September 25, 2016 Sermon
Cannot Serve Two Masters
Have you ever been with children or teenagers who were staring at their phones, playing online games and so on? You call their names or say something to them and they don’t react, so you have to call their names again in a louder voice and they finally look up and say, “huh?” But I don’t think it’s only children and young people’s problem; when we are intensely focused on something, our brain perceives other things as distractions and blocks them out. You hear about how women are better than men at multitasking, but according to my experience multitasking, I’m not sure how focused I am when I do it. Book lovers have experience getting lost in reading and not realizing what time it is. There are all sorts of memes on the internet about book lovers making fun of themselves. Here are some; “My first thought after I finish an amazing book: “Well, this sucks. What am I supposed to do with myself now?””, “Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?”, or “No, I’m not addicted to reading. I can quit anytime I want… after I finish the next chapter”. Here’s a thing about being captivated by and obsessed with something; that “something” becomes the most important thing to us, and everything else is perceived as a distraction. That obsession becomes our master, and we cannot serve two masters at the same time.
In today’s parable, there is a rich man living a luxurious lifestyle and a beggar who lives outside his gate. Here’s a shocking thing; Jesus didn’t usually give his parable characters names, except for this beggar! You would think if Jesus named one of his characters, it would be someone more important than a beggar, wouldn’t it? I hope not but if you did think so, it’s because you are thinking with the standard of the world. Remember that in God’s kingdom (God’s reign), the values of our world are reversed; the first will be last, etc. So it is actually natural that this beggar who led a miserable life on earth would become an important person in God’s reign. He’s the one who gets a name; he’s the one who ends up in Father Abraham’s bosom.
Another shocking thing about this parable; what did this rich man ever do to deserve an eternal punishment? Did he mistreat anyone, including the beggar Lazarus? We don’t see any evidence that he did. He didn’t kill, he didn’t steal, and he didn’t abuse anyone. He ended up in Hades because he failed to help Lazarus who lived outside his high and mighty gate. In the gospel, Jesus teaches two different types of sins; in the teachings of the Holy Universal Church, they are called “sin of commission” and “sin of omission”. Sin of commission is about committing bad deeds that we’re taught not to do, such as hurting someone; sin of omission is about NOT doing good deeds that we are taught to do, such as helping the needy and fighting injustice. Learning from this parable, both sins are equally bad. Those of you who are fans of the TV show Seinfeld, do you remember the very last episode? The state of Massachusetts passed a so-called “The Good Samaritan Law”, and Jerry and his friends were arrested for being “not-so-innocent” bystanders to a crime. There is no such thing as innocent bystanders; you see injustice, it is your responsibility to do something about it. That idea is very Christian. That’s why the rich man in the parable was punished.
Now let’s take a look at this rich man’s reactions in the afterlife. Even after being sent to hell, the rich man wants Lazarus to be sent like a servant to quench his thirst. Oh the arrogance of him! Then since he didn’t get want he wanted, he asked Father Abraham to at least send someone to his family so they will know what not to do to end up in hell. Abraham’s reaction; “What are you talking about? They had the teachings of Moses and the prophets; what else do they need? If they don’t get it after all that, they’re not going to get it even if someone goes to them from the dead”.
This is a parable addressed to the Pharisees who are described in verse 14 as “lovers of money”. Right before Jesus tells this parable, he was discussing the authority of the Law and the Prophets; this is the connection between Pharisees who love money and this parable. Jesus is saying that their love of money prevents them from truly listening to the teachings of the Law and the prophets. One cannot claim to truly know the Law if they cannot live by the Law. The Israelites don’t need more miracles to have faith; they already have all the teachings they need. But here’s the thing; if they are preoccupied by secular things like money and power, they cannot truly listen to God’s voice in all the scriptural teachings that they think they know. The main obstacle to faith is not lack of proof through miracles and signs; it is the preoccupation and obsession with worldly things that tempt and distract us. We don’t have the ability to concentrate on two things at the same time. We cannot serve two masters.
If fanatic book lovers want to prevent their houses from turning into a pigsty, they need to put down their book and start paying attention to their surroundings. If a child obsessed with smart phones and online games want to become more functional and healthier, they will have to put down their electronic devices and tend to other things, such as studying and socializing. Those who are obsessed with making money cannot look around attentively enough to care about the poor and the needy. Pharisees who were obsessed with money and power lost their ability to listen to God in the teachings of the scripture. We cannot serve two masters.
Remember the first Sunday of Creation Time, I told you about the changes I started to make in my life to live a more sustainable lifestyle? I didn’t tell you all that to brag that I’m a good person. I did it rather to keep reminding myself that I should live a sustainable lifestyle; as much as I have little bit of a hippie in me, having been a city person all my life, I have a little bit of yuppie in me too. I enjoy fine dining, beautiful packaging, and entertainments and pleasure that only the city can offer. When my yuppie side comes out, I pay less attention to the health of the ecosystem and living a sustainable lifestyle; that’s why I should constantly remind myself that I should be more hippie than yuppie. Likewise, we all need constant reminding in our life that we need to take care of God’s Creation, or else, our greed and other preoccupations will get in the way and distract us. Leading a sustainable lifestyle and healing God’s Creation needs constant reminding. Let us also remind ourselves that not doing what is right is as bad a sin as committing wrongdoings. So let us keep reminding ourselves to get up, get out, and do what is right. Let us become people of action.
Rev. Sunny Kim