Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sermon for the Feast of All Saints 2010

Singing songs of sunbeams and saints

I recently read an article by a man named Dave Hurlbert,
who, like me, grew up in the Baptist Church.
Dave writes:
When I was a six-year-old Southern Baptist,
I loved singing “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam.”

I, like Dave, remember singing that song as a little child
in the basement Sunday School classrooms
At Central Baptist Church--
feeling like I was the best and brightest sunbeam ever!
There was not a doubt in my body
how much Jesus wanted me for a sunbeam.

As I got older that sunbeam brightness got a bit tarnished
and at times I felt more like the Nirvana version of that song,
“Jesus DOESN’T want ME for a sunbeam!”

But by the grace of God, the journey continued,
And as an adult I discovered the Episcopal Church
and became an Episcopalian.
I don’t know if I still felt that Jesus wanted me as a sunbeam,
but I sure felt that I was wanted and welcomed as an Episcopalian!
I had found my home.

I quickly learned that the hymns we sing in my Episcopal home,
especially if we stick with the 1982 Hymnal,
the hymns are beautiful, pious, sophisticated, profound hymns—
but not too much along the line of Jesus wants me as a sunbeam!

But there is one (at least one) exception.
That’s hymn 293---I sing a song of the saints of God.

I remember so well the first time I heard this hymn.
I was still fairly new to the Episcopal Church.

Along comes All Saints Sunday
and suddenly we are singing …
And one was a doctor and one was a queen,
And one was a shepherdess on the green….
And one was slain by a fierce wild beast!

I loved it. The words to this hymn made me smile!
And the tune was downright perky!
How on earth did this hymn get into our Episcopal hymnal!

Here is what I learned:

This hymn was written by a woman, a British woman,
named Lesbia Scott.
She wrote this hymn in 1929--
She was married to a priest
and she wrote a number of children’s hymns
and published them in a little book
called Everyday Hymns for Children.

But interestingly, this particular hymn
is much more popular here in the States than in Britain.
The research I did said that this hymn
is “particularly loved by Episcopalians.”

Now this hymn was in the 1940 Hymnal
but they were going to remove it
when they published the 1982 Hymnal.
The reason for its removal?
The Committee said it lacked “theological profundity.”

But when word of this began to circulate
there was a letter writing campaign like they had never seen before!
Episcopalians across the country wanted this hymn to stay in their hymnal.
And so it has.

I love this hymn because it reminds me, all of us,
that ordinary people,
going about their ordinary lives,
striving to love God and love one another,
can be true saints of God.
I think this is what Jesus is trying to tell his disciples
in his sermon on the plain in Luke’s gospel today.

It is possible to be one of God’s saints.
Being a saint is not about being perfect,
or perpetually pious;
Being a saint is not about checking off a long list
of holy accomplishments.

Being a saint is about making some choices
on how we choose to live our daily lives,
how we choose to treat other people.

Being a saint is coming to understand
that wealth and power and prestige
can be more woe than blessing
unless we are extremely cautious.

Being a saint is about loving our enemies.
Doing good to those who hate us.
Praying for those we know are not praying for us.
Treating other people the way we want people to treat us.

Is this easy?
Oh my, no!
But Jesus seems to believe it is possible.

Being a saint is about learning to live an upside down life,
Very much like Jesus lived an upside down life.

The world teaches us to get everything we can—the sooner the better.
More money, more power, more control, more revenge.
More, more, more.

But Jesus says,
Dear saints of God, live a life that is upside down from the world.
Don’t grab and grasp. Let go.
Let go of your power, your money, your resentments, your fears.
Less, less, less.
Saints seem content with less of everything.
Less of everything except love.
Unconditional and abundant love is the mark of every saint.

It is not easy to love unconditionally but it is possible.
It is possible simply because
God has already given unconditional love to each one of us.
It sometimes takes us a while to notice but it is there
and has always been there.

Unconditional love was planted in our hearts,
tucked away in our brains, infused into our very marrow
before we were even born.
We have never been without God’s love.

In 2003 an internet survey was run by
asking people to vote on what hymn would they want
on their desert island if they could only have one hymn.

