This is the fourth week of a series we are calling, have mercy on us. We see this pleading before Jesus by ten lepers who are looking for something from Jesus that will make their lives better. The series will look at the way Jesus challenges us to be disciples and how without realizing it we depend on the mercy of God.
We are a people who demand justice. As young children we learn what is fair and what is not fair almost from the moment we can speak. If our little brother gets something better than us, we immediately point out to our parents, that “it is not fair.” Justice is being fair. If we drive too fast and are pulled over by law enforcement, justice demands we receive a ticket. However, many of us in that situation seek some sort of mercy. Let the infraction be overlooked and let us go on our way as if nothing ever happened.
In this series we will look at the ways we need mercy, receive mercy and depend on mercy in the context of the Sunday readings. We will look at the teachings from the readings and then apply what we are called to live against the mercy of God. We want God to be just for sure, but we discover it is God’s mercy we truly desire.
Three weeks ago the readings pointed us toward the cross. Jesus spoke about being a disciple which puts the cross front and center. The cross is image that reflects mercy from God, it is God’s love for us and all humanity. Two weeks ago the readings focused on finding the lost. God places great importance on finding the lost. No matter what we have done while away from God, rejoining God comes with celebration and happiness through the mercy of God. Last week we read Jesus giving himself as ransom for all. God in his mercy has the ransom for all, the one mediator, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as ransom for all, emphasis on the all, believers and non-believers.
This week the readings want to wake us up to a life we may be living thoughtlessly. In the story of the Hebrew people according to the prophecy of Amos, the rich are ignoring the poor and making worship pleasing to themselves. They are not focused on what is important to God but living life for themselves. In the letter to Timothy, we read Paul calling Timothy to lead the people back to a true gospel, not living in a way that honors themselves, but living the commands, particularly to love one another and God. Finally we read about a rich man who lived thoughtlessly and ended up in discomfort and on the opposite side of life with God. We need to guard against a life of thoughtless living, falling into habits that are comfortable but meaningless. We will see examples of this in the stories of the week, but we will also recall God’s mercy is unlimited.We need to guard against a life of thoughtless living, falling into habits that are comfortable but meaningless. Click To Tweet
The readings this week are from the Lectionary for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time; Amos 6:1A, 4-7; Psalms 146:7, 8-9, 9-10; 1 Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31. The readings guide us to focus on a life lived intentionally, know and follow the commands of God, don’t get in a rut of living life thoughtlessly.The readings guide us to focus on a life lived intentionally, know and follow the commands of God, don't get in a rut of living life thoughtlessly. Click To Tweet
In the first reading the prophet Amos is telling the people God is unhappy with their behavior. Times are prosperous but only some have enough while others are poor. Those rich are having festivals and holding elaborate liturgies but they have no substance. The praise is visually ascetic but there is not rootedness in their belief. They are living thoughtlessly, enjoying their prosperity but not taking care of their brother and sister poor. The people lay in ivory beds, lounge on comfortable couches, eating lamb and calves, playing music on the harp, drinking wine from bowls and anointing themselves with the best oil. But they are not concerned that others are struggling, even their spiritual nature is falling away. The relationship with God must be based on sincerity, not on religious rites. If there is respect for God then there would be a respect of justice and righteousness. The people are enjoying their wealth and not thinking about their relationship with God at all. Amos proclaims the people will end up in exile and their life of partying will be done away with. God is not interested in pretty ritual liturgies, or ornate temples and places of worship, God wants us to think about our brothers and sisters, to be people who love others, and show it by taking care of others in their time of need. This time of living thoughtlessly will lead to destruction for all and only a few, a remnant will return to take up the mantel of the Hebrew people.The relationship with God must be based on sincerity, not on religious rites. If there is respect for God then there would be a respect of justice and righteousness. Click To Tweet
