A Real Bucket List - Luke 16:19-31
How many of us actually spend time thinking of the things we would like to accomplish before we die? A 2007 movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as Edward and Carter, two terminally-ill cancer patients, actually got many folks thinking about what they would like to before they met their end. I’ve asked Bill and Paul to share with us a scene from the movie The Bucket List.
Carter: What are you doing?
Edward: (Looking at a crumpled up piece of paper.) What is this?
Carter: Come on, give it back.
Edward: What is it?
Carter: (Reaches for the paper.) Give it back!
Edward: It was on the floor. I didn’t know it was a state secret.
Carter: (sighs) Well, my freshman philosophy professor assigned this exercise in forward thinking, he called it a “Bucket List.” We were supposed to make a list of all the things we wanted to do in our lives before we--
Edward: --kicked the bucket.
Carter: Anyway, I wrote down things like, “make a million dollars”…“first black president,” you know, young man’s wishes. I was gonna redo the list, but then…
Edward: (Reading from the paper )“Help a complete stranger for the good.” “Laugh until I cry.” Not to be judgmental, but this is extremely weak.
Carter: Well…It’s pointless now.
Edward: I would argue…the exact opposite. (Starts writing on the paper.) All right. That’s it.
Carter: What are you doing?
Edward: A little rewrite, that’s all. I mean, don’t you want to go out with…Gun’s blazing? Have a little fun.
Carter: It was not supposed to be about guns blazing or anything like that. You’re missing the point.
Edward: What [in the world] is “witness something majestic”?
Carter: Have you ever been to the Himalayas?
Edward: Eh… “Drive a Mustang Shelby.” Not bad. I got one. All right. How about skydiving? …Now we’re onto something.
Carter: We’re on to something?
Carter: Let me see that. (Reaches for paper) Come on.
Edward: (Hands paper over.)
Carter: (Laughs loudly)
Edward: (Laughs mockingly)
Carter: “Kiss the most beautiful girl in the world?” How do you propose doing that?
Carter: “Get a tattoo.” Is that the sum of your ambition? Edward, I’ve taken baths deeper than you.
Edward: It’s easy to be deep in freshman philosophy. What’s Dr. Hollins say? We got months, right?
Carter: A year, maybe.
Edward: You think 45 years went by fast? (pauses, then takes the paper from Carter and holds it up) We could do this…We should do this.
Carter: No, I couldn’t.
Edward: Don’t think about money. That’s all I got is money.
Carter: But I don’t know…I…
Edward: What don’t you know?
Carter: It was meant to be metaphorical. I’m just trying to get a handle on---
Edward: ---Blah, blah, blah. Metaphors. You’re the one crying you never took a shot. Here’s your chance. (Holds up the paper)
Carter: My chance to what? Make a fool of myself?
Edward: Never too late. (Pauses) What do you think happens now? I go back and sit around listening to people…talking about mezzanine financing and subordinated debt…pretending that I care about dead money…You go home to some ceremonial procession into death…with everyone standing around watching you die…while you try to comfort them. Is that what you want, to be smothered by pity and grief?...Not me….And in your heart, Carter, I believe not you either. (Stops, they stare at one another.) We’re both in the same boat. How’s that for a metaphor? We got a real opportunity here.
Carter: Opportunity? That is real twisted, even by your standards.
Edward: We still feel good, right? Energy’s coming back a little bit. Asymptomatic, the doc says. The way I see it, we can lay around here…hoping for a miracle in some [ridiculous] science experiment…or…(smiling)…we can put some moves on.
Carter: (Sighs….looks from floor up to Edward.) Skydiving, huh?
Edward: All right. (Starts laughing, a little maniacal.)
This movie must have actually prompted many folks to start thinking about the things they would like to do because prior to that time I never heard mention of anyone having a “bucket list,” but since then, several times a year I hear folks say that went to a certain vacation spot or accomplished a specific task, and now they could “check that off their bucket list.”
What are the most common things found on someone’s bucket list? The top ten most liked activities from the website “Bucketlist.org” include: 10) Ride a camel in Egypt; 9) Publish a book; 8) Take a road trip from coast-to-coast; 7) Attend a masquerade ball; 6) Backpack across Europe; 5) Float in the Dead Sea; 4) Ride an elephant; 3) Jump fully clothed into a pool; 2) Swim with dolphins; and 1) Ride a hot air balloon
Why all this discussion of bucket lists? Well because a bucket list appears to contain those things that you would regret never having done if you were to drop dead and then, in the afterlife, be able to reflect on your life’s accomplishments. The list implies that if you were able to completely check off all the items, one would be able to die without regrets.
