Tuesday, 21 September 2010

An unusual start...

This week I began the working week with a Ministries Committee meeting.
Since I had to write a reflection for devotions i thought I might as well use the Gospel readings form the lectionary:
Luke 16:19-31

So here is what I wrote - my plan is to adapt this for my congregations on Sunday - probably also bringing in
1 Timothy 6:6-19

Even as I was driving to the station this morning there was a discussion on the radio about the division between rich and poor and whether the current coalition government has been redistributive in its programme so far. We know there is a gap between the poor of this word and the rich: in education, in life-expectancy, in health.. and so on.

Particularly in this season of Autumn and harvest festivals, we remember to give thanks to God for all the riches we enjoy and in many places in our churches we combine that with some sort of charity giving to those who are less fortunate – the poor in this country or in others.
All of this is good – and maybe in being generous in this way we can avoid the fate of the un-named rich man, who finds, in Jesus’ story, that in the after-life the division is continued, but now with the boot on the other foot – Lazarus gets the prime spot alongside Abraham, but the rich man is in torment. And all the Socialists said ‘Amen’. And all the givers to charity said ‘Phew!’. And all the higher rate tax-payers are ready to tell Father Abraham that paying tax counts as giving to the poor.

Whatever our political leanings, we often operate according to the I’m OK/ You’re OK school of thought. You probably know the theory that each of us operates in a matrix: I’m OK, or not OK – You’re OK, or not OK. This leads to 4 boxes…
The rich man on earth is in the I’m OK – you (Lazarus) are not OK box
Lazarus at the side of Abraham may well feel at last I’m OK & you (rich man) are not OK.
The ultimate goal of our psychological well-being is to get to the state where we can say I’m OK, you’re OK.

But Jesus is not telling this story to tell us how the after-life really will be – lakes of fire, great gulfs, suffering or peace. Jesus seems to want to get us thinking about how we relate as rich and poor here & now. If only the rich man had known he would have acted differently. If only Lazarus would warn his brothers, they would act differently.. but Jesus says ‘if they do not believe Moses and the prophets they will not believe, even if someone should rise from the dead’.
Luke’s gospel is reaching crisis point – Jesus will be the one who is killed and will rise – and even then, some will not believe.

Jesus warns us that we will never reach the Utopian ideal when we can say, either psychologically or materially “We’re all OK – I’m OK, you’re OK”. The kingdom of God is not about creating level playing fields for all – it is about trusting and believing in the God who look at us and says ‘You’re not OK – but you’re loved’. Although the rich and powerful, or the weak and gullible of this world will take Jesus and see him crucified, God’s love could not be defeated. The resurrection shows us God’s solution to the ‘Not OK-ness’ of the human condition – to promise the hope of God’s grace and power.

So in our varied agenda as the Ministries Committee I believe Jesus calls us to seek fairness, to seek to break down divisions, to be mindful of the weaker voices in our church. But most of all Jesus calls us to remember that this is God’s work – and that only God’s love can heal us of all that is not OK. May we be open to God’s grace in all our work. Amen.

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