Which one hymn would you want on your desert island?

I sing a song of the saints of God came in at number 14.
With all the hundreds and hundreds of possible hymn choices,
it is not too shabby to come in at number 14!

There can be no doubt that we love this hymn—
we long to be one of God’s saints!

They lived not only in ages past,
There are hundreds of thousands still,
The world is bright with joyous saints
Who love to do Jesus’ will

You can meet them in school, or in lanes or at sea,
In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,
For the saints of God are just folk like me,
And I mean to be one too.

For the saints of God are just folk like me—and just folk like you!
Going out into the world
to be sunbeams!

Sermon for Year C Creation 4

The one who puts the pink clouds in the sky

Statistics show that 76% of Americans
identify themselves as Christians.
And 41% of Americans report that they attend church regularly.

However, several other major studies show
that people actually don’t tell the truth
about how often they attend church.
(Or maybe it just feels to them
that they attend more often than they do!)

The reality is that only about 21% really attend church regularly now—
with “regularly” being defined by the studies as at least once a week.

At our recent clergy conference we were given the statistics
that only 1/3 of the population in the United States
now attends church regularly—
but that study defined “regularly” as
meaning at least twice a month.

This means that 2/3 of the country is at this moment:
(a) still asleep
(b) not asleep but still in their pajamas
(c) sitting at Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts or Cracker Barrel
with coffee and a newspaper
(d) some place else other than in the pews, sometimes at work even.

I bring this up for two reasons.
The first reason is
the world has changed a lot
since Jesus told the parable we hear this morning.
The Temple is no longer our common denominator.

The second reason is
the world hasn’t changed much at all.
since Jesus told the parable we hear this morning.
We all come to church with different needs
and different attitudes.

Parables are teaching stories.
Jesus engages his listeners with a story
but he wants those listeners
to realize or learn something
bigger and more important than the story itself.
Usually he wants us
to learn something about ourselves.

The parable we hear in Luke’s gospel is this:
It takes place in the Temple, the Church.
We have two people in this parable.

First, we have a Pharisee.
I imagine the Pharisee
is definitely part of the 21% of the population
in church every week.

The Pharisee is over-the-top disciplined—he tells us this himself--
he does without food or drink—
he fasts-- twice a week!

The Pharisee tithes—gives 1/10 of his income to the Church.
Let me tell you,
stewardship committees and church treasurers all over the globe
pray for more Pharisees like this in the Church!

But there is another edge to the Pharisee—
he is critical and judgmental.
His joy is that he is not like other people.

The thanksgiving the Pharisee offers is
Thank you, God, that I am not like THOSE people.

The Pharisee comes to the Temple
not to praise God, not to be transformed,
but to give himself a holy pat on the back—
and to give a little verbal kick in the pants
to those who don’t measure up to his standards.

We need to be careful
what we bring with us through the door into the Temple.
We also need to be careful
that we do not say
Thank you God that I am not like this Pharisee!

One of the key sentences in this parable is this:
“The Pharisee, standing by himself….”
Standing by himself.

That’s where mean-spirited criticism usually put us—
ultimately standing by ourself. Alone.

You see these attitudes,
such as this Pharisee has developed--
and unfortunately passed on to some in the Church today--
these attitudes are at least partially responsible
for why some people choose
NOT to be part of a church.

Some people choose to stay away from church
because they believe the only people in churches
are judgmental holier-than=thou Pharisees.

Some people choose to stay away from church
because they do not want to become like the Pharisee.

But the Pharisee is not the only person in this parable.

We also have the tax collector.
Maybe NOT part of the weekly crowd at the Temple—
but maybe he is.

The tax collector may be standing up physically
but his heart is on its knees.

The tax collector did not come to the Temple to criticize any one.
He came to the Temple to look inside his own heart, his own soul,
and the only sinner he saw that day
was himself.
And he begged God’s mercy.

The tax collector is filled with shame --and pain.
The parable says, he was “standing far off.”

God has no desire for us to stand alone or to stand far off.
God longs for us to stand together,
To stand as a worshipping, caring community.

