Sunday, September 29, 2013 Pentecost 19 – Props to Olla Belle Reed

Just a cup of cold water, in charity given, is remembered with joy in the skies. We are all but human, and we all have to die. And, six feet of earth will make us all of one size.

Did anybody here see the movie World War Z? Sorry to hear that. Didn’t like it much, it was all action and not a lot of plot, which may be, aside from the fact that they were both named World War Z, the only thing that the movie had in common with the book. I kept hearing that the two of them were vastly different and so I had to dig up the book and read the book to see for myself.

The book is pretty good, so long as you divorce yourself from the notion that all books need a beginning, a middle and an end. Like the gospels, the story is told as a series of eyewitness accounts by a variety of people, each with their own perspective.

My favorite part, social-commentary-wise was the part about the post zombie apocalypse economy. As it turns out, the tables got turned almost exactly upside down once there was no more consulting to do, no insurance to sell, no reports to write no stocks to broker and literally zero paperwork to be done and so the entirety of the job skills of America’s commanding class of people were entirely worthless.

Suddenly, much to the consternation of those same, very important people, the day laborers and car wash attendants and housekeepers had the skills that people needed and in some cases, were placed in positions of power over them. After all, no point in being able to pay someone else to fix your toilet, they needed people to actually fix toilets.

It got me to thinking about how we see the world and how easy it is to get fixed into place, convinced that not only are we where we belong in life but that there is no other place we could possibly be. Especially in the west, where modern agriculture was invented, where we had a jump start on industry and civilization by having a written language and well-spaced wars to drive scientific discovery.

It’s easy to think that we weren’t lucky, that it was manifest destiny, that the birthright we’ve been left was something pre-ordained, ours by right. It’s something like finding a warehouse full of bricks and building a palace out of them and just forgetting where the bricks came from, like they were a gift from God, ours by right.

You see it all the time, or maybe you don’t, like a persistent whining sound I your ear you can get used to it, learn to tune it out. I was at a soccer tournament yesterday with Caitlyn and overheard a mother telling her daughter no to use the port-a-potty and instead walk all the way to the athletic building and see if there was a bathroom open there.

I’m not saying she thought either hers or her daughter’s precious hindquarters were too good for the temporary facilities, shall we say, but that’s the image that sprang to my mind, indicating that my mind at least was capable to going there, of going to a place where people think themselves different from other people, entitled to greater care.

Maybe that’s a part of why people in the modern world around us have a hard time with Christianity. After all, we talk a fair bit about how we are all alike in the eyes of the Lord, no more Greek nor Jew, no more woman nor man, no more slave nor free. It’s a hard thing to fit into a life of privilege and comfort.

It’s like that cartoon I like so much by Dan Erlander where the guy is kneeling and praying and saying “Why is it Lord, that when I pray for you to come into my heart, you bring all of your friends?” and the frame pulls back and shows Jesus with the lost, the broken, the dirty and the unclean.

I’m sure that some folks would have an easier time with Jesus if He promised to only bring the right folks into their lives.

Another incident brought it into pretty stark relief for me. I was on my internship on Long Island and we were discussing the racial makeup of the church which, being Lutheran was 99% white. I asked if the church had an outreach to the local Latino population and the answer I got was “well. There aren’t that many of them out here so it hasn’t really been a priority.”

I looked out the window and saw the Latino across the street mowing the lawn, ran into five more of “them” doing the more menial jobs in the grocery store on the way home, paid the nice Latino man behind the counter at the gas station, no pay at the pump on Long Island in those days.

By the time I made it into work the next morning I had encountered no less than nine Latinos. Excluding my landlady, I had probably run into about forty Anglos.

Four to one is not a lot of people, but the ratio would have had forty Latinos in the pews if the congregation was to represent the neighborhood. If only anyone could see them. If only the worldview of the congregation included them.

The rich man in this morning’s gospel dies and is tormented in Hades, for what we do not know. Is he a great and terrible sinner or is he merely being punished for how he has lived his life, as if he were the only person who mattered. After all, he ate sumptuously every day while no more than thirty feet from where he sat, poor Lazarus lay in his gate begging, longing for just the crumbs for his table.

