Track 1: Hold on to Hope
Jeremiah lived in desperate times. The army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem and Jeremiah was the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace by Zedekiah, king of Judah. From today’s reading in Jeremiah:
Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord. (Jeremiah 32:6-8)
This was not a time when one would expect a strong real-estate market. War was ready about ready to break out. But Jeremiah knew that God had spoken so he proceeded with the transaction:
In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land. (Jeremiah 32:13-15)
In troubling times in whom do we trust? The psalmist wrote:
You shall not be afraid of any terror by night,
nor of the arrow that flies by day;
Of the plague that stalks in the darkness,
nor of the sickness that lays waste at mid-day.
Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my Name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;
I am with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and bring him to honor.
With long life will I satisfy him,
and show him my salvation. (Psalm 91:5-6, 14-16)
Are we bound to God in love, no matter the circumstances? This was certainly the case for the Apostle Paul. He wrote Timothy to encourage him:
For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. (2 Timothy 1:11-12)
Paul was undergoing persecution. This happens to every strong Christian. He is telling his young protege to not lose hope under any circumstances. Why? Because God has a plan for each of us that transcends anything else that we might be faced with on this earth.
Paul wrote the church in Rome:
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)
This life can be very difficult, especially for Christians. We must not give up regardless of the circumstances. We must go on with our lives because God is with when we put our trust in him. He is with us when we are bound to him in love. And he has a plan to see us through all of what we may be facing. Our task is to hold on to a holy hope. God has given us the power of his Holy Spirit. Paul tells us that this hope will not disappoint us. Amen.
Track 2: The Rich Man and Lazarus
Jesus told parables that were intriguing stories. Of course, they were much more than stories. They illustrated deep truths that cannot and should not be ignored. One of the questions that many people have, including some Christians, is whether or not there is an actual flaming hell. Today’s parable in the Gospel of Luke leaves no doubt:
Jesus said, “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.
How did the rich man end up here? That is the vital question. What went wrong? In the parable Abraham implies that the poor person was overlooked:
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.
The rich man was comfortable in life and well supplied with whatever he needed. The poor man was right at his gate, but the rich man obviously ignored him and his needs.
During the time of the Prophet Amos, God spoke out against those who were at ease and uncaring of others:
Alas for those who are at ease in Zion,
and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria.
Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory,
and lounge on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock,
and calves from the stall;
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp,
and like David improvise on instruments of music;
who drink wine from bowls,
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile,
and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away. (Amos 6:1a,4-7)
Unfortunately, some contemporary American churches have stressed that financial blessings are available to those with enough faith. According to the Apostle Paul this emphasis is all wrong:
If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19)
Paul understood first hand that being a strong Christian often meant persecution. He also believed that money can be a trap for many Christians:
There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (1 Timothy 6:6-10)
Paul wrote that the love of money is evil. Money, itself, is not necessarily evil. It all depends on how it is used. Paul writes:
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
Rich or rich in good works? Jesus laid down his life for us. Are we willing to lay down our lives for others?