We as children of God,
we who do worship weekly
or monthly or even occasionally,
we need to spread the word that our pews--
at least in this church—
are broad and wide and long.
We need to continually seek ways to say and live into,

We need to welcome the Pharisees.
We need to welcome the tax collectors
We need to welcome everyone in between.
We need to remember that we are welcome, too.
With our questions, with our doubts, with our fears, with our joys.
Because God’s love is abundant.
There is more than enough to go around—
around and around and around.

We need to do more than just say, “Y’all come.
We need to go out into the world and invite people to come into the Church.
To come into the Church
with all your fears and doubts and skeptism and deep beliefs—
and let’s travel this journey together.

I don’t want to make your Episcopal barometers go haywire--
In case you are thinking I am about to send you out to Pack Square
or the Ingles parking lot with a sign
that says “Repent! The end is near!”

Evangelism to me is how D.T. Niles defined it:
“Evangelism is about one beggar telling another beggar
where to find bread.”

The world needs this good news.
Our community needs this good news.
Evangelism is about inviting a neighbor or a friend
to come to church with you one Sunday.

We need to go out into the world
and let people know that the Church is big and diverse!
And God’s heart is bigger than we can ask or imagine.

There is room for everyone.
There is room for the Pharisees who think they know it all,
and there is room for the tax collectors who weep
because they feel they know nothing at all.

Church at its very best
is a community of people who will welcome you and love you
and pray with you and pray for you.
And expect you to go and do likewise.

It is up to us
to change the way the world sees the church.
It is up to us
to change the statistics.

A few weeks ago, a preschool teacher
who teaches in a rather affluent pre-school
connected to a large University--
shared this story with me.

Listen in on this conversation of a group of 4-year olds:

Child 1: My birthday is the day before Jesus’ birthday.

Child 2: (Looking around the room) Who is Jesus?

Child 1: You know—Jesus!

Child 2: Jesus who?

Child 1: Jesus---THE Jesus—the Son of God!

Child 2: Who is God?

Child 3: (very excited) God is a light!

Child 4: (shaking her finger)
God knows everything you do—every thing!

Child 5: (joining in) God hears everything you say—every thing!

Child 2: Like Santa Claus?

Child 3: God is a light.

Child 6: (quietly) If you are really, really good,
God will put a pink cloud in the sky.
Just for you.

Child 2: Who is God? Who is Jesus?

My friends, we fool ourselves if we think the world today,
or even our neighbors,
know about God or Jesus or the Church.

We ourselves are all still learning, exploring, asking questions,
sometimes rejoicing, sometimes struggling.

We fool ourselves if we think that everyone knows
that there are churches that allow questions,
churches that really do welcome all God’s people.

We are the only ones who can go out into the world
and make that message of WELCOME ring true.
We are the only ones with the magic words, “Come with ME to church.”
Come with ME.

Come with me
and get to know the one who loves you no matter what.
Come with me
and get to know
the one who has a sky full of pink clouds.

Sermon for Year C Creation 3

Do not lose heart

Many of us, along with people all over the world,
were glued to our televisions this week
as the 33 miners in Chile were rescued.
Rescued after 69 days of captivity beneath the earth.
They all made it out of the mine alive.

Their persistence,
their ability to work together,
their understanding of the need
to allow their foreman to organize them into groups.
and structure their day—
and then to follow that structure obediently and faithfully—
all these things were part of what helped them survive.

Their day began with prayer.
That fact is often hurried over or ignored by the media
but it is true.
Every day under the earth--
not knowing if they would ever see their families again,
not knowing if they would ever
feel the sun and the wind upon their faces again,
not knowing
if they would ever sleep in a comfortable bed,
not knowing if they would live or die,
every day began with prayer.

As many of the miners were brought up to freedom and safety,
they immediately,
immediately knelt in prayer,
they showed and spoke expressions of gratitude to God.

I kept thinking of these Chilean miners
as I pondered and prayed with Luke’s gospel this week:
Pray always and do not lose heart.

It is easy to lose heart.
It is easy to become discouraged.
Much of life happens to us without much regard
to what we have done or earned.

