Faithlife Corporation

Make me an instrument of your peace

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Heavenly Father bless what I am about to share that only your word of truth is heard – Amen

One of the big problems we have in our society is a lack of Drama in our understanding of the Bible

Let me say that again, and then I will explain what I mean…

One of the big problems we have in our society is a lack of Drama in our understanding of the Bible

The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are deeply controversial material

            They were for the times that they were written - and they are for our times too

                        The only problem is that we don’t see it that way

We don’t understand the drama – the passion – the controversy that is behind it all

Today we have our second reading from James and it is filled with conflict

Our passage from Luke with parable of Lazarus and the rich man is enough to provoke people to plan to kill Jesus

People who are so curious about the message that Jesus has that they follow him all over the countryside and yet feel so threatened by what he says that they want to kill him

So if anything that I say either today, last week or any other time, here in this pulpit gets your blood going – good – then I have been true to the scriptures – or at least the spirit of many of them

Today we have a large chunk of James chapter 2 - and James is telling people off

            James starts off this part of the letter with a line that is deep with sarcasm

One can imagine the expression on the face of the elder statesmen of the church at Jerusalem as he asks this question:

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?


James is frustrated and he hits them where it hurts – he directs his question without holding back and questions their actions directly connecting it with their faith in Jesus Christ

Let know one mistake James for one that beats around the bush and speaks in vague generalities, nor is he one that would ever be confused with passive aggressiveness

            No, James calls it like he sees it and challenges the people of the Jerusalem church

                        Challenges them about their apparent favouritism

But he doesn’t end there

            He keeps going and James has a real problem with the rich

To James the rich are not noble as one might naturally assume – the rich aren’t blessed by God because of their apparent wealth – which is one understanding in Jewish traditions and seen through-out the Old Testament – wealth is a manifestation of the blessing of God

            No, to James the rich are the ones that:

·         dishonored the poor.

·         oppress the people

·         drag them into court

·         blaspheme the name of the Lord by ridiculing those that have faith

James clearly has a problem with the rich and their dealings with the Jerusalem church

But beyond that, this elder of the church has a problem with how the church itself favours the rich

James calls it how he sees it and this is a message of rebuke and he challenges them with strong words

                                    But if you show partiality, you commit sin

James’ message would have angered, frustrated, or place upon them guilt

            Which ever emotion it provoked – it was certainly that - provocative

But we miss the point if we allow ourselves to rest there – to remain provoked and not move on to the other part of the message – the message that we do not need to stay in our sinful ways

            In James there is a challenge to move beyond the rebuke and into the action

On the surface this part of the letter might seem a little out of place in the canon of Holy Scripture

Why are we hearing all about the problems of James, the Jerusalem church and their dealings with the rich

            Where is the gospel message in that?

                        Jesus is mentioned, but as a tool in the argument

Where is the cross, where is the atonement, where is the message that Jesus died for our sins and brought about a new order – a new Gospel message

James does present the good news for the reader to receive

            But rather the good news is what the reader is to do for their neighbour

The gospel of James is not in the classic formula but is put to us as - a challenge for a way of life - in which we are to fulfill as we live out our life in faith in what we do

James ‘the epistle of doing’ brings us to the crucial place where what we do matters

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Now James, one that is brought up as a good Hebrew, brings the people to law, the Pentateuch, the first five books of scripture and specifically to Leviticus 19

            Today – Leviticus is not one of most favourite books – with all it rules and laws,

                        Some culturally specific and others that represent a moral code that transcend culture

                                    And we are left trying to figure out which one is which

                                                Here there is a universal truth without confusion, clearly stated

                                                            “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

We of course think of this as ‘the Golden Rule’

            What ethicists call the “ethic of reciprocity”

It is a rule that the Parliament of the World’s religions - signed by 143 leaders from different faith traditions and spiritual communities in 1993 proclaimed the Golden Rule (both in negative and positive form) as the common principle for many religions.

