Sunday, September 29, 2013

Part of Today's sermon - God, Have Mercy

(caveat - I used some examples in the spoken sermon that I am not going to include here.  They were examples from our visits to the prison.  I fear that my putting them out in public could put someone at risk at this point, so if you want the examples, please feel free to email me and I will send a "real" copy of what I wrote and said.  Unfortunately, in this public place I just need to be more protective and careful.)

Jeremiah 32:1-15, Luke 16:19-31
Today’s parable has hard words for those of us who are the “haves” in our world.  There isn’t a lot of grace for the rich man.  And it isn’t that he was a horrible person.  The rich man in Jesus’ parable is not purposely trying to hurt Lazarus.  The parable simply does not paint him to be cold-hearted or angry or mean.  He just doesn’t really see Lazarus.  He doesn’t see his need, his humanity, his worth - Lazarus doesn’t enter the rich man’s consciousness.  The same is true later in the parable…after they’ve died, the rich man still does not see Lazarus except as someone to be used to help him.  He doesn’t even talk to Lazarus, but instead, he speaks to Abraham.  The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus down, still seeing himself as someone who has the privilege and  right to talk to Abraham but who would probably never consider talking directly to an underling such as Lazarus.  Lazarus remains invisible to him, someone he might be able to use to help himself and his family, but not someone seen.
Who is it that we don’t see who needs our help?  Who is it that we contribute to their suffering without ever knowing it?  Around whom are we the privileged, counting on and expecting rights that others don’t have?  Where does our sense of entitlement over others tend to creep in?  Who is it that is invisible to us?   Of course, because they are invisible to us, it is hard for us to become aware of those we fail to see.  But I invite you to really think for a minute about who fails to enter your consciousness that has needs, real needs.
Whoever it is, we have to remember that that person is Jesus.  We have to remember what we are told in Matthew, that whenever we do it to the least of these, we are doing it to Jesus.  He is the one hungry, thirsty, sick and imprisoned.  He is the one we don’t see, don’t feed – again either literally or in other ways, don’t care for when we do things, even unintentionally, that lead to another’s suffering.  Jesus is the invisible one, without the rights or privileges that we take for granted.       As the commentary, Feasting on the Word puts is, “Perhaps the boundaries and walls we have drawn are not so much between us and others as between us and God. With a mixture of invitation and warning, in the book of Revelation, the angel says to the church in Laodicea, "Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me" (Rev. 3:20).  When someone knocks on our door (figuratively or literally), who is needy or hurting, we need to remember that it is Jesus.  The person we find it easy not to see – that is Jesus.  “That is God's Christ who stands at our wall, knocking. When we answer, we may not find someone who looks like us, but we may very well find someone who looks like our God, if we are paying attention.”
       Based on today’s parable, then, what hope is there for most of the privileged?  The Rich man is told, when he begs for help saving his brothers, those still living, who are still not seeing those in need, not seeing how they contribute to their suffering, not seeing how they might help, that “they will not be convinced, even if someone were to rise from the dead.”  Luke tells this about Jesus to an audience who knows that someone has risen from the dead.  Jesus has risen from the dead.  So in your experience, are people convinced, then, that they must care for the poor and suffering?
We do a lot in this church for those who are poor.  We do tend to see certain people – those who come and stay here with Family Promise we see, we feed, we talk to, we care for.  Those who come to our summer lunch bag program we see, we feed, we talk to and care for.  Those who go to the Bethan meal we see, feed, care for and talk to.  So for us, this story encourages us to think a little wider.  Who is it that we don’t see who needs our attention and care?
       The unfortunate truth is that Luke’s Jesus does not have a lot of good news for those who are privileged and who do not care for those who are not.  Jesus says, “It is harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”  Jesus says “woe to those who are rich because they have already received their comfort”.  And today Jesus says through this parable, that if we do not cross the gaping chasm between the rich and the poor in this life, we surely will not be able to do it in the next. At least for those who have more than their share on this earth, we are told, there won’t be a way to cross the chasm in the life to come.  The basic bottom line message?  For the Rich man in our story, he still thinks he has the right to ask for help and receive it, to have Lazarus ordered around.  He still cannot see him as an equal child of God.  He can’t do it.  The greater message then is that “Stepping out of one's privilege is perhaps one of the most difficult journeys of transformation.”   But again, while Luke focuses mostly on the privilege given to those who are economically sound and do not help others, I think we do a pretty good job of trying to serve those who have less here in this place.  But we still have privilege and there are still blind spots in that.
       As I reflected on this passage this week, I found myself thinking about all of the ways in which we are privileged.  All of the MANY ways in which I am privileged.  Economically, certainly.  That is the primary way that Luke addresses our inequalities as well.  But there are other ways, too.  What other ways are we privileged?  I want to share with you a few stories that I hope will not make you uneasy or uncomfortable.  I am sharing these because they are stories which point out to me my own privilege, my own sense of entitlement.  These are lessons I have learned in the last year and a half of
prison visitations.  ...
(this is where real stories have been omitted, and since they are the bulk of the sermon, I apologize for only giving a part of it.  But as I said before, again, feel free to ask for them and I am more than happy to share)

       So where is the good news in all of this?  Where is the good news for those of us who are privileged?  The words of comfort in these stories are spoken to the poor, to those who suffer now, to those without rights and privileges.  They are reassured that their lack of privilege will change, that they will have the rights they may not have now.  That they will have a place at the table.  But where is the good news in this for us, who are privileged NOW?
       First, I believe we can learn to see those who are displaced.  We can learn to give to and share with those who have less.  We can learn to see our privilege and we can learn to not abuse it.  It isn’t easy, but what is impossible for humans is possible for God.  In that is good news.  The good news is also that God is a God of grace and mercy.  The rich man in the story appealed to Abraham, and Abraham said “no”.  But we appeal to God.  And as we do, as we ask for God’s love, care and mercy, God will answer us, give us help to grow, understand, see, and love more fully, to not use or abuse our privileges.  God is the God of abundance, grace, love and there is enough for everyone in God’s realm.  We are called to see the invisible, to care for the poor, to offer mercy and compassion.  But we are also given the strength, grace and love to be able to do that, to respond to this call, with God’s help.   Let us pray for the eyes to see and the grace to love even the loveless.  Lord, have mercy.  Amen.