Sunday Stretch: Vol. 2
Start off your week with a grounded take on Bible, prayer, the world, and your life ...
Thanks for joining in for Week 2 of the Sunday Stretch: where I’ll break down some weekly Bible passages, share prayer and prayer requests with you and for this community as well as the broader world.
As I reviewed this week’s Bible texts, I realized that this would be one of these weeks: where the week’s Gospel text spoke so plainly to a current global news story that it would be impossible to ignore. Weeks like these can be tough. Sometimes the pressures of the world and our daily lives make us long to escape into the Bible and into a world where everything is bright and cheery and full of love.
But the incarnation made plain that God refuses to be alien to the world. In Jesus, God entered into human life fully: reality and pain and sin could no longer be ignored or distant to God.
Today, in our high-tech world of 2022, where art and food and spices from halfway around the world are just a click away, children are growing up in homes with dirt floors and no running water, at threat from powerful and violent street gangs. Young adults are growing up in communities without opportunity for education or job prospects. They know a land just to the north that has long been called the shining city on the hill. There people live in prosperity and freedom. But they come here and are met with only scorn, much like the scorn shown to Lazarus in this week’s Gospel reading.
The God of the Bible will judge our scorn for our fellow God-created humans harshly.
Photo by Ray Ewing, Martha’s Vineyard Gazette
Here are some weekly readings (from the Revised Common Lectionary), and some reflection thoughts/questions:
Amos 6:1 Alas for those who are at ease in Zion,
and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria,
the notables of the first of the nations,
to whom the house of Israel resorts!
Amos 6:4 Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory,
and lounge on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock,
and calves from the stall;
5 who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp,
and like David improvise on instruments of music;
6 who drink wine from bowls,
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
7 Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile,
and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.
Lately the Old Testament/Prophets lectionary readings have been taken from Amos, a prophet known for his emphasis on justice for the poor, and his abhorrence for empty religious ritual. Amos’ words are powerful and sometimes hard to read for those of us who live in relative comfort. Here, Amos reminds us that if we are comfortable and assured of our own righteousness, we are to be pitied and judged by God. Here is the Gospel message of Amos’ words: you who do not feel comfortable sometimes in pious actions: you who are all-too aware of the shortcomings of religion and the church, Amos invites you to find kinship with God and with the prophets. Amos says that God too feels discomfort and even anger in moments of empty piety that ignores the needs of the world. God too wants Christians to step out of our ivory steeples and enter into the streets and into the hearts of all those in need.
Questions to Ponder
Who is at ease in Zion? What is Zion for Christians?
Do some research on the word Zion and what it means for various groups: for Jews, for Zionists, for the LDS Church in America, and for modern Christians. What did you find out?
Why does the prophet want call out those who have not grieved? What role do you think grief plays in our practice of faith?
What or who are you grieving today?
1 Timothy 6:6-19
1Tim. 6:6 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; 8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
1Tim. 6:11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. 16 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
1Tim. 6:17 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. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19 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.
Such a rich passage from Paul, in his role as teacher and mentor to Timothy. I’m stuck on a couple of verses, beginning in v. 10: “ For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”
Many of us know these stories intimately: in our own families and friendships, tales of financial success leading only to broken relationships and marriages; pain and addiction. I am thinking too of stories of lottery winners whose newfound wealth led to destruction. We know in churches that, like all organizations, churches have bills and budgets, and financial donations enable churches to complete our missions. Paul condemns therefore, not money itself, but the love of money and the eager pursuit of it (to the exclusion of other pursuits, like relationships, harmony, peace, and justice).
I also point you to the last word in Paul’s list for Timothy. He compels Timothy that as a “man of God” he should cultivate “gentleness.” Too often, in its zeal for violent for masculinity, the church has neglected to build up gentle men, even as the Bible commands otherwise.
What does the love of money mean in our 2022 world?
In what ways does our modern culture encourage us to be “eager to be rich?”
What are you eager for in this season of your life? How can you use eagerness for positive results?
Luke 16:19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
As a writer and a lover of words that paint detailed pictures, I am caught here by the word usage in verse 19: “sumptuously.”
I went back to the original Greek New Testament and found the word origin of “λαμπρῶς” which the Bauer’s Lexicon (called BDAG) translates alternately as “splendidly” and “of opulent lifestyle.”
I am thinking about how our global culture continues to laud these opulent displays of wealth, whether it’s the glittering crown jewels and pomp and circumstance of last week’s funeral for Queen Elizabeth, or the ongoing fascination with royalty and monarchy, evidenced by the popularity of TV shows as different as The Crown and Game of Thrones.
We admire these displays and account them respect, even finding our own ways to try and display our own (often meager in comparison) wealth, whether it’s with clothing brand labels, new cars, or social media feeds.
Yet God sees very differently. God sees only humanity, and God - especially in the incarnation of Jesus and Jesus’ death on the cross - feels viscerally the pain of human suffering, as exemplified by the story of Lazarus.
Injustice and suffering and death are enabled by our collective choice to look away from pain and suffering and look toward glittering wealth. But the one cannot exist without the other.
How does the Church participate in the glorification of wealth?
Why do we choose purple as the color of bishops?
What do you make of the association of the Church of English with the monarchy?
Have you ever felt like Lazarus? What did it feel like to be ignored?
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