Sunday, November 7, 2010

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.

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