I speak to you in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier
Since Queen Elizabeth’s death I have spent a good deal of time (too much time) watching and reading about the pomp and circumstance going on in England. I was reminded of a trip my daughter Jennifer and I took many years ago to England. I grew up in the Boston area and took the T into Boston for school, work and pleasure. The train is tight against the platform. In London, however there’s a gap so, when the train comes into the station there’s always an announcement ‘mind the gap’. I still have the souvenir magnet on my refrigerator. It would be all too easy to get caught in the gap and stumble if one isn’t paying attention.
Today we hear cautionary tales in our Hebrew reading from Amos, Paul’s letter to Timothy and as well as in our Gospel. All three caution that wealth can be difficult to manage. Wealth can create a gap between those who have it and those who do not. Wealth is not a bad thing depending on how it’s managed.
Let’s look first at the prophet Amos. Amos was living around 750 BC. He was a shepherd and cared for sycamore trees. Time and time again, when taking his goods to market he witnessed the injustice of the rich over the poor; those with power and those without any power. Amos had a series of ‘God’ dreams and then warned those in power, the keepers of the gap, those who take care only of themselves in luxury ignoring the poor, that they were not following God’s will and God would send them into exile, into the gap. They were living the ‘prosperity gospel’ believing they were rich because they deserved to be. They were faithful with their ritualistic offerings and obligations which they believed brought them divine favor. The poor were that way because they didn’t participate in these obligations. Amos tells them that they are deceiving themselves if they think God cares about their rituals and not the care of the poor. Going to church or temple alone does not put anyone right with God. Worshiping God means loving our neighbor and caring for our fellow human beings. Of course, they don’t believe Amos and continue to ignore those around them until they are, in fact exiled. Amos’s focus is on the injustice going on around him; the gap between those who worked for justice and those who did not. Amos knew that everyone was equal in God’s sight. God brings justice to the unethical status-quo. God does mind the gap.
Turning to Paul’s letter to Timothy we heard “But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” Trapped, plunged and destruction sound like things we want to avoid. Paul tells Timothy and his growing community to avoid destruction by being content with having enough. It is all too easy to spend our time gaining wealth only to find ourselves going away from what God calls us to. Paul reminds us that we came into this world with nothing, and we will leave the same way. You’ve no doubt heard the saying “you can’t take it with you’. While we are on this earth we should ‘fight the good fight’ and do what we are called to do: ‘pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness’.
The major theme in Luke’s Gospel our believing in Jesus means we will take care of the poor. Last week our Gospel began with the same words as today: There was a rich man and last week ended with the words “You cannot serve God and wealth”. He continues that theme with the parable of Lazarus and the rich man.
The rich man in today’s gospel was not identified by name. His wealth is not the issue in the parable, only what he chose to do with it. He concerned himself with how lavishly he could live. He didn’t care about Lazarus or anyone outside his gate.
Lazarus, the only person in one of Jesus’ parables with a name, sat by the gate to the rich man’s home. Picture a nice, gated community in which the rich were inside and the poor on the outside. The rich man without a name kept himself separate from the rag-tag, sick, and poor people such as Lazarus who sat outside his gate. In those days the belief was the poor were being punished because of their sin, or the sin of the parents. So why should he pay attention to someone like Lazarus? Why open the gate and look at what’s on the other side?
It’s a difficult story to hear, isn’t it? How could someone be so callous to someone they presumably see every day? Is it that difficult for us to imagine? I’m afraid not. When we see people like Lazarus on the street, we often think that the person is there because they have done something wrong, they are lazy, they have a problem with drugs or alcohol. The perception is that they must have done ‘something wrong’ or they wouldn’t be in the situation they find themselves. When we make assumptions about another’s need or lifestyle, we are the Pharisees and/or the rich man. As Christians we are asked to look at everyone as a child of God just as we are a child of God.
Many people here are involved in lots of ministries and we do what we can to attend to the Lararuses around us. We bring food kits for Square One, we clean the environment with Green N Fit, we support an Afghan refugee family, we visit those in jail, we donate coats and boots, we vote so that our voices are heard in order to alleviate the suffering around us. My favorite is the Big Blue Drop-In Center where we engage in conversation. Having a conversation is helpful to gage what a person is really looking for. Sometimes people simply want to be heard. This is a reason the Drop-In Center exists right here at the Cathedral. We want to hear the stories. We want to give people a safe place to tell those stories. We want people to have a sense of dignity while telling their stories.
There are some needs we can meet, and others we can’t. There are things we can control and things that are out of our control. Can we open the gates wider in our lives and look with compassion on those we have kept on the outside, sitting on the bench? Can we look at Lazarus, a person in need the same way we look at our favorite friend and do for Lazarus what we would do to alleviate the suffering for that favorite friend?
The gap is widening every day and we are being asked to find the gaps in our lives and do something to stop the gap from becoming a chasm. Jesus issues an invitation for us to stop the widening by opening the gate and stepping forward to care for all those he loves. Jesus is the gate.
As we are more and more responsive to the pain, hunger and hopes of those we meet, we meet ourselves in our own humanity. Amen