This past week, for three consecutive days, I polled my “Facebook Friends,” asking them, what would be their biggest regret if they were to die that very day. While most of the activities from the movie and the website involve either travel or having a good bit of money (or both), only one person out of the twenty-seven who responded, mentioned they would regret not having traveled more. Out of the other twenty-six, three included wishing they had taken the time to help others come to know Christ or to strengthen someone else’s faith, five involved wishing they had more time with family and friends, and twelve related in one way or another to living their lives as they knew God desires us to live. The most common regrets had nothing to do with hot air balloons, nor dolphins, elephants, or camels, no travelling cross country.
In our Scripture reading this morning, we encounter two men who may or may not have had a bucket list. One man’s listed probably consisted of enjoying life to the fullest his riches could afford. The other man’s list may have simply had one item, “to survive another day.” Jesus lets us know that these two men died…one obviously dying with regrets, the other apparently at peace. Now many might would think that if you had a wealthy man and a poor, sick man, that at death the rich man would be able to look back at all he had accomplished in his life—his successes, his popularity, and his wealth and be able to say, “I achieved it all…I have no regrets.” We might expect the poor man to be struggling regretting all the trouble he had in his life, complaining to God about the troubles he had, regretting that he had not been more successful or had a longer, healthier life. Yet what we encounter is the exact opposite…when these two men come to the end of their earthly days, they find death to be the great equalizer, as they find their conditions reversed. In his earthly life poor Lazarus had laid outside the rich man’s gates, just longing for the nourishment that would have helped him get well, yet he received nothing. Now, in death he finds himself content, resting in the bosom of Abraham—the place, according to Jewish tradition, of ultimate happiness and joy.
Echoing Mary’s song of praise from earlier in the Gospel of Luke, where she understands what the one within her womb has been called to do: “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty…”[i] Jesus lets us know that the rich man who had ignored Lazarus’ need finds himself suffering and struggling. He finds himself, not in the bosom of Abraham, but in the place of the dead, being tortured unendingly. Where Lazarus had laid at his gate, longing for table scraps, this rich man longs for simply a touch of water upon his lips, and begs Abraham to allow Lazarus to quench his thirst. Here is where the rich man’s regrets come in—Abraham tells him, “You were blessed in many ways in your lifetime, and you did absolutely nothing to help Lazarus out with his suffering—so now he has received his comfort, and you now will understand the agony in which he suffered all his life….and even if Lazarus wanted to help you (and he probably would being a good man), he can’t, you are forever separated, and he cannot reach you. Which do you reckon this rich man regretted more a missed business deal or that he never heeded God’s command to care for the needy?
Yet the rich man’s regrets continue to grow. He realizes that he has messed up, that there is no hope for his circumstances to change. He turns his mind to his family. He has five brothers who live the same way that he lived, following his example, living the good life and ignoring those in need. You can tell this rich man has a love for his family for he cries out that Lazarus be allowed to go and speak to them and reveal the danger they are in of joining him in eternal suffering. The rich man, we can hear, regrets that he never took the time, along with his brothers, to focus in and respond to the calls to repent and live lives in sync with God’s Will—they have always and only lived their lives for themselves. Abraham says, it won’t do any good…they have had Moses and the prophets---God has spoken to them and told them what to do, how to live—they haven’t listened to them, they wouldn’t even respond if someone was raised from the dead and carried the message to them.
My brothers and sisters, the truth is someone has been resurrected from the dead—He is the one who shared this message with us. His desire for us is that we live a life with no regrets. Jesus wants those who follow him to create a real bucket list—a list of things that we can accomplish through the grace that comes from Him—a bucket list that will allow us to live with no regrets. For those who say that if they died today that they would regret that they have not responded to His call to follow Him more closely, that the time has come, leave behind whatever is hindering us from following Him, take up our cross and follow Him. For those of us who feel we will regret not sharing with others our faith—He says, go into the world, make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them, for I have filled you with the Holy Spirit and given you strength, guidance, and direction.
God’s Word makes it clear to us that when we come to the end of our days and when Christ returns with the trumpets sounding, it is not going to matter how much money we have in our bank accounts or how high we have climbed the corporate ladder; it is not going to matter how many states or countries we have traveled to; it is not going to matter whether we drive a BMW or a Mercedes; it is not going to matter whether we were the most popular person in our community.
What is going to matter is whether or not we have responded to God’s Word—whether we have accepted the grace and blessings of God and enabled others to fill blessed…whether or not we have showed with our lives that we love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength…whether or not we have loved our neighbor as much or more as we love ourselves, especially those neighbors outside our gates, starving and hungry—physically, emotionally, spiritually…. Those are the things that should fill our bucket list, all achievable, all of which will enable us to die today, tomorrow, or any day with no regrets…
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.