Homily for the 20th Sunday of Pentecost September 25, 2016 The Rev. Grant Rodgers
Today’s readings have much to do with learning to see the true and lasting value in situations and in people, from our first reading in Jeremiah, through the reading from I Timothy to the Gospel from Luke 16.
In our Baptismal Covenant (which we all re-visited last Sunday and to which we just re-committed ourselves), we answered the question: “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself,” by saying “I will, with God’s help.”
Last week’s Gospel quoted Jesus saying it is impossible to serve both God and wealth. As the First Letter to Timothy says: “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”
One of the prayers of the Burial Office of the |Book of Common Prayer says “we brought nothing into the world, and it is certain we carry nothing out …” It is a great and solemn and yet absolutely truthful statement that puts everything into much greater perspective, and it is a direct quote from I Timothy, the second reading today, which also says:
“As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”
It points up our tendency to accumulate so much stuff and to identify with it so completely that it begins to own us, like hoarders eventually becoming overwhelmed and even walled in by their own possessions. I believe that God in Christ wants us to have the life that is really life, not some counterfeit or facsimile that you can buy at Walmart.
So in today’s Gospel Jesus tells the story of two men: one who had it all and one who was so low in the world that people didn’t even notice him. Only the dogs paid any attention, almost as if they were caring for him, which we know, of course, dogs can and will do. Dogs sometimes see things in people that other people miss, and that is a key to this story.
It is one of the few places that Jesus speaks of judgement and the afterlife — about the consequences of living a self-indulgent and inconsiderate life.
And he offers this story as a cautionary tale – a warning – that speaks into our future as individuals and as a society. It remains prophetic because it says what happens to people when they see themselves as superior and entitled and become oblivious and closed to the needs of others – that eventually they find themselves so far from God and from any hope of real life that they experience real agony and regret.
Today’s Gospel is in part about how people’s true nature eventually emerges and becomes their destiny, and as often happens in Luke’s Gospel, the end result is a surprise.
Most of the time we don’t pay any attention to what happens to the victim of the story, but this gospel is one in which the really significant person is the poor man, the victim, and not the wealthy and respectable citizen who chose to ignore him.
It’s hard to hard to blame the rich man — he is simply a success in the usual and conventional terms that societies create. Indeed, we are usually taught by our well-meaning parents to keep away from losers and weird people and to try to situate ourselves among the respectable and decent people of the world. But Jesus seems to say that God places things and people in our path that may challenge us, possibly to oblige us to look at the shadow side of life, and our own fragility, but also to give us an opportunity to become the person God designed us to be, rather than letting the world define and fashion us.
“At the rich man’s 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”
This is not an easy Gospel to hear. In fact it’s a bit disconcerting to note that: every year, consumers in industrialized countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa; that in North America, 30-40% of the food supply is wasted, equaling more than 20 pounds of food per person per month; that in Toronto, single-family households discard about 275 kg of food waste each year – that Canadians waste an incredible $31 billion in food every year. It brings that line from today’s Gospel into very contemporary focus and relevance.
Canadians have traditionally been quite generous, but we are constantly being bombarded with messages in the media from our Government, our banks, insurance companies, lotteries, etc. that urge us to look out for ourselves, and save ourselves from the possibility of financial ruin. Canadians have been made so anxious over the future that in order to make sure we are OK, that we are financially solvent in our old age, we are tempted to ignore or leave behind the concerns of those who need help far worse. I want to ask, where does faith ever come into play as we reflect on our future? Certainly not in those insidious ads that claim to have our best interests at heart.
As the saying goes: “the health of any society is judged by the way it cares for its most vulnerable.” Today’s Gospel warns us that the health of any individual may well rest upon how they deal with those apparently insignificant encounters we have so often, every day – how we relate to those people we would rather not even notice or pretend we don’t see – that our life is made up of a mosaic of incidents and moments – that the larger and final picture we create for ourselves is made up of all kinds of almost unconscious moments in which we are faithful (or unfaithful) in the smallest of things.
Just this month, Mother Teresa of Calcutta (Kolkata), was designated as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church. Her ministry among the poorest of the poor remains inspiring. She was a woman who never let us forget the most vulnerable among us, and helped us see something beautiful in them and in her love for them. As she said: “Seeking the face of God in everything, everyone, all the time, and his hand in every happening — this is what it means to be contemplative in the heart of the world. Seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor.”
