Psalm 91: 1-6 & 14-16
LUKE 16: 19-31

September 25, 2022

God says … “ Interesting verbiage from a document that has been around for thousands of years and translated into every known language of humankind. There amidst a book that both we Christians and those of the Jewish faith consider our holy connection with the Creator of the universe … the words ‘God says …’ are clearly printed on paper or electronically generated onto our smart phones, tablets and computers but as people of faith are you and you and you and you and even me paying attention or focused or even caring about what God says?

Good morning! I am back from a week away and it was a good week of connection with people who have been part of my life for most of my 31 years. My best friend growing up … his family. My brother. And, some friends who I don’t get to see too often who have come along to join my journey through the expressways, the main streets, and the hurting alleyways of life. I was able to visit an incredibly beautiful and historic church where I once brought the message to the people in the pews and yes, I visited the stadium where I have watched my sports team play for 5 decades plus my brother and I stopped at the tribute to the old stadium where the Bills played when we were mere boys and we paused to glance at a sacred ground where we walked and hurried with our dad. It was a good escape and I appreciate everyone who covered for me here and will do so as I attempt to take all of my Dave-care vacation time this year in the coming weeks.

But, as I sat in the pews of First Presbyterian Church last Sunday morning with my brother we heard the same Scripture from Jeremiah that you heard here at St. Paul’s and we heard from the Gospel of Luke. There was a special resiliency in the parable of Jesus from Luke’s Gospel, something that my brother and I would talk about as we drove away. Jesus was talking about faith … He said, “Whoever is faithful with little is also faithful with much.” But more importantly, Jesus told those gathered around Him that people … every day people like you and me … Jesus said … And, friends you can double check it on your Bibles at home when you go to read your Bible again later today in the 16th chapter of Luke … Jesus said, in what we consider our Holy Book, that humans, like us, created in the image of God … and by the way God in this very same Holy Book did not say only some humans are created in God’s Holy image … God said ALL just like the Old Testament Scriptures and Jesus directly command us to love ALL of our neighbors … Jesus told the hushed crowd that didn’t have cell phones to distract them in worship or to be the focus of their days .. Jesus said, “YOU CAN NOT SERVE TWO MASTERS … either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other.” Jesus finishes off this particular parable, which you again can find in Luke chapter 16, by declaring … and I am sure that Jesus staring directly at those near Him said these words speaking in a very clear voice … “YOU CANNOT SERVE BOTH GOD and HUMAN GOALS.”

And, today Denise will go under the waters of baptism … after having only visited churches for weddings in her lifetime. Her dear friend Vicky invited her to come to this special church with her … she came back … she felt connected with God and with Jesus Christ. And, today, she is publicly taking the faith leap … her choice amidst the storms of life. I offered to carry her around the church later but …

Faith, it’s a daily choice for each of us …So my dear friends who have already sacrificed one of your vital 168 weekly hours to come to worship God … when you leave here today will you be demonstrating your faith leap by showcasing that connection in your other 167 hours of the week letting the world you live in along your expressways, main streets, and alleyways know that you are focused on serving God in your life not the desires and directives of the world?

That is a vital question … it is a determinant as to whether St. Paul’s UNITED METHODIST CHURCH of West Deptford, in the coming years, continues to thrive as a vital church where God is worshiped weekly and where those who are hurting both in our community and throughout the world are cared for as this book <<HOLDING UP THE BIBLE>> teaches us to do or whether over the next decade or so will it crumble into the rubble of other churches whose former members have already sworn their oaths countering God’s teaching, bowed down to human gods or human made goods, and given their service to the world rather than to Jesus Christ.

And, “God says … because you are devoted to me, I’ll rescue you. I will protect you BECAUSE YOU KNOW MY NAME. Whenever you cry out to me, I’ll answer. I will be with you in troubling times. I will save you and glorify you. I’ll show you my salvation.”

GOD SAYS … did you hear those words this morning? In the moments when God’s Word was read in church today were you flying high in joyous celebration of faith focused on God or was the world calling to you even in church … even in your hour of God-connection? GOD SAYS … does it matter to you what God says or expects from you not from your pastor nor the church’s laity leader but from you.

So, what does your God-connection look like or feel like? Do you have one? Are you always rejoicing in the Lord?

