a priest's musings on the journey

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Chasm Between Dives and Lazarus

Sermon: Sunday September 30, 2007
Proper 21 Year C
The Chasm Between Dives and Lazarus

Last Sunday’s Gospel Reading ended with a warning that one can not serve God and wealth. In today’s reading, Luke fleshes out that warning with a parable about a man who was enslaved by his own wealth. Jesus tells the story of two men. One, sometimes called Dives- which in Latin means wealthy- lived a life of privilege. He lived in a large home, dressed in purple and fine linen- which in antiquity was a status symbol and a sign of wealth- and he feasted sumptuously everyday. He was greedy, gluttonous, and self-absorbed. He only cared for himself and his own comfort and his own desires. Outside of the gates of his house, lay a poor man named Lazarus- a poor, destitute, homeless man whose body was full of sores. He was a weak, powerless man who could not even defend himself from the dogs who gathered around him to lick his sores. Lazarus was sick, lonely, and hungry- desiring to have the scraps that the rich man threw away after his feasts.

The rich man must have passed Lazarus daily, and even though he had the means to feed, clothe, and relieve the sufferings of this man, he chose to ignore him and to leave him in his desperate condition.

Eventually the poor man died, and he was carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham, where he was comforted and relieved from his sufferings. The rich man also died, but instead of being carried to Paradise on the wings of angels, he found himself in the fiery torments of Hades. In his anguish he saw Abraham and Lazarus in the distance, and still behaving arrogantly, asks Abraham to send Lazarus- the poor man he couldn’t ever be bothered to help- to give him a drop of water to relieve his sufferings in hell. Abraham reminded him that in his life he had never once acted to relieve the sufferings of Lazarus. Abraham said to him:

During your lifetime you received good things, and Lazarus likewise received evil things. And now he is being comforted here, but you are suffering. And in all these things, there is a great divide set up between us and you people, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.

This chasm between Dives and Lazarus did not just suddenly appear upon their deaths. It was always there, having been created by the rich man inch by inch each time he ignored the plight of Lazarus. And now, the divide is so wide that it is impossible to bring the two together. The rich man wasted the opportunities he had been given to act with compassion and justice towards Lazarus, and with every act of injustice, he isolated himself more and more.

And this seems to me to be the moral of the parable. While this story has something to say about wealth and the right use of it, the real moral seems to be a call to work towards bridging whatever the gaps are that exist between us NOW- in this moment while we have the opportunity for reconciliation; it is certainly a challenge to us who are rich to help relieve the sufferings of the poor: and using global standards, most of us in this church are in the top 5% of the wealthiest people on the planet- so that call is directed right to us. The call to economic justice is certainly an important part of Luke’s Gospel and of this parable; however, Jesus’ warning to us is to work to bridge all of the chasms that separate us, to tear down all of the dividing walls that segregate us and enable one group to dehumanize the other. It’s so easy to allow the differences to separate us into opposing factions. Christ’s call is for us to be intentional and willful about becoming engaged in works of compassion and mercy which strengthen the bonds of affection that unite us as one body in Christ- and even as one human family. When we ignore that call, when we alienate those who are different than us, when we exclude those who do not agree with us, when we leave the church because some decision was made that we do not accept, then we isolate ourselves more and more; we remove ourselves from that great community that is bound together by Christ in God. Our call, which is reiterated throughout all of the Gospels, is to live into the gift of unity that the Holy Spirit has given us by becoming engaged in works of compassionate justice which bear witness in real life to our hope that by water and the Holy Spirit all of us have been made members of the Body of Christ- and although we may have different gifts and different ways of knowing and experiencing God, we are all equal and valued members of the Body of Christ, and we need each other in order to be healthy and whole. This is radically counter-cultural to the individualism of the American Culture. Since we are all in Christ, we have been made one; St Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians that we are so joined together by the Spirit, that when one member suffers, we all suffer; when one member is honored, we all rejoice. Because we all are in Christ, there can be no divisions among us- and where chasms and inequalities do exist, we are called to work for reconciliation, because we need each other; because we can not abide in Christ on our own; it takes all of us to be the Body of Christ in the world. It takes all of us to work together- as one- in order to transform our society and reconcile the world to God. This might mean making the choice to donate a percentage of your income to agencies working to eradicate poverty, it might mean volunteering every week at the soup kitchen or food pantry- but it might also mean working to ensure women in developing nations have the same access to education that males do, or it might mean becoming involved in local initiatives to improve race relations. It might mean being intentional about allowing this place to be a House of Prayer for all people- a hospital for every wounded soul who is seeking healing grace in Jesus Christ. It means living into the reality that St Paul proclaimed was true for us who are in Christ, that now “… there is no longer male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free..”; we are one in Christ. When we fully understand the meaning of “you are all one in Jesus Christ,” we begin to understand that in this place there are no more males and females, blacks, whites, Hispanics, or Asians, Americans or foreigners, gays, lesbians, or heterosexuals, Republicans or Democrats, young people or older people… If we are all one in Christ, it means I’m a bit of all that. It means I am a part of you, and you are a part of me, and together we are a part of Christ committed to being together in order to make a difference in the world.

