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Watch Your Lines!
October 8, 1995

LUKE 16:19-31

Watch your lines! Now, I did not say watch her lines! I said, watch your lines. And, I don't mean your body lines. Although, I must admit that I watch my lines fill out! Nor am I referring to public lines. I'm so glad we now stand in one line at the bank and post office!. Invariably, when we formed lines at each window, I would watch the wrong line, and end up in the slowest line. I like the one line plan. I wish they would do it at the supermarkets! But, I'm not talking about bank and supermarket lines.

I'm talking about the line in Jesus' parable which was read this morning. The rich man--dressed in purple and fine linen who feasted sumptuously--drew a line between himself and Lazarus who lay at his gate--poor, hungry, his body covered with sores which the dogs licked. Lazarus would have been glad to be able to go through the rich man's garbage, but even the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table were inaccessible to Lazarus. The rich man drew his territorial line very tightly about himself and his possessions, excluding Lazarus. The agony of Lazarus was of no concern to the rich man because he didn't even notice Lazarus. Lazarus was outside his line.

When the rich man reached his new territory--his torment in hell--he suddenly found himself on the wrong side of the line. He saw Lazarus next to Abraham, and he called out to Abraham to send Lazarus to cool his hot tongue with cold water, but Abraham said, "Sorry, you are on the wrong side of the line now. A great chasm separates the two of you."

Watch your lines! The lines you draw might have eternal consequences. Several weeks ago, Ellie and I were in San Jose at a wedding of a man I confirmed in Minneapolis years ago. There were also several relatives of his there from Iowa. During the course of the conversation, they said they had driven over the hill to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk the day before to see the ocean. But, they didn't stay long because, I quote, "the wrong kind of people were there." I suppose people on the Boardwalk are a little different from Iowa corn farmers! But, what did they mean by the wrong kind of people? People with long hair? Beards? People of color? Were there some gays? Ellie and I were speechless. When we recovered, we shared that two weeks previously we, also, had been to the Santa Cruz beach and Boardwalk for a special time with our granddaughters, and that we had enjoyed a glorious time among the people there! What I also wanted to say I decided not to say, because we were at a happy occasion. What I wanted to say was, "What will you do in heaven? What will you do in heaven with your discomfort when all the wrong kind of people will be there?"

People do draw lines. Exclusive lines. Some people draw lines so tightly and narrowly that only the folks who look like them, talk like them, and smell like them are let in! How boring. Indeed, what will they do in heaven? Will they find a chasm and discover to their dismay, that they are on the wrong side of the line they have drawn so neatly? As we celebrate Communion this morning, remember the Lord's table at which we gather has no lines. The Communion table is as big as the world.

Watch your lines! Watch lines that divide and separate people. I'm concerned about lines being drawn in our congregation. For example, I hear that lines are sometimes drawn between folks who have been on the Walk to Emmaus and those who have not. Last Wednesday, I led the devotional at the local Ministerial meeting where I shared an observation. As long as a church coasts along, maintaining the status quo, and thereby declining, things are smooth. But, once movement occurs, changes are made, growth occurs, new people begin coming, joining, and assuming positions of leadership, and members begin having spiritual experiences, trouble starts. In other words, when the Holy Spirit begins to move, the devil wakes up and begins attacking. When I say devil, I'm using symbolic language, recognizing the reality of evil. As long as a church is declining and dying, the devil is perfectly happy to let it remain calm and comfortable. But, once new life appears, the attacks begin.

The devil is clever, using methods like divisiveness, suspicion, distrust--enticing people to draw lines to exclude. And the fuel used to promote divisiveness is gossip, rumors, half-truths, and innuendo. There are rumors floating around our church, threatening our unity in Christ. There are rumors about why Robert Williams is no longer with us. Two young people were sent home from the Lodestar Work Project because of their behavior. Being sent home is no big deal! Some of my lowest grades in school were in deportment! How young people learn what is and what is not appropriate behavior is by being disciplined. There is no shame, or humiliation, or even embarrassment, if adults would leave them alone! Stop the rumors and gossip! This is not a new problem in the church. James 3:5-6, How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire.

In my third sermon to this congregation, over two years ago now, I laid out some ground rules on church behavior! We need to hear some of them again. Let me quote from that sermon.

When a church is a church, it (Colossians 2:7) abounds in thanksgiving. Be thankful to God..and be thankful to one another. Thank one another; do not criticize, blame, or tear down. A church builds one another up, and does not tear one another down. Life is hard enough out there in the world; within the Christian fellowship we need to be affirmed, appreciated, and thanked...I have been in enough churches to know I don't want to be part of any church that talks behind backs, tears one another down, and bad mouths the church. If you can't say something kind, keep your mouth shut! Is my English plain enough? If you can't thank someone, and be kind and gracious, keep your mouth shut. When you have a real concern, contact the proper committee chairperson, or come to see me..Don't turn it in to a phone tree!

That's what I said two years ago. Since then, I have appreciated the openness and acceptance of our congregation. When there are disagreements, I appreciate open questions and discussion. But, we must constantly be on the alert for destructive gossip and rumor. Rather than pass rumor along, take it to the Lord in prayer, and let God deal with the problem. The devil tries to tear us apart, divide us, and set us against one another; thus destroying the effectiveness, strength, and growth of God's church.

Watch your lines! Like the rich man, they may create chasms of division that are not crossable.

© 1995 Douglas I. Norris