Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sermon for Year C Pentecost 21 Proper 25


Because we get to the read the Bible from the 21st century,
we have come to think of the Pharisee as the “bad guy,”
the hypocrite,
the arrogant “I am so much better than you” sort of person.

And certainly in this parable Jesus gives us some reasons to believe just that.

But in truth, in Jesus’ time, the Pharisees were generally the model
for religious good works.
The Pharisee is a faithful man.
He follows the religious codes of the day.
He tithes.
He always shows up for worship,
He comes to the temple and prays.

Yes, in this parable we hear that edge of pride and self-righteousness-
because the Pharisee does thank God
that he is not like thieves, rogues, adulterers or tax collectors.
But haven’t we all looked at some other people
And at least thought, Whew! I am glad I have my life and not theirs.

This parable is not about how the Pharisees are bad.

This parable is about seven important words, two confessional statements,
and one hard to ask question.

The seven words are the words of the tax collector:
God, be merciful to me, a sinner.

The tax collector is a sinner indeed.
We can’t put our modern cast on this man.
Being a tax collector in the first century
is not comparable to working for the IRS today.

Tax collectors were despised.
Being a tax collector meant you preyed on your own people
for your own personal gain,
You collaborated with the Romans.

The Romans were the oppressors.
They had deprived people of their freedom and their dignity
and a good share of their money.

The Romans had little respect for the one God of the Israelites,
Their focus was on protecting their own government
and raising the funds they needed to do just that.
Who needs God when you have the government?

The tax collectors took more than their fair share—
First they took what the Romans wanted
And then they took whatever else they wanted.
It’s why you became a tax collector—
the Romans let you collect whatever amount you chose to collect.
Being a tax collector was the “get rich quick” scheme of the first century.
It was also a definitive way to “get hated quickly”.

So yes, no one hearing Jesus’ parable about the tax collector and the Pharisee
would argue with the tax collector’s assessment of himself as a sinner.
But they would have been shocked
to hear Jesus say that God will exalt,
that God loves, this tax collector.

To be honest, if we are truthful
about who we would like to add to our church membership,
it would likely be the Pharisee—
he faithfully shows up at for worship and prayer.
You don’t have to remind him to make a pledge—
he tithes (that’s 10 percent of his income, folks!)
He follows the ten commandments.
Sounds like a potential star vestry member to me!

Who wants a greedy tax collector next to them in their pew?

Jesus says, God does.
Jesus says, God loves us all.
God loves even those we cannot find in our heart a way to love.

Jesus is not giving out a message that says,
Oh, don’t bother to pray,
Just show up at church whenever you’re not too busy,
and forget about making a pledge
or living a moral life.
Jesus is not saying,
Go out and sin! It doesn’t matter to God one iota.
He loves you any way.
That is not the message here.

Jesus is saying,
If you get off track, if you make mistakes,
if you find yourselves lost in a maze of what feels like unforgiveable sins,
God is still here.
Ever-present, ever waiting for you—or me—to show up.
To come home.

But we need to show up with those seven words:
God be merciful to me a sinner.

It’s not a magic prayer.
You can’t just say the words
And poof! Everything is just hunky dory.

These seven words are not just a pre-emptive apology.
These seven words are sometimes all we have left if we have hit bottom:

God, be merciful to me, a sinner.

So those are the seven important words.
What are the two confessional statements and the one difficult question?

You are not going to find those word for word in this gospel reading.
Those I found on the Oprah show.

A friend sent me an email and said you gave to go on line to
and listen to a lecture by this college professor named Randy Pausch.

Randy Pausch is a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University.
Carnegie Mellon has a lecture series titled “Journeys”—
only originally it was “The Last Lecture.”
Essentially a professor is invited to give a lecture
of what they would say to their students,
if it was the last lecture they would ever give,
the last words of wisdom they could ever offer.

The ironic thing about Randy Pausch delivering this lecture
is that it may really be his last lecture.

Randy has pancreatic cancer.
He has battled it in every medical way possible-
but for this brilliant young professor, the strife is almost over.
He is, most likely, in the last months of his life.

Randy says many things in this lecture
but the one thing that really struck me,
especially in light of today’s gospel,
were two statements and one question.

