5 July 2020
Good morning folks,
I hope that you and your loved ones are managing to keep well in this unprecedented time. An unusual feeling of freedom is seeping through or communities as we slowly unlock from the safe haven of our homes. Of course, some have been working to keep things going in our absence – but many of us are like rabbits coming out of our warrens and into the daylight – rubbing our eyes as we tentatively look around to see what the world is like now. Perhaps that’s a wee bit dramatic but we still have to be aware that danger is still out there, and it’s important that we keep ourselves, and others, safe.
These past few months we have seen and witnessed so many acts of kindness and caring. People going the extra mile, stepping up, in order to help others who are in need, in a wonderful and heart warming way. Providing food, masks, gloves and so much more for the most vulnerable in our society.
In our Lesson for today, Jesus tells us a Parable, a story with a deeper meaning, which reminds us to ‘be aware of those in need’ – ‘helping the needy’ is what we must do He tells us….
Jesus says – “Whatever you do for the least of my people – you do for me.”
But before all that – let us pray –
Loving, heavenly Father – we have come into this place and gathered in your Holy name – to worship you. To bring you our praise and our thanks – our amazing and holy God.
What a wonderful God you are ! – you are so immense we cannot begin to imagine or envisage all that you are – yet we know that you are closer to us than our very breath – nearer than the air we breath.
But lord we know that there are many, aye too many – who do not know your love – do not know the deep, inner peace and contentment which only comes from you.
And Lord, we are painfully aware that there is so much to do – so many that need help and support – that we can be overwhelmed by all that there is to do.
Forgive us for not always seeing what needs to be done – for not seeing the problem – for being too sheltered by our own comfortable lifestyle – to see those who are crying out for help – perhaps closer to our homes than we might think.
Bring to us an understanding and a willingness to actively seek out the needy and show them the love of jesus in both practical ways and in prayer.
Lord, we know that we have a long way to go if we are to come close to living as you would wish – and we take time now to express regret for the many things we have said and done which must disappoint you – hear us now as we bring you our personal and private prayer of confession – things we dare not speak out – but we lay them at your feet – and ask for your forgiveness.
Hear our silent prayer Lord, as we pray in the peace of our silence……………..take time to think of something(s) for which you wish to be forgiven…………….
Listening lord – as undeserving as we are – we pray that you will forgive us and bless us with your awesome mercy and your amazing grace.
Lord we know that you hear us when we pray in faith – so hear us now as we say together – the prayer which brings us together as one family – the family prayer – the Lord’s prayer ~
Our Father.. Who art in Heaven.. Hallowed be thy name.. Thy kingdom come.. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven….. Give us this day our daily bread.. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.. Lead us not into temptation.. But deliver us from evil .. For thine is the kingdom.. The power and the glory forever…. Amen.
Our 2 readings for today are –
Amos 6 : 1– 7 from the Old Testament (O.T,)
& Luke 16 : 19 – 31 from the New Testament (N.T,)
Our O.T reading this morning is taken from the book of the prophet Amos – the shepherd of Takoa – the plain speaking, dependable, ‘straight to the heart of the matter’ man of the land – the prophet who could see the decadence of the Israelites – the, “people of God” – and wasn’t afraid to speak up and speak out.
“What are you doing!?” – He says to them –“just look at yourselves ! – call yourselves the people of God ! And yet you lounge about – eating and drinking – while others starve ! – be careful !” Amos is warning “one day – you will get your ‘come-uppance !!”.
In our N.T. reading – Luke presents us with yet another difficult parable. It is full of symbolic biblical language as it tells of two people who lived very different lives in this life – and of how their fortunes were to be reversed – in the next……
Let’s read those passages now ~
Amos 6 : 1 – 7 from the New International Version
Woe to the complacent
6 Woe to you who are complacent in Zion,
and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria,
you notable men of the foremost nation,
to whom the people of Israel come!
2 Go to Kalneh and look at it;
go from there to great Hamath,
and then go down to Gath in Philistia.
Are they better off than your two kingdoms?
Is their land larger than yours?
3 You put off the day of disaster
and bring near a reign of terror.
4 You lie on beds adorned with ivory
and lounge on your couches.
You dine on choice lambs
and fattened calves.
5 You strum away on your harps like David
and improvise on musical instruments.
6 You drink wine by the bowlful
and use the finest lotions,
but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.
7 Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile;
your feasting and lounging will end.
Luke 16 : 19 – 31 from the New International Version
The Rich man and Lazarus
19 ‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 ‘The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.”
25 ‘But Abraham replied, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.”
27 ‘He answered, “Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.”
29 ‘Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.”
30 ‘“No, father Abraham,” he said, “but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.”
31 ‘He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
This is the Word of the Lord – thanks be to God
2 difficult readings for us, let’s unpick them and see what they are saying to us, in our own everyday lives, today ~
A few years ago – in a former life – I was a Civil servant in Customs & Excise – and I was asked to be the local Union Rep.
