A sermon preached at
Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 25
September 2016, the nineteenth Sunday after
Pentecost, by Dr. Hope S. Antone. The scripture readings that day were Amos 6:1a, 4-7; 1
Timothy 6:6-12; 17-19; Luke 16:19-31.
Unique to the
gospel according to Luke are two stories in chapter16 that are quite
challenging to understand. I think some of us were struck by last Sunday’s
reading of the Parable of the Shrewd Manager (Luke 16:1-13). For how could a
“dishonest” manager, in the face of being fired, receive commendation from his
rich master for reducing people’s debts? And what did Jesus mean by saying,
“make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest
wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes”
mean that dishonest wealth is
alright? What about the ill-gotten wealth that many of our countries’ leaders
are known for? Listening to the parable of the shrewd manager brought these
examples to mind: wealth gained through corruption, misappropriation of funds,
siphoning of people’s money to dubious accounts abroad; or wealth gained
through human trafficking, or the illegal drugs trade.
I can only
think that Jesus told the parable from a different time and context than what
we know now. There must have been corruption then, but the corruption in modern
times, characterized by today’s kind of dishonest or ill-gotten wealth, is more
systemic, systematic, highly advanced and complicated.
context then of that time, one commentary said that when the manager reduced
the debts, he was most likely removing what would have been his gain, through
commission. We are quite familiar with commission. It is the additional amount
that agents add on top of the suggested price, which consumers do not know
anything about, nor do owners care much about as long as their product is sold.
By cutting or removing the commission, the manager endeared himself to the
debtors while giving his rich master the expected price for his products. For
such shrewdness of thinking long-term and acting urgently, this former
“dishonest” manager was commended.
So how is
this connected to the gospel reading for today about the Rich Man and Lazarus
As the story
goes, a rich man lived in luxury, wearing the most expensive clothes and
feasting every day. (According to commentaries, the purple dye was extremely
expensive obtained from the shellfish
murex). Preoccupied with his
self-indulgent life, he did not take notice of a sore-covered beggar named
Lazarus, who lay at his gate every day, hoping to eat what fell from the rich
man’s table. When Lazarus died, angels carried him to Abraham’s side. When the
rich man died, he went to Hades where he was greatly tormented. In agony, the
rich man saw Lazarus by the side of Abraham. The rich man called out to “Father
Abraham,” asking for Lazarus to be sent to cool his tongue. But Abraham said
there was a permanent chasm (separation) between his place of torment and the
place of comfort where Lazarus was. The rich man then begged Abraham to send
Lazarus to his five siblings so they could avoid getting to the place of
torment. But Abraham said they already have Moses and the Prophets (i.e. the
Scriptures) to teach them these things.
The rich man
did not use his wealth to make friends. He did not find poor and sickly Lazarus
worthy to be his friend. It was the dogs that took notice of Lazarus, as they
came to lick his sores. Now, these dogs were not the pet dogs of today that are
so well fed, well dressed, well groomed, which owners like to walk, talk to and
treat as their own children. These were wild dogs that roamed around to fend
for themselves, scavenging through garbage, including dead animals. This is why
in the Bible, dogs are considered unclean.
In the ancient
world, Lazarus’ state of poverty and sickness was viewed as a curse, a
consequence of sin; whereas wealth was seen as a sign of divine favor and blessing.
Jesus challenged that view through the reversal of life situations in the
story: the rich man descending from luxury to suffering; Lazarus ascending from
suffering to blessedness. It is to say that it is not true that “wealth =
blessing; poverty = curse”.
parable of the rich man and Lazarus has been used many times to pacify the
poor: “You may be suffering now, but think of the eternal bliss you will have
in heaven.” The parable has also been used by some zealous preachers to scare
people about the torment of hellfire and their need to repent. But there is
more to the parable than meets the eye.
The rich man
and Lazarus, two contrasting characters in the story, remind us of the ongoing
disparities between the rich and poor. But the reversals of their situations
teach us that these disparities are not fixed or divinely ordained. Instead,
such disparities are there due to the lack of compassion and responsible
stewardship especially on the part of those who have wealth and resources.