Randy is giving advice on how to live a fulfilling life,
a happy, and we might add, a holy, life.

He tells his students—over 400 people showed up that day
to listen to his lecture—
you have to learn to say.
“I’m sorry.”
That is statement number one.

But you cannot stop there.
Next you have to be able to say words that are very, very difficult
for many of us to say:
“I was wrong.”

We all know we live in a culture of blame.
It is never our fault. It is always someone else’s fault.

We blame everyone around us rather than taking responsibility,
rather than holding ourselves accountable.
It’s a mean ol’ cruel world and everybody is always after me.
For most of us, that is just not true.
We make mistakes. We mess up.

This is the heart of today’s parable.
The tax collector IS holding himself accountable.
The tax collector is there before God and saying,
I messed up big time.
It is my fault.
I was wrong.
I am sorry.
Please forgive me.
Have mercy.

But Randy Pausch doesn’t leave it there.
He says there is still a question that has to be asked:
How do I make it right?

Often our apologies are just a way to slip out of sticky situation.
And off we go.

That is different than:

I’m sorry.
I was wrong. It was my fault.
How do I make it right?

I am not here today to preach the gospel of Randy Pausch.
But his story, his clear words offer us a window into the gospel,
a window into our own lives.
a window into our worship

In our worship we have a part of the service called the Confession.
This is not just a perfunctory part of the liturgy.
It is very purposefully there.
For you and for me
to say,
to admit, to confess, week after week,

I’m sorry.
I was wrong.
How do I make it right?

It is why we begin the confession with silence.
That little quiet space
before we begin to say the words of the confession aloud and together.—
that little silence has a “RESERVED” sign placed on it
just for you and for me individually.
What do you need to confess?
What do I?
Where have we gone wrong this week?
Where have we blamed someone else for something we have done?
Where have we been cruel or thoughtless or ignored someone?
That little bit of silence is to give us time to fill the blanks for our own sins.

Sin is anything that separates us from God or from our neighbor.

We confess our sins and we are asked to mean it.
We are asked to understand that we are on our knees or standing before God
and God is taking a close look into our heart.
We might be able to fool everybody else
but we cannot fool God.
God knows the truth.
God knows everything about us and everything about our lives.

God is present. There for us.
But if we cannot tell the truth,
if we cannot say,
I’m sorry.
It was wrong.
How do I make this right?--
Then it will be very, very hard for God to come in the door of our lives.

Blaming others is a padlock—on our lives, on our hearts,
on our relationship with God
and certainly on our relationship with other people.

If we cannot say those seven words—
God have mercy on me a sinner—
Perhaps it is because we believe that God doesn’t really love us,
can’t possibly love US, love ME!
But that is so not true.

God’s love is not what is in doubt.
God’s presence is not what is in jeopardy.

There is a wonderful scene in the old film CITY SLICKERS
when one of the characters has messed up and in despair he says,
I’m 40 years old and my whole life has been a mess, a total waste.

The Billy Crystal character assures him, it’s really okay.
He tells his friend he can have a “do-over.”
You get a chance to try again, you get a chance to make it right.

God is the do-over champion.
God gives us another chance.
God gives us mercy.
God loves us.

In our service of Holy Eucharist,
after confession comes absolution.
I as the priest stand here and hold up my hand to forgive you.
I don’t forgive you as your rector.
I forgive you in the name of God.
I forgive you—
but it is between you and God
as to how you will make it right—
to the person you have hurt, to the people you have blamed,
to your self whom you have disappointed.

After confession and absolution
We celebrate.
We offer God’s peace to one another
And then the bread and wine is offered to us.

God gives us everything.
God gives us more than we can ask or imagine.
We come forward and God blesses us with a do-over.
Start again. Try again.
We are called over and over
to open our hearts to the love and abundant grace of God.

Do not for a minute believe we have earned it.
It is pure gift.

Randy Pausch said he wrote his lecture not for his students--
and he loves being a teacher--
but he wrote his “last lecture” for three reasons—
Chloe, Logan and Dylan —his three young children.
This is the legacy he wants to leave his children.

This would be an amazing legacy for all children.
Know that God loves you.
Know that God forgives you
Know that God expects you to be responsible for your actions in life.
Know that God wants you to be aware of when you hurt others,
when you hurt yourself.
Know that God weeps
when you are hurting.

