Month: September 2013

His name is known…

Lazarus may well have lain outside the gate of the rich man but he was comforted inside the gate of God.

Among the many differences between rich and poor, one might be that the names of the rich are known individually, at least according to the Richest 100 list. In this story (Luke 16: 19 – 31), it is not the rich who are known by name. The only one known by name here is Lazarus; and, he is hardly the celebrity with whom people would want to be identified or the one whose name would be found in people’s desirable contact list. While the rich man was covered in the finest clothing, Lazarus was covered in boils and sores. While the rich man feasted sumptuously, Lazarus was desperate even for the crumbs from the table.

However, despite his situation of degradation and despair, Lazarus is the one known, called and welcomed within God’s gate. Yet, on reading the story, we have to recognise that the rich man is not accused, nor condemned, as a result of any named sin. Likewise, Lazarus is not accredited as righteous because of anything he has done or not done.

On reflection, perhaps, the rich man has been found wanting due to being blind to the suffering reality lived by those outside his gate. He has done well. He might even convince himself that he has his riches due to his own hard work. Or the hard work of others whose riches have been inherited by him. He might even believe his riches are a sign of God’s blessing on his life. Yet, he is the one whose name is not known and who finds himself outside the gate of Heaven and within the gate of Hades.

Equally, the story does not say what Lazarus may have done, or not done, to be comforted with such heavenly blessing. There is no mention of faith or works, simply position in the world, as one who is destitute and suffering. How those tables were turned. Here, the rich man has become the beggar and Lazarus has his name called out to join the Kingdom feast. Yet even in the judgement and condemnation, there appears no malice against the rich man. The chasm has been set and it is just not possible to cross it.

It is also interesting to note how Lazarus does not speak for himself. He does not have to. The angels, Abraham, God, and the whole company of heaven, have become his spokespersons, advocates and comforters. Meanwhile, as the rich man speaks, he does so isolated by himself, without an advocate or comforter or community of hope.

So, as we move towards this coming week, I wonder how aware are we are of our riches of possession and possibility? How blind do they make us to the Lazarus’ of the world, those who remain outside our churches’ gates and on the other side of any fixed chasm of privilege and position? Does God even know our name? What more than the chasm crossing risen Christ is needed to convince us, and our world, of the need to be known by him?

Convinced, at the end of the day, may we each be known to God individually by name, carried by the angels and welcomed within the gates of the heaven to his table of life.

Lord, have mercy…

What is this I hear about you?

There was no argument about it, no attempt at self-justification; simply a recognition that he had been caught (Luke 16: 1- 13). But rather than throw himself on the mercy of the rich employer, the manager started trying to figure out how to make the best out of a bad situation.

Jesus does not elaborate on what the manager had used the resources at his disposal for. We are simply told he squandered his employer’s assets. If this was a substantial charge to be levelled against someone then, squandering assets is almost considered unforgiveable today. Careers and reputations are lost in these days of austerity if it is perceived that a manager, whether in the private, public or third-sector, has been guilty of squandering hard earned resources, especially financial ones.

Yet, there are times when we must all be wary. ‘What is this I hear about you?’ calls us all to account and lets us know we have been accused of squandering. Perhaps not financial but what of our squandering the resources of the earth; our squandering the resources of young, middle aged and elderly people alike while we participate in a socio-economic system that seems content to allow their gifts and talents go to waste; our squandering the resources of power and privilege exercised for personal and group gain rather than the common and global good? There may not be many who can stand without remembering how we have been guilty of squandering that with which we have been entrusted as stewards of the things of heaven.

The manager was concerned (rightly!) with his future. Yet, instead of throwing himself on the mercy and compassion of his employer, he decides the way to ensure future welcome and friendship was through fraud; so he rewrote the debtors’ bills. It is a hard challenge to hear how this approach seems to have been appreciated by the owner (and Jesus?) who, rather than castigating his manager, commends him for shrewdness. Behind this shrewdness is the wisdom word of the wise man who built his house upon the rock (Matthew 7:24) and the virgins in contrast with the foolish who had sufficient oil in their lamps for the whole of the wedding feast (Matthew 25: 1 – 13).

Can Jesus really be sharing this as an example for his disciples to copy? This is complicated. For me, I am trying to hear here a challenge to consider how I wish to be welcomed by God and remain friends with him, even with the noise of the accusatory ‘what is this I hear about you?’ filling the air, and fill the air it does.

The squandering manager acted in character to save his future, and acted in fraud. So, how are the disciples, the people of God, to act in character when they/ we wish to know the welcome and friendship of God, into the forever eternal future beginning today? If the manager acted as he did to save his major asset, his life, what will the children of light do to save their major asset, the salvation of their life and soul?

Given this, what assets do we have before a creator God? It would seem that we have lost sight of the fact that any assets we have before God are ones that have first been entrusted to us by him. Our accusation may be we have taken as gospel that we are the creators rather than the created and as such can do what we like with those things we believe are ours and ours alone. We live without remembering that anything we own has been granted unto us for the purposes of the kingdom rather than personal reward. In this, we have become servants of mammon, rather than servants of God.

