Amos 6, 1 and 4-7
- Woe to the complacent in Zion! Throughout
the reading I hear the prophet’s denunciation of their lifestyle. Right now, I need to help the congregation
situate itself. “Woe” can sound like a train whistle in the night. And who
are being denounced? “The complacent,” those who enjoy their reward here and now.
Where? “In Zion.” If I make a good start, the rest will fall into
place. And my listeners will guess which Gospel message is coming later.
- Lying upon
beds of ivory, stretched comfortably. It is partly what I hear and what I do not hear.
I hear all about luxury and private splendor, and I miss the simple reclining on the floor and the meals shared with
- Improvising to the music of the harp, like David. Sweet-sounding,
comforting, diverting music that turns them away from the world outside. I can imitate this.
- They drink
wine from bowls, perhaps to collapse in drunken stupor rather than share a simple blessing from a cup.
“Bowls” makes this a social criticism, and I will have to be careful when I pronounce it.
- Above all, I hear
nothing of concern for others, as in the Lord’s Supper that we are sharing. They are not
made ill by the collapse of Joseph!
- Climax: The Lord is the one who judges.
They shall be the first to go into exile.
- Message for our assembly: Our state and our nation
are once again places in which everyone must fight for themselves and the devil take the hindmost. And
that is the way the Gospel paints our world. Shall the church follow suit?
- I will challenge myself:
To use all my powers to convey the prophet’s stern judgment in the opening verse.
I Timothy 6, 11-16
- The apostle exhorts his disciple to a life of virtue. Let
me listen carefully.
pursue righteousness, faith, love, patience and gentleness. Rather than running through the list
unknowingly, let me find ways that my listeners will remember it. In my case, “righteousness”
will sound straight and erect, “love” warm and “gentleness” low and soft.
- Compete well for the faith.
Lay hold of eternal life. As a wrestler grabs an opponent and holds on firmly, I encourage
my listeners to condition themselves for the struggle.
- You made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses.
We may have forgotten that we professed our faith when we received the sacraments, but many heard us then
and will depend on us to come through now.
- Christ Jesus gave testimony under Pontius Pilate for the noble confession.
So we imitate Christ in this.
- The blessed and only ruler. All the remaining titles
refer to God, and they are quoted from an ancient hymn. I will rehearse the rhythm of the verses.
reading ends with Amen. My listeners may also say “Amen,” though it is not
my job to encourage them to do this.
- Climax: Until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is the moment when
the truth we are living will be shown for the truth it is.
- The message for our assembly: What would it take for us to make this kind of confession
today? Are there really so few who commit themselves to it?
- I will challenge myself: To speak as an elder to a disciple,
and with credibility.
Gospel. Luke 16, 19-31
- There was a
rich man. Once again I hear a story that has endeared Luke to Christians for
two thousand years. I will use the voice of a society reporter as I describe the purple garments
and sumptuous dining.
- Then Jesus, like a keen film director, has the camera move toward the front of
the mansion, where lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus. The contrast is meant
to be jarring. Is the poor man spoiling our view of the mansion? Or am I offended by
such blindness to the needy around us? All social critics today owe their inspiration to these reversal-of-fortune
stories from Jesus.
the poor man died – he was carried away by angels. Another set of values takes over after
death, and I need to remind the people of this.
- From the netherworld, where the rich man was
in torment. My voice gets heavier as I trace his fate. He raised his
eyes and saw Abraham far off. The distance between them has increased, greater than there was
between the mansion and its front gate. I can give a sense of that distance by the way I call out the words
of the rich man to Abraham.
- I am suffering torment in these flames. Should
the rich man be surprised by his reversal? We often believe he is distressed because of the favors he asks.
I think he was willing to gamble on some outcome like this, as are so many persons who say that heaven would be too
boring for them. But I can tell that he was not prepared for the discomfort he now feels, and that is the
way I will read his words.
- My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime.
And how should Father Abraham sound? He should not ridicule or rebuke, but merely remind the rich
man of something he already fears is true. John Gielgud in his prime would have known. I
will emphasize “remember” and “lifetime.”
- Climax: If
someone should rise from the dead. The final words of the reading are ironic, and the first listeners
would understand them. Luke always stressed the continuity between Moses and the prophets
and their fulfillment in Jesus.
- Message for our assembly: Let us hope we are disturbed by this Gospel, and do not quickly forget the message.
- I will challenge myself:
To be sensitive to the reversal that occurs at death.
From Word to Eucharist: Let us come forward as equals before God.
Let there be no pride in our privileges or rank.