Learn how to say
I’m sorry.
I was wrong
How do I make it right?

God gives us a do-over.
We just need to be wise enough to take it.

God, have mercy on me a sinner.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Who is that masked girl?

Everyone had fun when Jo Ellen came and brought many beautiful and colorful handmade items from Panama.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Panama comes to St. John's

Jo Ellen Nutter, a missioner with the national Episcopal church who coordinates medical mission in Panama, was in Asheville and joined us at St. John's for Saturday evening and Sunday morning services and adult forum. It was inspirng to hear about the work that she does in Panama and to learn more about mission. Our congregation is discerning what mission will look like for St. John's. I won't be posting a sermon this week as Jo Ellen and I did a "duet" sermon--with me reflecting on the biblical context of the texts and Jo Ellen reflecting on how these texts are lived out in the mission work in Panama.

There are 75 missioners from the national Episcopal church who are committed to long term mission work. Regardless of our involvement in short term mission work, these long term missioners need the support of both individuals (that's us) and our parishes. You can check out Jo Ellen's blog (Hasta, Inc) on the link on this blog. What a joy it was to be with her.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Two sermons for Pentecost 20

We have two services at St. John's--a 5 p.m. service on Saturday evening and an 11 am service on Sunday morning. I usually preach basically the same sermon at each. This past weekend was different as we had a baptism on Sunday morning and it just didn't seem to work to preach the baptism sermon on Saturday since there was no baptism. So I preached on the gospel on Saturday evening and the Old Testament reading on Sunday morning. Both are posted here. Blessings.

Sermon Year C Pentecost 20 Proper 23
Luke 17: 11-19
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Asheville, NC
Saturday, October 13, 2007


Writer Anne Lamott says there are basically two prayers:

The first prayer is HELP ME! HELP ME! HELP ME!

The second prayer is THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

We are probably a bit more experienced with that first prayer—
As we become painfully aware of our need for God’s help
during times we are in trouble or despair.

Help me find a job…
Help me sell my house…
Help me pass this test…
Help me heal from this illness, this injury, this heartbreak…
Help my children…
Help my parents…
Help the one I love…
Help me.

Our gospel reading in Luke today is about ten people who need help.
And about one person, upon receiving that help, who stops to say thank you.

These people needing help are lepers.
Lepers are not just biblical characters.
Lepers still exist today.
And leprosy is still a horrific disease,
Though, granted, there is certainly much more hope
and much better medical care today
than there was in the Middle East in the first century.

These lepers in Luke’s gospel are desperate.
They see Jesus and they cry out
“Have mercy on us!”

They cry out from a distance because leprosy is contagious
and those with this disease were ordered by law to keep a certain distance
from anyone who did not have leprosy.
It was a disease no one wanted.

Because of the contagious effects of the disease,
because of having to keep your distance from everyone—
Lepers live very isolated lives.
They lose contact with their families and their friends
and living with leprosy equals a lonely life--—
physically, mentally and emotionally—
a very lonely life.

These ten lepers in Luke’s gospel are in despair.
There seems to be no help, no cure, no way out.
They cry for mercy.

And Jesus answers their cry.
“Go and show yourself to the priests.”
He sends them to the priests because that was how one was certified
as being clean, free of disease, contamination.
And they do what Jesus says—
and immediately as they turn to go,
they are healed, made clean, made whole once more.
They do what Jesus says.
They obediently go.

Except for one.
He ,too, turns to go and is healed
but he comes back.
He stops to say thank you.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
And he is made truly well.

Now we mustn’t be too harsh on the 9 that did not remember to say thank you.
Imagine what it would be like
to find yourself healed of a disease that you thought was a death sentence.
A disease which had isolated you from everyone you loved.
Imagine the overwhelming joy when you find yourself healed.
You rush off immediately to find your wife, your husband,
your parents, your children, your dog, your cat….!!—
To share the good news,
to hug and kiss and be hugged and kissed.
Because it has been a long and lonely time.

So I don’t want to be too harsh on those nine
that did not turn back
who did not remember to say thank you.
Perhaps I don’t want us to be too harsh
Because I know that I, too, am among those who
sometimes forget to say thank you to God for my many blessings.

