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”, www.ecubishop.wordpress.com)

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.'"

1 comment:

Susan said...

Thank you for this, Jeanne. Your keen way of sharing your wisdom continues to bless us. Glad to see that "Happy" Hibiscus continues to thrive. God's Grace appears in everything, yes?