A long time ago I read a book about Mother Teresa called Something Beautiful for God. Now, as I stand in line at the grocery store, looking at all the magazine headlines aimed at young people, I wonder if our civilization hasn’t already gone over some cliff. But a very different kind of teen magazine called New Moon suggests maybe there are still people out there not completely captured by the gross materialism and objectification of the age. It is entirely written by young women and contains articles like “Visit the birthplace of Mother Teresa” (even though it’s not a religious magazine). In their book, Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes Sharon Lamb, Ed.D.and Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D. write: “New moon redefines beauty as “good hearts, great works, and activism.”
Kahlil Gibran told (or re-told) and old story about the nature of beauty and ugliness:
“One day Beauty and Ugliness met on the shore of a sea. And they said to one another, ‘Let us bathe in the sea.’ So they disrobed and swam in the waters. And after a while Ugliness came back to shore and clothed himself with the garments of Beauty and walked away.
And Beauty too came out of the sea, and could not find her clothing, because Ugliness had taken it, and she was too shy to be naked, so she dressed herself with the garments of Ugliness. And Beauty walked her way.
And to this very day men and women mistake the one for the other. Yet there are some who have beheld the face of Beauty, and they know her, notwithstanding her garments. And there are some who know the face of Ugliness, and the clothing does not conceal it not from their eyes.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus reveals that eventually a person’s inner ugliness comes out and becomes manifest and visible, and also that a person’s inner hidden beauty will become their fulfilment. In the world as Jesus defines it, down is up and up is down – the last are first and the first are last – the poor are blessed and the rich are sent away empty-handed, the generous are rewarded and the self-serving end up with nothing but misery.
Some, like St Francis and St Teresa, and Jesus certainly, are drawn to the poor and the rejected, but most people (most of us) want to go the other direction – to associate with the elites, to rise above all that failure and futility, to be upwardly mobile, to be with more interesting and accomplished and intelligent and influential people — to distance ourselves from all the distressing stuff of the world by putting up walls and barriers.
In Christ God does the opposite. “Downward mobility” is what some people call it, and it goes against the grain in the kind of society that surrounds us. The Gospel is what you call “counter-intuitive” — it doesn’t seem to make any sense – it is illogical and it requires real faith to embrace it and ride with it.
As Richard Rohr says: “One of the few subversive texts in history, believe it or not, is the Bible! The Bible is most extraordinary because it repeatedly and invariably legitimizes the people on the bottom, and not the people on the top. The rejected son, the barren woman, the sinner, the leper, or the outsider is always the one chosen by God” Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer
What we are doing this morning in this Eucharist is a radical thing, anything but conventional. It is meant to draw us into solidarity with Jesus and his subversive Gospel with its preferential option for the poor, with its “bias from the bottom” (Rohr).
Brandon Vogt wrote: “Mother Teresa and her sisters celebrated [Eucharist] every morning at 4:30am. For them, the liturgy, the Eucharist in particular, was key to living out [the Gospel]—to seeing Christ in the poor … Faith helps us transcend sensory experience to spot the divine image in its most ordinary form . . . Seeing Christ in the Eucharist enabled Teresa to see him in the streets. ‘If we recognize [Jesus] under the appearance of bread,’ she explained, ‘we will have no difficulty recognizing him in the disguise of the suffering poor.’ This is why Mother Teresa could say, ‘I have an opportunity to be with Jesus 24 hours a day’” (Jesus in His Most Distressing Disguise September 05, 2014).
“I have an opportunity to be with Jesus 24 hours a day.” We all do. This is our vocation as followers of Christ – this is the diaconal role of the church – this is an essential aspect of the priesthood of all believers, and a lot of it has to do with being willing to open our eyes. We are called to the poor, the despised, the rejected, not out of some sense of condescension or noblesse oblige, but in order to reveal to the world the true value in people, especially where the world is tending to de-value or destroy certain people — it is to wake up and open our eyes to what is really going on around us, and to engage it in the name of Christ and with the love of Christ.
I pray that God will open the eyes of our hearts that we may see that the Christ is always in our midst, and help us not be oblivious to the presence of Christ, especially when he/she is standing right in front of us.
The Rev. Grant Rodgers+
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him. Jeremiah said, The word of the LORD came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the LORD, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD. And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-161 You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday. Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name. When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them. With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.
1 Timothy 6:6-19 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 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. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time–he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.
Luke 16:19-31 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And 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; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house — for I have five brothers–that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ braham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”