In the second reading Paul is closing out his letter to Timothy and his message is encouragement, reminding him of his prophetic authority and that he must be strong for the community. Timothy has become discouraged because the people are being influenced by false teachers, they are accepting some of the teaching like a rule forbidding marriage and abstinence from certain foods. It is another example of rather than having a right relationship with God and looking after one another, the people are influenced to take care of themselves through false asceticism. In this case they are being influenced by those, who are likely making money on their false teaching, in a kind of thoughtless living where they are not listening to the word of God rather being influenced by the ideas of man. Paul is telling Timothy be strong, to pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness, compete well for their faith. Followers are easily influenced by the next trend; today it could be a new diet trend, in the days of this writing it is chasing a new kind of holiness that may come with pride of ego while forgetting justice and righteousness. Paul who is focused wants Timothy to be focused and bring the people back to understand their relationship with God, it does not require difficult rites or rituals, but requires love and looking out for their brothers and sisters. We must not live thoughtlessly but should recognize those in need close to our lives who we can and should help. God finds way to constantly remind us, it is not how holy we make ourselves but how we are holy in our relationships with others and those God.We must not live thoughtlessly but should recognize those in need close to our lives who we can and should help. God finds way to constantly remind us, it is not how holy we make ourselves but how we are holy in our relationships with… Click To Tweet
In the gospel Luke shares another of Jesus’ parables. It is about a rich man and Lazarus a poor man. Jesus introduces both men and their situation in life and then the scene quickly moves to what appears to be the afterlife where Lazarus is with Father Abraham in a very comfortable place and the rich man is across the chasm in a very uncomfortable place. The rich man calls out to Father Abraham for help but is reminded he had a good life with many rewards and so this part of his life was going to be the opposite. While Lazarus had a bad life and now would be comforted. The rich man coming to terms with his situation asks Father Abraham to send Lazarus back to his five brothers so they will be awakened and not live thoughtlessly as he had done. Abraham tells him they have Moses, and the prophets, if that is not enough they won’t listen to someone coming back from the dead. This story makes a connection between Moses, the prophets and the resurrection of Jesus. We see a beautiful example of the stories in the Hebrew Scriptures foretelling the gospels. The entire story of the bible is one continuous movement of the love of God and moving his people to a life of love.
Jesus is telling this parable to the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the temple. He just told the parable about the dishonest but prudent steward and they are watching Jesus closely believing he is a challenge to their authority. Certainly Jesus is an example of true austerity that the Pharisees say they live and project but did not really live have holiness in their hearts. So they are feeling guilty, and begin to believe Jesus has to be removed somehow.
The parable is a story of a man who is living his life thoughtlessly, he doesn’t notice the poor man, Lazarus, in fact he doesn’t probably notice much in his life. In the afterlife he knows Lazarus’ name and is even feeling a certain authority to order him around, although he does it without speaking directly to Lazarus, he will only speak to Father Abraham. His sin is not that he is rich, or even that he didn’t help the poor, his sin is he doesn’t even think of the poor (and perhaps others) at all. His entire life was focused on himself, living for himself and ignoring the needs and lives of all others. Keeping everyone else away so he could not be inconvenienced by their need or requests. It is easy to imagine the character Scrooge from the Christmas Carol originating from this story and life of the rich man. Truly this is a man who lived thoughtlessly and in the end has nothing and no one in his life. All he has accumulated in life can’t be taken with him to the afterlife, so he is alone looking at all his thoughtlessness coming to life.
This is our challenge this week. Are we living thoughtlessly, or said with more conviction, living selfishly. We see in these three stories acts of thoughtless living are not condone by God. God wants us to build community, care for others, love others and certainly recognize others in our life. The rich man who clearly knew Lazarus (as he used his name in the afterlife), not only ignored Lazarus and his need, but apparently did it with a certain calculation. This is not who we are called to be as followers of Jesus. In fact we see in the prophecy from Amos even before Jesus, God wants us to intervene in the lives of those with need. Living thoughtlessly is a true act of disobedience to the desires of God and God’s hope for a restored world. We see it so much today, refugees, people oppressed, asylum seekers, there is so much need we get numb to it, we pull ourselves into our own little box trying to ignore all the need. We declare those with need are enemies we must be protected from and justify our selfishness. We must guard against this kind of behavior, because as we see in these stories living this way, without thought for others is a reason we could be on the opposite side of where God lives.We declare those with need are enemies we must be protected from and justify our selfishness. We must guard against this kind of behavior, because as we see in these stories living this way, without thought for others is a reason we… Click To Tweet
Have mercy on us – living thoughtlessly
How much of our life is happening on cruise control? Some say much of our life happens out of habit, more than forty-percent. Not that habits are bad, certain habits can be good while others can be not so good. A habit of virtue, where you live compassionately, caring for others, making moral choices on a regular basis is a good habit to live. It certainly would negate what we see in these stories which seems to be the habit of self-centered living.