Indeed, a lot is expected from those who have more.
scholars say the parable is more about the use of wealth that can lead to
either a blessing or a curse.
is not evil. In the words of Paul for Timothy, the “love of money is a root of
all kinds of evil” (I Timothy 6:10a). Love of money is shown in how money is
used: as a means to exercise power over others which can lead to abuse; as a tool of
self-indulgence to satisfy oneself at the neglect of others; as a tool to build
a name/reputation for oneself at the expense of others. But there is blessing
when wealth is put to the right use, e.g. as a resource to serve others.
story of the shrewd manager, the use of wealth/money is linked to the advice to
make friends in order to ensure their welcome and help in the future. In a way,
this was still very self-serving, but it marked the beginning of a change. The
manager was commended by his rich master for his shrewdness, shown in a change
of attitude, a change of strategy, a change in the use of resources entrusted
story of the rich man and Lazarus, the use of wealth/money is linked to
compassion for the needy, which is the expected response of those who know
their Scriptures, symbolized by Moses and the Prophets (Old Testament).
then takes a dual meaning: material resources that we have been entrusted with;
and spiritual resources that we have been gifted with.
wealth, whether in the form of money, land or other resources, is not something
that we can truly own. We are not to hoard it or to squander it in
self-indulgence. It is entrusted to us for our need and joy. We simply borrow
it from God, the source of all such things. Or, as some Indigenous people say,
we borrow it from the next generation. Indeed, we cannot take any of the
material wealth with us when we die. As Paul says to
Timothy (I Timothy 6:7), “we brought nothing into the world, so that we can
take nothing out of it.” Hence, wealth is a sacred trust. As such,
responsible stewardship is expected of us in the use of such wealth. And as the
parables show, wealth is to be used as a means of generosity, kindness, mercy
and compassion especially for those in need.
wealth is also something entrusted to us. When the rich man called on Father
Abraham for help, he claimed a religious heritage as a Jew, a person of faith.
We Christians can identify with him for we also regard Abraham as our father of
faith. But claiming a religious (or denominational) heritage is not a guarantee
of salvation. Our spiritual wealth of faith does not consist of church
membership or attendance in prayer meetings and Bible studies. These are
important for our growth in discipleship but they are means rather than the end
of our journey in discipleship. Spiritual wealth should show in our living out
our faith, inspired by Scriptures which point to loving God by loving God’s
people, the likes of Lazarus who are the outcasts, the unloved, the hopeless
It is our
task to identity the Lazaruses of our day. We have to be very discerning though
as to who they are and how we can be most helpful to them. They are not only
the beggar we see on the road. Their call for help may come to us through
email, a call, or whatsapp. The help they need may not be the spare coins or
lose bills we can give. We have to discern how to be truly helpful in a way
that would empower them. As the Chinese proverb reminds us, it is not good to
give fish, but to teach people how to fish. But nowadays, we also need to teach
people to analyze why there is less fish to catch – e.g. because of climate
change, pollution and the abuse of the environment – and what should be done
about it. Hence, helping the Lazaruses of our day is a more challenging task…
Paul’s advice to Timothy is a good summary of what it means to have wealth:
“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. They are to do good, to
be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 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.” (I Timothy 6:17-19)
sisters in Christ, we all have been entrusted with some material wealth and
spiritual wealth. May we use it to serve God’s people in faithfulness to our
calling as Christ’s disciples.
preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 18
by the Rev. Ewing W. Carroll, Jr. The scripture readings that day were Jeremiah
8:18-9:1; 1 Timothy 2:1-7, Luke 16:1-13.
remember last week’s passage from Exodus 32, where Moses asked God, “O Lord, why does your anger burn hot against
?” The passage from the prophet Jeremiah in today’s Hebrew
Scripture recalls another time when God was so displeased with the Israelites.
Their worship of foreign idols and neglect of the poor both angered and
saddened God. Listen again to the final
verse of this passage: “Is there no balm
in Gilead? Is there no physician
there? Why then has the health of my
poor people not been restored
times, some of my friends and I loved singing the old African-American
spiritual, “There is a balm in Gilead
.” But jokingly we would often change the word balm
[like Tiger Balm Oil
So we sang, “There is a bomb in Gilead…Boom
Little did we know then that today, such bombs remain present and
hurtful – throughout the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq.
I doubt any of
us want to receive a bomb. But we do
love to receive presents, gifts. Right?
Chinese New Year’s laisee packets; Christmas and birthday presents; and
special gifts on special occasions.
