The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.(Psalm 146:8,9) In the presence of the Lord, come! You are his people. He has prepared a table for you.
Preparation: Be thou my vision
Call to Worship
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith for ever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
Hymn: Praise my soul, the King of heaven
O Lord our God, on this day, with thanksgiving in our hearts, we bring our praises. Joyfully we gather because you are God who loves us abundantly. In your love we are able to find safety and a listening ear. In your presence we find peace and compassion. Receive this worship. Shape us as your children full of love for the world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Scripture Reading: Luke 16:19-31
‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” ’
Sermon: Will we listen to warnings?
Can leopards change their spots? This is a rhetorical question. We all know the answer. We use this statement to show how impossible it is for people to change their behaviours. We know that people who live with certain habits will never change no matter what. In the 1980s psychologists argued that in general if a person wanted to establish a new and unfamiliar routine, that she had to repeat the new behaviour at least three weeks straight in order to get into the habit of doing. For example, if an inactive person (one whom we used to describe as a couch potato) wants to get into a habit of walking 20 minutes a day, she needs to do it every day for the minimum of 21 days to make it a part of regular daily activity. It takes will power as well as actual effort. On the surface, this theory sounds easy, but in real life, with busy schedules, most people do not have the drive to make daily exercise their routine simply because they want to.
In moral and ethical spheres, changing behaviours are even more difficult. Imagine a gambler who became rich by gambling all the time. This person learned ways to read the reactions of others, knows how the smallest of expressions of opponents signal their weaknesses, and to go after the win ruthlessly showing no mercy. Having honed the skills and was well rewarded in life by winning great wealth, this individual is not going to be kind and gentle or play ignorant when the opportunities for gambling arise. Not only the winning, but the high one gets from thrills of gambling make it impossible for the person to walk away from gambling for nothing. We could explain evils of gambling, unhealthy and addictive nature of gambling, and harms gambling inflicts on everyone involved medically, psychologically, philosophically, morally, and theologically, but the winning and thrills of winning overrides any warnings that are put before this gambler. There is no use wasting our breath in our attempts to wean the person off gambling.
I remember hearing an exasperated and defeated mother describing her child’s drug addiction which eventually led to the overdosed death. She spoke of her helplessness. She did not know how to stop this oncoming train wreck as she took her beloved child to doctors, therapists, and to as many recovery programs as she could find. It was true that in moments of clarity her child knew how terrible it was to be addicted to drugs. This addicted child understood fully the negative impact of drugs in the family’s life. It was not that this child who was in her thirties did not try. But as often happens, with all the warnings, she ended up overdosed every time she was facing a challenge. Doctors warned her. Therapists warned her. She came home from yet another program with an armful of literature warning her of taking drugs. Nothing could keep her away from an opportunity to get a stronger drug into her body. One day, she went out. Never came back. The police came to the door. Her mother knew immediately what happened to her precious child.
We are left wondering ourselves with this last sentence from this morning’s passage: “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” In the context of this world, can the rich understand the desperation of the poor? Can the powerful sympathize with the powerless whom they abuse day after day? Can the brilliant ones know what it is like to live with less than average intellect? We want to say that this world is full of the benevolent rich who share their wealth freely with the poor, the wise powerful who willingly give their power to the powerless, and the smart ones patiently bring along the intellectually challenged. In reality, however, we know that this is not the case. Wealth, power, and smarts are used primarily to gain more wealth, greater power, and higher knowledge. In general the poor get poorer, the powerless remain so, and those lacking in knowledge can never catch up to those who are growing in knowledge each day.
About 10 years ago, an executive of an airline company humiliated a stewardess. This executive was able to sit in such a position because her father was the company’s CEO. The incident revolved around a small packaged peanuts that airlines offer their passengers during flight. In this case, the executive naturally sat in the first class. As they do in the first class, the guests in the first class get snacks and drinks before the departure. A stewardess in the first class began handing out packages of peanuts. The executive became incensed that she was given a package of peanuts instead of being served on a nice plate. She called up the stewardess and berated her in front of everyone. Not only that the executive insisted that the stewardess kneel before her while she unleashed her anger at the powerless stewardess for not treating her like a queen.
