traditional imagery of hell, though some have read them symbolically, as referring to insatiable desire and remorse (e.g., Plummer). Again, the details cannot be pressed with assurance. The reality of some sort of robust consequences in another life for one’s behavior in this one, though, is essential to the story: were this life all there is, it might indeed make sense to eat, drink, and be merry, to take for oneself all the good things one can get and to take no thought for the poor at one’s gate.
This life, however, is not all there is. And Luke warns us once again of the tendency of this world’s blessings to make us self-consumed, self-important, self-satisfied, self-indulgent, and insensitive to others. When the fateful day comes, it will not be enough to say that we just did not pay attention, or that we had intended to help out tomorrow, or that we surely meant no harm to the helpless ones around us. Nor will it be enough to say that we lacked information about our obligations or that we needed more convincing evidence. The excuses themselves suggest the very hardness of heart that ensures that no further information and no miracle could make a difference. Excepting our greater knowledge of God through Christ and hence our greater responsibility, our situation does not differ greatly from that of the rich man: following the truth that he knew—that given by God’s revelation of his will in the Mosaic law and the prophets—and making use of the opportunities he had would have made all the difference. (Shuster, M. In R. E. Van Harn (Ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis For Sunday’s Texts [2001, Grand Rapids, MI] V 3 p 418-21)

Preaching Possibilities

This is a call to action as much now as it was when Jesus spoke these words almost two thousand years ago. It is still a call to action. Some churches offer ways to help those on the streets without giving them money. It is a help bag. There are all kinds of ways we can help through our churches and these need to be explored and underlined this Sunday.
There are many ways to help besides giving money. The call is to first see the person in need and the second call is to act. If you want to be more proactive there are all kinds of ways to help. The point of the parable is that we need not to walk around but walk up to the many in need in our society.

Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON

Different Sermon Illustrations

I spend my days fighting poverty in New York City, so this time of year I get asked a lot at holiday parties what people can do to help the poor. I like the question. At the Robin Hood Foundation, we’ve spent 27 years trying to answer it.
As with any complex social issue, there are myriad reasons that people are poor. So we break down the problem to create short and long-term change. We aim to make life better for people who are poor while at the same time attacking the root causes of poverty. Once we’ve identified the various needs, we use empirical data to identify and support programs that create real results.
It’s a process that works for our organization, and it can work for charity-minded individuals too. Getting smart about the underlying causes of poverty will allow you to connect on a deeper level, which matters: Donors are more likely to commit to a cause when it resonates emotionally. From there, you can then do a little digging to determine which organization is worthy of your support.
So, in case we don’t see each other at a party this season, here are six key barriers poor people regularly face. And while they’re often interconnected, eliminating just one leads to an improved living standard. Whichever tugs at your heart, there’s a group in your area ready to use your time or money effectively. I’ve included some tips on how to find them.
Homelessness. It’s impossible to live a stable life without a home, so we help people find one. While this problem often conjures up images of panhandlers suffering from poor health and addiction, that’s just one part of the issue. A large percentage of the country’s 600,000 homeless are working parents, struggling with rising housing costs, doctors bills, domestic violence, etc. In New York City alone, more than 58,000 people will sleep in a shelter tonight, including 23,000 children. To find well-run shelters or supportive housing organizations in your area, explore the portfolio of large foundations—the United Way, for example, or Robin Hood—which will have done the legwork to ferret out effective organizations. It’s a good starting point whatever your charitable interest.
Hunger. More than 1.5 million New Yorkers rely on emergency food to get by; in the U.S. that figure is closer to 50 million. Robin Hood directs $5 million a year to this crisis, because if we can augment a household’s weekly take-home with a bag of groceries the people living inside are more likely to stay housed, clothed, and employed. But we do more at the same time by investing in organizations that give people food and also provide other poverty fighting assistance: health screening, social service connections, and the like. In your part of the country, large businesses—especially those in food industries—are a solid source of pre-screened nonprofits in this or other areas of need. They typically detail these relationships on their websites.
Health. It’s easy to imagine the devastating impact of an unmanaged disease on household income and overall stability. People who suffer from mental illness, for example, often struggle to hold down a job. (This is a main driver of homelessness among veterans.) Or consider that children living in poor quality housing are more likely to have asthma—and miss school—racking up doctors bills even as their parents must miss work. While most of the Robin Hood grantees are specific to New York, one of the first organizations we supported is the Children’s Health Fund, which has a national reach. This group is especially creative in delivering services to the poor, e.g., a mobile clinic that visits homeless shelters to give kids physicals and dental check ups.
Unemployment. We try to help New Yorkers develop new skills that will enable them to build a career and earn a living wage. One of my favorites: Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW), which trains women to work in the construction trade. The cost of training is high, but graduates leave with the know-how to work on top-paying projects. Many cities fund nonprofit job-training programs, and many local libraries list potentially worthy programs on their websites. Look for programs that provide real skills rather than just job placement.
Immigration. In general, immigrants are actually less likely to be poor than non-immigrants. But certain groups—in New York, people from Mexico, the Dominican Republic and China, for example—have a higher incidence of poverty. Across the country, those immigrants who are poor face unique challenges: language fluency or acquisition, unfamiliarity with government benefits and, in some cases, the legal authority to work. So people moved by the plight of Syrian refuges or immigrants in their community, might check out local churches or places of worship to find good organizations that mitigate these issues.
Education. A high school diploma is the best route out of poverty. Graduates not only have a better shot at supporting themselves, they’ll likely be healthier as well. To that end, Robin Hood invests more funds in education than any other arena. We support innovative and effective schools and a host of interventions that help low-income kids make it to the finish line, including extra support in pre-K, tutoring, remediation, mental health services, assistance for children in foster care, and much more. If you don’t know of a worthy school near you, once again look to local businesses, foundations, and government agencies to learn which organizations they deem worthy of support. Homelessness. It’s impossible to live a stable life without a home, so we help people find one. While this problem often conjures up images of panhandlers suffering from poor health and addiction, that’s just one part of the issue. A large percentage of the country’s 600,000 homeless are working parents, struggling with rising housing costs, doctors bills, domestic violence, etc. In New York City alone, more than 58,000 people will sleep in a shelter tonight, including 23,000 children. To find well-run shelters or supportive housing organizations in your area, explore the portfolio of large foundations—the United Way, for example, or Robin Hood—which will have done the legwork to ferret out effective organizations. It’s a good starting point whatever your charitable interest.
Hunger. More than 1.5 million New Yorkers rely on emergency food to get by; in the U.S. that figure is closer to 50 million. Robin Hood directs $5 million a year to this crisis, because if we can augment a household’s weekly take-home with a bag of groceries the people living inside are more likely to stay housed, clothed, and employed. But we do more at the same time by investing in organizations that give people food and also provide other poverty fighting assistance: health screening, social service connections, and the like. In your part of the country, large businesses—especially those in food industries—are a solid source of pre-screened nonprofits in this or other areas of need. They typically detail these relationships on their websites.
Health. It’s easy to imagine the devastating impact of an unmanaged disease on household income and overall stability. People who suffer from mental illness, for example, often struggle to hold down a job. (This is a main driver of homelessness among veterans.) Or consider that children living in poor quality housing are more likely to have asthma—and miss school—racking up doctors bills even as their parents must miss work. While most of the Robin Hood grantees are specific to New York, one of the first organizations we supported is the Children’s Health Fund, which has a national reach. This group is especially creative in delivering services to the poor, e.g., a mobile clinic that visits homeless shelters to give kids physicals and dental check ups.
Unemployment. We try to help New Yorkers develop new skills that will enable them to build a career and earn a living wage. One of my favorites: Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW), which trains women to work in the construction trade. The cost of training is high, but graduates leave with the know-how to work on top-paying projects. Many cities fund nonprofit job-training programs, and many local libraries list potentially worthy programs on their websites. Look for programs that provide real skills rather than just job placement.
Immigration. In general, immigrants are actually less likely to be poor than non-immigrants. But certain groups—in New York, people from Mexico, the Dominican Republic and China, for example—have a higher incidence of poverty. Across the country, those immigrants who are poor face unique challenges: language fluency or acquisition, unfamiliarity with government benefits and, in some cases, the legal authority to work. So, people moved by the plight of Syrian refuges or immigrants in their community, might check out local churches or places of worship to find good organizations that mitigate these issues.
Education. A high school diploma is the best route out of poverty. Graduates not only have a better shot at supporting themselves, they’ll likely be healthier as well. To that end, Robin Hood invests more funds in education than any other arena. We support innovative and effective schools and a host of interventions that help low-income kids make it to the finish line, including extra support in pre-K, tutoring, remediation, mental health services, assistance for children in foster care, and much more. If you don’t know of a worthy school near you, once again look to local businesses, foundations, and government agencies to learn which organizations they deem worthy of support. (http://money.com/money/4148121/charity-robin-hood-how-to-help-people-in-need/)

