Mirroring the love and generosity that God shows to us
Mary Copping, 25 September 2022
1 Timothy 6: 6–19; Luke 16: 19–31
In our gospel reading we have the account of the poor man, who had been begging at the rich man’s gate, going to heaven when he died; and the rich man Lazarus, who had ignored him, going to Hades or hell, where he was tormented and there was no escape for him. Wanting to try and get some light on the problem of heaven and hell, I looked up a few sermons on this passage and these are the titles of some of them, which I found quite amusing:
- Who’s the Loser Now?
- The Eternal Time Out
- Don’t Worry, be Happy
- It’s not my Problem
- The Dead Speak: and some of them are not happy!
Most of the sermons I found were about hell and who would go there and who would go to heaven.
Before I became a Christian I heard sometimes from enthusiastic preachers on street corners or people who spoke to me about their faith, saying that if I didn’t believe in Jesus Christ and give my life to him, then God would send me to hell.
That was a frightening prospect and certainly didn’t endear me to God. In fact, it put me off the Christian faith altogether. It was only when someone told me, in the middle of an interview for her to become a childminder, ‘Jesus loves you, you know’, that I began my journey of faith as a Christian – to discover that God is a God of love, that Jesus his Son loves me and died for me. What a huge turnaround that was for me.
Of course, those who have had difficult relationships with their fathers or who have had no father’s influence may find it difficult to believe that God the Father is a God of love. Perhaps it’s easier for them to think of the love of Mother God.
As I said, the gospel is a story about the rich man enjoying life while he was alive, not worrying about anyone else, even the beggar at the door. And because of his behaviour and how he was to those in need, he was sent to hell. The poor man went straight to heaven.
The rich man begged that someone would warn those still alive about the prospect of hell and heaven and how they should live, but his request was refused. To me this is about thinking how we live our lives now, as Christians; how we pass on the love of Christ and how we tell people about our faith. This is not because we fear that we might go to hell – for me that is not what God is about – but because we want to serve the God we love and who loves us.
How do we answer the question, ‘So what did you do at the weekend?’ Do we dare to say that we went to church, as it might lead into a discussion about why and then, even worse, the question, ‘What does being a Christian mean to you?’ I wonder – if someone did ask us why we go to church, why we are a Christian, would we have an answer for them?
When I wear my clerical collar I have all sorts of responses and questions. Sometimes people put their heads down quickly and ignore me, sometimes they’re full of profuse apologies about why they haven’t been to church lately and promise to go in the future, but sometimes we have good discussions about their faith and what being a Christian is about and what a difference it can make to one’s life.
Talking to people about our faith enlivens us as well as bringing light to others. As we build relationships we can share the love of God and share our faith. Once on an evangelism course I did we were told that the most effective form of evangelism is friendship evangelism, when someone you know well hears your story and wants to know more and may even come to church with you. The evangelist J John used to describe this as one beggar sharing their bread with another.
We as a parish show God’s love to many through the Coffee Pot mornings, through the ‘Have a Meal on Us’. It’s been so good to see the welcome given to those who come for a free meal, the love of God shown to the people who come, plus people in our church community working together to provide that wonderful warm welcome and generosity, mirroring the love and generosity that God shows to us. What a witness, that this church is giving free meals in these difficult times! A wonderful initiative. As also through the toddler group – people in our church community and beyond giving of their time to welcome families most of whom would not normally go near a church.
We are people who show God’s love, which is more and more vital in our troubled world. We show this through our daily interactions with people, in how we treat them, how we care for them and then, if asked, how we let them know what it is to be a Christian and the hope that it gives.
As Saint Francis is quoted as saying, ‘Preach the gospel at all times and use words only when necessary’.
We can think that Jesus always condemned those who were rich and loved those who were poor – but it was about how people used their riches, whether for good or evil.
In his letter to Timothy, Paul urges him to live in righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness – things we also are to pursue as Christians (as in the old saying, ‘If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be any evidence against you?) It is interesting that in his letter Paul does not damn the rich for having too much money. However, he urges them not to set their hopes on their riches but to set their hope on God. Sometimes we can think from the gospels that Jesus always condemned those who were rich and loved those who were poor – but it was about how people used their riches, whether for good or evil. And for us too, we must continue to use all we have in the way God wants us to use it, be it time, money or gifts. In this church, there is much evidence of people using all these gifts for God’s purposes and for the blessing of many.
And hell? Well, for what it’s worth, I think that hell is an absence of God, a turning away from God. For us, here in this church and online, we come to be in the presence of God, not to turn away from him but to come close to him, give thanks to him and be blessed and strengthened by him. And we know that always, as we go out, we are in his presence, no matter where we are or what we do. Thanks be to God.