Sunday, September 25, 2022

Send someone!

 Luke 16:19-31

 Luke gives us another story about wealthy people and the way they treat poor folks.  I know, and Jesus knew, that not all wealthy people are like this. But this one makes it crystal clear to Jesus’ audience that it’s wrong to think only of your own comfort and ignore the needs of other people. It’s even more wrong to ignore their presence.

It appears that Jesus is speaking to the disciples in a public space, where the Pharisees and others can overhear what he is saying. Pharisees believed in the resurrection, so this story of the rich man wanting to be in Abraham’s arms after death could be one way they thought of what happened after death.

Or, it could just be a story. There is no way of knowing if life after death looks like what Jesus describes here, with a chasm and unquenchable fire; or resting in the arms of loved ones.

The point of the story is that we should all see the folks around us. We should recognize them as equal to us in God’s eyes. And we should live generously, sharing what we have with those who have less. And, mostly we do live this way.

However, I have had a couple conversations with members about the young man hanging out on our bench outside the last couple weeks. We wonder together if we should offer food, or does that encourage him to stay? Does it prevent him from getting a job and taking care of himself? I wonder, can’t we do both, feed him and encourage him to move on?

But Jesus’ story goes beyond the reminder to take care of the needy. It’s the last paragraph that catches my attention. “Send someone to tell my siblings that they need to shape up and pay attention, so they don’t end up where I am.” Jesus’ response is not encouraging. “Even if someone comes back from the dead, they will not believe.”

We know that Jesus did come back from the dead. And it’s true. People struggle and even refuse to believe. They don’t want to hear about Jesus, or even talk about any religion. They have all they have because of their own hard work, not because of the blessings of a loving God. Basically, they are saying, “Even though someone has come back from the dead, they will not believe.”

… Phyllis Tickle’s last book was The Great Emergence. She explains that every 500 years or so, the Church (capital C church) has a rummage sale. In the process of cleaning house, traditional church practices are examined to see if they are meaningful, and some are discarded. New practices are begun.

Think about what happened 500 years ago. Martin Luther and others rocked the Christian world by recommending changes be made. Luther told us we are both sinners and forgiven children of God. Priests could marry. Worship was held in the local language instead of Latin. Parishioners should have both bread and wine for communion. People were told they didn’t need to pay for forgiveness, or for time out of purgatory.

Those of us who remember church in the 1950s and 60s know church today is not the same as it was. In many places, there are fewer children in Sunday school, because their parents don’t bring them. There are fewer adults because they have other things to do.  

For the last 50 or so years, church as we know it has been changing. We are in a season of the Church rummage sale. Pastors and leaders have tried practices other than Sunday morning worship to reach people with the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. Pastors have tried home churches and megachurches, Saturday evening worship and pre-recorded on-line services.

This past Easter Sunday, Mike and I attended worship with our son and his family in a large congregation.  There were no lilies or hyacinths. The worshipers stood during the songs, but didn’t sing along with the worship band. There were few references to the fact that Jesus had risen from the dead, even in the scripture readings. The sermon was all about the pastor’s new discipleship project.

… In Romans 10, Paul says “All who call on the Lord’s name will be saved. So how can they call on someone they don’t have faith in? And how can they have faith in someone they haven’t heard of? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who announce the good news’.”

If we are to be the preachers who announce the good news, we need to conquer our fear of talking about Jesus with others. Sometimes it starts within the family. … I was 14 and my brother Dave was 12. We had the same godparents, Auntie Vi and Uncle Bob. We did not attend church, other than Easter every 2 or 3 years.

Vi and Bob approached our parents and claimed their responsibility as baptismal sponsors. They said, “Shouldn’t Lynn and Dave be in confirmation class by now?” It seemed only a week later that Dave and I found ourselves in church and confirmation class. Without Bob and Vi, I would have been another believer in Jesus who knew nothing about him.

… Sometimes, if we are paying attention, the opportunity to speak about Jesus presents itself. We had the cable guy – actually the internet guy – (let’s call him Bill) at the house to check something. He asked how I used the computer and internet. I explained that I am a pastor, and use the laptop for writing sermons, participating in Zoom, and so forth.

Bill said he and his family don’t often go to church, and he described some of their bad experiences when they have tried different churches. I suggested that Lutheran churches are different, especially ELCA churches. I explained that Lutherans believe we are sinners and forgiven, and we don’t have lots of rules. In most ELCA churches, all are welcome. Then I told him about the 3 ELCA congregations in the county and suggested he check them out.

Bill himself had opened the door to the conversation, and I was happy to walk right through it. He was actually seeking a place to worship God, a place where he and his family could fit. And, he didn’t realize it but he was responding to God calling out to him, to connect, to know he is loved. Through Bill, God was also calling to his family.

… We are called to be those who announce the good news. We are called to go to our siblings and tell them that Jesus has risen from the dead. We are sent to say the tomb is empty, and that has made all the difference.