Where your heart is
Picture this. A couple in their mid-fifties settle back into their lounge chairs on their Caribbean cruise as they celebrate early retirement. They had three grown children, two of whom were married giving them five grandchildren. They had left their home in suburbia in the care of their unmarried son who would take good care of the house complete with their pool and motor home. Now they sat in the late afternoon sipping their pre-dinner drinks and he turns to his wife and, with a sigh of satisfaction, says, This is living! I can relate to this as our three children give us a retirement cruise to Alaska. We thoroughly enjoyed that trip. Cruising -a great experience.
But Jesus would have us think carefully about this. He would say, “Think again. This is not what God intended the world to be with some who are rich feasting and living in high style while countless people are barely existing. They have no homes, no money, no health care, no food supply and no hope.” God did not intend the few to possess the majority of the assets. He did not intend the few to live in ease while ignoring the tragic plight of millions of people in our world.
So Jesus told a story of the rich man and Lazarus. This story was told in the context of the teaching that one serves either God or wealth but not both. It is a parable of extremes both now and in life after death. Lazarus sat destitute at the rich man's gate. The rich man stepped over him to enter his secured estate. Lazarus died and his body was likely not even buried but tossed on the garbage heap of Gehenna to be burned. The rich fellow also died and was ushered out with an expensive funeral. The rich man had had ample opportunity to help Lazarus, to lift him from life's gutter but he chose to ignore him. As the story unfolded there was a role reversal after death with Lazarus in bliss and the rich man in agony.
We live in relative luxury. But that can change in an instance. In many ways Covid has done that with unemployment, isolation, sickness, financial deprivation and death. My son, for example, went from a management position to over a year of no job. He then went back to the same company that he had worked for but this time he working for the chap that he had trained to take his former management position.
Think back to our couple enjoying that great cruise. Perhaps that turned out to be one of the several cruise ships at anchor as Covid had infested the ship. In spite of Covid most Canadians today by world standards are financially O K. Most of us are employed or retired with pension and investment income. Some are very affluent. Some are very poor and, as Lazarus, go largely ignored. In this context we read the story of Lazarus and the rich man. It challenges us to think what our money does for us and what our wealth does to us and what it could do for Lazarus. I want to place that story alongside our reading rom I Timothy in which Paul in effect says to us, Where is your heart!?
The bottom line is that our first priority in life should be the search for that which is lasting and eternal rather than that which is of the moment. We brought nothing into this world with us. We arrived as cute little, slippery bundles. Down the road we leave this world just as nude as we entered it. Our possessions are left behind. In the intervening years we work, play, prosper, barely exist, enjoy great health, fight major health battles, amass a sizable estate or acquire few earthly possessions. Wealth does not buy happiness. Paul speaks to us as to Timothy and urges us examine our priorities. He views with great concern those who strive to be rich by either hard work or devious endeavors. He wrote, those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
The wealth of the world is of value only in this world. The pursuit of wealth has been the downfall of many. Remember Jesus words about the man who had accumulated a fortune and sat back, saying, I have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink and be merry. But God said, "You fool! This very night your life will be required of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?" Heed carefully Paul’s word s: the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. This verse is often misquoted to say money is the root of much evil. Not so. It is the love of money, the infatuation of money, the obsession with money, the pursuit of money that is the root of much evil. And all that our money is and can do terminates when we die.
Life is precious. It passes all too quickly. What is more important, things or relationships? Jesus challenged four fisherman to evaluate what was more important: their boats, nets and fish which provided their livelihood or the vision of Christ that they should leave the security of their trade and become fishers of people? Should they continue to build their financial security, buy better equipment and a larger boat or should they respond to Jesus' challenge to share the good news of salvation in Christ thereby giving people not monitory but spiritual security. We are here today because they dared to believe in Jesus, they dared to leave their nets and boats which have long since rotted into the ground and offered to others eternal life in Christ.
The tragedy of so many people is that they spend so much time and energy working for things that are passing away and have no lasting value. Our toys and gadgets wear out and are discarded. Our possessions can be wiped out in a fire. Our financial portfolios can suddenly have the bottom drop out with the loss of our investments. Material wealth is transitory. It makes no sense to invest the majority of our time and energy in that which evaporates when we die.
Paul therefore counsels us to get real and take hold of eternal life and pursue those things of lasting significance, the first being righteousness. This implies purity of heart and moral integrity. It has been defined as giving both to people and to God their due. Then he mentions godliness which is the reverence of a person who throughout life never ceases to be aware that all life is lived in the presence of God. Faith is next and this is not a vague belief in God. Faith implies commitment and is the virtue of the person who through all the changes and chances of life remains loyal to God. Then he speaks of love, that agape love which always seeks the best for the other person. It is a love not of emotion but of will. Then comes endurance, a word which does not imply a stoic acceptance of the tough realities but rather that virtue which not only accepts the trials of life but which triumphs over them. It makes lemonade out of life's lemons. Finally Paul lists gentleness, the spirit which treats others with consideration, tolerance and patience.
Righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness --- -these six characteristics are of infinitely greater value that monetary wealth. They build solid relationships for time and eternity. Christianity is not doing what comes naturally but rather doing what pleases God and helps humankind. To be true to Christ we need to live each day, each hour, each situation with the twofold prayer: Lord what do you want me to do? Lord, give me the strength, will and courage to do your will. Our prime concern should be for eternal, lasting realities, those things that pertain to the will of God. If we seek God's way he will meet our needs.
Paul's final words in this section concern those who are rich in monitory wealth. His words are helpful and clear: 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 are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share. The more we have the more we are able to give. If God has blest you with adequate financial resources, thank God and give away all you can. You are able to do all the more to help the Lazarus population of the world.
Without doubt the world today has been dramatically affected by Covid most of that leading to negative realities. There is a tremendous discrepancy between the haves and the have-nots. In all this I am reminded of the words of James: You do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. You ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will do this or that."
Back to our cruising couple. There is nothing wrong with enjoying a holiday, a cruise. But being able to afford such also means being able to generously help the Lazaruses of our world. May each us hear the word of the Lord and seek first that which has eternal significance.