Sermon for Sunday, September 29, 2019 || Proper 21C || Luke 16:19-31
This sermon is about walking in love. But before I go there, I need to talk about Jesus the radical. Jesus shares a lot of radical stories in the Gospel. We might not realize how radical they are because they appear in the Bible. And the Bible over time has become such an established collection of writings that we don’t necessarily expect them to be radical. We hear the same stories over and over again, so their shocking nature is dulled both by repetition and the long march of history.
There’s the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which an outcast in Jesus’ society becomes the hero of the story. There’s the story of serving Jesus in disguise when we serve those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned, or immigrating. There’s the crazy notions to turn the other cheek and walk the extra mile. And today we heard one of the most radical stories of them all – the story of the rich man who, it turns out, was not as blessed as his society thought he was.
The society of Jesus’ day was not much different from ours. They thought material wealth equated with divine favor, just as we invest the rich and famous with outsized influence. I can imagine the jaws dropping as Jesus told this story: how could the rich man end up in torment in Hades and that sore-covered Lazarus find himself with the angels in the bosom of Abraham?
My question is this. In this radical story, what about the rich man sends him where he ends up? Is it simply the fact that he has overwhelming material privilege? I don’t think so. The rich man’s folly is a symptom of his wealth, not the wealth itself. The rich man insulates himself from the rest of the world. He isolates himself. He willfully ignores even the nearest of the less-privileged around him.
How do I know his ignoring is willful? Because he calls Lazarus by name. “Father Abraham,” he calls out, “have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.” The feasting man knew the name of the famished man at his gates. And that means they had some level of relationship. And that means the feasting man chose to ignore the famished man.
Seeing the story of the rich man and Lazarus in this light indicts me. I read Jesus’ radical words, and I reflect in horror at how often in my life I have willfully ignored the needs around me or the injustices or the brokenness. I know there are children still dying in cages at the southern border. I know that 17% of children in New London County live each day with food insecurity. I know the United States has the worst maternal health care in the developed world, and it’s even worse for women of color. I know 100 people die by a bullet fired from a gun in the United States every day, with two-thirds of those being suicides. I know all of these and more. And the weight of so much need and injustice and brokenness crushes me into willful ignorance and indifference and isolation.
So I walk with my head down. I walk with my hands in my pockets. I walk with earbuds in my ears. I studiously avoid Lazarus. And when I avoid Lazarus, I avoid Jesus.
And when I realize that – when I realize I am actively and willfully trying to avoid Jesus – my whole perspective shifts. The indictment turns into an invitation. The crushing weight turns into a burden carried by me and by Jesus together. “Take my yoke upon you,” he says. I start carrying the weight with Jesus. And he’s a lot stronger and more charismatic than I am, so I start walking the way he’s already headed. And Jesus only ever walks in one manner.
Jesus walks in love.
Jesus walks in love – moving always towards those in need because he chooses to weave his personhood together with theirs, in the midst of a society that denigrates and ignores them. Jesus walks in love – marching for justice in the face of an oppressive empire that is dominating his homeland. Jesus walks in love – embracing the broken and opening their eyes to places of new and unexpected wholeness.
Jesus walks in love. And in his Letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul invites us to follow this life-giving way. “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God.” When we walk in the love of Jesus, we find each other on the road. We come together and form a community of love. We share words of love and a holy meal with one another. We support each other in love. We then go out into the world following the way Jesus walks, and we look for Lazarus. Heads up, arms reaching out, senses active – choosing awareness and searching for ways our community of love can support what God is already up to in the world. For the God of mission is still creating, is still so very present. And we have the opportunity – together – to walk in love: moving toward those in need, marching for justice, and embracing the broken in our midst.
What better mission is there than that? Jesus’ radical message of love is still radical, no matter how old the stories are or how many times we’ve heard them. Jesus’ message of love is still radical because walking in love is a hard path and the world tilts towards easy and convenient paths. But this hard path is the path of life. Each day we have the opportunity to confront again the brokenness of the world and recommit ourselves to walking the path of Jesus. Each day we have the opportunity to be surprised by how and where God shows up. Each day we have the opportunity to walk in love.
So walk in love, as Christ loves us. Accept God’s invitations. Share your burdens with Jesus. See the places where Lazarus lies at the gate. And together, we will walk in love to those places, following where Jesus Christ is leading the way.
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