This gospel reading has two parts.
The first is a story about healing.
The second part of the reading is about thanksgiving
And understanding who deserves the credit for all we have,
for all we are.

One out of nine understood that.
The one who realized that his healing was a gift from God,
was a Samaritan.

The reason the person is identified as a Samaritan is not just to tell us
where this man made his home
or to identify his ethnic group.
The man is identified as a Samaritan
because Samaritans were religious outcasts.

They were considered by the faithful people of that day
as “those people,”
“those heathens,” “those pagans,”
those people who do not know God
and who are not known by God.
Jesus tells this story
God loves and includes us all in that love.
God cares for each one of us.
God does not label any of us as “those people.”

Perhaps Jesus tells this story to help us open our eyes
to “those people” we tend to disregard or disrespect
to see that “those people” may be living lives
more faithful to the gospel than we are at times.

Perhaps Jesus also tells us this story to remind us
how easy it is to take our many blessings for granted.

Perhaps Jesus tells us this story to assure us
that when we cry out,
God is listening.
God will heal us
in ways that only God can heal.

Perhaps Jesus tells us this story to encourage us
to take time
to praise God
to worship God
to give thanks to God….
Not only with our words
but with how we live our lives.


+ + +

Sermon for Year C Pentecost 20 Proper 23
The Baptism of Jared William Ray
Sunday, October 14, 2007
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Asheville, NC
The Rev. Jeanne Finan


One of my favorite movie scenes
is the opening of the film The Lion King.
It is dark, very early morning.
You hear this wonderful music
and then you see animals running across the plains of the Serengeti--
zebras and gazelles, elephants and giraffes, monkeys and leopards—
all creatures great and small--
are running and leaping and hurrying
to gather.
Something exciting, something wonderful is about to happen.

And when they arrive, as the sun rises in the sky,
up on a cliff there is a baby lion cub named Simba
and he is being nuzzled by his adoring smiling parents
(lions smile, too—at least they do in cartoon features!).
And there is the wise baboon
who anoints Simba on his forehead
and lifts the little lion cub up
and the crowd of animals goes wild with joy—
roaring and trumpeting and stomping their hooves.

And to me, that scene is what baptism is all about.
We come together.
We share the joy of a child being claimed as Christ’s own forever.
We remember the purpose and promises of our own lives.
We celebrate.
We give thanks.

Knowing we are going to baptize Wiley Ray this morning—
I cannot help but think of that scene—
This is not to say Wiley is a lion cub
and I hope you don’t think I am a baboon!

But what I do think is this:
what a joyful morning!
If we had hooves,
we would stomp.
And if we had elephant trunks
we would trumpet!

What a gift it is to gather with you,
the congregation of St. John’s
and with all our guests and visitors
and to be here this morning with Jared William Ray
on the day of his baptism.

I also thought about Wiley’s baptism
as I read the scripture passage from Ruth this week.

It is one of the most tender, heartfelt passages in all scripture.

Naomi tells her two daughters-in-law,
Orpah and Ruth,
that they do not have to go with her
as she returns to the land of Judah.
And Orpah weeps and kisses Naomi good bye and leaves.
But Ruth refuses to let Naomi go by herself, to go alone.
Ruth says,
Where you go, I will go.
Where you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people
And your God my God.

That is love.

Wiley is here this morning to be baptized because his parents love him.
And because they love each other.
And because God loves all of them! All of us, too!

Emily and Jared want all that is good and beautiful and holy for their son.
They bring Wiley to the baptismal font this morning
so that he will never be alone.
They are willing to acknowledge that, yes,
Wiley is their beloved child,
but Wiley is also God’s beloved child.

And Wiley today becomes part of St. John’s
because we are witnesses to his baptism.
Part of our work as a congregation
is to offer our love and support to Wiley
and to Emily and Jared
wherever their spiritual journey leads them.
Our work—and our joy--is to be here for them.
Your people shall be my people
And your God my God.
Holy Baptism is full initiation
by water and the Holy Spirit
into Christ’s Body the Church.

In case you haven’t noticed,
the Church is not perfect.
Far from it.
We as human beings, as Christians, are not perfect either.
Far from it.
We have a long tradition of imperfection.
Fortunately, God seems quite understanding about that.

