“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man…”
How would that go in modern-day?
“There was a rich man who lived in the mansion at the capital who accepted bribes for favors while at his gate were retirees who needed their pension…”
“There was a rich man who lived near a great lake who made his money from brothels and bootlegging while at his gate were”…well, he did well with his ill-gotten gain and gave generously to the poor.
“There was a rich man who made his money from good hearted people who wanted to help while at his gates laid wounded and disabled vets…”
“There was a rich man who lived in a great house who made his money on the backs of those who helped build his buildings while at his gate were poor children in need of lunch and education, the sick in need of healthcare, widows in need of heating assistance and meals, the refugee in need of safety, and the immigrant in need of opportunity.”
The story of the rich man in these verses of chapter 16 may be related to the other stories Jesus tells of a rich man in chapter 12, earlier in chapter 16 and again in chapter 18. In chapter 12, Jesus tells of a rich man who is called the rich fool. He tears down his barns to build bigger barns to store his grain; then, he dies. He has no one to leave his riches too and he has not been generous to God in his life. In the opening of chapter 16, there is a rich man, his shrewd manager and their dishonest wealth. In chapter 18, Jesus tells a rich man to sell everything he owns and give all his money to the poor. Here Jesus tells those He is teaching that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Jesus talks a lot about money and our relationship to it. Jesus appears to be rather judgmental of those with wealth in the Gospel of Luke. It is not that money and wealth are bad. What’s problematic is how one gains their wealth and what they do with that wealth.
When talking about faith and money, I want to name, as I have before, the danger of the prosperity gospel that some preachers preach and people of faith claim as truth. Wealth is not an indication of your spiritual health. There is danger in believing that you or someone else are poor because have done something wrong or are being punished. There is danger in believing that you have wealth because you are blessed for your faithfulness. The tie between wealth and faith is that what you do with what you’ve been given indicates your spiritual health.
I don’t know that the rich man in chapters 12, 16 and 18 in the Gospel of Luke are the same man, but what is similar is that they are not generous with God or God’s people. The rich man or rich men find themselves outside of God’s kingdom because of their relationship to their wealth. They wanted to store up what they had and not share it.
That leads us to the, probably, main point of the Gospel of Luke, probably all the Gospels as they portray Jesus’ ministry, but especially the Gospel of Luke. God favors the least, last, and lost through Jesus’ healing and ministry. The Disciples are called to share in that ministry to the least, last and lost. And, there is judgment for an unwillingness to help the least, last and lost.
Yesterday, I went to the CCIW Disciples Women’s retreat. The theme was freedom and struggle. We heard a professor from Christian Theological Seminary, a Disciples seminary in Indianapolis, talk about praying the Psalms. She spent some time interpreting Psalm 146. I noted the attention she gave to verses 5 – 9 which read:
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets free the prisoners; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the those who do right. The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he twists. (NRSV and drawing on interpretation of Dr. Marti Steussy.)
Then, we heard from a pastor in Chicago who had lived through desegregation and her experience of injustice, inequality and racism. Then, I got to lead a workshop on praying the headlines and advocacy. The scripture I referenced was from Matthew 25: 34 – 40 which reads:
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then, the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
I talked to my group of ladies about praying the headlines as people of faith. By praying the headlines, I mean reading or listening to the news as a practice of faith. We, as people of faith, can engage with the news and consider how God’s people and God’s creation are affected by the good news and the bad news reported. We can engage with the news and through prayer allow God to break our hearts in the way the Divine heart is broken by inequality, injustice and oppression. This heart broken through prayer, I said, should spur us to action to address those places and situations where God’s people are oppressed and God’s creation are treated unjustly.
A headline I’ve been praying about is the proposed federal budget. I don’t know what will be kept, what will be scrapped, what will be further cut, what will be given more resources, in the end. What I know is that the proposed budget is not good news for the poor and widows in regard to low income heating and energy assistance program, meals on wheels, and school lunches. One of the ladies in my group yesterday asked how funding for these programs could be cut when we are a nation that wants to be Christian. Those cuts will push the burden of helping the poor onto the church which has fewer people and fewer resources.
You are about to have more resources!
You are about to enter a phase in ministry in which your expenses will be less than your collected income. Hold on with me. That is not permission to start giving 50% less. I want you to remember that I’ve been preaching that you give out of your abundance. You don’t give to fund a budget.
You have the amazing opportunity to invest in ministry in a different way. You have invested in ministry through supporting a full-time minister. Soon, you will have the opportunity to invest in ministry projects and I have some ideas for you.
Imagine if meals on wheels funding is cut. I did some research and rough calculations. I guess that peace meals in town for roughly 50 people gets assistance of about $3k per month. These are rough guesses based on a little digging around. These aren’t complete shots in the dark, but I can’t say they’re completely accurate. So, $3k per month could go to peace meals. I don’t know that you have $3k per month, but imagine if you could help with some of that.
Or, imagine if the low income heating and energy assistance program is cut. I have some firm numbers that in 2014 109 Bethany households received $39k in assistance through LIHEAP. Imagine if you could assist some of those widows and families with their utility bill.
Or, imagine if school lunches are cut. Again, rough numbers, but I imagine the school gets about $3k per month for school lunches for the nearly 50% of kids on free and reduced lunches. Imagine if you could feed the kids at school.
What I want to challenge you with is the concept of tithing the church budget. The idea is that as you hope individuals will tithe 10% of their household income to the church; the church then tithes 10% of their budget to mission. You have the opportunity to be generous with what God has given you in a different way. You have supported me. Now, you have the opportunity to support your community through faithful generosity with God to God’s people.
I know when we read a story like the rich man and Lazarus many of us can’t imagine ourselves as the rich man. But, what if the church is the rich man? What if the church is being challenged to care for the poor sick man laying at your gate? As I prepare to depart from you, and you prepare a budget in this new era of ministry, I challenge you to tithe the budget. Be generous with God to God’s people.