Thursday, November 06, 2014

According To Luke: The Ice Bucket Challenge Disconnec

Luke 16:19-31 New   (NRSV)
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

I am willing to bet that all of you are familiar with what was known as the Ice Bucket Challenge this past summer.

Starting sometime in late June or early July --- people all over the world began to pour ice water over their heads.

The rules of this challenge were not set in stone --- but in general it went something like this.

A family member or friend would challenge three friends (over the next 24 hours) to either dump a bucket of cold ice water over their heads or donate $100 to the ALS Association --- or do both.

Many of you are probably familiar with ALS. 

The disease was first identified in 1869 --- but it wasn't until Lou Gehrig announced that he had the disease that it really garnered any attention. 
Most people know the disease by his name: Lou Gehrig's disease

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.
Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body.

The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death.

When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost.

With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.

Many of us experienced ALS on a more personal level and we watched the gallant battle that Eileen Hasse fought with the disease. 
After a six year battle she passed away this past March.

I am not certain how accurate this numbers are, but the ALS Association reports that the Ice Bucket Challenge resulted in about 3 million donors raising well over $115 million.

I have to admit, I was shocked at how well this campaign did.  3 Million donors!

But not only all the money donated --- we also got to see friends get soaked, hear them squeal and watch them shutter! 
          It was fun.

What is amazing to me is just how successful this campaign was. 

It demonstrated the power of social media to rally people around the cause.

For those of us who heard about the Arab Summer in 2011 and all the talk of how it was driven by social media, got to see it first hand with the Ice Bucket Challenge.

I think it was successful because it was so simple --- it was easy to participate and easy to share.

This weekend we celebrate REFORMATION SUNDAY --- remembering when Martin Luther accidentally kicked off the Reformation --- in a great part helped by the new fangled technology of his day --- the printing press.

Not surprisingly the response to the ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE has been mixed.

Of course there are those people who want to push the concept farther
·         better video
·         more creative
·         more donations

Then there those who donate but keep it to themselves --- never creating a video or even sharing the challenge

But there have been all kinds of people who have responded in the negative.
·         don't want to donate
·         offended to be challenged (either to do the ice bucket or open their wallet)
·         People who have said WHY --- Why ALS, why not something else

And that may be the most intriguing of the critiques
          Why single out ALS

I think I find that most interesting because it raisings some interesting questions . . .
Why single out any causes that are bigger than ourselves?
That critique really challenges us to look at why we reach out and help others at all.

What I loved about the challenge was it helped many of us do SOMETHING
Before donating --- or even dumping water on our heads we had to decide!  Decide if we would . . .

Should I donate?

Or should I just spread the word and make a video

Or should I do both?

Just think about it ---- 3 million people thought about whether they should donate to ALS and decided YES

But there was a side benefit from the ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE

All those who chose not to participate --- because of all the social pressure were forced to answer (sometimes just to themselves) NO, I don’t want to participate because . . .

That means they thought deeply about how, when and why they contribute to causes beyond their budget.

And when they told their friends, "I decline because," those friends received an invitation, explicit or implied, to think through what their own because looks like.

In our story this morning we are reminded of the opportunities to make a difference NOW.

Archbishop Richard Trench, in his Notes on the Parables of Our Lord, almost 100 years ago wrote:

The sin of {the rich man} in its root is unbelief: hard-hearted contempt of the poor, luxurious squandering on self, are only the forms which his sin assumes.  The seat of the disease is within

Remember how our passage ended last week?
          You cannot serve God and wealth.

The rich man becomes the poster child for Luke

As we get to the end of Luke's Gospel we will encounter two men whose hearts "were strangely warmed" as the scriptures were shared with them.

A stranger --- whom we understand to be Jesus --- joins them and explains the law and the prophets to them. 

They share a meal together and they too see that it is Jesus.

You have to wonder what would have happened if the rich man had shared a meal with Lazarus --- would he have then seen his need and cared for him --- because he was the embodiment of Jesus.

George Buttrick, in The Parables of Jesus reminds us that however important that it is that we share food --- this parable is really about an even deeper and more pervasive attitude of neighborliness towards others.
The story offers no support to the glib assumption that [the rich man} would have fulfilled all duty had he dressed Lazarus' sores and fed his hunger.  True charity is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not spasmodic or superficial.  Ameliorations such as food and medicine are necessary, but there is a more fundamental neighborliness.

While the ICE BUCKET Challenge isn't going to end ALS --- and it probably hasn't created a whole new group of people toward charitable giving.

What it has done is opened up many people to the conversation of helping others.

We sometimes forget that everything we do has an impact on the kingdom.

Whether it is splashing a bucket of water over our heads
          writing a check
          seeing the person who is hungry as our neighbor
          how we vote in the coming weeks

Who knows what will come of all those conversations that people had as they decided to participate (or not) in the Ice Bucket challenge.

My prayer is that we have dumped a bucket of cold water over the head of all of us --- waking us up so that we can see the Lazarus' that are all around.

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