You remember the phrase, “Heckuva job” don’t you?
The whole quote goes this way: “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job.”
“Brownie” refers to Michael Brown. His job was to lead our government response to Hurricane Katrina when it hit the Gulf Coast full force and smashed into New Orleans on August 29, 2005.
“Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job!”
Our president praised Brownie just 3 days into the disaster. And, from the president’s point of view, the president saw “Brownie” doing a commendable job.
Michael Brown had been chosen from a field of candidates as the best man for the job. Brown was surely doing things, probably many things, maybe around the clock, to address the disaster. No doubt, Brown was busy, doing his job as he understood it, to the best of his abilities under the circumstances.
“Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job.” made sense. From a certain vantage point, it looked like a “heckuva job” was being done.
But it looked far different if you were one of the people trying to cross a bridge to safety out of New Orleans and were being shot by the people on the other side of the bridge who didn’t want hurricane refugees invading their city.
Brownie wasn’t doing such a heckuva job if you were someone stuck in the stench of the make-shift shelter that had been the SuperDome after several days of no sanitation facilities, no water and no food. It was even worse for the people who were stuck outside, in the heat, dying in full view of TV cameras hovering in helicopters that somehow managed to get close enough to take pictures but not to deliver relief. Thousands were already dead or dying.
“Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job” was probably a sincerely meant compliment from an overwhelmed president to a man who was doing his job, his impossible job. But, really, whose judgment about that job matters? The person who can produce reports of the many things done, and his staff and his boss, with their clean hands and their safe dry homes — they all look at the effort made and the monumental task there is — and they say, “Heckuva job! Look what you did!”
OR – Is the final report card issued by the persons whose lives were in his hands and who got dropped? Would they say, “That was a heckuva job”?
This is an old story — even older than 2005.
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.
Over here, rich man with plenty of food.
Over there, poor sick man whose greatest hope was crumbs from the rich man’s table or that one of the roaming dogs would lick his sores to make them feel better.
This is one snapshot we have of the two men. Which one is doing a heckuva job?
Of course, the rich man is only one who has a job. The rich man has a house, with a gate, fine clothes. We want to live in his neighborhood. We want to be named in his will. We want to eat at his table. We want Rich Guy to be our uncle, our father, our brother, our husband.
“Heckuva job, Rich Guy,” we certainly might say. “Look at what you have accomplished.”
We don’t know much about Rich Guy from this snapshot except that he is rich, wears fine clothes and lives in a house fancy enough to have a gate.
He might be a real Son of a Gun who got his money illegally,
who parties long and hard, without a care for his family, if he has one;
who has no time for his faith, if he has one;
who is selfish with his time and money.
Maybe he is a jerk who steps on everyone in his path, this poor Lazarus included.
But we don’t know that.
So Let’s give Rich Guy the benefit of the doubt. Let’s paint a different picture:
~ Rich Guy got his money by working hard, let’s say.
~ Rich Guy is a family man, too, and coaches his daughter’s soccer team.
~ Rich Guy goes to church, gives generously, and — in my dreams — he teaches a Sunday School class. OK, in my wildest dreams, he teaches a Sunday School class AND sings in the choir.
~ Rich Guy’s business holds charity benefits, too, and he serves on a couple of boards of organizations he loves.
~ Rich Guy might even have a hobby — like gardening or watching football.
~ Rich Guy was the all-around great guy that everyone wants to be and wants to be around. Honestly, I want him in my church!
Rich Guy is — indeed — a heckuva guy doing a heckuva job.
And while that heckuva guy was doing a heckuva job — and let’s say he really, really was a heckuva guy doing a heckuva job — there was poor Lazarus at his gate, hurting and hungry and hopeless.
And the two never met — at least, not on this side of the here-after.
But then, as the story goes:
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.
Here it is, my friends. Snapshot #2: Two eternal homes.
One, the home of faith-filled Abraham; the other, hopeless Hades.
What we might call heaven and hell.
One is where the angels took the poor man Lazarus to be with Abraham; the other is where the rich man was sent to be tormented.
Heckuva job, huh, Rich Guy? Unfair! We might cry “Foul!” We don’t know one thing that the rich man did to deserve this. Not one thing.
Does our story say Rich Guy was bad or evil or lacking in any way? No.
Does our story say anything at all about Rich Guy rejecting God? No.
But now — now — Rich Guy would give anything — “have mercy on me” — for just a drop of water from the tip of the finger of Lazarus to cool his burning tongue.
My, oh my, oh my! How the tables have turned!
Heavenly Abraham tells it like it is to Rich Guy: “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.” [Luke 16:25]
Can’t you just see Rich Guy rewinding his life back through all that he had done and all that he accomplished and all the people who adored him and all those appreciation plaques on the wall and his wise investment strategies … and that house … with the gate … and — oh yeah, there was that poor sick homeless guy …
The rich man in this story is not necessarily evil. It’s just that his life is HIS life — lived HIS way — for his OWN people and his own kind — reaching his own goals and success milestones — behind the gate.
The judgment is not against being rich. The judgment is against buying into measures of success that don’t measure relationship making and risk taking and lives saved, “on earth as it is in heaven.”
We’ve been warned of the consequences of playing it safe and doing one “heckuva job” behind the gate — just as surely as Federal officials received advance notice of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall, and that it would be devastating, and that the levees would be overtopped or breached and broken. Yet, in the days after that hurricane hit, the persistent refrain was that “No one could have anticipated …” the flooding and the death toll and the disintegration of the levees.
As the church, we have been warned and we have even said, “Yes, we know. Our Job One is doing mission and outreach with our community and in the world.”
And we will . . . As soon as our own house is in order.
We will get to know who is outside OUR gate . . .
just as soon as we have more money . . .
as soon as we settle that business thing . . .
as soon as we get more members to do the work of the church . . .
as soon as we call a new pastor.
We might even say, “Mission and service? Great thing for the youth to do, and the young adults.”
Church life, done by the standards of your business or even your own family, is organized to do “a heckuva job” behind the gate.
Who could have anticipated that the evaluation of how well the church does its job will be made by someone outside the gate who would NEVER EVER THINK of coming IN here?
How fair is it that someone we don’t know yet is the only possible source of the story of how THE CHURCH in their neighborhood has been faithful in extravagantly sharing the good news of Jesus Christ?
How can we possibly be expected to know which stranger out there will be the one to bear witness to how the church on the corner has been faithful in generously sharing God’s healing and redeeming love — out there?
Yes, there are pressures to play it safe:
— to get our own house in order before going out there
— to keep the faith instead of sharing it
— to hold onto life eternal instead of giving it away
— to settle for surviving rather than thriving.
We may be ready OR NOT. Someone out there is waiting. TODAY might be the very best day to go ahead and use the very abundant blessings God has given us to be a blessing to others.
In the end, we are not looking for a slap on the back and a hearty “Heckuva job.”
We will rejoice to hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servants.” Amen.