Sunday, September 25, 2016

"The Shoe's on the Other Foot" - Sermon September 25, 2016

Community UMC, Quincy
“The Shoe is on the Other Foot”
Pastor Andrew Davis
September 25, 2016
Luke 16: 19-31

        Contrary to the fact that many big-box stores are already decorated for it, Christmas is still three months away from today. But given the context of our Gospel lesson this morning, I really can’t help but think about Charles Dickens’ timeless classic, A Christmas Carol.  Now I know I’m probably asking a very redundant question here, but how many of you have read A Christmas Carol at one time or another in your life?  While my earliest experience with A Christmas Carol came thanks to the adaptations via Disney or the Muppets, I remember actually reading Dickens' A Christmas Carol in my 7th grade English class and in one of my high school English classes.  Nevertheless, we encounter Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly, bitter, greedy, stingy rich man who has nothing good to say as a result of his unhappiness with his present life.  But on Christmas Eve after he and his clerk, Bob Cratchit leave for the night, Mr. Scrooge has three visions, one of Christmas past, one of Christmas present, and one of Christmas future.  It is in the Christmas future vision that is probably the darkest scene, but also where the shoe is on the other foot for Mr. Scrooge.  See, the third vision is where Mr. Scrooge has died and quite frankly, nobody is really mourning his death, as it’s more like “ding-dong, the witch is dead.”  However, seeing his own mortality and people’s reactions in this vision is a serious wakeup call for Mr. Scrooge, as the voices that Scrooge hears are much like the voice that he has shown towards others.  For Mr. Scrooge, he has showed very little hospitality, was highly selfish, and just didn’t really give a care about anyone but himself. And Mr. Scrooge especially did not care about the poor whom he encountered on his walk to the office through his London neighborhood.  However, at least for Mr. Scrooge, there was a redemption for him in the end. 
Like Mr. Scrooge in his three visions, we come across a rich man who gets to experience the shoe on the other foot after he dies in this morning’s Gospel lesson.  Continuing from last weeks’ passage of the dishonest manager, Jesus is being challenged by the Pharisees who loved their money and loved the law.  As he does best, Jesus makes another comeback with yet another parable, this time sharing the story of Lazarus and the rich man.  Like last week, this week’s Gospel does not exactly give us a warm and fuzzy feeling either, especially when it comes to wealth and riches.  In fact, it actually can make us very uncomfortable because we tend to get comfortable and used to our comforts.  Yet as I was watching the livestream of her installation service in the Rocky Mountain Conference yesterday, Bishop Karen Oliveto in her message commented that there are times where we need to learn to become "comfortable being uncomfortable," which some of these parables can do, because they challenge us to see things from a different angle. Just from reading all of chapter 16 in Luke, Jesus seems to be speaking out against riches and wealth here on earth when we read it on the surface.  Yet, as Brian K. Blount puts it in his New Testament commentary, True to Our Native Land, “Jesus goes from addressing the earthly construct of a systematic economic exploitation to addressing the eternal consequences of misused financial gain.”[i]
Before we start simmering like a pressure cooker or blow our tops when he hear something like this, we need to take into account that Jesus is actually pointing out that it’s how we use our wealth and riches in this life, how we show our generosity, how we show hospitality that is at the heart of our Gospel lesson this morning, not an overall criticism of wealth and riches.  It’s when we misuse what we have or fail to use what we have responsibly or generously is when the shoe can very easily be put on the other foot for us.  According to Ben Witherington III, author of Jesus and Money, the author of Luke “understands God’s divine intervention to mean trouble for the high and mighty, while it is good news for the poor,” which is one of the over-arching themes in the Gospel of Luke.[ii]