The holidays are hard on everyone’s budget, so don’t feel bad if you can’t write a big check to your favorite causes this year. Instead, give back without emptying your wallet with these nine great strategies:
Volunteer Your Time
One of the best and simplest things you can do to help a charity is give your time. “Nonprofits need people more than they need money,”says Timothy Seiler, a professor of philanthropic studies at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “Everybody is good at something, and there are probably many nonprofits that are looking for your skills.”
Charities can always use professional services assistance, people to help with legal work, accounting, graphic design, and writing, says Babbie Jacobs, program director of Bolder Giving, a nonprofit focused on helping Americans give more effectively. But even if you don’t have those skills, many organizations just need people willing to give time to support their mission, whether that’s being a mentor to a kid looking to get into college, offering free tutoring, or preparing food at a food bank.
Skills for Change is a great way to volunteer online based on your interests and talents. To help in person, contact local charities whose programs interest you and ask to speak to the volunteer services coordinator.
Clean Out Your Closet
No matter what unwanted item you have lying about your house, there is probably some charitable group that will benefit from receiving it. “Anything you can think of, nonprofits will be able to use, from books to old computers,” says Seiler. Giving clothes, shoes, furniture, and the like to Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or a local church’s thrift store is an easy way to help out low-income families. Your unwanted business clothes, for example, can help disadvantaged women gain a professional wardrobe through Dress for Success. Add to your local library’s collection by donating good-quality books you’ve already read. Beaten-up sneakers can be broken down and used to create materials for public playgrounds and tennis courts through Nike’s reuse-a-shoe program. Even your old car can be donated to groups like Habitat for Humanity.
Get Crafty
Certain charities need items that you might not readily have at home, such as tiny sweaters for penguins affected by oil spills or booties for premature babies. These charities are counting on people good with needle and thread to come to the rescue. Several charities offer patterns on their websites that you can download and use to craft items specific to their needs. For instance, you can knit blankets for shelter animals through the Snuggles Project, or make blankets for needy children with Project Linus.
Give Blood
With fewer blood drives being held during the winter months, blood donations tend to drop this time of year. But the need for blood remains steady; donated blood has a shelf life of only 42 days. All blood types are wanted, especially type O or AB.
You can also give platelets and plasma, which help with cancer and organ transplant treatments, at select donor centers. To find a donation center in your area, use the AABB blood bank locator.
Swipe Your Credit Card
Many banks offer credit cards that are affiliated with certain charitable groups. For every purchase you make, the card will gift a small percentage to the charity. While it’s nice that you can give back while making everyday purchases, be aware that the help tends to be minuscule. For example, Bank of America offers a card that gives 0.08% to the Susan G. Komen breast cancer organization, which means you’d have to spend $10,000 to donate $8. You also don’t get any tax benefits from using a charity card.
Rather than use a charity affiliated credit card, consider giving your credit card rewards or earned cash back to a charity. Most banks allow you to donate your earned rewards to a variety of charities and to claim a tax deduction. Just think, if you earn cash-back rewards of 2% on all purchases, gifting that, rather than 0.08% in the scenario above, would equal a much larger donation—about $1,990 more.
Get a Haircut
Several organizations such as Locks of Love and Wigs for Kids will happily take your chopped-off locks to make hairpieces for patients who lose their hair due to medical treatment or a medical condition. You may need to wait a bit and grow your hair out before doing good; the minimum length requirement is 10 inches.
Ask Your Company to Give
Lots of large organizations like General Electric, British Petroleum, and the Gap Corporation offer to match the amount you give to charity, effectively doubling your donation. You’ll have to fill out a bit of extra paperwork with your HR department to get the company match, but it’s worth it to ensure the cause you care about gets the maximum gift. If you are unsure if your company participates in such a program, contact your HR department. (http://money.com/money/4122896/donations-charity/)

