Change for Good: Change Your Attitude - Rev. Louis Timberlake

Change for Good: Change Your Attitude
Luke 16:19-31
Louis Timberlake
September 25, 2016

Well, it’s been an eventful week in our state, hasn’t it? Tulsa, St. Paul, Baton Rouge, Dallas–most of those places feel far away. We can distance ourselves somewhat from those situations. We sense the tension, but it isn’t quite so palpable. But Charlotte is just down I-85. With one shot, the tension went from something distant to a tidal wave sweeping across our state. Whatever your perspective on the situation in Charlotte, it is significant that we are at a place as a nation and as a state that a single event can start riots and protests on this scale.

We have work to do, but we already knew that. We’ve known that for a long time. The existence of the Church is partially based on the belief that our world needs work, that the present reality isn’t right, that our world is intended to be...better.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about perception. How do we see others? How do they see us? How do we see those who are different from us?

What do we see when we look at someone with a different color of skin? What do we see when we look at someone who wears a uniform? Do we see a threat? A stereotype? Or do we see a person? A Child of God?

I think about the refugees and immigrants come into our country, fleeing violence and poverty in other parts of the world. What do we see? Do we see people who would harm? Or do we see battered men, women, and children in need of compassion?

How do we see those who are different from us? Do we see as God sees?

When I was in college at Davidson, I worked in the youth ministry at Davidson UMC. DUMC has a ministry called Room In The Inn, which hosts a group of homeless men at the church three nights a week. One of my youth, Alex, asked me one day if I would serve as an overnight host with him at Room In The Inn. You can’t say no to a youth who wants to do that. So Alex and I signed up for Room In The Inn.

Now, coming from a middle-class, private school background, I had not spent a lot of time around people that didn’t have a place to live. I was anxious about it. I didn’t know if I could connect. On top of that, I was working off of the stereotypes of what gets someone into that situation--addiction, poor choices, mental illness.

But, I remember sitting at the dinner table with our guests that night. I remember talking with a good, hardworking guy who ended up on the streets after a divorce and a job loss, because it was 2009 and he was in construction. I remember another guy who was not much older than me. I’m pretty sure he could sense my anxiety, because he just asked me, “Have you ever talked with anyone that is homeless?” Embarrassed, I responded, “Well, not really.” So he went on to tell me about his life and what he had faced. He wanted to make sure I knew his story.

That night did something to me. It made me see differently. Sometimes we look at people, particularly people that are not like us, and we don’t really see them, right? Whether it’s because of the way they look, how they talk, what they do, what they have or don’t have, we don’t see the fullness of their humanity. We don’t consider their hopes, their fears, their gifts, their struggles. We don’t see them as they really are. Fellow participants in the human experience. Children of God.

The way we see matters. The way we see affects our attitude and our actions. And, based on recent events, we have some work to do.

Of Jesus’ parables, I think that this is one of the more confusing ones. One of the questions that we might ask is whether Jesus is saying that your experience in this life is an inverse of your experience in the life to come? If your life is pretty good now, does that mean that your experience will be less than good in the life to come? Depending on your present situation, that may or may not be a pleasant idea. But, I don’t think his message is that simple.

Part of what Jesus is doing here is speaking against this idea that, if you have wealth, it must mean that God favors you and, if you don’t, it must mean that God doesn’t favor you. He’s talking to people who seem to assume that their comfortable lifestyle is a sign that God approves of the way they live. But, in this parable, the guy whose life is one of suffering and poverty is the one who ultimately receives God’s favor. It complicates their view of the world and of God.

You know, it’s interesting, this is the only parable of Jesus in which one of the characters is named. Lazarus. Names are important. In scripture, names aren’t just what you’re called, names represent who you are. In naming the poor man, Jesus is saying that he matters. Lazarus matters. The passage suggests that the rich man doesn’t even notice him in life, let alone know his name. It’s not until in the afterlife that the rich man even acknowledges Lazarus and even then he doesn’t speak to him, but asks Abraham to order him like a servant to bring water to the rich man. But Jesus says that Lazarus matters. When we look at the Lazaruses we encounter in our lives, what do we see? Do we see people who matter? Do we live as if they matter?

Most of you have seen the photo of the little boy from Syria who was injured in an airstrike, sitting in an ambulance, his face cover with dust and blood. His name is Omran. This past week, President Obama shared a letter he received about Omran from a six year old boy named Alex in New York. He’s what Alex wrote:

Dear President Obama, 

Remember the boy who was picked up by the ambulance in Syria? Can you please go get him and bring him to [my home]? Park in the driveway or on the street and we will be waiting for you guys with flags, flowers, and balloons. We will give him a family, and he will be our brother. Catherine, my little sister, will be collecting butterflies and fireflies for him. In my school, I have a friend from Syria, Omar, and I will introduce him to Omar. We can all play together. We can invite him to birthday parties, and he will teach us another language. We can teach him English too, just like my friend Aoto from Japan.

Please tell him that his brother will be Alex who is a very kind boy, just like him. Since he won't bring toys and doesn't have toys, Catherine will share her big blue stripy white bunny. And I will share my bike and I will teach him how to ride it. I will teach him additions and subtractions in math. And he [can] smell Catherine's lip gloss penguin which is green. She doesn't let anyone touch it. 

Thank you very much! I can't wait for you to come!

Alex, six years old

That is a humbling letter. I pray that one day I could live with the same attitude towards others as that six year old boy. Alex saw that picture of Omran and saw a boy who was a lot like him. He saw someone with a name. A story. Someone who mattered. Alex saw as God sees. Alex saw with love.

We need a little more love in our world, don’t we? The kind of love that claims someone as a brother, even when they don’t look like you and don’t speak your language. You know, as we spend time in this world, we learn fear, suspicion, hate. We learn the “isms”--racism, sexism, nationalism, elitism, materialism. The rich man in the story sees this poor man as he has been conditioned to see him. How do we undo this conditioning? How do we learn to see as God sees?

In that video we watched earlier, Pastor Dan Cowie said that “Love is opening yourself up to somebody else and discovering their humanity.” I think it’s more than that. I think it’s discovering their divinity. The scriptures tell us that we are all created in the image of God. Each one of us--rich, poor, young, old, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Syrian, American, male, female--each one of us is created to reflect God.

When we look at someone, do we see God in them?

I believe that it is through relationship that we learn to see as God sees. Through opening ourselves up to authentic connection with others, particularly those that are different from us. When we do that, we discover not only their humanity, but their divinity. If we truly lived as if people are created in the image of God, wouldn’t our world be a different place? If, in dealing with each other, we truly believed that we are dealing with something holy?

If we are to be the people that God created us to be and if this world is to become what God hopes it to be, then we must seek relationships that transform the way we see others. That challenge us to see others as God sees them. Relationships with people who are different from us and reflect the image of God in a different way.

You know, part of the reason that Jesus doesn’t name the rich man in the story is that he’s talking to the rich man. He’s talking to those who don’t see the Lazaruses in the world for who they really are. Who don’t see as God sees. I wonder how the story that Jesus tells would he been different if the rich man had sought to see the image of God in Lazarus? Because, truly, that’s the opportunity that we are given. Will we be conditioned by fear and apathy or will we seek to see the image of God in everyone that we encounter? Sometimes we can learn something from a six year old boy.

Discussion Guide for September 25: Change Your Attitude

Share an experience that changed your attitude towards someone that is different from you.

Share about a relationship that has shaped the way you see others.

Share where you would like to change your attitude towards those who are different from you.

Share what you think it will take for you to change your attitude.