19th Sunday after Pentecost, year C, preached 9/25/16
first reading: Amos 6:1a, 4-7
second reading: 1 Timothy 6:6-19
gospel reading: Luke 16:19-31
*I was guest preaching at a congregation with three Sunday services, the middle service omitting the second reading and psalm – so while I could’ve commented on those readings as well, I did not.
As a Lutheran seminary student, at least when I was there 20+ years ago, we didn’t have to learn a lot of Latin. But there were a few Latin phrases that we absolutely had to learn. One of them was “Incurvatus in se.” And I think it applies very well in ALL our scriptures today, because they are DARK.
They offer us warning of judgment, which on the surface revolve around one thing – the dangers of wealth.
Money is an idol for most of us, me included, and we need to be regularly shaken awake from the delusion that money brings real happiness or eternal security. But even more than that, our readings are also about another one of our sins, the sin of not seeing our neighbors – of Israel not caring about the “ruin of Joseph” and the rich man not caring for Lazarus, MISERABLE at his doorstep.
THIS is “incurvatus in se” – which means being turned in, CURVED IN on ourselves.
- When we believe the world revolves around us, around our desires; when our opinions are the most important and our “feeling good” is the greatest pursuit, we are “incurvatus in se.”
- When we don’t even think about the color of our skin, but get offended when others try to tell us that they suffer because of the color of theirs, we are “incurvatus in se.”
- As we mourn over yet another mass shooting on Friday – when we think (for any reason) we have the right to blow away the life of another, we are “incurvatus in se.”
- When we have a roof over our heads and food on our tables, but do not see or care about the hunger and health of our neighbors next door or in New York City or Syria, we are “incarvatus in se.”
And the more resources WE have, the easier it is to be curved in on ourselves. When we close the doors to our nice houses, have tinted windows in our cars to protect us from what’s outside – when we surround ourselves only with people in the same social, economic and political world as we, we are indeed headed down a slippery slope.
Amos and Jesus warn us that this is self-destructive on many different levels.
When we are curved in on ourselves, we fail, like the rich man, to see the desperate needs of our neighbors. When we “lie on beds of ivory” and “anoint [ourselves] with the finest oils” it becomes easy to forget that the gas station attendant, the cashier, the pizza delivery guy, and the hotel maid are people too.
It becomes easy to forget that the homeless person sleeping in the cold is a person too, and loved and valued by God just as much as we are. It becomes easy to forget that ultimately we are all connected to one another – with every other person through our common humanity, and intimately with other Christians through our baptism into Christ.
When Cain asked God way back in Genesis, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” God’s answer was, “Yes.”
Over and over throughout scripture, and most especially in the teaching of Jesus we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves. Because in loving our neighbor we DO love ourselves, in the healthiest of ways.
And when we are turned in on ourselves, not only do we fail to see our neighbor, we fail to see GOD.
And because most of us have a desire for a relationship with a higher power, we will find something to fill that void. When we’re curved in on ourselves, chances are we will fill that void WITH ourselves.
WE become our god, or money does, or work, or sports, or whatever we use to fill the hole in our hearts, minds or souls, so that even when confronted face to face with the real thing, we won’t see.
Abraham said as much to the rich man in our gospel today. “If they (the rich man’s brothers) do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” The One who rose from the dead, warns us that if we do not turn OUTWARD to see, we will miss HIM.
The good news here, is that in the middle of the dire warning, we have grace.
It is a grace that proclaims to us we are loved – not for how well we do in the world, not for how much money we make or how much power we have or how healthy we are. Worldly signs of success are NOT signs of God’s love. Wealth cannot buy heaven, and poverty does not deserve hell. Health does not earn paradise, and sickness is not a sign of sin.
The parable was meant to shake people awake, who believed then and believe now that those outward characteristics were signs of divine favor.
Truth be told, “incurvatus in se” isn’t something we can completely shake. It’s part of human nature to think “me first.” But it is our call, once we know it, when we see ourselves getting caught in it, to break it – or rather to have God break it for us; which is why we begin worship with confession – by admitting that we ARE curved in – and asking God to free us.
And God DOES indeed free us. Through Jesus, the One who indeed rose from the dead, we are freed from our curved in selves – freed to be curved OUT –
out to love God who first loved us, and out to love our neighbors near and far, as we love ourselves.