According to United Press International (2/28/04), London police officers have arrested and fingerprinted about 300 beggars in the city’s West End. In addition, authorities have collected DNA samples from most of the city’s homeless people. The Westminster Council announced that they had ordered the action in an effort to reduce the amount of begging. They admitted that the acts are a comprehensive effort to harass and deter beggars. Opponents complain that the action is criminalizing some of their society’s most vulnerable people.

The rich man apparently never considered the fact that some day he would die and face a day of judgment. In Sermons: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living, Peter J. Gomes tells about an All Saints’ Sunday service that was held at The Memorial Church at Harvard University. The choir and members of the congregation presented Hugo Distler’s Totentanz, or Dance of Death. In the presentation, a white-faced death danced down the aisles and confronted all of the worshipers, regardless of class or age, inviting them to dance with him. The worshipers were forced to recognize that death eventually calls out to all of us.

In Shopping Malls and Other Sacred Spaces: Putting God in Place, Jon Pahl refers to one of the most famous speeches in American religion, Russell H. Conwell’s “Acres of Diamonds.” Conwell, who later founded Temple University, was a Civil War veteran and lawyer who had become a Baptist preacher. As such, he spoke widely on the theme of the “Gospel of Wealth.” In his “Acres of Diamonds” sermon, Conwell said such things as “I say that you ought to get rich, and it is your duty to get rich....To make money honestly is to preach the gospel....Money is power, and you ought to be reasonably ambitious to have it!”

According to the Financial Times of London, Rio de Janeiro is planning to build walls around the city’s slums. Government officials say they intend to construct the barriers in order to contain the sprawling favelas in an effort to control the spread of crime. On the day after Easter this year, more than 1,200 police officers had to patrol two slums in southern Rio to re-establish order. Those communities are just a few blocks from the city’s famous beaches. The state government proposes to build a three-meter tall concrete wall around at least four slums. Critics of the plan say that instead of building walls, the government should be financing infrastructure projects in those areas that would improve the quality of life for the thousands who currently live in squalor.

Although Jesus taught that we find greatness through serving other people, we often tend to pursue greatness through the acquisitions that we make. That was the thesis of Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class. In that work Veblen argued that in affluent societies people achieve their rank by spending more and more. Thus, the conspicuous display of wealth becomes a person’s indication of their status to the outside world.

We often have so much that it makes it difficult for us to even imagine those who do not have enough. Such is the case when it comes to food. According to the BBC (1/21/04), a study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that obesity costs the United States about $75 billion each year. The study determined that a third of Americans are overweight, and another third are obese. As a result, they are far more likely to suffer heart problems, diabetes, and a variety of other chronic conditions. The United Nation’s World Health Organization put forward a plan earlier this year to seek to combat obesity around the world. But the United States vetoed the measure. The WHO plan called for governments to force food companies to reduce the amount of sugar and fat they put in their products. But the United States objected, claiming that high-calorie processed foods are not the cause of obesity. Critics of the United States say the government is acting in the interests of the powerful food industry.

We tend to think that we are more generous than we actually are. According to Rambam’s Ladder: A Meditation on Generosity and Why It Is Necessary to Give, Julie Salamon points to research done at Cornell University that supports that contention. In a certain experiment, college students were given $5.00 each, and they were asked how much of that money they thought they would give to charity. On average, they said they would give half of it away, and they indicated that they believed that their peers would give away only an average of $1.80. In reality, though, the surveyed students gave away only an average of $1.53. The researchers concluded that people intend to be generous, but they often aren’t willing to make the sacrifices to actually do it.

