Rich in Grace
(Amos 6:1a, 4-7, Psalm 146, 1 Timothy 6:6-19)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/X80s0q9MY90)
[Jesus said:] 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.’ ”
This morning, we hear more difficult words from Amos and Luke. Recall last week we heard the prophet Amos condemn the dishonest businesspeople of Israel for cheating the poor people. The businesspeople had not only traded unfairly but had done it on the Sabbath day of rest. God was angry with his people and enabled Amos to speak works of judgment. Similarly, Jesus lifted up a story about a dishonest manager who had squandered the wealth of his rich master. The manager was fired for his dishonesty and, in an effort to ensure a future with those the rich man dealt with, offered discounted debts. Somewhat surprisingly, the rich man was impressed by the manager’s actions, perhaps because he himself was a dishonest businessperson. Nevertheless, Jesus used the parable to illustrate his teaching that those who are dishonest in little matters will be dishonest in larger ones and those who are honest in little matters will be honest in larger ones. In both passages, we learned that God is displeased with dishonesty. Why? Because it tears down relationships. Without shared understandings of truth, we have difficulty forming and sustaining trusting relationships. God wants to be in relationship with us. God wants us to be in relationship with each other. And we can be in neither relationship if we engage in dishonest behavior. Dishonesty has no place in loving, trusting relationships. It is important to stay in relationship with God and each other. We need each other, sometimes more than we like to think we do. We need relationship with God just as much. So we ought to listen to Amos and Jesus and avoid dishonest behavior in order to stay in relationship.
In this morning’s readings, Amos shifts his condemnation from the dishonest business people of Israel to the idle rich. Both groups of people had broken relationships with those around them and with God. Rather than use their riches to serve those who were less fortunate, the idle rich had lived selfishly and consumed their riches in sheer revelry. They were disconnected and disengaged with their relationships. God needed someone like Amos to come along and snap them awake with words of judgment. As Amos proclaimed, “they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.” A literal exile is what those idle rich needed instead of a figurative exile!
Indeed, the idle rich of Amos’ time had succumbed to Paul’s wisdom in his letter to Timothy. As Paul wrote, “but those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” The idle rich no longer tended to their relationships with others and God. They were consumed with themselves and only themselves. This is easy to do when all of our material needs seem to be satisfied. For whatever reason, we tend to remove ourselves from others when feel like we don’t need them to satisfy our material needs. There is a false sense of freedom that comes with wealth; a sense that we no longer need anyone because we no longer need anything. This is not only a false sense but contrary to what God teaches us. Jesus tells us over and over that with great wealth comes great responsibility. We are called into greater service to our neighbor as we become more and more wealthy: “for those who much has been given, much is expected.” Or, as Paul writes to Timothy, “they are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share.”
Again, Jesus lifts up another parable about a rich man in this morning’s passage from Luke. Like the idle rich of Amos’ time, the rich man had become disconnected and disengaged with those around him, so much so that he no longer cared about the plight of those suffering around him. Poor Lazarus longed to eat nothing but the scraps from the rich man’s table. Alas, Lazarus went hungry and the rich man went about his selfish life unaffected. That is, until his life came to an end and he found himself in eternal agony in hell. The rich man cried out to Lazarus who sat with Abraham in heaven. “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.” Pity was not to be shared on the rich man, nor was it to be shared with the rich man’s living relatives destined for such torment. They, too, were selfishly consumed with their riches and disconnected and disengaged with those around them.
In all these passages, we hear the importance of staying in relationships. Whether its dishonesty or wealth that pulls us away from our relationships with each other and God, we are advised to avoid such trappings and cling to our commitments. We need each other and we need God every day of our lives. We need to serve each other and God, each and every day of our lives. We need to live for each other and for God. We are called to be good stewards of all that God blesses us with. Nothing we have isn’t a gift from God. Everything we have is a gift from our gracious and merciful God. God blesses us with so very much because God wants to stay in relationship with us too. God knows that relationship is not only built on honesty but also on generosity. He gives so that we might give to others. He gives so that we might give to Him! Not that He expects us to give to each other or Him but He gives us the mere opportunity to give. There is great joy and happiness in giving. to each other or Him but He gives us the mere opportunity to give. There is great joy and happiness in giving! When we give to God or each other, we receive far more in return.
Perhaps most importantly, we receive relationship. Relationships sustain us when we can no longer sustain ourselves. Relationships enrich our lives and give them purpose. Relationships give far more than they demand. They give joy and happiness and security and integrity and courage to name but a few of the gifts. God so graciously gives time and time again. Of all the riches we can attain in this life, relationships are the most lasting, the most empowering, the most freeing riches of all. As we continue along our path through Pentecost, let us give thanks for all the relationships in our lives. Let us give thanks for God’s grace pouring out on all our relationships. Some of us may be blessed with material riches this harvest season. Some of us may be blessed with immaterial riches like good health or a good career. Whatever our blessings, let us rejoice that ALL of us are…rich in grace.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.