It was a job I felt ill-equipped for – but my colleagues must have had some kind of confidence in me – or maybe nobody else would do it (!?) – either way, I took on the role.
The one thing that used to rile me – and still does – is injustice. I hate to see everyday working people being looked down upon – mistreated and bullied by those who should know better.
As I became more involved, I found myself at national conferences where major decisions were taken – and none more so than pay structures – which inevitably led to disputes with management.
They were denying the lowest paid workers even a realistic wage rise by the standards of the day – while many of them enjoyed massive salaries – with enormous pay rises. And that angered me – and still does…
It wasn’t that I begrudged the bosses their money – but it was the injustice of it all – it was a classic case of “the rich getting richer while the poor got poorer”.
The Bible has plenty to say about poverty and social injustice – in particular, the apostle Luke.
Luke was a Gentile – and a Doctor, and was particularly concerned about the physical and social welfare of the people – and how the followers of Jesus should act – and re-act towards the social outcasts of his day, the sick, the poor, women, tax collectors and sinners.
Contrasting them with the rich and the powerful who ‘Lorded it’ over them.
Just as we see happening today – the divide between rich and poor was growing ever wider…. And Luke felt it was important that – as Christians – we should engage with these issues – do you remember the words of Jesus saying “whatever you do for the least of my people – you do for me ?” ………….
So, Lukes’ Gospel is concerned with the practical expression of Christianity, the everyday living out of our faith – and how it relates, amongst other things, to issues of wealth and poverty – which were the big issues of the day – and for many – still are.
So he includes a number of stories in his Gospel which particularly reflect his own concerns, and are not recorded by any of the other Gospel writers.
One of these stories is the Parable of the rich man and the beggar, Lazarus – our text for today.
The rich man’s was accused of walking by the beggar at his gate, without even noticing him.
It wasn’t that he was rich or miserly – in accordance with Jewish law he may have given generously to charity, we don’t know.
And it wasn’t that he was cruel to the beggar Lazarus – his problem was that he failed to notice the plight of another human being who he walked past everyday..
The rich man may have been a very good Jew, a pillar of society.
But he didn’t even see someone in need under his own nose. He was insulated against all that.
As many in the world are today…
The rich man wasn’t necessarily a bad man, as far as we know, but he was – complacent – and in Amos’s warning he says – “woe to you who are complacent”.
And, even when he died and passed over and his offences were pointed out to him in words of one syllable by Abraham, the rich man still didn’t really get it…..
There he was burning in Hades, that grim place of gloom and shadows, when he spotted Abraham and Lazarus having a blether, up there in paradise.
But even at that stage, with his own obvious disadvantage in circumstances, the rich man still didn’t regard Lazarus as an equal.
But called out – asking Abraham to send Lazarus down to Hades to serve him!
Despite all that had happened, and despite the fact that Lazarus was in Heaven enjoying the company of the most elite of Jews, (Abraham was/is the father of the Jewish people) the rich man still regarded Lazarus as a mere servant.
He was unable to see beyond that social structure and see the person underneath.
Abraham pointed out that the rich man had had his good life on earth, while Lazarus had a terrible life of poverty.
Now Lazarus was enjoying heaven while the rich man received his come-uppance.
This parable must have been very satisfying to the early listeners, most of whom were probably poor and would be thinking “YES !! – the good times are coming!!” J Or something like that…
Maybe – but disturbing and uncomfortable times for those who were better off !!
At this point, you might have expected the rich man to break down in hopeless remorse and beg forgiveness for his selfishness and lack of compassion. But not a bit of it.
It seems he still didn’t quite realise why he was in Hades at all !! – a man of his standing in the community – what could God be thinking !?? – there must be some kind of mix up at reception surely !!
And so he continued to hold a conversation with Abraham about Lazarus, just as though Lazarus wasn’t there. You can almost hear Lazarus saying “hello !! – I am here you know !” withnd the rich man looking round – wondering where the voice is coming from !
But Abraham said it was impossible to cross the great chasm from hell to heaven (see Luke 16 : 26 above).
“You’re there for a reason – and no amount of squirming is going to get you out – live with it!” (or words to that effect).
And so when the rich man realised Lazarus was unable to help him, he looked around to find some other use for Lazarus.
“I know” the rich man said “then why not send him back to warn my brothers – so they don’t get caught out like me !?” and here we see that the rich man still had no thought for anyone except himself and an extension of himself, his own particular family.
He didn’t care about the rest of the world, or about Lazarus’ family, or even about the Jewish nation. He really only cared about himself and his own concerns.
His opulent lifestyle had cushioned him from the realities of life….
Could you and I be accused of that at times??