In our Gospel lesson from this morning …. you do remember standing up for the Good News of Jesus Christ right? In our Gospel lesson Jesus talks about the after life … eternal life … something most of us want to ignore, push far away from our active thinking process or completely deny we will ever have to worry about … the moment when our breathing stops.

Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson … ok, I know that some of you have already created a book of faith in your own minds without ever referencing or wanting to believe Scripture because you do not want to take a faith leap led by the Holy Spirit but would rather declare that you have figured it out and have messaged to God that your life and living it as you choose will get you the best golden palace in heaven … oh those Golden Slippers that await your toes.

But, if you, as a Christian, realize that Jesus words matter especially when it comes to what follows our care-free, skipping along the highways of life, do it our way existence years on earth then perhaps connecting with a faith-leap should matter to you and yes, to me, today because our tomorrow is not guaranteed in the least.

Jesus teaches in today’s lesson a message that contradicts the assumption of His times. The Pharisees pushed the idea that wealth and one’s status in society verified one’s righteousness with God and secure place in the after life times. They taught this. even though that very concept contradicts the teaching of the Torah and our Old Testament. So, Jesus shares the message of an unnamed man of wealth and a man named Lazarus whose life clearly was a struggle each and every day. They were dead and no longer walking on earth.

Jesus message is one of heaven and hell … of the two future venues for human existence after our days here on earth are done. His message in Luke’s Gospel parallels Jesus teaching in Matthew 25 just in case you need to see if Jesus is consistent. There is no doubt that the the man of wealth carried his “I am a man of faith card” with him because he was rich after all and hung out with the right people whereas we know from Lazarus’ loving welcome to heaven that he was a man of faith but we also heard how. He suffered in life.

Death friends is permanent … death friends is forever … when Mark and I stood looking at our shadows along the former cement ramp at Buffalo’s War Memorial Stadium where the Bills played in their beginning years … both of our thoughts were on dad … we could not bring dad back, we could not talk with dad, and the only message from the grave we received was one of beautiful memories of his smile, laugh, and shared experiences with his boys.

The wealthy man sent to the place of torment desperately wanted to warn his five brothers that he had screwed up … that he had never made a leap of faith but had chosen to live a life focused on himself … his pleasures and even worse … the man whose eternity would be in torment had never paused to care for the hungry, welcome the stranger, share his belongings, or give a care about someone like Lazarus.

It is remarkable that Jesus says the rich man asked that Lazarus be sent back … the servant again serving the rich man’s needs but the answer, which brings us back to today. The answer that requires your focus and mine. The connection to how you are going to live today’s remaining 13 ½ hours and then your tomorrow’s comes from Jesus’ paraphrasing of Abraham from heaven to the rich man … “If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets then neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.”

And, friends … we are here today because we believe … at least I am fairly certain that we believe that Jesus Christ … the Son of God … HE IS RISEN << HE IS RISEN INDEED>> He is risen from the dead. So, if we believe that reality … then shouldn’t we be taking a leap of faith delivering to the world an example in our own small way of what it means to be a Christian … a person of faith … a person who honors their baptism … a person who connects with Holy Communion … a person who actually reads Scriptures daily and rushes to participate in a study of God’s Word … a person who understands and then acts on what the Lord God expects of the faithful … “to do justice, to love all with mercy and to walk humbly in love with our God?’

A leap of faith is not that hard …. Loving God should be easy … changing to once again making worship matter should be the dotted line connection to our personal faith in Christ. We all should be able to declare to the Lord our God, “YOU ARE MY REFUGE … MY STRONGHOLD!! YOU ARE MY GOD the one I trust!”

And, as Mark and I drove out of the city of Buffalo one of us quoted Jeremiah adding this question to our conversation, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why have my people not been restored to health?” Mark and I discussed in those moments of brotherly love that we are the physicians … we are the balm … people of faith like you and life me … we only have to take that LEAP of FAITH, which really isn’t a giant leap once you accept that God is real …. God is loving of ALL humanity and yes, that God expects our statement of faith to be verified through our actions of life. TAKE THAT LEAP today with Denise … and then take it again tomorrow and the next day. Let’s fortify and grow this special church called St. Paul’s inviting those we know whether they have attended church this Easter and last Christmas Eve or they used to sit in the pews or they have never called any place their church home. Jesus said GO INTO ALL THE WORLD but we can start with taking a leap of faith out into the worlds we call our own. AMEN

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