Readings: 1 Timothy 6:6-11, 17-19 Luke 16:19-31
It is the beginning of the week of prayer for world peace. And so as we begin, hear these words from our brothers and sister of faith across the world, words about prayer in action gathered by the words ‘may our heart-felt desires inspire us to work together for the good of all
Today’s sermon will reflect on the words of a hymn by John Bell and Graham Maule as we open up the scripture for today. They begin like this:
Heaven shall not wait for the poor to lose their patience,
the scorned to smile, the despised to find a friend:
Jesus is Lord: he has championed the unwanted;
in him injustice confronts its timely end.
Lazarus was waiting – waiting for a friend, for a scrap of human kindness, a hint of love and care. And he waited his entire life for the injustice to end.
Heaven shall not wait for the rich to share their fortunes,
the proud to fall, the elite to tend the least:
Jesus is Lord; he has shown the master's privilege -
to kneel and wash servants' feet before they feast.
The rich man was waited upon. He was proud, chose to dress in his best not just on high days but everyday. Food to waste when a wasted man had nothing. No doubt walked past the poor man most day – but his eyes did not look down, he did not engage, Lazarus did not exist.
Until death. When the tables were turned and a new reality existed. And the rich man was not happy! At this point in the story we hope, don’t we, for a change of heart, a recognition that he had got it wrong. But no! Lazarus is still beneath his regard, never addressed directly but of some use as a servant perhaps. There is not a lot to like about this man really. Even his concern for his brothers is lacking depth, focussing as he does on their physical physical comfort.
No deal, says the heavenly Abraham, they have sufficient guidance, not even a dead man coming to life again will open their eyes to their need for repentance and a new way. They will not see the need for or want to be the person who kneels and washes the feet of the poor and the unloved and the despised
Heaven shall not wait for the dawn of great ideas,
thoughts of compassion divorced from cries of pain:
Jesus is Lord; he has married word and action;
his cross and company make his purpose plain.
Jesus tells us again and again that we are to marry word and action – and that where there is need we are to meet it with love and compassion - for ‘his cross and company make his purpose plain’. We are not to wait around for someone else to do it, nor are we to get so caught up in the talking of it that we forget the doing of it.
What is plain is that wealth is the lord of this rich man, not God. Being wealthy and respected is his purpose. Compassion doesn’t figure in his life because he can’t hear the cries of pain – they don’t penetrate.
And as we heard last week, no one can serve both God and mammon.
If we serve wealth, if we consider it the face that we wear and the god we worship, then we simply will not see the beggar at our front door, nor be worried that we missed him.
If we serve God then the beggar at the door is our purpose, our compassion serves the pain, lives the journey with them, embraces them with tender loving care. If we serve God then all that we have, much or little, belongs to God and to God’s purpose. We are stewards only. ‘The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof’.
There were those who cared for Lazarus – he was not alone. Those who carried him to the gate each day and then took him home – hoping against hope that the only one who had the wherewithal to transform his life, this fabulously rich man, would show just a little compassion. Their hearts were in the right place but it couldn’t have been easy for any of them. Because we remember that each day Lazarous had to endure being within reach of plenty every yet never attaining it – much like the rich man seeing heaven from Hades yet not able to step across the chasm that divided them.
Heaven shall not wait for our legalised obedience,
defined by statute, to strict conventions bound:
Jesus is Lord: he has hallmarked true allegiance -
goodness appears where his grace is sought and found.
For those who have been part of the compelling and strident voices for climate justice this week and beyond, the parallel will not be lost. The sharp words from the pain of desperation and despair of the youth falling on the deaf ears of those have the ability to make a huge difference and yet are simply not interested in thinking beyond self until it will be too late. Until they find themselves in the proverbial hell contemplating what they have done – and possibly still finding no fault.
As Christians, people who profess care for each other and the world, surely we are not part of this stalemate we ask? Yet we are in the story somewhere – but where we place ourselves is only something we can know – are we Lazarus yearning for our voice to be heard yet being ignored? Are we the rich man, oblivious to the peril that has not impacted us – yet anyway. Are we the fence around the rich man’s property, enabling the division of rich and poor? Are we the friends doing what we can but knowing it is not enough?
Or are we the followers of a disreputable Jesus obedient only to God, willing to walk through walls of convention and scramble over piles of flawed understandings to make his grace and goodness heard. Are we a voice that, in faith, is raised loudly into this injustice and others?
Whoever we are, Yet even then it is not enough, we are not enough by ourselves. If we try to do this ourselves, we run the risk that some have done at the political meetings and at the climate justice rally – of using a voice that has no conception of goodness and mercy and grace, one that simply replaces the god of exploitation of the earth with another equally exploitive deity.
We have need of God. We come back to the difference between Lazarus and the rich man – Lazarus: faith in God, rich man: faith in money. Both died, one to heaven, one to hades. Not because of one having money and the other not but because one’s life was ruled by money and one by God. And it showed in Lazarus’s response in heaven. After his miserable existence on earth he would have been justified in gloating just a little bit – but instead he shows compassion in his silence. The rich man, unable to repent his arrogance and self interest, continues to act as if Lazarus is invisible and his wealth will negotiate him a way out.
We cannot do this alone, yet we cannot do nothing.
Heaven shall not wait for triumphant Hallelujahs,
when earth has passed and we reach another shore:
Jesus is Lord in our present imperfection;
his power and love are for now and then for evermore.
We cannot breach the walls of selfishness or shortsightedness or hatred or greed by our voices alone. We cannot save this world by our hands alone, but we have a great deal of evidence that in the power and love of Jesus Christ, and in all our imperfections, the love of God is transforming the world not just when the world has passed, but also in the now as we live the life of faith, one that is full of mercy and compassion and kindness, one that sees the beggar at the door, the lonely in their isolation, the bereaved in all their pain. With our hands and hearts, our faith strongly anchored in God’s power and love, we will shout the triumphant alleluias both for now and then for everymore.
And we say, Amen.