We can work really hard
and still it may be a struggle to earn a living, to pay our bills.
We can try our best
and still people will complain about us,
criticize even our most heart felt efforts—
usually behind our backs.
We can eat right and exercise
and still we are sometimes struck by disease or accident.

Losing heart is almost what we should expect to happen.

Yet Jesus explicitly says DO NOT lose heart.

But he only says that after
he says PRAY ALWAYS.
This is the advice he gives his beloved disciples.
Pray always and do not lose heart.

I spent three days this week at our fall Clergy Conference.
Almost 70 of us gathered to learn from our speaker Mary MacGregor
more about spiritual gifts,
especially the gift of leadership.

We also had two lengthy conversations with our bishop
about what we think is going well in the diocese
and what we feel needs to change,
what we feel we can do better.
So we listened and learned and talked
and shared breakfast, lunch and dinner.

And we also prayed together. We sang together. We worshipped together.
We shared Holy Eucharist together.

We are a diverse group of clergy.
As diverse as the congregations in our diocese.

We don’t always agree, we don’t always see issues the same,
We have different visions and different needs—
both personal and in our parishes.

But there is one thing we know:
as different as we may be,
we are always be willing to pray together.
We are always willing to try to talk to one another.
At worship, we will sing out loudly--
even if someone has chosen our least favorite hymn—
or worse yet,
a hymn we have never heard!

There is nothing about ordination
that makes clergy the sharpest crayons in the box--
but we do know that praying together is important.

All of us, clergy and laypeople alike,
teeter on the edge of losing heart at times.
Some of us, on occasion, have fallen off that edge.

But there is a way back,
There is a way home.

Pray always.

Jesus would not have told this parable
if he did not understand how difficult it is to not lose heart.
Jesus would not have told this parable
if he thought it was always easy to pray.

But the truth is
Jesus DID tell his disciples this parable.
And Jesus tells us the same.

Even when things are horrid, no good, disappointing, heartbreaking—
even when the world and those in it
seem as unfair and grouchy and mean-spirited and hateful
as the judge in Luke’s gospel today,
do not give up.
Especially do not give up on prayer.

There is a story told about Mother Teresa.
She went to visit Edward Bennett Williams,
a rather legendary trial attorney—
who also at one time had owned both the Baltimore Orioles
and the Washington Redskins.
Needless to say Williams was a powerful man and a wealthy man.
Mother Teresa made an appointment to speak with Williams
to ask him for money for her hospice for AIDS victims.
Williams had a small charitable foundation.

Williams had already decided—saintly Mother Teresa or not—
he was not making a donation.
AIDS was not one of his causes.
He told his partner they would meet her, be polite but then say no.

Mother Teresa arrived.
She had the appearance of a tiny little bird of a woman.
She sat down on the other side of this enormous mahogany desk
And made her appeal.
Williams said, ‘We are very moved by your work and by your appeal,
But our answer is no.

Mother Teresa said, “Let us pray.”
Williams looked at his partner—
Then they all bowed their heads and Mother Teresa prayed.
After the prayer,
Mother Teresa repeated—word for word—her appeal for the AIDS hospice.

Williams politely—very politely—said no.
Mother Teresa then said, “Let us pray.”
Williams said, “All right! All right! “
And pulled his checkbook out of his desk drawer.

Maybe that is what Jesus is telling us.
Pray like Mother Teresa.
When nothing else seems to be working,
Do not give up. Do not despair. Do not lose heart.

One of my favorite programs on NPR is THE WRITER’S ALMANAC
with Garrison Keillor.
As a lover of poetry
and a fan of Garrison Keillor,
what’s there not to like?!!

One of the poems I heard recently is this one, titled “The Thing Is”, by Ellen Bass. Here is part of her poem:

to love life, to love it even

when you have no stomach for it

and everything you've held dear

crumbles like burnt paper in your hands…
you think, How can a body withstand this?

Then you hold life like a face

between your palms, a plain face,

no charming smile, no violet eyes,

and you say, yes, I will take you

I will love you, again.

That is what I believe prayer does for us.
It allows us to take this blessing of life,
this blessing of all that God has created,
and hold it between our palms,

And no matter how disheartened or hurting or discouraged we may feel,
prayer can bring us back to the Center.
Prayer gives us the strength to again say yes, yes,
to God.