Now when we really get into the nitty-gritty of this morning’s passage, it is obvious that the rich man has a very high status in society from the fact he is wearing “purple and fine linen,” as purple was a color that royalty commonly wore in the Roman world (Lk. 16: 19).  But on the other side of this story, we encounter Lazarus, dressed in tattered clothes, malnourished, and sitting outside the house with the sting of open sores that the dogs would come and lick, adding insult to injury.  A total contrast from the rich man who basks in his creature comforts and extravagant abundance.  In some way, the way that Lazarus would even take the crumbs or scraps reminds me of the scene in the novel Don Quixote where Don Quixote is fed moldy bread and bad fish at a tavern, but sees it as the food of royalty.  For Lazarus, the fact he would take even the mere crumbs or the greasy bread oftentimes thrown under the table shows how desperate he was.  While Don Quixote at least got something, as horrible as it was, Lazarus didn’t even get that! 
Consequently, when Lazarus and the rich man die, the shoe gets put on the other foot, as it’s Lazarus who sits next to faith-hero Abraham in Heaven while the rich man winds up in Hades and is constantly tormented, almost like a scene from Dante’s Inferno.  In this reversal of fortunes, the rich man gets to experience what Lazarus was experiencing and perhaps gets a little taste of his own medicine in how he treated Lazarus with the shoe on the other foot.  Definitely not very kind for the rich man in Hades, yet it’s one of those ‘what goes around, comes around’ scenarios.  Nevertheless, “the rich man, even in Hades, thinks he can still treat the poor man like a servant, or someone beneath him on the social ladder,” even though “wealth and poverty are not reliable guides to how God evaluates a person.”[iii] It’s how we treat others and how we use what we have that matters to God that Jesus is trying to show us. 
However, if we take a little closer look at Jesus’s attitude here, it’s not so much about being rich in itself, but once again how the rich man uses his wealth and how he fails to even see Lazarus, much less does not show hospitality to Lazarus in any way, shape, or form.  It also gets me thinking as to how we use what we have and how we use our own riches and wealth, whether it is monetary wealth, or even our wealth of faith.  Because given this world and its sometimes complicated economics or the constant message of spend, spend, spend, buy, buy, buy, it doesn’t take a whole lot for the shoe to go on the other foot.  It does not take much to go from having money to having none when money is spent irresponsibly.  Now it doesn’t mean we can’t use money for fun here and there, but we do need it for basic needs too, which in this complicated economy of ours can also feel out of reach at times.  In the rich man’s case, he used all of the money for him and for him alone, but more so in extravagant living with his fine linens, fancy food, and lavish adornments in his house, just like Mr. Scrooge.  Brian Blount explains that in this case, “the rich man’s refusal to provide food for Lazarus, to give him medical attention, or to offer him shelter put Lazarus in a precarious state, a state that contributed to Lazarus’s demise and subsequent death.”[iv]
Talk about conviction right there!!  Yet sometimes, we need to look at the shoe on the other foot and look at what is happening from another person’s perspective.  What might be a good life for one of us, may be the complete opposite for someone else.  There does come a time when we need to see things from the other side and some of this happened during my first year of seminary when we had the opportunity to do six weeks of service learning.  While the rich man did not see Lazarus at all, we were able to see the struggle happening in others; hunger, poverty and homelessness firsthand.  For six weeks, a group of my classmates and I would head to Capitol Hill UMC in Washington, DC’s Eastern Market neighborhood where we joined other volunteers from the church and community on Monday mornings.  Capitol Hill UMC has a group of volunteers from inside and outside the church who provide a free breakfast called “Our Daily Bread” five days a week and invites anyone, but particularly the homeless and those who may not have enough to join them each morning for breakfast, followed by a couple readings from a daily devotional and conversation.  But the most important part is that we saw each other, we mingled with each other, and we developed relationships with each other. It was as one of our professors and deacon at CHUMC, Rev. Dr. Sam Marullo calls, a small foretaste of the kingdom of God.  
