Sunday, September 30, 2007

Pentecost 18 - Year C

Someone once said that if you want to find out who the Christians are, just ask the poor. They’ll be able to tell you.

That’s the challenge that’s thrown at our feet in today’s gospel reading. Jesus wants us to help poor people. That’s no surprise. We’ve heard that so many times that maybe that message has grown as stale a week-old-mug-of-beer. Luke can’t stop talking about poor people. He’s like your obnoxious hippie cousin who still lives in the summer of love, even though he was born in 1978.

Luke is suggesting that our salvation has something to do with how we treat those who need our help.

At least that’s what it sounds like in today’s gospel. To get a sense of the priority Jesus places on helping poor folks, just look at this text. This is the only place in scripture where Jesus identifies someone explicitly before sending them to Hell.

And it’s not because he didn’t have faith in Jesus. It’s not because he wasn’t baptized. It wasn’t because he couldn’t keep his zipper zipped.

The rich man is sent to Hell because he ignored a poor person who needed help.

It’s a hard story to listen to. Where most of the world lives on less than $2.00 a day, this story is directed squarely at us.

This is rich vs poor. There’s no getting around it. And Jesus sets up the story in a way that would make Rush Limbaugh’s head explode.

“There was a rich man who dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. But at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table.”

Talk about laying it on thick. A rich guy with delusions of royalty vs a sick, hungry, person lying on the street.

You might be thinking, so the guy’s rich. What’s wrong with that? This guy’s done very well for himself. He worked like a dog to earn every penny. Why should he be penalized for hard work and good financial judgment?

Before Sean Hannity could accuse Jesus of inciting class warfare, it gets better – or worse – depending on where you’re standing.

The rich guy dies and is sent to Hell. The translation we use –the NSRV - calls the place “Hades” - the more linguistically correct if less provocative name for Hell.

You know the rest of the story. The rich guy, lit up like Jimi Hendrix’s guitar, tries to cozy up to Abraham, who seemed to be in charge of the place, so he’d be freed from his eternal heat blisters.

When Abraham denies him even the smallest relief, the rich man begs Abraham to send him back home to warn his family about the perils of being such a tight wad.

But Abraham isn’t buying any of it. “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them. That should be enough.”

In other words, if they want to escape everlasting burn marks they just need to read their bible at least as often as the Financial Post. Then they’d know what God wants them to do.

But the rich guy ups the ante. “But maybe seeing me back from the dead will freak them out into repenting.”

However, before Bill O’Reilly can cut his microphone, Father Abraham snaps back, “I doubt it. If they don’t listen to scripture, neither will they listen to someone who’s come back from the dead.”

(Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink. He’s REALLY talking about Jesus. It’s called “foreshadowing.”)

Again, the rich man is in Hell because he ignored a poor, suffering, person camped out on his doorstep when he could have done something about it. But this rich guy kept the clamp on his wallet while stepping over the stinking mess of humanity at his feet.

This passage is about money. But it’s also NOT about money.

Probably one of the most misquoted lines of scripture is verse 10 of today’s second reading. “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” Maybe you move in different circles but I always hear people say “Money is the root of all evil,” not merely the love.

But the word “love” is the escape clause. I can always say, “Well, I don’t LOVE money. Money’s not the boss of me. I don’t bathe in it. Or sleep with it. I’m not obsessed with it. So, I’m safe.”

But what got Paul’s collar starched were people walking away from their faith because they felt that Jesus couldn’t give them the life they wanted. Paul kept on talking about the cross when all they wanted was a nice house in the suburbs and the occasional vacation.

Then there’s us, we’re in church, we haven’t walked away, we still worship and serve God. We still sit on church committees and contribute to the building fund. We pray. We’ve kept the faith. There ain’t no flies on us.

But this passage, too, is about money. But it’s also NOT about money.

The prophet Amos wasn’t afraid to say what was on his mind. When he had a word from the Lord his tongue didn’t get stuck when he growled.

“Alas, for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria

“Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat in 5 star restaurants everyday and sip 50-year-old scotch while lazing by the fire; who’re more concerned with Brittany Spears’ flabby gyrating than the grumbling bellies of the kids at their daughter’s school. They’ll be the first to go.”

“They’ll be the first to go.” Kinda sounds like a political tract by the wingnut faction of the looney-left. But, no, this is sacred scripture.

Like the other two readings, this is about money. And it’s also NOT about money.

To say these passages are about merely about money misses the point. This is your basic meat-and-potatoes Christian story of loving your neighbour. This is about how we treat one another. This story seems to echo an earlier saying, “where your treasure is, there your heart is also.”

This isn’t a story about Hell either. That, also, would miss the point. Jesus isn’t threatening us. I don’t think Jesus wants us to listen to Moses and the prophets for our own sakes, but for the world’s sake. This isn’t a story about Lazarus, a rich man with a compassion deficit, or even about God. This story is about us.

This is a story about us being so caught up with ourselves, and our own dreams, goals, and aspirations that we forget to ask if they reverberate with God’s dreams, goals, and aspirations. This is a story that tells us that our success cannot be at the expense of suffering people.

I love what business writer Tim Sanders says about goals. He has a fresh take. While many business writers talk about setting goals specific for YOU; they say that no one can tell YOU what YOUR goals should be, that YOU are in charge of YOUR life and YOU shouldn’t let others make important life goals for YOUR.

After all, it’s all about YOU. It’s YOUR life. No one’s going to live it for YOU, right?

But Tim Sanders is different. He has the temerity to tell you what your life goal should be. He says that your life goal is to participate in the alleviation of the suffering of others. Again, your life goal is to participate in the alleviation of the suffering of others.

In other words, he’s saying that, even if you have the house you’ve dreamed about since your were 5-years-old. Even if you landed the job you’ve worked your entire adult life to achieve. Even if you amassed so much cash that Bill Gates would blush with envy.

You are a failure if you stepped over the poor, suffering, person lying on your doorstep.

I’ve mentioned this before but it bears repeating. Sanders also says that the younger generations get it. He notes that 80% of young people will make substantial financial sacrifices to take a job that makes a positive impact in the world. They don’t just take the first job out of school, or the job with the biggest package. And they don’t just want to “make the world a better place.” They don’t want to tinker.

They want to transform the world because they have a passionate love affair with life. They don’t want to be like the rich man and his family who couldn’t see resurrection and transformation if it bit them in the big toe. Young people may not name the name Jesus, but it seems to me they are living out his mandate.

And I see the same thing in our congregation. We are actively pursuing the purchase of Our Lady of Assumption Church. And many of us have approached me with gleams in your eyes over all the possible ministry opportunities we’ll have if we move into that building. This isn’t merely an opportunity for a bigger space to meet OUR needs. Although that’s a piece of it.

But people have talked about enlarging our student drop-in ministry, starting a ministry to the homeless population growing in this part of the city, giving the 12-step groups rooms of their own so they can take broader ownership of their ministries. The possibilities are as large as our ability to dream God’s dreams. And God’s dreams always include the poor and suffering.

So, today’s readings are about money. But they are also NOT about money. They are about living God’s dreams of transformation and resurrection. After all, isn’t that what Jesus was all about?

May this be so among us. Amen.


Post a Comment

<< Home