Paul challenges Timothy to wake up the people in the community to keep the commandment. Likely the commandment is all that the gospel teaches but in particular the command to love one other and to love God. You can almost see a certain pride in the people keeping difficult commands, like following difficult rules, doing what is hard for them, making them proud of themselves; like not eating certain foods they may enjoy. Certainly the correct way to fast can bring us closer to God, when we replace our hunger with thoughts of God. But, if we fast while a brother we can help is starving, or cold, or thirsty, God might look at this fast as missing the point. In fact it could be considered selfish from the perspective of the command to love one another.If we fast while a brother we can help is starving, or cold, or thirsty, God might look at this fast as missing the point Click To Tweet
We may be regular attendees at a church service. But are we doing it out of habit, following some ritual we have always done believing we are pleasing God? What do we decide if driving to church we see someone in need. Do you believe God would prefer us to stop and be late or maybe miss church to feed someone hungry or do we believe God wants us to be sure we make worship service on time? Even being a regular attendee at church can be living thoughtlessly, just doing what we have always done believing it makes us spiritually close to God. There are many who attend church each week, thinking they are the faithful of God, but really they are asleep.There are many who attend church each week, thinking they are the faithful of God, but really they are asleep. Click To Tweet
We may be at a place in life where we go day to day on automatic pilot not noticing the poor and needy at our doorstep? There are also those who have become cynical, deciding they can’t give money because the homeless person will just use it on drugs or alcohol. This is justifying selfishness. Have we met someone in need of a home but couldn’t bring them to our house because it is unsafe for us, they could do some harm. As disciples we know loving others is not an option. So we have to live with some justification for our lack of help or put on blinders so we don’t see the need around us, this is how we protect ourselves. We want to believe we are good, and doing as God desires. Giving money to the church tithe, praying for those in need, sending money to a charitable organization, even volunteering once in a while at a soup kitchen, all of which we believe is enough to make us good and favored by God, even highly favored.We have to live with some justification for our lack of help or put on blinders so we don’t see the need around us, this is how we protect ourselves. We want to believe we are good, and doing as God desires. Click To Tweet
As we have been saying throughout this message series, there is nothing we can do to be more favored by God. God’s love is unconditional, his grace is unearned and his favor is as high as it could possibly be, always! But, as we have seen in these stories there is trouble for our story if we live thoughtless lives. The Hebrew people were exiled, the rich man lives in discomfort and while we don’t see the fallout from the people in Timothy’s community we can imagine they are beginning down a road that could be troublesome.God’s love is unconditional, his grace is unearned and his favor is as high as it could possibly be, always! Click To Tweet
However the mercy of God is always available. For the Hebrew people after a time of exile God called back a remnant to be under his care and enjoying the life he meant for them to live. The community which Timothy leads is reminded of the true message of the gospel and the commands to be followed. In the story of the rich man we can learn the thoughtlessness of living for ourselves and wake up to the true desire of God to love one another. We have more than he; we have Moses, the prophets, the resurrection of Jesus, as well as stories like this one told by God so we can be awakened to the fact we are not living a life ordained by God. These stories are about others, but they are meant for us. The stories of the bible are the living word because they live in us. We can’t ignore what we see and read thinking it is not about us, it is exactly about us.The stories of the bible are the living word because they live in us. We can’t ignore what we see and read thinking it is not about us, it is exactly about us. Click To Tweet
We have the mercy of God, again and again giving us second and third chances. While it may not seem so for the rich man, it is his life that allows us to know we have many opportunities in life to live thinking of others, following the command of God to love one another and God. It is God’s mercy that we depend on not to be exiled or to live on the opposite side off a chasm from God. God’s mercy never runs out, there is no limited amount, and like grace God is giving it to us perpetually.
If you are going through the motions thinking you are doing the right thing and not giving thought to those around you, wake up. Don’t live life thoughtlessly, rather do everything intentionally. Don’t judge others so that you can justify your lack of aid. Don’t put up blinders so you can ignore the need around you. Jesus lived a sacrificial life as an example of how our life is to be lived. You can live comfortably now, like the rich man or you can help the Lazarus’ of this world, and trust God to bring you all the comfort necessary for your life now and for ever.Don’t live life thoughtlessly, rather do everything intentionally. Don’t judge others so that you can justify your lack of aid. Don’t put up blinders so you can ignore the need around you. Click To Tweet
God’s mercy is free gift, we can’t earn it. Of course if we could earn mercy it wouldn’t be mercy it would be justice. God wants us to know through stories, and experience that we need to be involved; but no matter what God will find a way to be merciful even when we don’t deserve it. He was merciful to the Hebrew people, constantly. Jesus lives a life for others so we can follow and not only receive mercy but receive grace and all the comfort life has to offer. Wake up, don’t go through the motions, help others who are in your daily path, be kind, give to others, don’t expect anything in return; God doesn’t expect anything in return from you.