Not to take away what the rich man had, not to threaten his position or his wealth, but merely to have a taste of what would not be missed, the crumbs, the leavings; to live a life a little less miserable, a little less tortured. Not much at all, really.

But even in death, when Lazarus, whose virtue is assumed, by the way, not because he is poor or pure, but because he is innocent, a victim; even in death the rich man does not see Lazarus as a person, as someone with individual qualities or individual dignity.

He sees Lazarus the way he saw everyone in his life, as someone there merely to service his wants and needs. “Send Lazarus to fetch me my slippers. Send Lazarus to bring me more wine.” Finally, “Send Lazarus to bring me some cool water, for I am in hell.”

Abraham is having none of it of course. He speaks of a chasm fixed between the rich man and Lazarus but is kind enough not to mention that the chasm was one created by the rich man himself. It is a chasm that exists in his own mind, his own worldview that places himself a little higher, and everyone else a little lower and now when the tables are turned, that chasm that served him so well has come back to bite him.

But even when rebuked, he refuses to see. “Send Lazarus to warn my brothers so that they may not come into this place of torment.”

You can almost hear Abraham sigh.

For centuries God has been telling you the story of His love for you and how that should affect the way you live. For as long as there have been human beings God’s will for them has not changed significantly. Live in peace, grow and thrive, love and be loved, worship the Lord. If you never listened, and your brothers never listened before, why would they listen now?

‘Though a man be in tattering rags, we should never reject or despise. For beneath there’s a true honest heart. And, six feet of earth will make us all of one size.”

The rich man cannot see that six feet of earth have closed the gap between himself and Lazarus that he maintained so assiduously on earth. So fixed is his worldview that even in death he cannot admit that Lazarus and he are the same in the eyes of God: children, broken and bereft, lost in sin.

1 Timothy reveals much in this morning’s passage that can aid us. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” Pierced themselves.

The chasm that will not allow Lazarus to be merciful, will not allow Abraham to be merciful was dug, shovelful by shovelful by the rich man himself. I suppose technically he had someone else dig it for him but you get the point. Like Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol, he wears the chains he forged in life and cannot escape them, even in death not because God will not let him, but because he refuses to give them up.

Having nothing, it was easy for Lazarus to surrender to the will of God and receive God’s mercy. Having everything, it was not so easy for the rich man.

No wonder it is a hard sell, this whole Jesus thing. Your whole worldview has to change, before six feet of earth change it for you. You have to see the day laborer as a brother in Christ, or the mechanic as a worthy partner and friend, or the homeless woman as just as beloved of God as you, in every conceivable way.

It means surrendering the notion that it is your wealth that makes you precious to God, or your education, or your fame.

It means putting down the shovel, stop digging the chasm, hey even ask Lazarus for some help filling in the stupid thing because the second you ask Lazarus for help, the second you rip the veil that has blinded you to God’s truth for so long from your eyes, you will find the chasm is nothing more than a crack in the earth, like the cracks we get around here in the summer, when the adobe dries up.

For whatever reason, that is hard.

I sometimes wonder how many people would think less fondly of heaven if they included the notion that they are no longer a VIP there, or at least no more of one than anyone else, and if they think less fondly, then why bother working toward that, living in a way to make that happen, why bother at all?

It takes a lifetime to dig that chasm, a lifetime of self-centered and blindered living, willfully ignorant of those around you, single-mindedly seeking after that which will not save.

The promise of God is that it takes the blink of an eye to fill it in, to erase it not just from your afterlife but from your life in general. Salvation is not some kind of twelve step process, some progression from lost sinner through sinner with a roadmap, then to sinner with a map and a GPS, then through several other steps until you finally arrive at saint.

Just surrender all that you have, everything that you love most about yourself, the accomplishments, the honors, the wealth, the love of wealth; just lay it at the side of the road and let the love of God open your eyes to everything that God has given you, even that pile of stuff you left there, and to all of the people God has given you along the way.

Some of them will be the people you expect, most of them won’t. But the thing you’ll know most clearly is this.

Some people gain fortune and fame, while others try hard but can’t rise, above degradation and shame. Still, six feet of earth will make us all of one size.

And since that size is precious, since that size is redeemed by Christ, it is the best size of all, just big enough.


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