Written by Pastor Bryan Niebanck

Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.

Psalm 91:14

It was a privilege last week to hear from our Conference Minister, Rev. David Long-Higgins, about what the conference is doing to close the chasm between the rich and the poor.  He mentioned that following the work in Dayton, the Heartland Conference is beginning to transition to the Mayfield, Kentucky area, which was devastated last December by tornadoes.  Our church is planning to work within this context in February.  The church seeks ways to bridge the gap between first world and third world, not only in the United States, but across the world.  We have interacted with each other when we give our time and talent to help those who are in need, whether it be from disaster or inability to repair.  We interact even more when we have given of our time to be with those who need help in person.  We know what a blessing it is to receive care when we have been in times of need.  We also know what a blessing it is to be the one who gives care.  We might call these the ones whose blessing it is to be a helper.  When your calling is to help wherever needed, you know how good it feels just to be able to help someone.

We are called to lessen the chasm between the known rich and the known poor.  We may not think of ourselves as rich, but we are significantly richer than much of the world.  And Jesus does not paint the picture of the rich man being rude or evil.  Jesus paints the picture, in Luke 16:19-31, of a rich man who simply does not see the poor person at his gate.  As John Donahue points out, the problem is that all those days on earth, the rich never “see” the poor.  “One of the prime dangers of wealth is that it causes blindness” (Donahue, The Gospel in Parable; Metaphor, Narrative, and Theology in the Synoptic Gospels (1988), 171).  We do not wish to be among those who do not, or cannot, see the poor.  We do not want to be among those who are too distracted by our own lifestyles as the rich man was in the parable that Jesus told his disciples.  In the parable of the Good Samaritan, many passed by the man left for dead on the side of the road before a Samaritan stopped to help him.  They either saw themselves as too busy or perhaps too important to stop and lend a hand.  When we are too busy to stop and ask someone if they are okay, are we any better than the rich man in the parable?  Are you able to slow down and ask someone on the side of the road with their flashers blinking if they need any assistance?  Are you able, as the CEO of your business, to stop and have a chat with the custodian?  We are called to be in the world, among those who are in need, rather than living our own lives by ourselves in luxury.  We want to love others, doing the work to love the people and bring love to people in the world.  The world needs an alternative to what it often sees.  We, and Christ, are that alternative.  If the CEO never has that conversation with the custodian, they would never know of the stress they may be dealing with.  If car after car does not stop to help the disabled motorists, or at least ask if they are alright, they could be stranded there for hours.  I recall one time where I asked this question, and their phone was dead with no way to call anyone.  They did not need much, except a working phone for a moment to be able to call someone they knew for help.

Many of us are here today thinking about our dear friend and matriarch of the church, Olive.  We are grieved that she is not here in church worshipping with us right now.  We look at her pew and are grieved still more.  I know that Olive almost always had a smile on her face.  She brightened up every room that she went into.  She cared about each one of us deeply.  When she would give us her time and attention, which was pretty much whenever we would give it to her, it was a blessing.  We are somewhat shaken by so many losses in our church recently.  I invite you to stay for our social hour after church today where we can talk about our grief and how we are dealing with it, or not.  We need to recognize that we are feeling the grief, and not bottle it up and store it in the basement.  We can support one another, check in with each other, and love one another as Olive loved us.  If we can be half the person that she was to another person, we are on the right track.  She left us with an example and an inspiration.  We need to help and seek out those who may be in need of an ear even at our own gates, whom we might not notice if we do not go outside and walk around a little bit.  When I called Olive a few times to see how she was doing after her friends Viola and Bonnie passed, she usually said, “Oh, I’m doing alright; and how are you doing?”  Do not let your own wealth and security blind you from another person’s need.  Find a way to serve yourself, certainly, but also find a way to serve another.  That is one reason why I like to pray for our own deepest need and also for the need of another.  We need to be doing both if we are living out Christ’s example for our actions in this world.  Is the gate to your household a barrier to keep the rest of the world out, or is it a free-swinging gate that gives off a sense of welcome?  We hope that our church doors are the latter kind of gate.  The stop-sign gates can be rather intimidating.  Some front doors are a stop-sign.  Whenever I pulled into Olive’s driveway, the front door was pretty free-swinging.