All of the volunteers at “Our Daily Bread” are giving of their time and resources in helping to provide a hot meal, but it also gives the volunteers a sense of the shoe being on the other foot and a better understanding of life and that life is more difficult for some.  And if someone like Lazarus showed up, they would be very well taken care of, fed, and given much needed medical attention, a far cry from the story in our Gospel lesson.  I also think of my two weeks in Pine Ridge, SD with another group of classmates for an intercultural immersion two years ago while spending time with the Lakota tribe while we stayed at the Pine Ridge Retreat Center.  Our leader, a Lutheran pastor was serving as spiritual leader at the Lutheran-Presbyterian retreat center on the reservation and during our time there, not a minute went by that there was not a knock at the door, asking for a cup of coffee in the morning, a sandwich in the afternoon, or a coat, mittens, or blanket at night.  However, we saw the struggle and saw the level of extreme poverty while in Pine Ridge, but also saw how we can be generous with just a little and generous with our faith and resources, unlike the way the rich man acted towards Lazarus.
 While the rich man did not even bother to see Lazarus laying outside the gate, my classmates and I were able to see firsthand what the shoe looks like on the other foot, which is a big part of why Wesley does the immersion in the first place.  It’s easy to take for granted what we have and our creature comforts and having plenty, but at the same time, putting the shoe on the other foot also makes us think about how we who have plenty use what we have for the good in this life and how to share those resources with others where we realistically can.  Even when we do have plenty, we live in a reality that things are still tight at times and while we may not always have the financial resources to share with others, we can certainly give our time and our presence.  In fact when we take the vow to become a professing member of The UMC, we vow to use our prayers and our presence generously.  More importantly, we need to be able to see and acknowledge those who may struggle around us, as well as be honest if we aren’t able to help. 
These last couple weeks, I have met a few various people around town requesting assistance and in conversations with colleagues am seeing where there is struggle in our neighborhood and community.  While it is easier to be comfortable knowing we have a roof over our head, food on our table, a car that runs, it’s not the case for many and even in our community here.  I also want to empathize with each person when they need our help, hoping and praying that whatever I do share with them will be used responsibly and faithfully.  But I also know that there are times we realistically cannot help, except other than being a listening ear and prayer partner, which is also okay.  But even in these instances, hospitality and acknowledgment are still necessary, not just ignoring or failing to see like way the rich man does with Lazarus.
It’s what Jesus is telling the Pharisees and the disciples, and even us as 21st century disciples, as we simply need to be able to see everyone outside our doors, not turn a blind eye, or sweep things under the rug for convenience. We as 21st century disciples need to actually see what the shoe looks like on the other foot at one time or another.  Jesus shows the most empathy with the poor and less fortunate, but also expects us who have plenty to be generous, to be hospitable, and to be responsible with what we do have.  It’s definitely a challenge, but it’s a good challenge to take on and that I too am working more on my willingness to go outside of my comfort zone as well when it comes to being able to see struggle and to help with those who are struggling. 
As we go into this new week, how are we going to see those around us who might be struggling?  And what are we willing to do to help others in our midst who may be struggling?  Coming back to Mr. Scrooge, after seeing the shoe on the other foot, he had a change of heart, became more generous, and lived a much happier life knowing that he himself could make a difference when he was able to see and help those less fortunate around him, as he still had time to see and ended up not winding up like the rich man.  As we reflect on what Jesus is challenging us to do, I leave you with the first verse of the Gospel song, “If I can Help Somebody” which was also a favorite of Martin Luther King Jr.:
If I can help somebody
As I travel along
If I can help somebody
With a word or song
If I can help somebody
From doing wrong
My living shall not be in vain.

My living shall not be in vain
My living shall not be in vain
If I can help somebody
While I'm singing this song
My living shall not be in vain.[v]

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

[i] Brian K. Blount, True to Our Native Land (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 176.
[ii] Ben Witherington III, Jesus and Money (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2010, 92. 
[iii] Ibid., 100-101
[iv] Blount, 176.
[v] Lyrics. ‘Mahalia Jackson - If I Can Help Somebody Lyrics’. 2016. Accessed September 23, 2016.

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