The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s193g07 Sunday 26 30/9/07
'send Lazarus' Luke 16.24
I find it fascinating that one can read such a story again after so many years and continue to find new insights previously hidden.
Even in Hades, the rich man retains his sense of order and priorities. The role of the poor like Lazarus was to do the bidding of the rich, and the role of Abraham was to enforce this. He has no conception that everything has been turned upside down and inside out. He continues to live as if he is in charge when manifestly he has lost everything. One gets the feeling that after a lifetime of being the centre of attention this rich person has come to believe that God and other people are there for his personal benefit.
It strikes me that here are a couple of significant examples of un-answered prayer. Even a simple act of charity of cooling the tongue is refused. Abraham has (it seems) no interest in the salvation of the rich man's five brothers. This may come as a surprise to those who believe in the power of prayer or a God whose love is everlasting and uncritical.
The role of the poor is not to do the bidding of the rich, and the role of prayer is not to get God, Jesus or the Blessed Virgin Mary to get the poor to do the bidding of the rich.
The story of King David's tryst with Bathsheba and the contrived death of her husband Uriah, was brought home to the King by the prophet Nathan with a story very similar to our gospel for today. Again there was a rich man this one had visitors to feed. Rather than taking one of his own sheep he took a poor man's sole lamb. The point is clear, if the sacrifice you make to God is actually at someone else's expense, there will be hell to pay. The rich man in Hades wanted Lazarus to give up his place of comfort, to make a sacrifice not his own, to minister to his needs or to warn his brothers.
Of course the poverty of the rich is a continuing theme in the scriptures. So St James writes: My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, 'Have a seat here, please', while to the one who is poor you say, 'Stand there', or, 'Sit at my feet', have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court?' (James 2.1-6) And later he writes: 'Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts on a day of slaughter.' (James 5.1-5)
Startling as it may seem, we can conclude that God does not answer the prayer of the rich, where the rich have separated themselves off from the poor, even when those prayers might be for the benefit of another. We can conclude that answers to our prayers are dependent on our relationship with others, especially the poor, the marginalized and the alienated.
As I've gone through the Church, the conception has been that other people have got to come to Church (preferably ours) to be accepted. Is this not far from the conception that other people exist only for our own benefit? How much are we prepared to move? But the traditional view of Christianity is that we are right and it is everyone else who has to move and become like us. And it is not just us personally in our own lives, but movement is the defining mark of our faith. The concept of the faith once delivered to the saints and unalterable, and to which everyone else has to subscribe, is not the faith of Jesus.
Again, the mark of a 'successful' minister is often the size of the church youth group. Those with lots of youth doing their bidding is not what it is all about. While World Youth Day next year in Sydney will no doubt be a time of great blessing, its very success has the potential to blind people to the needs of the poor, the marginalized and the alienated those millions who continue to live in poverty, illness and premature death by doctrines against any form of birth control or the use of condoms.
'Successful' churches are characterized by lots of people all agreeing with one another, whereas often 'liberal' churches seem weak and fragmented. Yet I would contend that the liberal churches where people think for themselves rather than simply doing the leaders bidding is a considerably more healthy and 'christian' atmosphere. Trying to get everyone to think, believe and worship identically is an exercise in futility if ever there was one, and the idea that this is the goal of 'christian' mission is a fool's errand.
Some years ago I was shown a treatise: Jesus and People (Minjung) that I have scanned and it can be found here. It is a particularly poignant retelling of the story of our gospel this morning.
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