And made a historic "Declaration Toward a Global Ethic"

                        Some of its forms are as follows:

            Buddhism and Karma

“ Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill. ”

Baha'i Faith:

“ Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not. ”


“ Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself. ”


“ One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. Other behavior is due to selfish desires. ”


“ Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you. ”


“Love your fellow as yourself”


“ Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss. ”

It is things like the “Golden rule” – that transcends all major religions of the world – that lead people to the understanding that “all religion is basically the same

And while there may be some universal principals - even the “golden rule” is not as universal as it might seem

And to make a controversial statement – I believe that Christianity, and its elder brother – Judaism, are in fact a class beyond the others


                        Because of the very essence of the ‘epistle of doing’

                                    We instructed to do – to love

                                                Not merely to ‘not do what you yourself don’t like’

We …are… told… to… Love… - to act

Maybe it is the fact, as I said last week, that I am a doer, that I favour Christianity’s version – but it makes a difference

–        what we do makes a difference

And here is where our passage from James and our Gospel intersect

            The Parable of the rich man and Lazarus

On the surface, we can certainly see that both deal with money

            We have James calling the favouritism towards the rich as sinful

We also have Jesus telling a clear story where a rich man in the afterlife is in Hades or Hell – where the fires are so hot and the suffering so great that even a drop of cool water from Lazarus hands would have been a great relief

            The message might seem to be that money is bad

Both James and the words of Jesus, told in a parable, completely upset a well held Jewish belief that prosperity equals God’s blessing

            A message that is not that foreign to us today

Imagine if you were to visit someone’s house that you had never been in or saw the car or the cloths that someone wore for the first time

And the house was grand or the car was expensive or the cloths were well tailored – one might naturally assume that this person was blessed

            Prosperity is commonly associated with being blessed - then as now

The parallels in the two messages continues

            Jesus too, was really mad about something.

It would be good if we could figure out what.

After the parable of the dishonest manager and before the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Luke offers this comment:

"The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him [Jesus]. So he said to them, 'You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God'"

In short Jesus is mad about their priorities

They have misunderstood the gift that God has given them in the law and the prophets and they have heaped upon themselves wealth in an outward presentation of Godliness in their apparent blessings

When we consider this passage it can make us uncomfortable

            Images of Hell – of a life of eternal damnation

Spoken from the very mouth of Jesus, God in the flesh

God is supposed to be all about Love

            Jesus came so that we might be saved from all that – right?

Imagine for a moment that you were a new Christian – maybe some of you today can relate to that experience

If you have just embraced the Gospel and claimed it for yourself recently and you were faced with Jesus the Christ and this parable – how are you to interpret it?

                        Further to that - how is the preacher to explain this

Not only is the rich man faced with eternal damnation – but when he pleads with father Abraham to have someone return from the dead to warn his still living brothers – his request is denied

            The rich man shows mercy – yet his request for mercy is denied

                        This is truly a difficult message for the new believer

One way to respond is to claim that this is before the cross – that Jesus is yet to die for our sins

            That this message of hell, is pre-Easter – that Jesus wipes all that away

Well, if you read the text carefully, I don’t think that Jesus presents any wiggle room at all for that answer

If you read the context in which Jesus is telling one parable after another – you can see that Jesus is doing His best to bring home His message in a variety of ways and none of them suggest partial messages

Another way to present the message to a new believer is to explain that this is a parable, a story to point to a deeper more important message

            And here I think we are getting closer to the true meaning

One might assume that Jesus is teaching a message about heaven and hell

            But Jesus is not doing that – he is merely using a common rhetoric device to explain his message

Jesus has used a popular ancient technique of referring to the afterlife to bring home his message - that God understands what real righteousness is

            Prosperity of the rich man is not due to his righteousness

                                                What the world sees is not what God sees

God sees into our hearts and looks beyond the outer shell

Yet another important message that Jesus is bringing home is that we need to read the word of God

            In the word of God is found salvation

Jesus, in His parable, offers no mercy to the rich man’s five brothers when the rich man feels they would change their ways if only someone from the dead was to warn them – to this Abraham responds:

‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”


Jesus is directly challenging the Pharisees to return to the scriptures, that they are supposed to know so well – there, they will find salvation – salvation, as they live their faith to their neighbour


Finally, I think that most important message to communicate to a new believer that Jesus want people to clearly understand – is that what we do matters

We are given Free Will and we can choose to live righteously or we can choose to live a life filled with living out our selfish desires

            In the end – what we do - how we live matters

Jesus, in this parable and in so many other places, like his younger brother James is saying – live a life that represents integrity in your faith

            It matters to God - and has repercussions

I would tell… or I am telling the new believer, not an easy to handle message but a challenging one

It is a mature message in the faith - do unto others – Love your neighbour as yourself

            Faith is not merely something that can be boiled down into a simple statement

                        “I believe”

                                    Faith is not like our wisdom of proverbs – where each is standalone poem

                                                            Faith is part of all that we do and all that we say

Faith is integrated – faith is all that we are

So I will conclude with the same prayer of action as I did last week – the prayer of St Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light       and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.       Amen

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