I remember learning in high school that Hamlet’s fatal flaw was that he thought too much about life instead of living it. Sometimes the church, or individual Christians, bears the same flaw. We talk and think and argue about what Jesus would do and never do it ourselves.

One of the reasons we hesitate to give to those who are in need is because we create a seemingly endless list of things that we think we have to acquire for ourselves first. In The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need, Juliet B. Schor explains the “Diderot effect.” In the eighteenth century, the French philosopher Denis Diderot wrote an essay titled “Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown.” Diderot recounted how all his problems started when he was given a beautiful scarlet dressing gown. Thrilled at receiving that new dressing gown, he immediately threw out his old one. Soon, though, he began to feel dissatisfied with his surroundings, believing that the items in his house did not measure up to the elegance of his new gown. The threadbare tapestry, the desk, the chair, the bookshelves—nothing seemed to be suitable any longer. So one by one, Diderot threw out his possessions and purchased newer, more elegant items. In the end, the philosopher found that he was entirely uncomfortable and ill at ease, although he had gone to great expense to raise the quality of his surroundings to match the quality of his new dressing gown.

In Greed: The Seven Deadly Sins, Phyllis Tickle notes that the Guru Granth Sahib, or Adi Granth, the holy book which is the supreme spiritual authority of the Sikh religion, asks the question: “Where there is greed, what love can there be?”

There are many wealthy people who do make their riches available to the Lazaruses of the world. The Chronicle of Philanthropy notes that the sixty top donors in the United States contributed $5.9 billion to charity in 2003, compared to $4.6 the previous year. The largest giver last year was Joan Kroc, heiress to the McDonald’s empire. When she died last October, she left bequests amounting to $1.9 billion, including $1.5 billion to the Salvation Army. For the second year in a row, Bill Gates, the richest person in the world, was not on the list.

Researchers in Britain say they may have a clue as to why we are sometimes tempted to overspend on our own indulgences. According to Reuters (10/6/03), hearing classical music being played in the background often leads diners to spend more on wine, fancy coffees, and luxurious desserts. Researchers from the University of Leicester and the University of Surrey persuaded a particular restaurant to alternate silence, pop music, and classical music on successive nights over an 18-day period. On the evenings when the classics were played—music by Beethoven, Mahler and Vivaldi—customers spent more on luxuries. A psychologist explained the findings by suggesting that classical music causes people to think of themselves as being more cultured and sophisticated, leading them to shell out money to purchase the kinds of things they associate with the high life.

In Blessed Are the Cynical: How Original Sin Can Make America a Better Place, Mark Ellingsen notes a letter that Benjamin Franklin wrote to Robert Morris in 1783. In that correspondence, Franklin suggests that people are entitled to keep as much of their wealth as they require to provide for their needs. But beyond that, Franklin says, “all property superfluous to such purposes is the property of the public, who may therefore by other laws dispose of it, whenever the welfare of he public shall demand such disposition.” Although Franklin was not a regular church-goer, he obviously shared the sentiment found in the New Testament that commands that those who have an abundance share with those who are in need.

There are more people like Lazarus in the United States than we might think. The February 2004 issue of Amber Waves, a publication of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reports that according to the most recent statistics—a survey conducted in December of 2002—11% of American households were food insecure at some time during that year. In other words, those households were uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food for all household members because they had insufficient money. The research determined that most food-insecure households avoid hunger by relying on a few basic foods, reducing variety in their diets, and getting emergency food from a food pantry. But 3.8 million households, or 3.5% of all American households, were food insecure to the extent that one or more household members went hungry at least some time during the year because they could not afford enough food. On average, households that were food-insecure and went hungry at least some of the time experienced that condition for a few days each month in 8 or 9 months. On an average day, between .5% and .7% of households in the United States are experiencing hunger due to a lack of food.