In our gospel reading this morning
Jesus heals 10 lepers and only 1 says thank you.
1 out of 10.
Not really even a decent batting average.
Yet, one did stop.
One person did realize what a blessing he had received.
Becoming like that one who remembered to stop,
to pay attention, to be grateful,
is our hope and our prayer.

We are not perfect.
But we are trying.

We are trying to love God and to love one another.
We are the Church.
The Church is not some abstract, theological doctrine-burdened beast.
Church is us. The people of God.
It’s real and it’s messy and it’s beautiful.

And we are yours, Wiley.
Ready or not—here we are!
Forgive us when we mess up.
I hope you will find it in your heart to love us anyway.
We, as the Church of God, are here to love you—always.

We live in a world where many things, many commitments, many promises,
can be broken, can be dissolved,
can legally be made null and void.

That is not true with baptism.
The bond which God establishes in Baptism
is indissoluble.
Baptism is once and forever.
Baptism is the promise that is never broken.

And now, let us stomp our hooves
and trumpet with joy
as we gather at the font to baptize Jared William Ray.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

blue birthday socks

My friend Danby sent me this cool amazing pair of socks for my birthday. The amazing thing is that she knitted the socks. how can anyone knit socks? Oh I know knitters do it all the time. I have a long history of knitting...or should that be a long history of not-knitting? I taught myself to knit from the World Book Encyclopedia. I knitted a long blue scarf. Never purled just knitted. That was in high school. Then after college I knitted another scarf--stripes of many colors--and sent it to now-husband Tom who was living in Amsterdam at the time. Then right after college I went with my mother to a knitting class when i was home visiting because she wanted to learn to knit. I enrolled with her but never knitted anything but my mother knit these little sock slippers. I think she knitted about two million pairs. We all got them every Christmas. They were great for putting on and slip sliding down a hardwood floor hallway. sweet Granny's slipper socks. Then in seminary a knitting group was formed. I think I spent all semester trying to cast on. I did finally manage to knit my daughter-in-law Natalie a scarf but it was a challenge--to me and to everyone in the group who had to help me continuously. I am sure the group finally asked my friend Vickie to remind me of the passage from Corinthians about all of us having different gifts and maybe knitting didn't fall in my gift category. So i was a seminary knitting group drop out. Then it became a ministry to knit prayer shawls. I thought, I can do this. It's just an oversized scarf. Dear Jane in my parish did the casting on for me. All I had to do was follow the very very simple pattern and knit. The stitches didn't seem to stay the same count on any row...the unfinished shawl sits in a canvas bag somewhere in this house. The good thing about being a failed knitter is that you are absolutely awed when you see what others have knitted. And when you get a pair of turquoise blue (the color of the sea around Iona on some days) socks (with a cable stitch design!!!!!!!) you are absolutely awed and thrilled and sure you have the most brilliant talented friends in the whole wide world (of that I am sure).So now I have this wonderful pair of handknitted socks. What a great gift! How wonderful it is to have dear friends!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Parish Picnic Sermon: We Silly-Nillies!

Every year St. John's has a parish picnic and the congregation gathers, this year at Lake Tomahawk in Black Mountain, to worship and to share a meal together. This is my sermon from this past Sunday. Justin, one of the youth in the parish, passed around a bowl filled with mustard seeds as I began my sermon. Each person took a tiny mustard seed to hold in their hand.

Sermon for Year C Pentecost 19 Proper 22


Increase our faith!
That’s what the disciples ask of Jesus.

That might make a very good goal on a parish profile:
Increase our faith!
That phrase is also a wonderful prayer—
one which all of us could pray every day:
Increase our faith!

It seems like such a daunting task.
We, who are filled
with so many doubts, so many worries, so much anxiety,
so long a “to do” list—
Is there any space left inside us
to increase our faith?

Yes! Jesus says, You silly nillies!
If you had faith the size of a mustard seed,
you could make this picnic table
hop over into Lake Tomahawk!
(I bet folks would never miss a parish picnic after that!!)

Look at these mustard seeds.
Take one and place it in the palm of your hand when the bowl comes around.

I’m not sure if it really is the tiniest of seeds.
Perhaps it was at that time or in that place in the world.
But it is indeed small.
Jesus makes his point.