We may think that this is a one off situation. However, we have names for these people who treat others in less powerful positions and poverty. On YouTube, there are millions of clips of Karens and Kens. These are people with means and power berating those who have less power and money than they. The Karens and Kens are seen humiliating the workers at restaurants, airports, parks, and everywhere. They carry senses of entitlement. They refuse to treat others as their equals. They pour their anger upon anyone who is less in power, wealth, and knowledge. Sadly, there are many personalities who are Karens and Kens in every leadership position in our lives. Even in churches we find ministers and pastors who do the same while preaching the love of Christ.
Can these Karens and Kens pay attention to warnings? Are they willing to hear someone coming to them saying that they are to treat everyone with respect, compassion and love? How many times in our worship services have we discussed what Christian behaviours ought to be? Most of us heed to Jesus’ teaching on love. We know reading from 1 Corinthians 13 that love starts as patience, followed immediately by kindness. Also not being arrogant and rude are part of loving. There are many people who have heard this love passage over and over. After all this is one of the favourite passages being read at weddings. Yet, no matter how often they hear, Karens and Kens run amok in all situations. They lack compassion. They have no regard for the situations or dignity of others. They see everything from the perspectives of their wants and needs being satisfied.
It is not that Karens and Kens are bad people and cannot change. Indeed, if we meet them in normal circumstances, they are very much us. It is that they are incapable of seeing those whom they see as less in wealth, power and stature as people requiring compassion, dignity, and care when their wants are not responded to immediately. Like today’s Karens and Kens, those Karens and Kens of Jesus’ time were incapable of hearing the messages of love among people and warnings on why they ought not to treat the poor, weak, and meek among them. Their wealth and power blind them from seeing the poor and weak as their equals. It was hard for them to realize that they were insensitive and ignorant to the needs and concerns of their poor and weak neighbours. No wonder this rich man in pain and suffering after his death wants to warn his brothers now that he is in the position without wealth and power suffering. He does not want his loved ones to suffer after life.
Of course as Easter people who live life after Jesus’ resurrection, we can immediately see there are two meanings to this. The first is people who do not bother to listen to all the warnings given by God’s warnings messengers. The second is people who do not pay attention to God’s warnings and do not care to listen to the resurrected Jesus.
None of us like to be warned about the things we do naturally everyday. In situations where we think we have done everything to be good as Christians, it is hard to hear that our behaviours have hurt others. We have difficulty facing our own shortcomings when we have done our best to love. We are perplexed when our hypocrisy is revealed. We are distraught when others do not approve of our Karen and Ken like behaviours. Our unwillingness to change our ways of doing things because we need to accommodate strangers or neighbours is not new. No matter how we are warned, we continue on our merry own ways that served us well and made us very comfortable. It is hard to believe, but it is true.
Our usual reactions to those who warn us of our hurtful behaviour is to ignore and continue on with our lives. We wonder what all the fuss is about. In our minds, if there are people like Lazarus that is because they are poor for the right reasons. Their poverty and suffering are seen as something they deserve for their unwillingness to work, inability to fit in with our society, and refusal to be part of our world as they should. We may be charitable in our view towards them. But in most part, we live our lives and let them live theirs. It is only when our circumstances change and are put in similarly desperate circumstances, we see how unjust, unwilling, unkind, and impossible our social and political structures are and how indifferent people are towards people who are poor and powerless.
They have Moses and prophets who warn them. We, too, have Moses and prophets who warn us. If they or we do not believe these servants of God, they or we will not believe one who is sent from death into life with warnings. This is what Jesus says at the end of paragraph. The world will continue on regardless in its own way. In the same way, no matter what warnings and cautions are given, people will continue to do what they have always done. This is really a sad indictment that is given at the end of today’s passage. In a way, Gospel Luke is also speaking of the reality that the message of resurrected Jesus has no impact on how God’s people behave. The warnings and cautions are pushed aside.
