In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Fasten your seatbelts—Jesus is talking about wealth and poverty again. Last week Jesus told us that we cannot serve both God and wealth. This week we look at our responsibilities regarding our wealth—our responsibilities to notice and to reach out to those nearby and far away who are poor and or who are suffering.
Most of us would have a hard time saying that we’re wealthy. We have lots of bills to pay, right? Mortgages. College tuitions and loans. Car payments. Cell phones and internet providers. TV. Appliances that go on the fritz with no warning. These things cost money. And our constant bill-paying surely gets in the way of our feeling wealthy.
So, let’s ask the question. How rich are we, really?
Did you know there’s a website that will answer that question by ranking us against everyone else in the world? It’s www.globalrichlist.com.
So I did an experiment. I took this latest Redding info book from the Pilot and opened it to the page opposite the page with the story about Paul winning his Grammy this past year. This info page tells us the median household income in Redding. It is now $120,223. Plug that into the website and you see that our theoretical median household in Redding is in the top 0.07% of all world household incomes. Wow. We are really wealthy!
How about someone receiving the maximum Social Security payment for 2016? That’s about $31,000 per year. Plug that into the website and you see that that income is in the top 2% of all world incomes. Wow.
How about someone still working in the financial industry, maybe, and making—let’s say—$250,000 per year? They are in the top 0.04% of the world’s incomes.
In other words, 98 or 99 percent of people in the world are worse off than we are. Amazing, isn’t it?
And maybe we don’t feel so rich because of our various choices of lifestyle that encumber us to pay out so much each month. That is a function of our own choosing.
So. Today in the readings we begin to get some more detailed instruction about how to live with our wealth. Let’s make our first stop in the prophecy of Amos. And remember, a prophet tells forth the words and feelings of God—as opposed to his own ideas. Amos lived in Israel before the Northern Kingdom was conquered by Assyria. It was a time when Israel was enjoying prosperity and there was a small wealthy class who made its living by exploiting the poor. Most scholars think he wrote around 760 BC.
Amos pronounces strong condemnation on the rich in the land who live lives of luxury, lying on ivory-inlaid cedar beds, eating artisanal cheeses and drinking fine wine, watching soap operas on the telly all day long and creating plump portfolios for their wealth -- instead of using a good amount of it to reach out and help the suffering. And God isn’t happy with this lifestyle of the comfortably numb. God expects his people to take care of each other. God expects the wealthy to give sacrificially to help the poor.
And the final prophecy in these few verses is chilling: “the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.”
Fast forward almost 800 years and we hear Jesus talking about the same human problem—the tendency to hole up in one’s own comfort and not even to notice the need around us, let alone reach out to help. It’s the poignant parable of the Rich Man and the stricken beggar named Lazarus—who, by the way, is not the same Lazarus as the one whom Jesus raised from the dead. This fellow is named Lazarus for a good reason: the name means “helped by God.”
And did you get the joke at the end of the story: the living still won’t notice—even if someone rises from the dead.
It would be really funny if it weren’t so true.
And so the lesson is clear: notice the need around us. Reach out to help. Give sacrificially—till it hurts. Really: give till it hurts—till we are pinched. Use not only wealth in the form of money, but also wealth in the form of time, and talent, and strength, and especially the bottomless resource of prayer. It’s a grave sin to hoard all our wealth and not use a good deal of it to help. That’s the bottom line.
But is it a sin to be wealthy in the first place? Thankfully, no, that’s not sinful. But it’s a sin to hoard it, to keep it all in. Our epistle today reminds us that the LOVE of money is the root of all kinds of evil—not money itself. And the last 2 sentences are so helpful for us in the top 1 or 2% in the entire world: “As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They [WE] are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for ourselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that we may take hold of the life that really IS life. [1 Timothy 6:17-19]
And finally, keep in mind that we’re all in this together—all 7.4 billion of us on the earth. Remember the stunning photos taken by astronauts of the earth in space, one of which is on our bulletin cover today. We inhabit a small, blue, vulnerable gem sparkling out there against the blackness. There are no national boundaries to be seen when the photo is taken from above. There is only a shared home and a shared humanity. To help each other live better only makes sense for the health, the life, and the longevity of the planet. And by so doing we take hold of the Life that really is Life! For everyone.
And now, today, as we welcome Juliana Avgerinos into the family of God through Holy Baptism we pray that she will be a light to many people for as long as she lives on this earth. We pray for God to give her a spirit of generosity and joy and a life of healthy challenge and accomplishment.
May each of us do what we can to nurture her as she grows. May we also grow with her, and learn to see the poor in front of us. May we learn to open our hearts and our bank accounts to respond. And may we take hold of the Life that really IS Life. Amen.