We think we don’t have enough of what it takes to love God, to serve God?
We silly-nillies!
Indeed, we do have enough.
In fact, we have more than enough.

Maybe the faith, the gifts we have seem impossibly small, so insignificant.
But Jesus says, we all have enough already.

We need to erase our scarcity mentality,
to look with new eyes and see
that even if all we have is a teeny tiny amount--
of faith, of wealth, of grace,
God makes it enough.

I saw a photo this week of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field of the universe.
It took my breath away.
To think what is out there—in the sky—
what exists that is beyond our human seeing.

I remember when I was still working in museums
and I was working on an exhibit design,
working with several oceanographers.
One of them told me
we know more about outer space
than we know about the ocean deep.
So much mystery that is beyond what we can see.

Jesus calls us to go beyond.
To go beyond the simple “must do” lists of our lives,
to offer ourselves beyond what we believe is possible.
And to give thanks.

To give thanks for all we have, for all we are, for life itself.
To give more generously and abundantly of our wealth—
which we so often see as meager and limited—
but God sees beyond.

As we heard in the letter from Timothy this morning:
God did not give us a spirit of cowardice
but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

There is a piece written by Marianne Williamson—
Many think Nelson Mandela wrote it
because he used it in his 1994 speech
when he was inaugurated as the first democratically elected president of South Africa.
This was after he had spent 27 years in prison.
Here is part of Mandela’s speech/Williamson’s writing:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I
to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God…
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others."

Our tendency is to think we don’t have enough.
Our tendency is to think we are poor:
Inadequate in our faith
Inadequate in our wealth
Inadequate to be truly loved by God.
(from Marianne Williamson's book A RETURN TO LOVE)

Jesus says, You silly-nillies!
All it takes is faith or wealth or grace the size of a mustard seed,
and you can do miracles in this world.
We can. We really can.

Believe and give thanks!
Give thanks to God!

Friday, October 5, 2007

That pub across the road from St. Brynach's

After my last post I remembered I had this photo from a trip to Wales in June 2006. This is Sister Elizabeth Rees enjoying--not one but TWO-- ice cream sundaes at the pub across from St. Brynach's. A group of us from the University of Wales were on a day trip and stopped at the church and then the pub for lunch. Sister Elizabeth has written several books on Celtic Christianity that I treasure. The one I most recently read is CELTIC SAINTS IN THEIR LANDSCAPE. It is filled with stunning photographs as well as well-researched text.

St. Brynach's Baptismal Font Cover

This is the cover on the baptismal font at St. Brynach's Church in Nevern, Wales. I have visited this church twice now and will visit again I am sure. One of the finest high crosses in Wales stands outside the church, there's a pub with good food (don't forget the ice cream) across the road and the walk up to the church amidst yew trees sets the mood to be still.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Faithful Hibiscus

My friend Susan gave me this hibiscus plant (bush?) when I left St. Mary's in Blowing Rock at the end of May. It sat on the porch by our front steps all summer just blooming away and now this amazing plant continues to bloom and bloom and bloom even into fall. On days when I would feel discouraged or impatient or overwhelmed, there was the hibiscus, just faithfully blooming away in all its beautiful glory. Then I would think, well if you can keep blooming on a porch in a summer of drought, surely I can make it one more day. Sometimes the most unexpected things become our icons for faithfulness and stability.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Sermon for Year C Pentecost 18 Proper 21

Unity or Division? Heaven or Hell?

Perhaps it is my Baptist upbringing
but I really don’t want to go to Hell.
I don’t want to go there literally or metaphorically.

Today’s gospel confirms that for me.
I always feel a little shaky after this gospel reading.
The rich man is being tormented.
The rich man is in agony from the flames.
The rich man begs for relief.
And no relief is offered.

There is a rich man who has lived a life that was more than comfortable.
And then there is Lazarus--
a man whose life on earth was one of poverty and suffering.

Death comes to both rich and poor
and the fortunes of these two men after death is reversed.

Lazarus is at peace with the angels.
The rich man…
well, he’s in that place I don’t want to go.

Today’s gospel reading is also a story about division.
Division so severe and ingrained
that it continues on even after death.

Even after death,
the rich man cannot see Lazarus as equal to him.