George McGovern, back in 1972, pointed out that we do not like to talk about hunger, because it forces us to admit that our society and our institutions are failing in some respects. He stated, “To admit the existence of hunger in America is to confess that we have failed in meeting the most sensitive and painful of human needs. To admit the existence of widespread hunger is to cast doubt on the efficacy of our whole system.”

The rich man in the story was undoubtedly among the “beautiful people” of his day. In The Purpose Drive Life, though, Rick Warren suggests that those who constantly receive accolades from others tend not to be servants. He observes that there are more than 750 “Halls of Fame” in the United States and more than 450 “Who’s Who” publications. But how many of those people, Warren wonders, are truly servants?

Once something becomes “ours,” we often have a hard time letting go of it. That was perhaps the problem that the rich man experienced. He had accumulated a great amount of money and goods, but he was not inclined to share those resources with Lazarus. In The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Barry Schwartz explains the psychology that leads us to do that. Suppose you are part of a large group attending a meeting, and as thanks for your time and effort, you are given a coffee mug or a nice pen. The two gifts are approximately equal in value, and they are randomly distributed among the participants—half the people get a mug, half the people get a pen. Considering the fact the items are randomly distributed and considering the fact that both items are equal in value, you might conclude that half received the object they preferred and half did not. Therefore, you might assume that half of the participants would be quite happy to swap with someone. But in fact, very few trades actually take place. The phenomenon is known as the “endowment effect.” Once something is given to you, it is yours. Once that object becomes a part of your endowment, even after a few short minutes, giving it up feels like a loss to you. And psychologists point out that since we feel worse about our losses than we feel good about our gains (e.g., if you win a million dollars and then suddenly lose it, instead of feeling neutral because you broke even, you feel worse than you did before), we will tend to not trade the item that we have been endowed with, because the enjoyment of getting the item we trade for will not offset the negative feelings we experience over giving up the item we’re swapping.

After the rich man died, he suddenly wished he was able to rewrite his life’s history. An auction in Nebraska earlier this year provided bidders the opportunity to do just that with their own lives. According to the Associated Press (4/19/04), as a contribution toward an auction that was being organized by the local Rotary, the the Reverend Jim Keyser of the Trinity United Methodist Church offered to preach a glowing eulogy at the funeral of the highest bidder, no matter who the person might be. At first the offer was made tongue-in-cheek. But eventually the proposal took off and ended up becoming part of a total package that people could bid on, including a funeral urn and cremation service.

The stark facts of world poverty, with its attendant problems of war, starvation and disease are well depicted in Beyond Borders. In 1984 Sarah Jordan is living the pampered life in England, similar to that of the Rich Fool in Jesus’ parable, when she and her husband attend a fundraising banquet for a world hunger organization.
All the richly dressed diners are enjoying the wine and well-prepared food as the MC presents a humanitarian award to the head of the organization, when suddenly a man breaks into the room, shouting at the people as he leads a little black boy up to the platform. Sarah learns that the intruder is Dr. Nick Callahan, perpetually angry at the expensively attired do-gooders who salve their consciences by giving a token amount of their wealth to the poor. He heatedly charges the leaders of the event of being hypocrites, that the money spent on the lavish hall; food and entertainment could have been better spent on food and medicine for the poor. Before security agents usher him and the boy out of the room Sarah is duly impressed, her conscience touched. Unlike the Rich Fool, she does decide to do something about Lazarus at the door, but she finds that it will have to be more than token gestures. When she arrives with a truckload of medicine and food at the refugee camp in Africa where Dr. Callahan is at work, he scorns her at first, warming only when she proves that she is not just a rich girl slumming. Sarah joins a relief organization herself, becoming whole-heartedly involved in reaching out to the Lazareths of the world. The film, of course, has a love plot, but that is another story.

The great 20th Century champion of hymnology Erik Routley would sympathize with the neglected Lazarus while scorning the heartless rich man in Jesus’ parable. Routley’s hymn “All Who Love the City” is an invitation to “all who cry for peace and justice” to work for its betterment. His second stanza pours scorn upon those who in their “day of wealth and plenty” waste their “work and play.” These are days of judgment, and lest the city “be the city of despair,” the Risen Lord will indeed come.