I will take you, God.
I will love you, again, God.

You see, God never stops loving us.
Prayer helps us remember that.
Prayer helps us to learn to love as God loves.

Do not lose heart.
Pray always.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Pray always and do not lose heart.”

Sermon for Year C Creation 2


Think for a minute.
Do you owe someone, anyone a thank you?
Did someone have you over for dinner or treat you to lunch
or bring you a donut on a grey, rainy morning?
Did someone wash the dishes when it wasn’t their turn?
Did someone come over, give up their morning
to meet the furnace repair man
so you could attend a workshop?
Did your neighbor feed your dog when you were out of town?
Are you up to date with all your thank yous---
Or do you find yourself—like I do--
making a mental list of excuses—

I was all out of thank you cards.
I got swamped at work.
I think they already know I’m thankful.
I was tired.
I went out of town.
They went out of town.
I forgot.

The truth is
It is so much easier to remember what we need
and what we want
than to remember to give thanks
for all that we HAVE received.

It is difficult to cultivate a 24/7 attitude of gratitude.
It is rare to live a life of thanks-giving.
We pray, pray, pray for what we want, what we need,
and then when our prayers are answered,
we are done, and off we go—until the next thing we want or need.

Today’s gospel is the story of 10 people in desperate need.
Ten lepers whose deepest desire was to be healed.
There was no cure, no treatment for leprosy in the first century.

The ten lepers see Jesus enter a village
And they are desperate enough
to gingerly approach Jesus and, from a distance,
beg for his mercy.
He is their last resort.

Jesus does not disappoint them.
They were all made clean. They were all healed of their leprosy.
And off they went.

Only ONE turns back and says thank you.
Only ONE remembers to thank God for his blessing,
his healing, his being made whole .
Only one.
ONE out of ten.

But, for a moment, let me make some excuses for the other nine.
The nine did exactly what Jesus told them to do—
“Go and show yourself to the priests.”
Go, Jesus said.
And off they went.

In order to be accepted back into the daily life of a community,
a priest had to authorize that you were cured,
that you were clean.
(You can check out the book of Leviticus if you want more on that!)

Can you imagine being healed of leprosy—
suddenly realizing you could go home again?
You could see your family, hug your children,
shop in the marketplace!
It really should not surprise us at all
that only ONE thought to stop,
turn around and say thank you.

And yet…
and yet…
couldn’t they stop for ONE minute and say thank you
for this immense gift they had just received?

We all take a lot for granted.
We take our blessings for granted.
We take God for granted.

It is one of the reasons here at St. John’s
that we celebrate the Creation Season.
The eight weeks before Advent,
We remember the blessings of God’s created world.

We remember that with gift comes responsibility—
our stewardship,
for this “fragile earth our island home.”

I was up early on Friday morning
and when I stood outside and looked up at the dark sky,
it was scattered with stars!

The beauty took my breath away.
How easily I could have stood outside and just complained
about the chill in the air,
or lamenting that I had to get up so early….
but what a waste that would have been!
To miss thanking God for the stars in the heaven!

I have learned this week
that we must be thankful with more than words for creation.
Our thanks must also be in action, in caring for creation.

This week I heard Bill McKibben speak at Warren Wilson College.
If you don’t know Bill McKibben,
he is an environmentalist and writer.
He is part of an international campaign,
Of which many faith traditions are a part,
To reduce carbon emissions.
350 is the number that is the safe UPPER limit of carbon dioxide
in the atmosphere.
If we go above 350 we are in a state of climate crisis.

We are already at 390—
and we essentially zoomed up to that number
in the last 30 years.

Global warming is a rather charged political issue
but we, as people of faith,
need to hear it with our theological ears.
We are named by God to be the stewards of all God has created.

What would God have us do
as those who are called
to tend and care for this created world.?
Ignore it?
Hurry and go on our way?

Bill McKibben has been paying attention to his responsibility since 1984;
I have not.
Many of us have not.

