The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 21C)
30 September 2007
A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume
At the The Church of the Advent, Boston
O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Timothy 6:11-19
How often have we walked past Lazarus at our gate?
Last week I went to meet my new Senior Warden at Saint Ignatius in New York City. My golden retriever, Andy, and I walked across Central Park from my parent’s large, Upper East Side apartment over to the Church. When we arrived at the front door on West End Avenue, I found a homeless man wrapped in a sleeping bag asleep amidst a pile of his belongings. Andy went over and sniffed him and the man stirred.
Although I thought about it for a second, I did not speak with the man—either to move him along (I figured that was not my job yet) or to see how he was. I just pulled Andy away from him, rang the doorbell and went up to my meeting.
In the City we meet Lazarus at our gate every day and this has been true for urbanites for millennia. We are confronted by those people, “full of sores, who desire to be fed with what falls from the rich man’s table [and to whom] the dogs came and licked his sores.” We are confronted by those who die on the streets and like me, we walk past them thinking that they are someone else’s problem, or that we will do something tomorrow. For me the next tomorrow (of so many tomorrows) is the twentieth of October, when those on the doorstep of Saint Ignatius of Antioch officially do become “my problem.” And what am I going to do?
The real answer is that I do not know precisely. Homelessness, poverty, and hunger are complex issues and it is very difficult to know what the right thing to do is. Is it better to give someone money or food or nothing at all? Is it better to let someone sleep on the church steps or move them along? Is it better to work on a micro level, helping individuals and risk putting a band-aid on a gaping wound? Or should we work on a macro, systems level and risk failing to see our Lazarus at the gate as an actual human being? I am not going to pretend I know the answer.
What I do know is that the Gospel calls us to do something. The Gospel calls us to confront rather than ignore Lazarus at our gate. The Gospel calls us to confront our fears and respond to those in need in whatever way we can. What I do know is that ignoring Lazarus at our gate diminishes us, diminishes him, and damages our relationship with God—the real source of our life.
What I also know is that the Gospel calls us to respond now, before it is too late; before we no longer have the power to respond; before our actions will make no difference. We are called to act while we are alive—not merely so that God will reward us—but so that we may truly live.
In his Epistle to Timothy, Paul writes,
As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty, nor set their hopes on uncertain riches, but on God .... They are to do good, be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous ... so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed.
The Rector reminded us all last week that we are not to put our trust in mammon, in the riches of this world. He reminded us that those things were to be used, to be marshaled in accord with God’s purposes. Riches are not to be trusted. The only thing to be trusted is God and indeed, the words “trust” and “faith” really mean the same thing. We are to have faith in God, we are to have the faith of Jesus Christ so that we may recognize what is truly important, recognize and do what God would have us do with the resources with which we have been entrusted. And I am not simply talking to people who are “hedge fund manager rich,” but I am talking to each and every one of us who has been given gifts by God that we are capable of sharing. We are all called to be “rich in doing good deeds, liberal, and generous.” We are all called to look at and really see Lazarus at our gate and respond to the need we see however we can.
The reward for rightly using the gifts God has bestowed upon is, the reward for looking upon Lazarus as a fellow sufferer, the reward for sharing what we have with those who have little or nothing, is that we may have life, that we may truly experience what it is to live in relationship with God, live in harmony with Love itself.
Indeed, living is not simply a matter of our hearts beating and our brains functioning. Living, and I mean really living, is something even more profound than mere physical signs of life. It is being our best self—a term I have used often from this pulpit in the time I have been here at the Advent. This means that each of us is called to live—and again I mean really live—up to all the love and trust and faith that God puts in us.
And the choice of whether to do this or not is, in fact ours. While we breath and walk the earth we can have life or we can be dead. This is the reality of the freedom God has given us. This is what makes our lives matter and what we do matter. God has given us the gift of freedom so that we can either be a part of what he is achieving or not. This is the reality of sin, this is the reality of death, this is the reality of Hell. We can be like the rich man of Luke’s story, Dives as he was known in Medieval England, and choose not to act. We can walk on and be dead to our better nature and realize it only when it is too late, when there is no more time for us to Love, if we recognize it at all. Or, we can respond to God’s call to us to love each other. We can not just see Lazarus at our gate, but we can act. God calls us to care for each other because he made us in his image and likeness, because each human being shares in the dignity that God has given us. Each of us is loved by God absolutely and this means we are all called to imitate God in his generous loving.
It is my prayer for each and every one of us—as I begin my new ministry in New York and as you continue yours in a city full of the same challenges—that none of us may ever again pass Lazarus at our gate and simply walk on. That we may choose life, we may choose to engage with our brothers and sisters who are in need and do as God would wish us to do, living up to the love he has already shown us.
Andrew Charles Blume+
28 September 2007
©2007 Andrew Charles Blume