Sunday, September 29, 2013

Nineteenth after Pentecost

Luke 16: 19-31 (Proper 21C2)

Good morning, and grace and peace.  First Sunday morning officially of the Fall, but certainly an exciting week for our Boys of Summer, and with a new week opening to what we’ll call “Buctober,” and with the Symphony Fall Gala this weekend, Penguins beginning their regular season, a giant Rubber Duck floating at the headwaters of the Ohio, a fun time for all of us here in Pittsburgh.  Understand there also is a football game this afternoon, with the traditional cheers being sung surprisingly to Anglican chant.  We’ll see if that helps.  Our people were able to run the Vikings off the British Isles once before, so there is a precedent . . . .

In the gospel reading this morning from Luke 16 we continue with Jesus and his disciples and the assembled folks from the towns and villages still on the front porch of the one of the local senior rabbis.  We would call him I guess a Cardinal Rector, a leader of the Pharisees.  We remember that he had invited Jesus to his home for Sabbath dinner—I guess wanting to take the measure of this controversial rabbi from the back-country.  

A few weeks ago we read the beginning of the story.  Jesus arriving.  The crowds.  And then the man with “dropsy,” presented at the front of the line, and the question about healing on the holy day of rest.  The Parables: Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Lost Son, Lost Employee.  Stories of the extravagant disregard of common sense.  Stories about characters who put their own best interest at risk in order to find what was lost.  Who follow their passions, without calculating the risk.  We could say, moved by their hearts rather than by the advice of their accountants and attorneys.

All this as we would imagine the scene with this sick and suffering man still standing right in front of them on this Sabbath afternoon.  With all the rules and customs of piety and proper dignified behavior hovering overhead.   In a sort of rough analogy, the front porch of a first century Palestinian Downton Abbey, the riff-raff from the countryside gathered to see their folk hero—the Earl of Grantham uncomfortably trying to get his guests all indoors, where at least some semblance of order might be restored.  But Jesus won’t go in.  He seems to enjoy the moment, telling these stories, each one making Lord Robert even more uncomfortable than the last.

And now finally as a kind of crescendo, all building up to this, the parable traditionally in the English of the King James translation called “Dives and Lazarus.” The name Dives deriving in the English Bible from the Latin word for “treasure” or wealth.  Just translated as “the Rich Man” in contemporary translations, though I enjoy this traditional name.  We see the opening scene f the parable, the contrast between the feast at the table of Dives and the degrading hunger, poverty, illness, as Lazarus lies begging for crusts of bread outside the front gate.  Probably seems pretty familiar to everyone right in that present moment.  Wondering how many of them in that crowd may have stood begging at the gate of the Chief Pharisee’s house over the years.  Where that guy who was brought forward, the man sick with “dropsy,” had been just a few minutes before.

Then both die.  The inevitable judgment.  As it comes to us all, no matter rich or poor, of high estate or simple.  Both die.  And we see.  The poor man Lazarus received into the bosom of Father Abraham.  Dives to an eternity of anguish in the flames of hell.

Very subtle, Jesus.  I’m sure we can see the expression on the faces of the local establishment dignitaries there as they continue to stand and listen in front of this assembly of local farm workers and laborers.

And it gets worse and worse.  Or maybe better and better, depending on your perspective.  Dives in torment calls out in prayer for relief from his anguish, but no relief is possible.  The judgment of God is sovereign and absolute.   And then Dives begs that Lazarus be sent to his five brothers, who continue in the world and live just as he has lived.  

Father Abraham replies: your brothers can read the Bible for themselves, which is God’s word.  Not only can they read it, they have read it.  They know everything Lazarus could tell them.  They have Moses and the Prophets already.  If they've been able to rationalize their behavior in that context, why in the world would you imagine that someone coming back to them from the dead would be any different?

So what do you think, Mr. Pharisee?  Healing this poor sick man on the Sabbath, or not?  Your decision.  Take your time.

We do just seem to be constitutionally built not to hear what we don’t want to hear.  Something of our natural and fallen state.  Martin Luther described the  foundation of sin as the human being “incurvatus in se.”  Turned in on himself.  Gazing in the mirror.  Dwelling serenely in small circles of mutual affirmation.  Turning down the volume without a moment’s hesitation when the message seems likely to spoil an otherwise pleasant afternoon.

They have Moses and the Prophets already.

There is a social networking group called “The Acts 8 Moment” made up of folks who are involved in conversations about the future of the Episcopal Church, and that group distributed a link to a blog by a  20-something young man named Matt Marino who had been raised in a Protestant "megachurch"who had experienced a kind of conversion as he began in college to attend a traditional Anglo-Catholic Episcopal Church, where he was exposed for the first time or at least in a new way to a new perspective on ecclesiology, which is the theological discipline addressing life in community.  He talks about the contrast of what he calls “church” and “The Church.”

What put me off about church was that it was so like me – feeding me a steady diet of myself: my wants, my preferences, my music. It was quite “relevant.” I came to realize that I actually needed church to be UN-like me: to be transcendent. The Church is unconcerned with “relevance.” It cares not for my preferences. When I ask it to change it grins quietly and asks me to change instead. When one panics about something and accosts the clergy at the door, the chances are good the priest will say, “We have been in God’s presence in the liturgy. How about we enjoy that for a bit? Call me on Tuesday.”
The Church is maddeningly un-fearful. It is not subject to politics or fads. It does not do focus groups and market research. It is not trying to impress me, win me or woo me. Instead of bending to my whims, it seeks to conform me to the image of Christ through immersion in patterns: daily in the Scriptures, weekly in Sacramental feeding of the Thanksgiving meal of the family of God, and living out God-time in the Christian Year. As a man of flesh, these patterns marinate me in the Gospel, bringing forth flavors in my life I never imagined.
Dives and his five brothers. If only there had been a book, or something, where we could have read what God intends for us, what he asks of us.  If only someone, sometime, could have died and then come back again from the dead.

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