If we truly believe that, then it matters to us that there are disenfranchised people sitting at our doorstep. It becomes important to us to use the resources God has entrusted to us to care for those who are lacking physically, spiritually, and emotionally. It becomes important to us to listen with compassion to those who have differing theological view points, and to refuse to allow those disagreements to create a chasm between us. It becomes relevant to us to reach out to those who are alienated from us, and to draw them back into fellowship with us at the Lord’s Table.
For the last few days the House of Bishops has been working to find a way to bring opposing factions in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion back together in celebration of our common baptismal identities as members of the one Body of Christ. They issued a statement that certainly did not make everyone in the Church happy, but it is clear, that they are committed to this ministry of reconciliation. They are committed to keeping our Anglican Family together, and to doing the hard work of building bridges over the chasms that have developed between us. It’s a hard bridge to build; but if we are the Body of Christ, I must feel the pain of gays and lesbians who are being excluded from full participation in the Church and society, but I must also feel the pain of those who feel that creating an inclusive space for gays and lesbians is an abandonment of the historic faith. Unless I allow myself to experience the pain of all of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I allow myself to exclude those persons from my experience of Christ; and inch by inch I isolate myself from an authentic experience of being one in Christ.

How do we do that? How do we keep that vision of unity from being just some naïve ideal of some idealistic spiritual leader? We do it by continuing to gather together as one body in Jesus’ name, Sunday after Sunday in this Holy House to sing praise to God with one voice, to offer prayers on behalf of ourselves, the Church, and the world with one voice, to offer Eucharist- to give thanks and praise to God with one voice- and to come together to the Altar to receive who we are and to become what we receive: the Body of Christ; the hands and feet of Jesus working to bring all of God’s creation into union with God. We do it by bringing the burdens of our failures to feel the pain in others, the burdens of our disappointments and confusions about decisions that are being made in the Church, the burdens of our inability to cross the widening chasms that exist between us; we bring all of these burdens- and all others that we carry, and we lay them at the feet of Jesus. We lay them at the foot of the Cross. We take all our divisions and failures and sins and pain and we hand them over to the one who died to save us all.

And we leave them there… When I wa sa child, we used to sing The African American Gospel hymn that says it this way:

Leave it there, leave it there
Take your burden to the Lord
And leave it there
If you trust and never doubt
He will surely bring you out
Take your burden to the Lord
And leave it there.

And we leave trusting that as we pray together, and serve together, and love together, that the Spirit will come down and give us the grace to be one; to refuse to allow the chasms to grow, and to walk together side by side, hand in hand bearing witness to a broken world of the radically transforming love of God.


Many thanks to my Luiz, for some of his insights that helped shape this homily.
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 7:48 AM


Hurray! You're back!

And hugs and thanks to both of you :-).
Blogger Jane R, at 7:35 PM  
This is wonderful, and strong.
Blogger Luiz Coelho, at 9:52 AM  
You're back on form!
Blogger John the organist, at 5:59 AM  
Dear Rob,

I am please to present a writing award to you, for your heartfelt and expressive blog.
Please see http://laviegraphite.blogspot.com/2008/01/recognition.html
and claim your award.

In turn, you'll post 3 aspects needed for powerful written expression, and then pass the award along to 5 other people.
(and I hope you keep on writing!)

Congratulations, and God bless!
Blogger speculator, at 4:37 AM  

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