Thus, as God asks of us in this coming week, ‘what is this I hear about you?’, may we respond in a spirit of repentance and hope; may we strive to live out the grace granted unto us in salvation through God’s greatest asset, and our richest blessing, even his Son Jesus Christ; and, may God hear of lives of service given on behalf of the Kingdom rather than of assets squandered.

Lord, have mercy…

Found and Lost? Lost and Found!

While heaven rejoiced, the religious muttered (Luke 15: 1 – 10).

What a sad and telling indictment on those who had at one time been lost themselves and now considered themselves to be found. How easy it is to forget the bewilderment, uncertainty and anxiety caused by finding ourselves in the place of dark, aloneness and disorientation. If any should have been welcoming the sinners and tax collectors, it should have been those who themselves have been lost but now rejoice in being found, held and loved with mercy and compassion.

So comfortable had they become, it seems, in their traditional righteousness, Jesus left them alone to fend for themselves, while he searched for those who had become detached and lost. This is an important theme. This was not Jesus telling stories about going out after those who had never belonged but rather seeking out those who had at one time been part of the community and now had been detached, for whatever reason (traditions, structures and attitudes of the religious?), from the faith and supposedly beyond grace.

Jesus offers two remarkably poignant stories of himself and his mission. There is the image of the shepherd going out after the sheep which has been lost, with which we are all familiar. Then, in addition, there is the image of Jesus as a diligent woman (a tax collector’s wife or mother?) lighting lamps and sweeping floors; perhaps an image with which we are less familiar. In both instances, the issue is that, while what was left was valuable in itself, so also were the ones that had been lost. Perhaps a further challenge was being highlighted which indicated that the whole was not complete without the lost being counted, found and celebrated as well.

Could it be, then the real indictment was that those who had been found had lost their awareness of the value, before God, of those who had become detached and lost. The lost were not so lost that they were beyond grace. The religious had placed a higher value on their religious tradition and practice and were in danger of becoming lost again themselves because they failed to value those whom God valued so much that He sent his Son to find them… us… me!

In the stories, the credibility, integrity and trustworthiness of shepherd and housewife alike are dependent on finding what has been lost. Could it be said, the credibility, integrity and trustworthiness of Jesus is also dependant on His search for the world which is never beyond his grace and, therein, finding the lost? Yet what of the church, wherein lies our credibility, integrity and trustworthiness? In muttering or seeking?

Upon finding that which was lost, the woman and the shepherd each invites friends and neighbours to rejoice with them. Maybe we should note, the religious are not included here. Yet, if we want an example of a real church plant, a new fresh expression of missionary joyfulness, then do we need to look much further?

Lord, have mercy…

Jesus’ Message of Hate!?

There are times when I have to admit that I just don’t get it! Where is the nice Jesus of peace, love and compassion? When did this Jesus appear who seems intent on spreading a message of hate (Luke 14: 25 – 33)?

I get the bit about needing to take stock of capacity and capability before building towers and, even, going to war (problematic that is in itself!); but hating  myself and, indeed, my family, I don’t get. What makes this even harder in Luke’s story is that my hatred seems to be tied to my discipleship in such a way that hatred appears to be a characteristic of those who actually belong to Jesus as a bona fide disciple. Let’s not make any mistake here either. Jesus is recorded as speaking about real misthos hate; there is no room for ambiguity.

But while trying to understand this, I think of those who care ceaselessly for family, and friends, to counter disappointment, dejection, neglect, sickness, grief and bereavement; often in the name of Jesus and his kingdom of healing, wholeness and fulfilment. Are they wrong?

I don’t believe they are.

There again I think of those who work tirelessly to counter the language, actions and impact of hate. I think of those who give of themselves sacrificially for peace, reconciliation and healing; often in the name of Jesus and his kingdom of mercy, justice and righteousness. Are they wrong?

I don’t believe they are.

There again I think of those who work and care for vulnerable, fragile and rejected individuals, families and communities to counter domestic violence, abuse, neglect and suffering; often in the name of Jesus and his kingdom of compassion, hope and community. Are they wrong?

I don’t believe they are.

But does this mean such people are not, and cannot, be true disciples of Jesus? I want to acknowledge that for me, they are true disciples. So there are times, I just don’t get it, this Jesus thing and these Jesus words!

But I’m wondering whether there is a clue in the reading that might help us better appreciate what Jesus was getting at? The story begins with great crowds following Jesus. Is it possible his words to them where a hyperbolic challenge to the cult of personality growing around him? Here we may find a Jesus not interested in being the focus of a mass movement with a need to feed on celebrity. They were watchers not followers! They were ‘hanger-on’s’ not disciples!

So maybe if we want to be one of his disciples, then we need to consider what is required, what the cost will be, and whether we will truly respond with a ‘Yes, Lord, here I am ready to be follower rather than a watcher and  a disciple rather than a hanger-on’

That said, this still doesn’t necessarily mean that this side of heaven, I will always get it!

Lord, have mercy…