One of the most noted desert fathers of the Egyptian desert, Anthony, once commented: “Our life and our death are with our neighbor. If we do good to our neighbor, we do good to God; if we cause our neighbor to stumble, we sin against Christ.”

“‘Count your blessings’ is a kindergarten-level moral insight,” says David Gerlernter in his book Drawing Life: Surviving the Unabomber. He continues, “But nowadays we teach children to nurse their grievances instead. Why? It’s perverse. Dwelling on your unluckiness is a waste of time; savoring your victimhood gets you nowhere.”

Jim Rome, commenting on former professional football player and Army Ranger Pat Tillman, said this at Sgt. Tillman’s memorial service, “Pat was the man I want to be. Pat was the man we all want to be.” Pat Tillman participated in mission, answering not just the call of his nation but the call of God as well. He served this nation and his Lord with the last full measure of devotion.

“The Spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions, and the nearer we get to him the more intensely missionary we must become.” (Henry Martyn)

“Christian mission is the only reason for our being on earth.” (Andrew Murray)

“Compassion will cure more sins than condemnation.” (Henry Ward Beecher)

“The best exercise for strengthening the heart is reaching down and lifting people up.” (Ernest Blevins)

“The church exists by mission as a fire exists by burning.” (Emil Brunner)

“The special person called to do missionary work is every person who is a member of the church of Christ. The call does not come to a chosen few, it is to every one of us.” (Oswald Chambers)

“To go to people and say ‘Jesus loves you!’ and yet do nothing to help change their circumstances is not a complete message.” (John Wimber)

“You have to recognize when the right place and the right time fuse and take advantage of that opportunity. There are plenty of opportunities out there. You can’t sit back and wait.” (Ellen Metcalf)

“There is no security on this earth, there is only opportunity.” (General Douglas MacArthur)

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” (Thomas A. Edison)

Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)

Call to Worship

Leader: Those who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the LORD,
People: “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”
Leader: For God will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence;
People: Therefore, we will sing praises to God and rededicate ourselves anew to the service of Christ!

Prayer of Confession

O God, we know that you sent your Son to minister to “the wretched of the earth.” However, we must confess that at times we are like the rich man in your Son’s parable, heedlessly consuming while others go without. Even when we do give, we soon become subject to compassion fatigue, thinking that because we give to our church and a cause or two, that we have done our duty. The problems of poverty, of war, and natural disasters seem so huge that we shrink back from even thinking about them. Open our eyes to the needs of others that we might see those things, however small, that we can do. Help us to see that we can simplify our lives more, so that we can lend support of treasure, time and talent to those working to alleviate the suffering of others. This we ask in the name of the compassionate Christ. Amen.

Prayer of Dedication

Dear God, if “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” what can we bring to you? We will bring ourselves, offering our time, treasure and talents, all which have been entrusted to us for a while, by you. May these gifts be used in work that furthers your kingdom, for we ask this in the name of Christ. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer

Compassionate God, when we hear your Son’s story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, we become uncomfortable—at least if we are really listening. This is because we know that it is not Lazarus, but the rich man with whom we are identified. True, we are not millionaires, but almost all of us have enough money, not just for our basic needs, but for hobbies, household decorations, new clothing, and entertainment as well. Help us to move out of our comfort zones to follow in the footsteps of your Son, who bids us to take up our cross and follow him. If we cannot go to those in need, then stir us to aid those who can. There is work close to hand, missions that only we can accomplish, each of us having unique opportunities during the week to share your word and the bounty of the earth with others. We thank you for calling us into a fellowship where we can find companions who strengthen us, challenge us when we go astray, and who share the burden of ministry. We pray for all in need, and we ask that your love and comfort be real to all who are hurting. Bless those who seek to minister to and with them. Guide and direct our leaders, in the church and our nation, that we might walk in paths of justice and love. We pray for ourselves as well, that you will strengthen us during difficult times and lead us in the good times: enrich our vision that we will see how our lives fit into your plan for the redemption of the world. This we ask in the name of the One to whom you have given “the kingdom, the power, and the glory.” Amen.