Occasionally, you’ve received a gift and said “thank you so much” and
then asked yourself “What in the world am
I going to do with this
?” So you put
it away and forgot about it. Or gave it
so someone else? Today’s epistle lesson
in 1 Timothy is about a gift. One of
the most priceless, precious and useful gifts we could ever receive; the gift
of prayer. And if you are at all like
me, one seldom used; and when used, not very well. In many ways, this gift of prayer, is God’s
answer to the question, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” Yes Mr. Jeremiah there is – and that balm is
the saving love of Jesus Christ. Who in
turn gives to us the gift of prayer.
Last month our
Revised Common Lectionary reading included the passage from Luke where a
disciple asked Jesus about prayer. He didn’t ask, “Lord, teach us to pray
“Lord, teach us HOW to pray
“As John taught his disciples
.” Today’s Epistle lesson begins with strong
advice and encouragement to the young pastor Timothy, to make prayer a vital
part of his daily life.
Today’s hymn “It’s Me, O Lord, Standing in the Need of
” is a reminder of our need to be more serious about our prayer lives
– both individually and corporately. Not
our parents, not the pastors, not the church stewards, choir, S.S. teachers –
well, yes them too. But it’s ME. You and I - standing, sitting, kneeling,
driving, running - however - are all in
need of God’s gift of prayer. Let me invite you to say with “Lord,
teach me how to pray
gifts of prayer does God give to us? Let me suggest three.
The Gift of
Today’s letter to Timothy begins with these words, “First of all then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions
and thanksgivings be made for everyone
. That’s real boldness. Today’s Gospel talks
about a dishonest manager – who acted so boldly – but dishonestly. Jesus then urged his listeners [and you and
me] to be equally as bold in honesty and faithfulness. And that includes in being bold in our prayer
One afternoon a
woman told her office friends that beginning tomorrow, she was going on a
diet. No more cake, pies and
puddings. The next day she came to work
with a HUGE chocolate cream cake. “Wow, what happened to your diet
asked. “Well, when I passed by the bakery this morning, I saw this cake in the
. So I said ‘Lord if you want me
to have this cake, let there be an empty parking spot right in front of the
bakery’. Well, you know what? I drove
around the bakery 14 times; and then on the 15th time there was a vacant spot
right in front of the bakery
Boldness or an excuse? You be the
reminded that in all circumstances, to be bold in prayer, including praying for
everyone – not just the people we know, love, respect or like. That ALL, includes those individuals,
nations, and systems that we find enemies or dislike. Whether it’s one time
around the block – or a million times, God invites us to be bold in
The Gift of Patience.
We live in such a Fast Food world. News of terrorists bombings, murders,
attempted overthrow of governments; natural and human disasters – the list is
longer than a dragon’s tail. There is no
news – we see it
unfolding right before our eyes, NOW.
Patience now seems to be a sign of weakness
or ancient history. We prefer microwaves
to slow cookers – whether it’s food or prayer.
Our prayer, “O Lord, thy will be done.”
includes “and give me patience ---- now
Don’t be confused – patience in prayer is not idleness. It’s not selfishness or disinterest. Recall John Wesley’s words, “Be patient, God’s not finished with me yet
God’s gifts of prayer include boldness and patience. They also include gratitude.
The Gift of Gratitude.
Our prayers often express more about
disaster than delight; more about grief than gladness; more about sadness than
serenity. How strange: we seem more
comfortable praying in times of danger and difficulty; as though the only way
to reach God is with a 999 emergency call.
Let’s be clear: however
we pray, God always hears; always responds; and always
provides. According to God’s will, not
ours. And for this we are grateful.
a pastor in the German Lutheran church, was born in 1586 in Eilenburg, a small
town in the mid-eastern part of today’s Germany. During the Thirty Years War [1618-1648],
Eilenburg suffered untold religious, political, physical and economic turmoil. Famine and disease were rampant. People were daily dying by the hundreds. There were four Protestant pastors in
Eilenburg; one fled to a safer place; two died from the plague; Rinkart was the
sole surviving pastor. During the War’s
latter years, in one year alone, he conducted some 4,500 funerals, including
that of his wife! And yet Rinkart could
pen these unbelievable words of gratitude that we sang at the beginning of
Now thank we all our God,
with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has
done, in whom this world rejoices…
And ending with
All praise and thanks to God…whom earth and
for thus it was, is now, and shall be
I wish for you today God’s amazing and
incredible gift of prayer. Pray with boldness; pray patiently and always pray
with gratitude – with your hearts, hands and voices. Amen.