As we read this passage, a way to respond is to take the warnings seriously. We, like the people of Jesus’ time, are warned. God’s people is to embody God’s love for the poor, the weak, the powerless, and the meek. As the people of risen Christ, there is no need for us to warn ourselves if we are living in eternal life where all are loved as God loves us. We continue to have our ears open to hear all these warnings, prophecies, admonitions, and encouragement to share this infinite love that God has given us in Christ Jesus. In this way, we demonstrate to the world not only that the poor and the powerless are welcome among us, but that we embody God’s love to all.
With grieving hearts, we come. Hear our prayer.
Our hearts are sad. This world we live in is filled with anger, sadness, and frustration. People are easily provoked to anger. Willingness to share love is not part of daily routine. Hope of the poor and the weak are continually quashed by the powerful and the rich. More and more people are becoming desperate in a world filled with riches. Wars and news of wars reach our ears. More we work, the less we seem able to change anything to make life better for all. Our hearts ache constantly for those who are poor and are unable. Hear their prayers, O God. Hear our prayers that are given to you on their behalf.
Our minds are filled with hope. O Lord. We are full of hope in spite of the way this world is titling towards human annihilation. Our hope is based on nothing less than our faith in you as our God who created heaven and earth and all therein. Our hope is in your Son’s love for humanity. Our hope lives in your risen Son who continually shapes us as people of love in all circumstances. Give us courage to share this love that leads to the flourishing of all life. Form us as people who embody this living hope in all that we do by living in faith where love is shared abundantly on your behalf.
Our spirits are overflowing with faith, O Holy Spirit. You continue to guide us in this trouble filled world to discern and recover your ways of peace. In this violent and destructive world you lead us to spiritual waters where we can refresh our souls and bring these life-giving waters to everyone who seeks you. Though we are not as strong as we used to be, though we are slower today than yesterday, though we lack resources as we decline in number, use us as part of your mighty servants who are made mighty because you are the mighty God when it comes to bring life in places of death. Use us as your servants.
O Lord our Lord, ee know that you hear our prayers. We are blessed that you are with us especially through the most difficult times in our lives. We live because your Son lives in us. We are your body because you made us so. Yet, we suffer physical and mental decline. We face difficulties with physical and mental frailties due to old age or due to being human. We often despair at our weakness. We become frustrated with lack of care for humanity in our world as we suffer. We forget the joy of being in you. Yet, because you called us into being, in times of our needs, we rejoice in your presence. May you be glorified! May you continue to recreate us so that in our rejoicing, you may be glad and we may find joy of being with you.
All these and more we pray in your Son’s name. Amen.
Please remember that we are continuing with our Cinnamon Bun Tuesday. It starts at 10 am. Please come and join us.
Next Sunday is our communion Sunday. We will be holding our service of worship in the hall in order to sit around the table. Please prepare your hearts and come. Share the joy of being in our Lord’s presence. Be fed by his loving hand.
We are starting all our activities as of October. We are in need of your participation in Sunday worship ministry. We are asking if you can greet, serve refreshments, and read Scriptures. Please let us know your availability.
Please keep in mind the need for Christ’s ministry here. In order to carry out Christ’s ministry, we require your financial support. Starting on Thanksgiving Sunday, we will have Love Your Church envelopes ready. Please consider prayerfully this request as we carry out Christ’s ministry by loving our neighbours.
Though we offer little, O God, we know that in you our small offerings are used in mighty ways of loving the world. May you open our hearts to share the gifts we have received from you. Help us to freely share the love we receive in ways to glorify you and bring your good news to neighbours near and far. Fill our hearts with your love so that in and through offering your grace is shared with all your people. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
Hymn We are one in the Spirit
Send us into the world to bring your grace. Fill us with courage to share your love. Make us your people who love one another always. Now and always may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us as we bring your life into this death filled world! Amen.