As I listened to Bill McKibben speak I had a number of thoughts:
First of all, I thought about how much I take for granted.
I take for granted the beauty of the created world.
I take for granted all the many comforts I have—
many of them at the expense of the created world.
I take for granted that I will always have food to eat,
water to drink, gas for my car.

I take for granted that our trees will always turn glorious colors in autumn.
That I will always get to make my annual trek to Salter Path
and walk along the beach and wade in the Sound
and go out for great seafood at The Crab Shack.
I take for granted that God’s beautiful, perfectly created world
will go on and on and on. Forever and ever.

Bill McKibben made me aware that this “forever” is not likely,
if we continue on our current reckless path.

As I listened to Bill McKibben,
and as I read his latest book titled EAARTH,
I felt like I was hearing the voice of a prophet.
And it was not exactly a voice I welcomed.

I believe God still sends prophetic voices into our midst—
but we,
just like the people of ancient times
who rejected Jeremiah--and Amos and Hosea—
and the other prophets,
we don’t like what prophets have to say.
(The song on the jukebox back in those days would have been
“Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be prophets”!)

Nobody likes a prophet.

We don’t want to hear or believe that we might be messing things up,
that we might be behaving badly,
that our greed and self-serving ways may prove disastrous—
not just disastrous for us, but disastrous for others,
especially for generations to come.

We don’t want to hear or believe
that our actions—or lack of actions—are NOT pleasing to God.

Abraham Joshua Heschel writes in his book The Prophets:

Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony,
a voice to the plundered poor,
to the profane riches of the world….
God is raging in the prophet's words. (The Prophets Ch. 1)

God is raging writes Heschel.
God is raging and almost speechless at how we can be so ungrateful,
how we can take so much for granted.

(As Episcopalians, we don’t much care for the RAGING God.)

But God is not raging because God wishes to destroy US.
God is raging
because we are the destructive ones.
And we are so blind to our own actions—
Actions so often based on our needs and wants,
not on our thanks-givings.

God has truly given us everything.
A magnificently created world.
A true garden of Eden with animals and plants,
with food and water, with everything!
We take so much for granted.

Remember that ONE leper who remembered to say thank you?
He was on his way,
just like the other nine,
but then,
then he remembered.

He remembered that it was God who had made him well.
It was God who had rescued him from the darkness.
It was God who had healed him.
It was God who had given him life again.

The tenth leper turns around
walks back and falls on his face before Jesus.

We can go on our way,
Barreling through creation
Or we can stop,
Look around at all we have been given in creation,
And remember God.

We can become better stewards—
Not just through words but through action.

Yes, we may be just ONE in ten.
We may feel like a lone voice crying out in the wilderness,
speaking up FOR the wilderness,
FOR a suffering planet and suffering peoples.

We may be just ONE.
who is courageous enough and thankful enough
to take being a good steward of God’s creation seriously.

There is a saying, often attributed to Helen Keller,
simply because she used it so often,
But the saying was actually written
by her good friend Dr. Edward Everett Hale:

I am only one,

But still I am one.

I cannot do everything,

But still I can do something;

And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

What can we do?
Read the creation story in Genesis.
Read Bill McKibben’s books.
Go to to get a scientific viewpoint about global warming.
Plant a tree.
Ride a bike.
Take a hike.
Turn your thermostat down a few degrees this winter.
On occasion fall on your knees and give thanks.

Look around and see God’s creation
Make note of how good, how very good this creation is.
Give thanks and
accept the mantle of being God’s steward for this planet.

Maybe you are only ONE
but being ONE in ten
is so much better than being NONE in ten.

ONE is so much better than NONE.
Just ask Jesus.

Sermon for Year C Proper 21

Gates and Chasms

There was a rich man…
There was a poor man…

On this day when we are turning in our raffle ticket sales,
offering our pledge cards,
this is a difficult gospel.

Jesus is so clear in this story.
The rich man has had everything.
The rich man has taken it all for granted.
The rich man has lived as if he believed
he himself earned all these blessings.

Until he dies.
Until he dies and finds himself in Hades being tormented.
Until he dies and is face to face with Abraham.

