The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s193g13   Sunday 26  29/9/2013

'I have five brothers'  Luke 16.28 .. as if Abraham didn't know :-)  

I have sometimes gone through worship wondering how often we tell God that his only begotten son's name is Jesus and that he died on a Cross :-)   Has God got long term memory loss?   Just who are we telling?   Is our worship a desperate exercise to demonstrate our orthodoxy - when we are actually unsure of what we really believe?   I think of the pharisee and the tax collector who went up to pray.  (1)  The pharisee's prayer is all about himself and his religious achievements.   And this makes me wonder if our worship is about God's achievements through Jesus in us ..   Does this not alienate those who are not so self assured?   Or not so self assertive?   Does God only save the assured and the assertive?   Will God be hoodwinked?

The rich man's whole universe revolved around himself and his brothers - not, curiously, around any of the female members of the family :-)   They were relationally short-sighted, they could not see Lazarus at their gate.

Which begs the question to us, are we too relationally short-sighted, restricting our concerns to straight Anglicans of MY particular persuasion?   For all we might quote 'no-one comes to the Father but by my version of who Jesus is' - if this charges God or Jesus with replacing one excuse for short-sightedness with another, then I think that we are seriously deluded.    There will always be a Lazarus at our gate, and it is part of growth in faith to see him or her, and to respond.

And it was a spiritual myopia that the rich man and his family were charged with.   He is not charged with neglecting his ritual duties - these are entirely irrelevant.   Like many a good christian who praises Jesus loudly, the important thing is actually that they have a real relationship with those around them who are not their spiritual brothers and sisters - those who are not Anglicans, not christians, not straight or whatever.

So the question that this parable poses to us is: does our universe revolve around ourselves and the other members of our church?   It really doesn't matter how faithful we are to scripture, prayer book, creed, style of worship, or tradition.    Indeed this makes me wonder at those words 'five brothers'.   Are these representative of the range of denominations that exist unto themselves, and the range of emphases found in all denominations; all failing to see the poor person on their doorstep?   Are the five brothers so busy arguing who is right and saved that they fail to notice the outsider at all, and fail to hear the eternal call of God to see their poor neighbour lying at their gate, and do something useful to help.   Perhaps loving 'their neighbours' is a bit hippy and Mother Theresa'ish?   I have been thinking how many christian groups base their entire existence on the passage: 'no-one comes to the Father but by my version of who Jesus is' deliberately ignoring the thousands of other groups using the same passage but with entirely different theologies? :-)

Is the arguing over orthodoxy is deliberate, to avoid looking around, a deliberate blindness, exuding a pretence of religion.   Deliberate, to avoid seeing those around whose daily struggle in just living means that religious games are simply irrelevant?

Indeed perhaps we can detect an element of distain in the answer Abraham gives to the rich man's request:
'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things.'   Perhaps the poor are right to despise the rich who ever so occasionally allow a crumb to fall from their table?   Perhaps the unbeliever is right to despise the church whose only concern for them is about when and with whom they might be appropriately intimate?

And the other morsel that falls from the church's table is that secular society has to provide for the millions of Lazarus's in third world countries, suffering poverty, illness and premature death through the church's forbidding the use of any effective method of contraception.   It is a cause of great rejoicing that Pope Francis has begun to address this.  (2)

The primary affliction of Lazarus was not the poverty, the sickness or the hunger, but his total lack of dignity.   The dogs had more charity than the inhabitants of the house.   To the five brothers, Lazarus' total lack of dignity made him invisible.   And we too have to divest ourselves of our dignity, the delicious cut and thrust of arcane theological discourse that often permeates Synods, thinking that our winning the debate will usher in the kingdom.   When do our Synods hear the voices of the poor, the marginalised, the alienated and the condemned?   Why on earth would they bother trying to make us hear?   How do we not see the lack of dignity that the church's ban on contraception inflicts on millions?

No; and the kingdom will not come as you or I decide to act charitably in our lives either.   For all this might be good and warranted, it will only be when the church lives up to the calling of the one who founded her, that we can expect some global progress.   And surely this is what God wants!

I wonder if in his torment in Hades the rich man realises the myopia of his brothers.   The real question is has he realised the import of his experience or does he just want them warned because of their relationship with him?   The question is: does he want them warned for the right reason: for global peace for all people?

I have sometimes reflected that I never read where Jesus said to the Pharisees that they ought to love the Sadducees, or vice versa!   The traditional job description for a bishop is to be a focus for unity in the church as if they had the job of getting the various factions in the church to accept the perspectives of others in the church.   What a wild goose chase this is!   Jesus, in this parable, tells the various spiritual 'movers and shakers' to look beyond their theological adversaries and see those for whom life is a struggle, not an opportunity for elegant theological repartee.

And I repeat the words I used in a sermon recently.   Our Eucharist is the distinctively christian activity where we go out of our way to include people, not to feed them, but to confer on them the dignity of affirmation and inclusion, and this without hesitation, without distinction, and without expectation.   Of course, for those for whom the Eucharist is not central to their christian devotion, this can be re-phrased: the distinctive christian activity is to include others and confer on others the dignity of affirmation, without hesitation, without distinction, and without expectation.

Recently I was speaking with a doctor about my time in the USA and the UCC, and when asked, explained that the UCC is an inclusive, affirming and non-creedal church.   His interest was immediately aroused, having had difficulties with the Creeds, being brought up a good Anglican.   And this set me to think that the distinctive creed of the church is that others are included and affirmed.   Indeed 'affirming and inclusive' is the creed of the church.   For we do not just have five brothers, but we look for that promise of Jesus, the 'hundredfold .. brothers and sisters, mothers and children'.  (3)

(1) Luke 18.9f
(3) Mark 10.30