A young man saw an elderly couple sitting down to lunch at McDonald’s. He noticed that they had ordered one meal, and an extra drink cup. As he watched, the gentleman carefully divided the hamburger in half, then counted out the fries, one for him, one for her, until each had half of them. Then he poured half of the soft drink into the extra cup and set that in front of his wife. The old man then began to eat, and his wife sat watching, with her hands folded in her lap.
The young man decided to ask if they would allow him to purchase another meal for them so that they didn’t have to split theirs. The old gentleman said, “Oh no. We’ve been married fifty years, and everything has always been and will always be shared, fifty-fifty.” The young man then asked the wife if she was going to eat, and she replied, “It’s his turn with the teeth.”
I know that’s a crazy joke.
I’m not sure there is any idea in scripture that is more often spoken about, alluded to, serves as backdrop or is the point of the passage than that we have what it takes.
Our Christian faith is very clear about this aspect. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13
“…In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” Romans 8:37
“…Everything is possible for him who believes.” Mark 9:23
He replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20
It doesn’t take a lot to do what the Lord wants you to do.
Do you remember as a kid wanting to buy something at the local store but not having enough money to do it? I can remember one of my brothers and I would start to look in the couch to find a coin or two. We’d search in the closet on the floor, and we’d check every old pocketbook of my mom’s in the hall closet we could find. We might even look in my dad’s special change cup in the study for change he wasn’t using at the moment.
We’d scrounge up enough to ride our bikes over to the grocery store and buy bubble gum or something like that. We’d put together just enough to have what it took to get what we wanted.
When you’re ever doubting this, feeling run down and run over, you’ve got to take some time to scrounge around, to dig deep, to collect yourself again, and find you’ve got what it takes. God hasn’t left you impoverished. God has given you what it takes.
Perhaps I know better than some others that we each, all of us, have what it takes. I can see in my five children their different abilities and aptitudes. I can see where each one has something and is someone of real value—even if they can’t see it themselves. Each of them has what it takes to do what God asks of them. Each of them has enough to make good on their dreams and hopes. The only thing that will stop them is if they lose sight of this for themselves.
Our scripture reading tells us there was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. His “purple and fine linen” clothes are the most expensive fabrics, top-of-the-line clothing of his day.
For food, it says he “feasted.” But, not just feasted. He “feasted sumptuously.” And if that weren’t enough, Jesus says, he “feasted sumptuously every day.” He had way more than enough—the finest cuts of beef, the most expensive skins of wine, and not just for a super-special occasion once every few years. This was his ordinary, everyday fare. He had it oozing out of his pores.
Now, outside, at his secured and ornate gate was his opposite in this regard. The poor man is lacking basic necessities. He doesn’t have food. He doesn’t have much clothing. He doesn’t have decent shelter. He doesn’t have anybody to help him out, either. Lazarus was in pitiful shape, covered with sores, wanting nothing more than bread crusts from the rich man’s table. So pitiful was Lazarus that even dogs had mercy on him and licked his sores. But not the fellow behind the gate. No pity, and no nothing for Lazarus.
He’s in as much need as Dives, the rich man’s name as he has been traditionally called, is in abundance. But the rich man didn’t think he had enough. He believed he had so little he couldn’t even share a crust of bread to a man without a morsel. He refused to see his wealth as the means for doing something God wanted done.
Dives didn’t have his eyes closed just to Lazarus’ poverty. He had his eyes shut tight against his own riches. Dives had everything he needed—to do well—but instead lived contrary to God’s blessings.
But not everyone does.
The story of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo begins in 1815 in Digne, as the peasant Jean Valjean just released from 19 years’ imprisonment in the galleys—five for stealing bread for his starving sister and her family and fourteen more for numerous escape attempts—is turned away by innkeepers because his yellow passport marks him as a former convict. He sleeps on the street, angry and bitter. Digne’s benevolent Bishop Myriel gives him shelter. At night, Valjean runs off with Myriel’s silverware. When the police capture Valjean, Myriel pretends that he has given the silverware to Valjean and presses him to take two silver candlesticks as well, as if he had forgotten to take them. The police accept his explanation and leave.
Myriel tells Valjean that his life has been spared for God, and that he should use money from the silver candlesticks to make an honest man of himself.
I know it’s not easy to understand sometimes why some people are poor, homeless, in terrible need. It doesn’t seem possible that it isn’t their fault in some way. Certainly the rich man in Jesus’ parable might have thought Lazarus didn’t deserve any help, any of his money. Jesus doesn’t say what his thoughts were on this subject. He just says he didn’t do what he should have done.
If I had to sum up the scripture’s view of poverty it’s that greed and injustice are at the root of it, and when a society has a lot of poor people, it isn’t doing well and is headed for a lot of trouble.
We ought to consider what our church is doing for the poor that live, work, and hope among us. Proverbs 28:27 says, “If you give to the poor, your needs will be supplied. But a curse upon those who close their eyes to poverty.”
For a church, perhaps the “curse” is that it knows in its heart that it’s not extending itself where God wants it to, and so isn’t the church it might be, it isn’t a church on the hill to those who need such a light and a help.
I know of a church in which a woman is a member. Her husband died years ago. She lives with her grown up daughter. The old mother has scraped by for years now. Her daughter, who used to work, hasn’t been able to work for some five years since she began fighting cancer and other ailments.
The house they live in is in need of serious repairs, since the last hurricane some seven years ago caused all kinds of leaks. Mold has grown into their roof and some rooms. And of course without any money to keep up
on the roof after storms, their insurance will no longer give them money to redo the entire roof, which is what is necessary.
The woman sits in a blue-tarped home, insomnia and worry causing her hair to fall out. Her daughter, having fought cancer now must deal with the strong side effects to her stomach and body of the medicine that while keeping her alive also weakened her tremendously.
Oh, did I tell you years ago, after her husband’s death, when she received some money, she gave her church $2,000 as a sign of love for her church, its people and pastor, and the Lord our God.
As you might have guessed that church is our church. The woman’s name is Florence and her daughter is Mala. They are people in need, living in our midst, at our doorstep you might say. “If you give to the poor, your needs will be supplied. But a curse upon those who close their eyes to poverty.”
Don’t be ignorant of your gifts. Don’t refuse to believe God has given you enough and for many people, more than enough. Open your eyes to the wealth of God’s giving. You’ve got what it takes to make the most of what is yours, to change the life of others.
I know someone who did very little for his children, his son and daughter. Oh, he loved them but what did that mean to them when he didn’t spend time with them, when he was drunk or high, when he didn’t help them with their homework, shop for them, help them with problems they were having. It was like he was their dad in name only.
When things got to their lowest, when he finally faced the possibility of losing everything he valued, he decided to give away everything he had become and become a new person. He gave his life to the Lord. And the Lord gave him everything he needed to become the man and dad he wanted to become, and his children needed him to become. This man accepted God’s word in place of every other word he had been following, and with it, through prayer, and by reading scripture, he has found out that he has what it takes to be a really good man and a really good father.
He knew he didn’t have much, but he had all he needed. He could love the Lord, and love his children.
The Lord has given us all we need. We have what it takes to do what God needs us to do. In Christ we can do so much good. Choose the Lord. Choose what is better. Practice generosity, hospitality, kindnesses of all kinds. Pour out in your life what God has poured into your heart. Only by sharing God’s riches can we continue to be enriched.
Can anybody say Amen?