First, we are called to present a swinging gate of welcome rather than a stop-here gate that keeps people out, as the rich man did to Lazarus.  We need to break down the barrier between “us” and “them.”  We need to see the Christians across the world undergoing persecution as brothers and sisters just as we see fellow church members as brothers and sisters.  God wants to help his kids learn how to help out his other kids.  The rich man did not do this because he had created the wrong kind of gate to his household.  Financial greed and corruption only hinder the work of the church.  We do not need to cut ourselves off from the “them;” we can make a different choice.  And in addition to creating a free-swinging gate to others, we also want to have the same relationship with God.  If you have not created a boundary between yourself and others, perhaps you have created one with God.  In Revelation 3:20, we the angel speaking to the church in Laodicea, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”  If God knocks at our door, we should let him in.  God is always knocking at our door.  Thus says the Lord: “Let me in to your life!”

I know that many of you are thinking about what to do with strangers who knock at the door or bother you beyond measure.  I quickly started putting up boundaries with a man who showed up to our table when I was out to dinner with Sky at a restaurant.  He was clearly drunk and he wanted to arm wrestle.  He began getting really angry that we would not arm wrestle with him and as we both try to politely tell him no, thankfully a waitress brings him back to his table.  Is God telling us to welcome people who could potentially be dangerous into our lives?  To this, I would offer the story of Jesus approaching a leper, one who would be considered dangerous to society.  He offered his hospitality because they were receptive to it.  Give the belligerent space while he is belligerent, but then be willing to welcome him in when he is himself.

Psalm 91:14-16 offers one more word of encouragement when the Lord tells us to love and give blessing to another: “Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.  When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.  With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.”  Jesus told us that when we love the least of those among us, we are loving him.  We love God by loving others.  We love God by welcoming God into our lives as well.  We love God by using tools to love God better than we did yesterday, by using written prayers when we feel stumped in our prayer, by repeating prayers that deserve repeating as Jesus repeated his own prayers, and by scheduling a regular time to be with God.  The Lord says that we are to be beings of love in the world.  Loving God more deeply is one way that we are able to have more confidence in what God is telling us to do as agents of love in the world.  And we further know that God loves us deeply because we find ourselves in God’s refuge (Psalm 91:4).  What does it mean to offer the refuge that we have found in God to someone else?

Here are the takeaways that I believe God wants all of us to remember: First, do not be content to live merely in your own secluded and privileged world; get out there and make a difference in any way you can.  Make someone else smile.  Make someone else feel loved.  Second, put your focus on God and not on the uncertainly of worldly riches: As Paul reminded Timothy, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.  But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:10-11).  And third, let God into your world so that you know you are spreading the love of God and not merely your own message.  Let God not only be your focus, but your refuge as well.  May all honor and glory be to God.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
32:1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar.
32:2 At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah,
32:3a where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.
32:6 Jeremiah said, The word of the LORD came to me:
32:7 Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.”
32:8 Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the LORD, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD.
32:9 And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver.
32:10 I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales.
32:11 Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy;
32:12 and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard.
32:13 In their presence I charged Baruch, saying,
32:14 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time.
32:15 For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
91:1 You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
91:2 will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”
91:3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence;
91:4 he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
91:5 You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day,
91:6 or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday.
91:14 Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.
91:15 When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.
91:16 With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.

Luke 16:19-31
16:19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.
16:20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
16:21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.
16:22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.
16:23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.
16:24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’
16:25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.
16:26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’
16:27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house–
16:28 for I have five brothers–that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’
16:29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’
16:30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’
16:31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

Bonus: 1 Timothy 6:6-19
6:6 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment;
6:7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it;
6:8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.
6:9 But 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.
6:10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
6:11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.
6:12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
6:13 In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you
6:14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
6:15 which he will bring about at the right time–he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
6:16 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
6:17 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.
6:18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share,
6:19 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

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