As Miriam and I travelled through eastern Europe earlier this year we saw some amazing things – villages, castles and churches that have stood for centuries, mountains, forests, lakes, breathtaking scenery, and very interesting and friendly people.
We also visited a number of places that left us shaking our heads in dismay at how people could be so cruel to other people. One such place was Auschwitz Concentration Camp. I have told the story of Father Maximillian Kolbe, a priest, in sermons and studies on other occasions but to actually visit the place that represents so much cruelty and death was a moving experience. All the more so because in this grim and dark place there was a ray of light that gave the dying hope and courage. Kolbe had volunteered to be punished instead of another man. Even though his own death was inevitable, Father Kolbe ministered to the others. He was their shepherd leading them through the valley of the shadow of death. On occasion faint singing was heard coming from the underground cells. Kolbe was the last to die after a lethal injection.
Auschwitz is a cold, unfriendly, sinister kind of place where so many people died. It is also a place where the faith and love of one man had a profound affect on those inside and outside that cell.
Down through the pages of history we can find many examples of people giving up their lives, or property, or position for the sake of others.
Mother Teresa dedicated her life to serving the poor and the dying in the streets of Calcutta in India. She was an extraordinary woman whose love and dedication never seemed to tire. And there are many such people who humbly and sincerely care for the needs of others without any thought for how much it will cost.
Sudie Black went out of her way to befriend strangers and newcomers to her town. It was nothing for her to sit up all night at a hospital, or to help a sick mother, to cook and clean for the elderly, and still turn up every Sunday to teach her Sunday School class.
Here was a woman who spent a large part of her life caring for the needs of others. Like the shepherd who went after his lost sheep in a reckless and relentless way, likewise she gave a life of love and service to others recklessly and relentlessly because of her love for people and her love for Christ.
Why do people do things like this?
Why did that priest selflessly give up his life for someone he didn’t know and continued to care for the dying even though he himself was dying?
Why did Mother Teresa year after year endure the rigours of a life of caring for those whom no one else cared whether they lived or died?
Why did Sudie Black give up so much to care for others?
Such examples of love and service are repeated daily by people throughout the Church, by people in this church this morning. People dare to love and care for others even though it is of no advantage to them. And they do so quietly and humbly, not looking for any reward.
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But let’s face it! You and I know very well that our first concern is always to look after ourselves before anything else. We say,
‘My time is far too precious to give up any of it for other people’.
‘Others, even those on welfare, get good money. I can’t keep running after those who don’t know how to manage what they have been given’.
‘There is a limit to just how much of myself, my money and my time that I can give to others’.
No one will bat an eyelid if I spend huge amounts on clothes, a holiday, a new house or go for a trip around the world. No one will care if I spend it all on myself because that’s what everyone else is doing.
Notice that when we start thinking this way, the words “I” and “my” tell us that our focus of attention is only on ourselves. We end up not caring about others and their plight. We only think of ourselves.
To a greater or lesser extent we all think like that. No one who is afflicted with sin can escape this kind of thinking.
Today’s readings have focussed especially on our use of money. We heard the Gospel reading about the rich man and Lazarus. There is Lazarus, only skin and bone, lying at the gate in his rags, with dogs licking his running sores, and inside of his fine house is the rich man, well-dressed and well-fed. He doesn’t care one bit for Lazarus. He is selfish and unconcerned about others, especially beggars – ‘nobodies’ – like Lazarus.
The reading from 1 Timothy warns us how money and wealth can be all consuming. Paul reminds Timothy that it is easy to become discontented and to want more and more to the point that it makes us miserable and may even cause us to lose our faith. We know that people can be so focussed on money and possessions that lives and relationships become victims of this obsession. Even the course of history has been changed through selfishness and greed. It’s no wonder then that Paul tells Timothy and us to be very careful about the way we regard money. He says, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10).
The other night on TV there was a report about the super models who earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a day. With so much money at their disposal it’s not hard to see how lives can be destroyed through over indulgence. Paul says, “Those who are determined to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful lusts, such as drown men in ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9).
You might think that we are getting pretty negative about money.It’s actually not money that is the source of all kinds of evil in the lives of people, but it’s how people use money and how God is completely left out. It is the ‘love of money’, which is idolatry, putting money and possessions as the primary focus in our lives that Paul is speaking about. Money and all the things of this world are God’s gifts to us and he wants us to use them wisely and carefully. He doesn’t want money to rule over us and cause us to be selfish and uncaring like the rich man in Jesus’ story. He wants us to let our faith and the fact that we are members of God’s family rule the way we use the money and the possessions he gives, no matter whether we are given a lot or just enough to get by.
But don’t we all struggle with dedicating our lives to loving service?
Every person afflicted with sin suffers from selfishness.
Father Kolbe, Mother Teresa and others gave everything they had to serving others. Jesus gave everything, even his life, serving us. He died to give is forgiveness for our selfishness and acts of unkindness and for those occasions when we have deliberately looked the other way and pretended not see the needs of others.
He has died for those times when we have behaved like the priest and Levite in the Good Samaritan story and don’t want to get involved,
Don’t want to waste our time in our busy over-scheduled lives,
Don’t want to step out of our comfort zone,
Don’t want to reach out to those who are always looking for handouts because they don’t know how to use their money wisely.
Because of the cross, the Holy Spirit reassures us that in spite of our continual misuse of God’s gifts, we are his children and that we have a place in heaven forever.
When we are forgiven we are made clean; we are made new.
We are called to show in our daily lives that we are new people.
We have been saved to serve using the gifts that God has given us in the first place, our time, our energy and abilities, and our money. Our faith shows itself in service in every part of our life.
God is calling each one of us to use the opportunities he gives, the gifts of time, energy and money to reach out in service and love to others. He provides us with an adequate supply of each of these for our own use, and for meeting the needs of others.
A man, who had been laid off from work and had a family of forever hungry boys, gave the last few dollars that he had to someone whom he said ‘had a greater need than he did’. He didn’t know how he was going to find enough money for his wife to do the weekly shopping. When he arrived home from church the next day he found several cartons of food on the back veranda. No one else knew about his family’s situation. As far as he was concerned there was only one explanation. God had seen to it that his family didn’t suffer because of his generosity.
Now you might say that this man was reckless in giving away what he did.
His generosity blinded him to the need right there in his own family.
He should have been more responsible toward his own children.
We can argue that way very easily but for that man it was a matter of faith in God leading him to do something for someone else. He took seriously Jesus words, ‘Whatever you do for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they might seem, you do it for me’ (Matthew 25:40, author’s paraphrase).
It may come as a bit of a surprise but God is waiting for you and depending on you to do his work.
He is depending on you to be generous with your time and abilities and money for others.
He is depending on you to give of your time and resources to help the person in need.
He is depending on you to spend time with the sick and the lonely.
He is counting on you to use your money so that others may come to know Christ – here I’m thinking of things supporting a missionary, sponsoring a child in a third world country, giving to Australian Lutheran World Service.
He is counting on you to use your abilities in the ministry of our congregation in our local area. God is calling you to bring his love to others.
This kind of service is not something that we do grudgingly or giving the least to soothe our consciences.
We have a Saviour who has given everything for us, even dying on a cross for us.
We have a heavenly Father who daily provides us with everything we need so generously.
We have a God who has lovingly brought us into his family and daily forgives. Even if we didn’t have a cent, we are richest people of all.
God inspire within you the desire to be generous and caring.
God bless your loving service and giving.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2007, Vince Gerhardy. Used by permission.