Pentecost 16 September 29, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

PENTECOST 16 Proper 21 Year C
Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31

Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, September 29, 2019
The Rev. Janet Campbell

Several years ago,
during the week I was
preparing to preach on
the parable of the rich man and Lazarus,

I came across an advertisement
for a Pacific Northwest steakhouse.

Every time I think about this parable
I can’t help but remember that ad.

Under a mouth-watering photograph
of a sumptuous steak dinner
were the words:

“Real Misfortune Is To Have Never Dined Here,”

Aside from its terrible syntax,
there was something very wrong
with that assertion . . .

“No,” I thought,
“Real misfortune is never to have dined at all.”

Then I noticed in the photo
an overturned glass of wine
next to the dinner plate,
and a dark wine stain in the tablecloth . . .

“No need to cry over spilt wine,”
the ad seemed to be saying,
“cry if you haven’t dined at our restaurant,”

“Cry instead,”
I thought,
“over those who have nothing to eat.”

There was a rich man and a poor man,
said Jesus,
and there was a table.

The table was in the rich man’s house,
and the house was behind a locked gate,
and every evening
the rich man reclined at the table
and ate and ate
until he was satisfied.

There was no place at that table
for the poor man
who lay starving just outside the gate.

Every morning
the rich man,
dressed in fine linen
and a purple robe,
would hurry out of his gate,
locking it carefully behind him,
to be about the important business of his day,
the acquisition of more wealth . . .

. . . oblivious to the need of
that barely-living bundle
of rag-covered bones
lying at the gate,
even as he stepped carefully around it
so as not to dirty the skirts of his purple robe.

That bundle of rags and bones,
by its very nearness,
was his neighbor.

That neighbor,
by his very humanity,
was his brother.

But the rich man
could not see a neighbor and brother,
could not see a person,
across the chasm of privilege and prejudice,
and his own revulsion,
that separated them.

Every night,
returning from another profitable day
at the office,
he sidestepped the beggar
and hurried through his gate,
closing it firmly behind him,
anticipating
the pleasures of the evening.

And so, untroubled,
he would
hang up his purple robe,
and recline at his table,
at ease in Zion,
enjoying a lavish feast,
lamb from the flock
rich wine from the vineyard
and thinking to himself,
“This is the life.”

It was A life –
the kind of life
only money can buy,

but it wasn’t THE life,
“the life that really IS life – ”

the life of “godliness and contentment”
that Paul describes in his letter to Timothy –
the pursuit of the true riches:
“righteousness, faith, love,
endurance, gentleness.”

And, Paul continues,
to the degree that we are
materially rich,
being correspondingly
“rich in good works,
generous, and ready to share . . .
so that [we] may
take hold of the life
that really is life.”

It doesn’t sound at all
as if Paul has a problem with wealth,
as long as it is not unjustly gained,
or greedily hoarded.

But the true gift of wealth
is not a luxurious lifestyle
but having abundance to share.

In the parable,
the rich man has everything
except a name;
the poor man has nothing
but a name.

He is called Lazarus,
which means
“one whom God has helped.”

And how has God helped Lazarus
but by bringing him to the gate
of one who has the wherewithal
to help him –

At the same time,
God is helping the rich man,
offering him
a chance to “get a life – ”
the life that really IS life –
by using his wealth
to be rich in good works.

But day after day,
the rich man
refuses the invitation –

until . . .

death turns the table.

Now Lazarus
is in the place of privilege,
at Abraham’s side in paradise,
and the rich man is outside the gate
in fiery torment.

Now he does see Lazarus,
but only as an underling
who might be ordered by Abraham
to serve him.

“Father Abraham,
have mercy on me
and send Lazarus
to dip the tip of his finger in water
and cool my tongue . . .”

Now the one who showed no mercy
for Lazarus
begs for mercy for himself.

Now the one who couldn’t bear
for even his clothing
to brush against the unclean beggar
begs for the touch of an unclean finger
on his tongue
for just a drop of water . . .

But the chasm that separated
the two men,
easily bridgeable in life
by the one with the resources to do it,
has become fixed –

no one can cross it in either direction.

All the rich man had to do
to be where Lazarus is now,
was to be where Lazarus was then.

The rich man thinks suddenly of his brothers –
his biological brothers that is –
perhaps they might be spared this torment
if Lazarus could be sent
on an errand to warn them –

“No,” says Abraham,
“they have Moses and the prophets;
they should listen to them.”

If they can’t hear
God’s repeated call
in the Scriptures
to be a people of justice:
giving food to those who hunger,
sheltering those who are homeless,
lifting up those who are bowed down,
sustaining the orphan and widow,

then not even a miracle
will get their attention,
break open their hearts,
and convince them to change.

“Alas for those who are at ease in Zion . . .”
wrote the prophet Amos
in a time of societal heedlessness
not unlike our own . . .

“. . . alas for those who lie on beds of ivory,
and lounge on their couches,
eat lambs from the flock
and calves from the stall;
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp . . .
. . . drink wine from bowls
and anoint themselves with the finest oils . . .”

Through Amos,
God cries out to God’s people,
“I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies . . .
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” [Amos 5:21,24]

Unless the worship of God
results in justice and righteousness,
the ceremonies of the religious
are an insult to God.

And what of our solemn assemblies?
Our gatherings at this Table.

We may think it was an architect
who put it here,
but it is God
who has placed it in our midst.

Placed it in our midst
to be a
sign of God’s kingdom Table.
This Table,
where
all who would come are welcome,
all who are hungry are fed,
and the very life of God
in the forms of bread and wine
is freely given
to be equally shared by all.

This Table,
sign of Christ’s offering of himself
for the life of the world.

This Table,
sign of our participation
in Christ’s offering.

This Table,
an indictment of a society
in which real misfortune
is not about
not having eaten at some steakhouse . . .

but about not having eaten at all.

If we do not see that
when we approach this Table,
we are not seeing
this Table at all.

Every Sunday,
we bring to this Table
our offering to God
of bread and wine
to be taken, prayed over,
blessed by God and broken.

And after the prayer and the breaking,
we bring to the table
our offering to God
of ourselves . . .
to be taken, blessed,
hearts broken open in pity
for the needs of God’s hungry world.

Receiving Christ
in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood
we become that which we receive.

We leave the Table,
God’s own Christ-offering
for the life of the world.

And we pray as we leave:

“Send us now into the world in peace,
and grant us strength and courage
to love and serve you
with gladness and singleness of heart . . .”

And what is this “loving God,”
but loving God’s poor,
and what is this “serving God,”
but serving God’s poor?

“So, let justice roll out these doors like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

 

 

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