Sunday, September 29, 2013

Who Is Your Lazarus?

Proper 21C

So as we turn our attention towards the Stewardship season quickly approaching, we get this: today’s gospel.  It’s one heck of a way to begin stewardship.  It actually looks like Stewardship Dream Sermon material – until you dig a bit deeper.  It’s not as simple as it looks at first glance (or as I suspect, many of us have heard it preached).   This is not a parable about those who do not give going to hell.  It is far more complex than that. It is not about after life, but it is about life itself.

One of the new changes in the liturgy is the new opening prayer – today we prayed about our thoughts, words and deeds – the stuff of every day, minute-to-minute life.  That’s where we will find fodder for the sermon today. 

There is a joke going around Facebook:

You see, I don’t believe the sin was in being rich, but rather in feeling better than – feeling privileged – even in the after life, the Rich man wants to command the ones he sees as lesser than he – “send Lazarus to give me a drink” “send Lazarus to tell my brothers” – it’s not that he was rich, it’s that he simply didn’t care.  He felt privileged, calloused, careless, and his voice proves it. 

There is a big problem in our society right now that has this same underlying problem of privilege.  It has been troubling me for some time.  I have a friend who is an Episcopal Priest in Philadelphia who encapsulated it – I’m going to read you an edited version of what she wrote just yesterday:

So I went to this Hare Krishna Radha-Krishna parade and festival today, mainly because I love Indian things and religious things and colorful things and this was all three wrapped into one. It was chaotic and noisy and joyous and before we knew it Mitch and I went from cooing over tiny Radhas and Krishnas and Hanumans being chased by their parents to joining in the group pulling the enormous chariots carrying shrines and pandits and statues by hand ropes down the Parkway. It was sunny and hot and transcendent and fun, and everyone was joining in the chanting and the pulling and the crowds of tourists and runners and random folks watching from the sidewalk quickly became a part of the parade. It is hard to explain now but it made me fight back tears because it just seemed like a big, crazy, jubilant exercise in God-inspired hospitality rolling down the parkway in clouds of incense and bell ringing, sucking in everyone in its wake. 
 Once we arrived at the festival ground, the chariots did a few laps of the circle in front of the Art Museum and roughly a thousand people (including me and Mitch) got in line for a Vegan lunch, which the Krishna Society was providing as a gift to the people of Philadelphia as a sort of prayer of thanksgiving to God. 
 Anyway, as we stand in line, admiring the sea of people milling around in front of the Art Museum, checking out informational booths and family activities and cultural displays, a voice comes over a loudspeaker and harangues all of us as idolators, and starts screaming about Baal and worshipping in the high places and Jesus coming to save us from Satan. People got quiet and tried to figure out what was going on, and there he was, in the middle of the crowd, standing on a concrete block with a few folks holding a PA system- the street preacher. There was a college fair of some sort going on nearby, so there were groups of 18-20 somethings mixing in the Krishna crowd and making up a majority of the folks in line in front of us, and the four young women who had been chatting away happily next to us sighed and rolled their eyes, because, ugh, Christians. 
 I was shaking with rage- this man wasn't just being rude- he was misrepresenting the faith that I've given my life to, making a mockery of the Gospel, using Jesus Christ as a weapon to bludgeon people who were offering food and drink to everyone, no restrictions, because they believe God is a good God, and he was claiming to speak for me. And by standing by silently, I was letting him. Here's the thing: this is how we are losing the battle for Christianity in the world. We are letting someone like this guy bully his way into being the voice of Christians everywhere. How do we fix this? Do we carry around our own megaphones? Yell out our stories of God's love, no exceptions, and how we are moved to live lives of compassion, charity, humility because of our faith in Jesus? Maybe. I really don't know. But we need to do something. Fast.  (The Reverend Mariclair Partee Carlson, Faceboook 9-28-13)

This idea of who is speaking for us as Christians – is troubling to me – others presume to define Christianity, and the loudest of those voices right now would have us walk right by Lazarus – not offer him food stamps or healthcare or mental health support.  They are voices that sound very privileged and callous and careless to me.  I’m not going to say they are not Christian – that’s between them and God – but I will say that they do not follow the same Jesus Christ that I work really hard to follow in my life.  The same Jesus Christ who tells us this parable in this Gospel today.

Our thoughts, words and actions need to move from being numb to other’s needs, feeling self-sufficient, and feeling privileged – to becoming more responsive to the needs of other’s, realizing that what we consider luck is actually grace, and that we are never too privileged to care for other human beings.   Moving from a stance of privilege to a stance of humility allows us to be more in tune with humanity and the God we see in each other’s faces. 

It is not a sin to be rich, and it is not a sin to be poor – however, it is a sin to not care for others around us.  It is not a virtue to be rich, and it is not a virtue to be poor, however, throughout time and history, God has always had a preference for the least, the lost and the last.  That’s a sobering thought: God prefers those we may feel are less than we are.

I have an exercise for you today – you know how I like to give homework. I am going to ask for your trust as you get comfortable in your pew.  I am going to ask you to close your eyes and I will ask you two questions, then we wil sit in silence for one minute.  Relax and close your eyes. So who is your Lazarus?  Who is the lost, lonely, poor, depressed, homeless, abused, addicted, sick, imprisoned person you walk past every day? ... I hope God has placed someone on your heart.  I hope as a community we can ponder which groups we walk past every day and pay no attention. 

We can imagine ourselves as the Rich Man, and sometimes even as Lazarus in a bad stretch, but here’s the truth: We are the 5 brothers in this story, and we have been warned.  Amen.

Audio of this sermon in the Podbean Player on the right sidebar.

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Please be graceful with me and others!