The rich man is shocked.
Who is standing next to Abraham but Lazarus!
Yes, the very same poor, covered-with-sores Lazarus.
The very same man
the rich man used to treat like a dog—or worse.

The rich man winds up in Hades. Being tortured.
The poor man winds up in heaven. Surrounded by angels.

Abraham tells the rich man that, at last,
the great chasm has been fixed.
That great chasm that separates the rich from the poor
here in this earthly world—
yet in the kingdom of God, the poor are no longer the outcast.
The poor no longer reside outside the gate.
The poor no longer suffer and starve and have to beg.

Justice has come.
God has welcomed the poor and said,
Come! Stand here. Right beside me.

This is not how the rich man thought it would work out.
Or maybe the rich man hadn’t really given much thought
to how it would work out in the end.
When we live lives of comfort and abundance
we don’t really imagine not having
the same comfort and abundance—for ever.

Lazarus—and it is not a coincidence that the poor man is named by Jesus—
and the rich man is not.
This indicates to us that the rich man had so little contact with God,
that God did not even know his name.
Who needs God when you have wealth?
Who needs God when you have comfort and abundance?

The name Lazarus==translated from the Hebrew Eleazar—
means “God is my help”

God is all and everything Lazarus the poor man has.
The poor sometimes have a much deeper relationship with God
simply because they know what it is to be in need.

It is significant that Lazarus sits at the gate of the rich man.
He doesn’t sit on the other side of a high stone wall.
He sits at a gate.
Jesus is trying to tell us in this parable
that at any point
the rich man could have come and opened the gate
to Lazarus.
At any time, the rich man could have opened the gate
and welcomed Lazarus to eat at his table,
drink from his well,
have his sores bandaged and cared for.

But the rich man was too busy admiring himself in his purple and fine linen.
The rich man was too full from all his feasting.
Every day the rich man had a choice to go and fling wide that gate—
or even open it a tiny crack.
But he never did.

Lazarus sat there on the other side of the gate,
patiently waiting for any crumb that might be offered.
“Then he died” says the story.
Did he die from starvation?
Did he die because his wounds and sores would not heal, got infected?
Did he die from loneliness, depression?

Even when the rich man arrives in Hades
he still thinks he is the boss.
“Send Lazarus
to dip the tip of his finger in the water and cool my tongue.”

Even burning in hell,
the rich man looks at Lazarus and sees not a fellow human being
but a slave, a servant,
someone to order around, to use
for his own benefit.

Abraham has no words of comfort for the rich man.
Abraham takes a decidedly realistic point of view
And knows that no warning will do any good
For those who ignore God’s word.

This parable points to the future—
“neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

The rich, the comfortable think they have all the answers.

We too are separated by gates and chasms.
Who sits on the other side?

Undocumented workers.
People of different races, different religions.
Women who are paid significantly less than their male counterparts==
for exactly the same work.
People who are homeless.
The mentally ill. The disabled.
People we don’t agree with. People we think are wrong.

We each have to look at the gates we have that separate us from others.
God gives us choices, free will.
We can just keep going in and out of our gates,
never paying attention who is sitting on the outside,
or we can open our eyes
and see.
We can choose to open the gates,
Just as we can choose to keep them padlocked.
We choose.
We can prop the gate open
and welcome our brothers and sisters to join us at the feast.
It takes courage to leave a gate open.
Who knows who might come in?

If we are really brave we can even take the gate right off the hinges.
We can risk living in community.
We can talk to each other instead of ignoring each other.
We can talk WITH each other instead of ABOUT each other.

As we open the gates to others,
The gate between us and God swings open
wider and wider and wider.

As we open the gates to others,
Our hearts become more generous
and our lives become more vulnerable.

Is it terrifying
to risk letting go of the security of comfort and abundance
and always being “on top” in this earthly world
to open the gate and share what we have been given?
Indeed it is.

But Jesus tells this parable to show us the way.
Jesus tells this story so that we can let go of our “rich man” persona
and God can come to know us and call us by name.

Writer Anne Lamott says,
we only need two prayers.
Help me. Help me. Help me.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Lazarus understands.
Jesus wants us to understand, too.