September 29, 2013 by Ken Dale
So how are we doing with that image of the clay in the hands of the potter?? I would guess today?s readings, especially the gospel story, could be as disturbing as when our visiting potter Alex destroyed that beautiful pot she created in the middle of the worship service at Pemaquid earlier this month.? The story shared by Jesus is thought by many scholars to be borrowed from an Egyptian tale.? It?s been described as two worlds within two worlds.? Two physical worlds ? the earthly life and the life beyond this one ? connected by the experience of death.? Woven within each of these are two worlds ? the world of the haves and the world of the have-nots.?? It?s not a difficult parable to understand and the meaning is clear:? riches cannot save you.? There is no interaction between the two men.? And the story ends with a deafening silence.? It is a story so difficult to hear.
The image of an hourglass captures it.? The two lives are far apart.? All the sand of time is drawn through the narrow place of death and redistributed on the other side.? But on the other side the roles are completely reversed.? The one who was afflicted is comforted and the one who lived comfortably is now in agony.? ?One is Lazarus nestled in the bosom of Abraham ? experiencing safety and warmth he never knew in his prior life.? The rich man is tormented in a low place, none the wiser for his death experience and still being king and ordering Abraham.? Disturbing isn?t it?? And note how compassionate Abraham is to that rich man whom he calls his child.? There is a huge chasm between them and Abraham is not pleased with that reality ? but that?s the way it is.? And the rich man shows his first compassion ? realizing that he is lost he pleads for his family, but the response is that people have been given what they need to live ? it?s just a matter of listening and responding accordingly.
I think this story points us in the direction of living our lives in the present ? raising the question ?how are you doing??? It is an invitation to take a look and perhaps take inventory.? The reading from I Timothy contains that familiar phrase the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.? Earlier translations word it ?the love of money is the root of all evil.??? It is often quoted ?money is the root of all evil.?? But the subject in that verse is ?the love? ? not the money.? It is holding money in a higher place. ?Making it more important than anything else.
Knowing what a diverse group of people we are, it would be interesting to sit and chat, if we would, about how we see our money?? Laurie and I were chatting in the office midweek and I told her I remembered a sermon I heard from my youth with the preacher talking about how our money in many ways represents ourselves.? The example shared was that for many if not all of us in some way, we work and we get our money from working.? So the money represents our time and energy and our skills, and when we give it we are, in a way, giving of ourselves.? The giving and even withholding of our money can enable or prevent something happening.? We may remember that saying of Jesus that where our money is, that is where our heart is as well.? So what we do with our money and how we do what we do with our money ? say the spirit in which we use it – says a lot about us.? What the rich man in the story from our gospel lesson this morning does and does not do with his money carries an obvious point.? But I?m very aware that I may be treading on thin ice here ? I went to a stewardship workshop many years ago and was told that people would go into the details of their sex life with a pastor before they talked about their finances.
So with the story in mind ? coupled with that phrase from I Timothy about what the love of money can be — (this is not an easy sermon!!!) — I think it all prompts us to look at ourselves as those clay pots that are in process by God the Potter.? What about the life we live ? and can we be shaped in some way by these texts?
I read of a nurse who specialized in the care of the terminally ill who recorded the most common regrets of the dying.? The top 5 regrets include:? 5.? I wish that I had let myself be happier.? 4.? I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.? 3.? I wish I?d had the courage to express my feelings.? 2.? I wish I hadn?t worked so hard.? (expressed by every male patient) and the number one big regret ? I wish I?d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.? Perhaps those give us each and all something to ponder.
Back in 2007 there was a wonderful film with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson whose title brought a phrase that is quite commonly used now.? ?The Bucket List? ? it refers to a list of things people yearn to do or see or accomplish before they die.? It may be things like climbing a particular mountain, sky diving, shake the hand of the president, cook the perfect souffl? or arrive at a particular destination. ?That might be a fun conversation during coffee this morning ? talk with one another about that bucket list?? Those lists are as varied as the people who make them.? It seems the goal of the list is to accumulate memorable experiences ? like something you could put into a bucket.? And I don?t know ? maybe it?s with the hope that you can take memory with you when you go.
When the rich man in the story had passed through from the upper end of the hour glass into the bottom I wonder if he had a bucket list.? Seeing how everything had changed ? even to the point that everything was reversed from his prior life ? I would imagine he wished he could change things about how he lived before his death.? We do know that he had compassion after death which we have no record of before.? What he could not hope for himself after death he wished he could get word to his family.? But Abraham said that they already knew what they needed to know ? it was just a matter of listening and then following through on what they learned.? Is there a message for us in the list of the 5 most common regrets that nurse recorded?? Might we learn from that list?? Are the changes we may be challenged to, just things to do ? or maybe ways to be?
Another intriguing thought I came across in this regard is the bucket.? The question raised was ?What does a Christian bucket list look like??? ?Would the bucket be turned upright to accumulate or would it be turned upside down to pour out?? That?s a whole ?nuther sermon!? Just wanted to toss it in there.
Back to the parable ? one commentator listed the regrets of the rich man in the parable as: I wish that I had cared for the people around me.? I wish that I had listened to Moses, the prophets, ( – and we would add Jesus).? I wish I?d had the courage to live a life true to myself, in which my actions were in line with my beliefs.? Maybe.
The truth of the matter is that none of us is perfect and we will come to the end of our lives feeling that we have made mistakes along the way ? made choices we feel bad about ? opportunities we wished we had seized.? We will, undoubtedly also have much to celebrate about what we did with God?s gift of life!? What would it mean to die with no big regrets?? It could very well be that some of us are in that space.? And it is important to know that choices do not have to be big to be life-changing.? Today we are given opportunity to take a look at our lives ? perhaps as individuals, as families, as church family.? What does the bucket look like ? and what does the list that goes with it say of us????????????????????????????????????? Amen.