Abraham said to the rich man, “Just like you – your family have already had lots of chances – they haven’t listened to Moses or the Prophets of old – what are the chances that they are likely to take heed of a servant who returns from the dead !?”– (Luke 16: 31)
In other words –
Those without a social conscience, those who are self absorbed and only pay lip service to any kind of religion, will surely be incapable of believing in Christ’s Resurrection – and so be saved.
An issue for many today….
Life had dealt Lazarus a poor hand, but that didn’t prevent his faith in God – indeed it was his faith that had helped him through so many difficult times in his life.
He believed from his heart.
His belief was beyond wealth or power, for he had neither. But he didn’t say, “why me, Lord? Why am I having such a rough time? What have I ever done to deserve this?”.
Despite his appalling circumstances, he believed and trusted in God’s love and goodness.
And that love and goodness which grew within him throughout his life, was what he received overwhelmingly in return – in the life which followed…
That same promise is given to us.
Wealth may bring us comfort, but without knowing it – without intending it – without realizing it –it can also act as an insulation against life and against God,
Because, you see, God is in the middle of life with all its darkness, difficulties and distress.
And when people are insulated against God, it’s as difficult for them to recognise God’s presence – as it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.
The rich man failed to discover that, even after his death.
He only knew he was in torment, but still didn’t understand what he had done to deserve it.
But he did find just a glimmer of understanding, for he wanted to save his family from a similar fate.
But the answer was harsh but true – “it’s no good trying to tell them anything, they’re too insulated to be able to hear the truth, like you”
Each of us must discover life’s truths for ourselves. And none of us can discover them if our insulation against life is too thick.
So this parable of Lukes’ – challenges us to look at ourselves and ask –
“How is my insulation against the lost and the lonely – the sad and the sorrowful – the heartbroken and the hungry…. the unhappy and the unloved..?”
The poor, the hungry, the disabled and the disadvantaged are all around us – but do we see them? Do we pray for them? Do we think about what life must be like for them?……..
It can put our own issues and problems into perspective – but more than that –
It draws us closer to God –
For as the Bible tells us –“man sees the outward things – but god sees what is in our hearts..”
So I hope you don’t mind if I ask you a very personal question – “Just how is your insulation ?????”
It make you think doesn’t it ?
– or at least –
I hope it does.
And in Jesus’ name.
And may God bless this preaching of his Holy Word – and may all the glory and the praise – be His.
Holy, heavenly Father – we take a few moments now to give you our thanks for all that you have blessed us with.
With think of our loved ones – those who make life good for us – those who watch out for us and care for us.
We thank you for the many blessings we receive from you each day.
We think of our homes – food on our table – a comfy bed to sleep in and a roof over our heads.
You have blessed with these things – and so much more beside.
But lord we know that there are many in our world, in our communities who do not have these things which we take for granted.
Keep us ever aware of those in need – those for whom everyday is a struggle.
Those who have little or nothing while many have too much.
Those who just want a simple, happy life – but seem beset by hassles and worries.
Those whose lives are disrupted and disturbed by the thoughtless and unkind words and action of others.
Keep us aware of our own thoughts and actions that we might never be the cause of unthinking pain or anxiety to others.
Today we particularly pray for those who are mourning the loss of a dear one – watch over them, bless them with your peace and your strength as they come to terms with their loss.
We continue to hold in our prayer, the NHS on this their 72nd year Anniversary. We pray for the staff and all others who do tremendous work, many behind the scenes to keep us free from sickness and disease.
Keep them safe, that they may return home each day to their loved ones, well and safe from harm.
Hear us now listening Lord – as we sit for a few moments of quiet – each with our own thoughts and silent prayers……
…take a few moments to think of someone you know who needs a prayer…… whisper their names… God hears your prayers….
Hear our prayer Listening Lord – for we ask it in Jesus’ precious name.
‘Thought for the week’
There’s a story about a botanist who was studying the bell-heather found in the Highlands of Scotland.
While looking through his microscope at this beautiful flower, he was approached by a shepherd who asked what he was doing.
Rather than trying to explain, the botanist invited the shepherd to peer through his microscope and observe for himself.
When the shepherd saw the wonder of the flower, he shouted, “Oh my God…. and to think –
I have been tramping on them all my life!”
Is that the word of warning we need? Wake up! Pay attention! Look around you.
You may be tramping on the heart and feelings of someone nearby.
So here’s a thought – who is the Lazarus at your gate?
MMMM!!! Now that IS food for thought for us all.
Go – and may the God of love
Walk with you – watch over you and keep you safe
In the knowledge that your Saviour Jesus Christ is always with you….
And may the blessing of Almighty God – Father- Son – and Holy Spirit – be with you all – may He be with your families and friends and all who you know and love – and ought to love – this day and everyday.
Take care and may God Bless you and those you love.
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Posted each Wednesday morning.
Have a good week