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A recent article appearing in U.S. News & World Report entitled "Digging Your Way Out of Debt" reported that "American dreams these days are built on hope, hard work and, often, a mountain of debt." I scanned the article looking for an indication of what trust in God might add. Story after story it described the plight of people in this country who have lived above their means and are now paying the price. Total household debt, we are told, topped a hundred percent of disposable annual income. Just ten years ago, the ratio stood at two-thirds.
You have heard the advertisements: "Visa, it's where you want to be." "There's always something more to discover with your Discovery Card." Or how about-- "Membership has its privileges," and "American Express -- Don't leave home without it."
Outstanding balances on credit cards have risen 123 percent in the last decade. In 1994 the record for personal bankruptcy stood at 1.4 million. Economists are predicting that we will break that record in 2001.
And what about the Internet? Technology has made it so easy to sink into debt. We don't even have to shower and dress to go out to the stores. With a click of the mouse, we can have anything we want.
It used to be that owning a home and a fat stock portfolio was the way to go. It used to be that we could depend on job security. These days, however, we can't predict when the hatchet comes down and we become victims of layoffs due to downsizing and/or corporate bankruptcy. An unpredictable market and skyrocketing prices add to our gloomy picture.
How did things get so out of hand? Perhaps it's our misguided sense of optimism and hope for a better life than that of generations before us. Perhaps we are driven by a desire to be something we are not. Tahira Hira, a professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State University, explains it for us this way: "Our money behavior is actually a big expression of who we are inside. It shows how much we are willing to accept reality and how much we want to be something that we are not." Appearance is valued in our narcissistic society. If clothes do not make a man, you can't prove it by us. Clothing and cosmetics are mega-billion industries. We are a driven society. Our spending rises out of our need for instant gratification. The truth is that the quality of our life today very much matters because tomorrow is not promised us.
The rich man in today's gospel lived a charmed life. Luke tells us that he dressed in expensive clothes and lived in great luxury every day. Outside his house was a poor and sickly man, Lazarus. The gospel tells us that he was brought there. We don't know why he was brought there. Maybe he was too sick to make it there on his own or maybe it was the "in" place to eat. We do know that his only means of survival were the crumbs that fell off the rich man's table.
Do we ever give eternity a thought? We deceive ourselves if we believe that our only worry in life is the here and now. Nothing is promised to us except this day, this moment, and nothing is more certain than death.
One day death met both men. Luke tells us that the rich man, tormented and in great pain, looked up from hell to see Lazarus sitting very near Abraham. Now the rich man, who had never had a thought for Lazarus while on earth, begs to have his afflictions soothed by Lazarus.
"Remember...that in your life time you were given all good things," Abraham answers, "while Lazarus had bad things. But now he is enjoying himself here while you are in pain."
The Great Commandment calls us to love -- love of God and love of neighbor. We have no trouble believing that we love God. It's quite another story when it comes to loving our neighbor. God is love. He is perfect love witnessed in Christ Jesus who, stripping himself of glory, walked in our shoes to the cross on Calvary. If the world is to know love, it must hear the good news in and through us. John reminds us that if we say we love God and not our brother or sister, we are liars. "For we cannot love God whom we have not seen, if we do not love others whom we have seen." 1 John 5:20.
The sin that took the rich man to hell was not his wealth. The sin that took him there was his indifference to the sufferings of Lazarus. Taking care of No. 1 is encouraged in our society, but love that is self-serving leaves us with little time or energy to love others.
I certainly have been blessed with a healthy share of good things. I enjoy good health, have a wonderful daughter, have a roof over my head and food on my table. I drive a car to work, enjoy the company of good friends, and have plenty of things to wear.
For some of us, however, what we have is not enough. We want more. Is it any great surprise, then, to find ourselves in financial and spiritual trouble? Take a look around. What are the things you can live without?
I went shopping not too long ago. I wanted to add some things to my wardrobe. Returning home with my purchases, I realized I had no place to store them. A careful inventory of my closet revealed outfits I had not worn in years, saving them for a time when I could once again fit into them.
What motivates us to give life away to unrealistic dreams? What prompts us to expend energy chasing after a six-figure income only to wake up and realize that we don't know our children and/or significant other? What keeps us living a life of quiet desperation, lived inside impressive walls?
We love money. Money gives us identity. It gives us power. In verse 9 of today's epistle lesson, Paul tells us that the "love of money is the source of all kinds of evil." Let's look at that for a moment.
Debt is our most raging addiction. Why--we even have support groups for the compulsive shopper. Debtors are becoming alarmingly younger and younger. College students, for example, are prime targets for credit companies. From tuition to books to basic necessities and pleasures, students are encouraged to charge it up. Not knowing how to get out from under, some have been driven to commit suicide.
Is money the root of the evils that ravage our society? Some very familiar characters in Scripture were very wealthy: Abraham, David, Solomon, Job. Throughout the Scriptures we read how God promises his people that he will multiply...bless...increase... what they have been given. Paul does not tell us that money is the root of all evil, but the love of it is!
Deeper for us than the pursuit of money, power and material possession, deeper than our desire for food and our need for dress, lies the richness we find in contentment with what we have. All that we have and are express the love of God for us in Christ.
The things with which we have been blessed, the tools we have been given, draw us into holy living, living in godliness, faith, love and hope.
God has chosen to give us what we need and not what we want. God gave Christ for us and to us. He delights in providing our for our every need and for those of our families, friends and neighbors. He makes provisions for the great and small, the rich and the Lazaruses of the world.
True living isn't about what we own or the wealth we amass. Riches, Paul tells us, are uncertain. True living, though, is about placing our trust in the God who richly provides all things for our enjoyment. Sun and rain, air and water, food and clothes are for all.
For us, the good race of the faith is run in pursuit of treasures in heaven. It is there, Paul assures us, that we win the life which is the true life.
Let us pray.
We confess to you, O Lord, that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have not loved others as ourselves. We have placed our own silliness and self-interests before the needs of others. Forgive us. Pour out in us the spirit of your love and then pour us out into the world that we may know the true meaning of life in love for you and in service to others. Amen.
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