It seems so obvious, doesn’t it?
Lazarus, taken up into heaven,
the rich man in the torments of hellfire--
yet the rich man still thinks God
is going to cut him a special deal,
the rich man still thinks
he’s the CEO of the universe.
He still thinks he’s the one giving the orders:

…send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue
…send Lazarus to warn my brothers

The rich man still sees Lazarus as a second class citizen.
The rich man is still blind to Lazarus being a beloved child of God.
Even after death the rich man just doesn’t get it.
Even after he sees Lazarus in heaven and himself in Hades,
the rich man still doesn’t get it.

How determined we can be
to keep our distance from those we think aren’t as good as us.
How arrogant we can be to those we think
aren’t as smart or hard-working or deserving as we are.
How many excuses we make to not include this group or that group,
this person or that person.
What part of love one another do we not understand?

Our bishops from across the United States
were in New Orleans this past week.
They had a daunting task before them
to respond to some difficult demands of the Anglican communion.

I have to be honest and say
that I am personally disappointed in some of their decisions.

I have to also be honest and say
that I am impressed with the discernment process they undertook
to come to these decisions.

Before they sat down to write their response to the Anglican Communion
to clarify the position of the Episcopal church,
they prayed together.
They worshipped together.
They worked together.

Our bishops do not all agree.
Our bishops do not all even like each other.
But before they sat down to do the work that too often divides our church,
they sat about doing things to bring them together,
they sat about to try to see one another in a new light.

For not only did our bishops take with them checks
to give for Hurricane Katrina relief,
they took their own selves and bodies and labor
for relief work, for mission work
in the still devastated city of New Orleans.

This is an entry I read on a blog by one of the bishops.
It tells of the work day.
It tells of a day where I imagine
there were more t-shirts and blue jeans to be seen
than purple shirts and clerical collars.

Here’s what one bishop wrote:

A wonderful, tiring day in New Orleans.
Busses to a former Walgreen’s Drug Store which will become All Souls’ Episcopal Church in a new church start, post Katrina.
Vans to various worksites.
A FEMA trailor in the front yard. An elderly woman, living there alone. Waiting for her house to be rebuilt.
Four young adults (volunteers) as crew bosses, teaching twelve of us about hanging sheet rock.

Five hours of hot, sweaty, humid work. Masks because of the dust…and mold still remaining in this house.
Measure the space…measure the sheet rock…cut the panel…carry and mount it…secure it with screw guns.
Four and a half hours later…with the young “regulars” and us old one-day volunteers…two rooms completed…clean up.
Others of us in mobile medical units…intaking patients…taking blood pressures…doing diabetes testing…listening…
Vans back to the new church start…a block party, complete with fried chicken, red beans and rice, and a jazz band.
Speech from an African American city council woman, praising the Episcopal Church, the Diocese of Louisiana and (even) the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Bus ride to the hotel…and a blessed shower…
Mission…however truncated and symbolic…
Unity…if only for a day…
(from the blog “That We All May Be One”,

Unity…if only for a day.

How sad and unfortunate that the rich man could not feel
unity with Lazarus for even one day.
How sad that he could not treat Lazarus with respect and dignity
for even one day.

How do we save ourselves from such torment?

Our reading from 1st Timothy this morning offers wise counsel:

Pursue faith, love, endurance, gentleness.
Do good.
Be rich in good works, generous and ready to share.

Sometimes it is very, very difficult to change the way we feel.
It is not as difficult to change the way we act.

We can act with generosity to others.
We can share the abundance that is given us.
We can act and speak gently and with kindness.
We can do good works.
We can fight the good fight in standing up for others
who do not have the strength or the position or the power
to stand up for themselves.

We can open not only our eyes but our hearts
to all that unites us
and refuse to be controlled
by those things which divide us.

The Episcopal Church Welcomes You!
That’s what the sign says at the end of Trinity Chapel Road.
and the arrow points right to this parish.

Our work is to welcome
and to give thanks that we, too, are welcome.

Unity…if only for one day.
At the end of the day,
we can hope and pray that one day
becomes two days,
becomes one week,
becomes one year,
becomes our life.

So that we may take hold of the life that is really life.

+ + +

Luke 16:19-31
Jesus said, "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.'"