Welcome to worship on this 16th Sunday after Pentecost, landing on September 25, 2022!
The worship bulletin can be found here. The bulletin will have the order and words of worship, the hymn and page numbers out of the ELW hymn book, and the full sermon. You can follow along with the bulletin, or alternatively the words that you need to know will appear on your screen, and the sermon is also included on this page after the video.
For a fuller worship experience at home, you are welcome to light a candle in your space at the beginning of worship and extinguish it at the end as the altar candles are extinguished. You are also welcome to join in on communion by having something small to eat and drink, and consume them at the appropriate time as instructed in the service.
May God’s unending love be apparent to you this day and always!
Nurturing God, you give life to all things and you satisfy the needs of your people as you grant us your healing and wholeness. Send your Spirit upon us this day, that we be able to hear your word and see Jesus present in our lives, the one in whom all hungers are fed. Amen.
So the other day I was briefly in Central Park dropping off our kids at a birthday party. And one thing that I always notice when I’m there are the millions of squirrels just everywhere. This time was no exception, everywhere we walked we could just hear the squirrels running about in the bushes or around the trees and even crossing our path. They were literally everywhere.
Seeing the squirrels do their squirrel thing reminded me of this time as a kid when we were down in Sacramento for a family trip. We were walking around some park or government property or something and it was absolutely wall-to-wall orange trees. My brother and I were wandering around while our parents were chatting with their friends and as we walked my brother just randomly kicked one of the many oranges that littered the grounds. It wasn’t a hard kick, it was more like he hit the orange with one of his regular walking strides. But it sent the orange rolling real quick anyway. I think we must have been on a slope or something because that orange kept rolling and rolling for 35-40 feet… before it slammed directly into a squirrel that was just sitting there. It was a complete fluke, my brother wasn’t aiming for anything and just randomly hit this orange with his foot. I saw the squirrel before it got hit too, but I totally thought it’d jump out of the way because c’mon, it’s a squirrel. They always get out of the way of stuff headed in their direction. I know because I’ve tried to catch one many a time but to no avail.
And I hate to say it, but watching that squirrel just get beamed by an orange was like one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Not because I’m cruel to animals, mind you, but because the chances of it getting hit like that are miniscule. Like I said, they always seem so alert, like little ninjas with bushy tails. So the shock of it getting caught so off guard like this, well my brother and I just couldn’t hold in our laughter.
Honestly, how on earth did this baseball sized orange catch this squirrel by surprise? Maybe it was blind or deaf or had some other kind of disability that blocked one or more of its senses. But more likely in my opinion, was that it was distracted by something else. You know, like how my kids or almost anyone at the mall are super distracted with their screens and devices. I do remember the squirrel was holding a nut or something in its hands, so it was probably focussed so much on that food or whatever that it just didn’t notice the danger immediately to its right. That makes the most sense to me because food is essential for survival and so if it was a nut that it was holding, then that nut probably had this little squirrel’s undivided attention. Because really, if it’s survival that it was worried about at that moment, then nothing else would matter.
The irony here is that what didn’t seem to matter in this case was something else that put that survival at risk. Funny how that works. But that survival instinct is strong in all living things really, we are just wired to want to prolong our life for as long as possible. But sometimes that instinct gets in our own way as we might focus on the wrong thing at the wrong time.
And that brings us to this parable that we get from Jesus today. We know this story, and we probably know where I’m going with it already. Jesus is giving us a commentary on what heaven and hell are like, and how it’s permanent once we’re there and there’s no going back, right? And maybe in light of this squirrel story is that we need to focus more on what saves us rather than what will send us to hell, right? That sounds really nice and tight and all, but honestly not really where I want to go with this. I mean, nowhere in this story do we hear that the rich man was evil. A bit self-absorbed, but we don’t hear anything else about his character. And Lazarus? We don’t hear about him being righteous at all, just that he was extremely poor. So I don’t think that the parable is about focussing on the right things in order to get us into heaven, as we often might think.
Because really, the rich man’s focus was on saving himself. His riches, fancy clothes and house, and all that food that he’d eat is about survival. His survival instinct even led him to talk directly with Abraham, the father of faith, the perpetual patriarch of all Jews, because he is the one with the power. The rich man wanted to leverage that power for his own survival. And when that doesn’t work, he still tries to leverage Abraham’s power to help to save his family. He acts instinctively in the story, focussed on survival.
And to be honest, I can’t fault him, we would all be worried about our survival too. It’s just in us. It’s like to win at this game of life is to live as long as possible. It is to be able to do whatever we can to be able to add those extra years, months, and days, and anything that promises us that draws our attention and focus. So I get that the rich man was focussed on his survival.
But the problem is that he is focus was too great on his way of survival that he missed out on the life that truly is life. He thought that the respect he commanded would be enough. He thought that his prestige and privilege were what mattered. He thought his money and power were what would save him.
And like the poor squirrel who had that unfortunate encounter with a runaway orange, focussing too hard on a single thing for survival distracted him from what truly saves. Buying completely into the notion that he will be saved by his money or the squirrel be saved by the nut allowed them to be caught off guard by other impending dangers. These dangers might seem like a surprise, but the point of these parables are to warn us about them.
See, this deep chasm that Abraham mentioned is the deep divide that we ourselves dig to put between us and those that we choose not to care for. This chasm is the barrier we put up to separate us in our comfort zones from those that unfortunately fall outside of them. This chasm isn’t hate per se, but it’s the decision we make to not love as we have first been loved.
And this love that we’ve first been given is where our focus needs to be on. Not for the sake of our souls, mind you, but for the sake of community, right relationship, and the kingdom of God in the world. Salvation, in my opinion, isn’t so much eternity in heaven that we can earn, but the eternal love that we can receive and share with all people that we meet. This is what lasts in our lives, this is what people remember about us, this is what brings all of God’s people together as the one body of Christ.
So our focus need not be on our own survival by our own understanding and means, but on the survival of God’s truth of love and grace on our lips. Our instincts need not be around how can we be saved, but how we can be present for each other in community. Our lives need not be steered by the need to redeem ourselves by what we can gain or how much we can be respected, but by looking out for and loving our neighbours, and grabbing a hold of that life that truly is life, a life that is full of love, joy, and a deep connection with God’s kingdom in the world.
The good news here is that God has given all of this to us already, it is all laid out for us in that the love that had been first given to us can be reflected back to God and onto others, motivating us in our humble service and righteous community, granting us the will to be God’s hands and feet in the world. All we really need to do is accept this love, show this love, and be this love, that our regard for ourselves and each other changes from isolated individuals surviving by their own means to partners and common members of the body of Christ, together journeying through this thing called life.
May we, in our continued service to God and each other, always know of the love that God so freely gives, that we might see all people as our siblings in Christ, focussed on the good news of God’s salvation. Thanks be to God. Amen.