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Friday, September 27, 2013

Pentecost 19: The Rich, the Poor and the Church

1 Timothy 6:6-19 & Luke 16:19-31

Our readings today speak into some of the most pressing problems that South Africa (and much of the world) faces.  These are things that affect us daily and without doubt, are going to impact more and more on your life and mine and on the lives of our children.  Our key challenges as a nation are unemployment, inequality and poverty and the question I want to ask is: Should the church care?

Unemployment needs no further defining in our part of the world.  Inequality is the degree of difference between rich and poor.  We will always have the poor/poverty in our midst, says Jesus. Likewise, we will always have the wealthy in our midst.  It is not a sin to be poor, and it is not a sin to be rich.  It is the gap that exists between the two that should concern us, the gap described so well by Luke in our Gospel reading

Economists refer to a figure called the “Gini Co-efficient” which is a measure of inequality of income or wealth in a nation.  The closer to zero the figure is, the more “equal” the nation is.  The closer to one the figure is, the more unequal the nation is.  The more unequal a nation is, the more murder, robbery and violent crime one finds.  The more unequal a nation is, the more the latent anger among its people.  The more unequal a nation, the more despair, particularly among its youth, who will often have no hope of ever rising above poverty.  
Despair, hopelessness, murder, violence, crime……these are all issues the gospel of Christ confronts head on.

 
South Africa has the highest Gini coefficient in the world – we live in the nation with the biggest gap between “haves” and “have-nots” in God’s Creation. This is a shameful and disgraceful position to be in.

Our gospel reading in a sense describes the Gini Coefficient at the time of Jesus.  We have a rich man and a poor man, and a huge gap between the two of them……even though the one is on the doorstep of the other……well, actually he’s at the gate.  One of the things that inequality brings about in a nation is lots of gates and high walls……people imprisoning themselves in their homes out of the fear that gets greater, the greater the inequality in a nation.  So, in our parable, Lazarus and the rich man almost “live together” but there is a great divide between them……the rich and the poor.

So we’ve looked at unemployment, we’ve defined inequality, let’s look briefly at poverty.  What does it mean to be poor?  What would you call yourself……rich or poor?

Now we could spend an hour debating that question and obviously it depends on who you compare yourself to, and on what you regard as the necessities for life as a Christian living your life to the glory of God.

Here’s an interesting statistic:



If you add to this list the owning of a car (old or new) then you are part of the super rich on planet earth.
So are you wealthy/rich or are you poor?  …… We (you and me) are……wealthy.  So let’s look at some of Paul’s advice to us in his letter to Timothy.

First of all, just in case as we sit here we are thinking, “actually, I am poor!” – listen to the word of God in verse 6:

 Well, religion does make us very rich, if we are satisfied with what we have.

Are you satisfied with what you have or do you want more?  The world tells us to look at the people around us and want what they have……this sometimes leads to a life of “keeping up with the Jones’” but we are not called to “keep up with the Jones’” but rather to “keep down with Jesus.” Jesus’ lifestyle brings real contentment, real satisfaction.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they will be satisfied.”  Is that true or is that false?  Did Jesus know what He was talking about when He made this promise to us, His people?

Paul goes on in verse 8:

  So then, if we have food and clothes, that should be enough for us.

Is that enough for you / me? What does it mean if it’s not enough for us?  I think it means we will want more, we will want to be “richer” than God perhaps wants us to be, as Paul goes on in verse 9:

  But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and are caught in the trap of many foolish and harmful desires, which pull them down to ruin and destruction.

Notice that the problem here is for those who “want to get rich” – in other words, who are not satisfied with what they have.  So this affects the person who earns R100 a month as much as the person who earns R100 000 a month…….Do you want more or are you satisfied with what God in his wisdom seeks to bless you with?

Now Paul says something which is so often misquoted:

For the love of money is a source of all kinds of evil.  Some have been so eager to have it that they have wandered away from the faith and have broken their hearts with many sorrows.

Money is not the problem – the love of money is destructive.  Therefore, verse 11:

But you, man of God, avoid all these things

and instead

Strive for righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.

Strive to do what is right. Strive to become more like God as revealed to us in Christ.  Strive for more faith, so that we can live content in whatever situation (wealth or poverty) that God sees fit for us to live in.  Strive for love – that we can love the rich (if we are poor) and love the poor, if we are rich.  Strive for endurance……because the Christian life can be TOUGH.  Strive for gentleness……with the rich (if we are poor) or with the poor if we are rich……I’m not always gentle with the poor who pester me!  Lord have mercy.

Friends, this is your and my homework for the week, month, year……rest of our lives.  Here is a way, THE way to live, so (verse 12)

Run your best in the race of faith, and win eternal life for yourself;
for it was to this life that God called you when you firmly professed your faith before many witnesses.

We live in a nation “rent asunder” by unemployment, inequality and poverty.  Given the absolute lack of will on the part of our government to commit to policies that will change the problems our nation faces in these areas, we cannot expect the situation to change much.  But we can change, especially we, who are rich, we who have the Lazarus’s of our nation at our gates, we can be the change that our government (which the rich and the poor in our nation recognize as corrupt) refuses to be.

So God, through Paul, tells me to tell us:

Command those who are rich in the things of this life not to be proud, but to place their hope, not in such an uncertain thing as riches, but in God, who generously gives us everything for our enjoyment.

Command them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share with others.

In this way they will store up for themselves a treasure which will be a solid foundation for the future.
And then they will be able to win the life which is true life.

Let us go from here and store up treasure which will be a solid foundation for the future of our nation and let us win for our children and our children’s children a life which is true life.

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