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Pentecost 19 September 25, 2016 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell

Pentecost 19 Proper 21 Year C

Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, September 25, 2016
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
On my flight back from the East coast
three weeks ago,
while browsing through the
Alaska Airlines magazine,
I came across an ad
for a Pacific Northwest steakhouse.
“Real Misfortune Is To Have Never Dined Here,”
it proclaimed,
above a mouth-watering photograph
of a sumptuous steak dinner.
Aside from its appalling syntax,
there was something very wrong
with that assertion . .
“No,” I thought,
“Real misfortune is never to have dined at all.”

On closer examination of the photo,
I realized that there was
an overturned glass of wine
next to the steak dinner,
and a dark wine stain in the tablecloth . . .
“No need to cry over spilt wine;
cry if you haven’t dined at our restaurant,”
the ad seemed to be saying.
“Cry instead,”
I thought,
“over those who have nothing to eat.”
There was a rich man and a poor man,
said Jesus,
and there was a table.
The table was in the rich man’s house,
and the house was behind a locked gate,
and every evening
the rich man reclined at the table
and ate and ate
until he was satisfied.
There was no place at that table
for the poor man
who lay starving just outside the gate.

Every morning
the rich man,
dressed in fine linen
and a purple robe,
would hurry out of his gate
to be about the important business of his day,
the acquisition of more wealth . . .  
. . . oblivious to the need of
that barely-living bundle
          of rag-covered bones
                   lying at the gate,
even as he stepped carefully around it
in order not to dirty the skirts of his purple robe.
That bundle of rags and bones,
by its very nearness,
was his neighbor.
That neighbor,
by his very humanity,
was his brother.
But the rich man
could not see a neighbor and brother,
could not see a person,
across the chasm of privilege and prejudice,
          and his own revulsion,
          that separated them.

Every night,
returning from another profitable day
          at the office,
he sidestepped the beggar
and hurried through his gate
toward the pleasures of the evening.
He wouldn’t have heard the beggar’s
pleas for something, anything, to eat
through the earbuds of his iPhone 7.
And so, untroubled,
he would
hang up his Armani jacket,
slip off his Gucci loafers,
turn on his 65” 4K Ultra HD TV,
and recline at his table
to keep his feast,
sipping a vintage wine
and thinking to himself,
“This is the life.”

It was A life –
the kind of life
only money can buy,
but it wasn’t THE life,
“the life that really IS life – ”
the life of “godliness and contentment”
that Paul describes in his letter to Timothy –
the pursuit of the true riches:
“righteousness, faith, love,
          endurance, gentleness.”
And, Paul continues,
to the degree that we are
materially rich,
being correspondingly
“rich in good works,
generous, and ready to share . . .
so that [we] may
take hold of the life
that really is life.”
It doesn’t sound at all
          as if Paul has a problem with wealth,
as long as it not unjustly gained,
or un-righteously hoarded.
But the true gift of wealth
          is not a luxurious lifestyle
                   but having abundance to share.
In the parable,
the rich man has everything
          except a name;
the poor man has nothing
          but a name.

He is called Lazarus,
which means
          “one whom God has helped.”
And how has God helped Lazarus
but by bringing him to the gate
of one who has the wherewithal
          to help him –
At the same time,
God is helping the rich man,
offering him
a chance to “get a life – ”
the life that really IS life –
by using his wealth
to be rich in good works.
But day after day,
the rich man
refuses the invitation –
until . . .
death turns the table.

Now Lazarus
is in the place of privilege,
          at Abraham’s side in paradise,        
and the rich man is outside the gate
in fiery torment.
Now he does see Lazarus,
but only as an underling
          who might be ordered by Abraham
                   to serve him.
“Father Abraham,
have mercy on me
and send Lazarus
to dip the tip of his finger in water
and cool my tongue . . .”
Now the one who showed no mercy
begs for mercy for himself.
Now the one who couldn’t bear
for even his clothing
to brush against the unclean beggar
begs for the touch of an unclean finger
on his tongue
for just a drop of water . . .

But the chasm that separated
the two men,
easily bridgeable in life
by the one with the resources to do it,
has become fixed –
no one can cross it in either direction.
All the rich man had to do
to be where Lazarus is now,
          was to be where Lazarus was then.
All he had to do
to be where Lazarus is now,
          was to be where Lazarus was then.
The rich man thinks suddenly of his brothers –
          his biological brothers that is –
perhaps they might be spared this torment
if Lazarus could be sent
          on an errand to warn them –
“No,” says Abraham,
“they have Moses and the prophets;
they should listen to them.”

If they can’t hear
God’s repeated call
in the Scriptures
to be a people of justice:
giving food to those who hunger,
giving justice to those who are oppressed,
lifting up those who are bowed down,
sustaining the orphan and widow,
then not even a miracle
will get their attention,
break open their hearts,
and convince them to change.
“Alas for those who are at ease in Zion . . .”
wrote the prophet Amos
in a time of societal heedlessness
not unlike our own,
“. . . alas for those who lie on beds of ivory,
and lounge on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock
and calves from the stall;
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp . . .
. . . who drink wine from bowls
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!”

Through Amos,
God cries out to God’s people,
“I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies . . .
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”   [Amos 5:21,24]

Unless the worship of God
results in justice and righteousness,
the ceremonies of the religious
are an insult to God.
And what of our solemn assemblies?
Our gatherings at this Table.
We may think it was an architect
who put it here,
but it is God
who has placed it in our midst.

Placed it in our midst
to be a
sign of God’s kingdom Table,
This Table,
all who would come are welcome,
all who are hungry are fed,
and the very life of God
          in the forms of bread and wine
          is freely given  
          to be equally shared by all.
This Table,
sign of Christ’s offering of himself
for the life of the world.
This Table,
sign of our participation
in Christ’s offering.
This Table,
an indictment of a society
in which real misfortune
is not about
not having eaten at some steakhouse . . .
but about not having eaten at all.

If we do not see that
when we approach this Table,
we are not seeing
this Table at all.
Every Sunday,
we bring to this Table
our offering to God
          of bread and wine
to be taken, prayed over,
          blessed by God and broken.
And after the prayer and the breaking,
we bring to the table
our offering to God
          of ourselves . . .
to be taken, blessed,
hearts broken open in pity
          for the needs of God’s hungry world.
Receiving Christ
in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood
we become that which we receive.
We leave the Table,
          God’s own offering
                   for the life of the world.

And we pray as we leave:
“Send us now into the world in peace,
and grant us strength and courage
to love and serve you
with gladness and singleness of heart . . .”
And what is this loving God,
          but loving God’s poor,
and what is this serving God,
          but serving God’s poor?
“So, let justice roll out these doors like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”