Proper 21 (26), Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
September 29, 2019
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-161
When we lived in Winnipeg I knew the funeral directors well. In part because we lived there long enough for that to happen. One funeral home would occasionally provide tickets to a Bombers game. Pastor perks. The same funeral home must have had a contract with social services. From time to time they would call me and ask whether I could do a social services funeral. What made it a social services funeral? Poverty and social isolation. Someone had died without leaving funds for a burial and no friend or family who would pay for the funeral. These were always graveside services and we never knew who would attend. Social Services did pay for an obituary, and even though I did a few of these services, I believe that there were always one or two people in addition to the funeral director and me, but it was always small.
I never new much about the lives of these people. I regretted that for they must have had a story. I also always hoped that people other than the funeral director and I would be at the services, because everyone deserves to be remembered and everyone should be loved. But all I ever learned was that a few people made the effort to come.
I imagine that the rich man in the parable had a burial with good music, good food, and a good eulogy which many people attended, for the fact that he was rich would have meant to some that he was important. Lazarus, I imagine, had a social services funeral. Not many came, there was no food or music, and it happened while standing around the grave.
And so their deaths were like their lives, which I think, is often true.
I thought of these funerals I did so many years ago when I read the story Jesus tells of an unnamed rich man and a poor person at his door. The story tells of two lives that are lived entirely separately. One does not interact with the other. They live in the same place, but they live world’s apart. I remember when George Bush Sr was running for his second term in office and on the campaign trail he visited a super market where he got to scan the groceries. He was as excited as a child because he had never seen this before. In all fairness, I think presidents and prime ministers don’t buy their own groceries. But the image went around the world as evidence that George Herbert Bush and the average person did not inhabit the same universe.
The thing though is that all of us come into the same world. All of us are born of a woman, which is how Paul talks about Jesus having become one of us. (Gal 4:4) We don’t need to be separate, though we often are.
Not to be separate takes effort It does not happen by itself. God chose to become one of us, but often we’d like to be someone else, and if we can’t be someone else, we’d at least like to be around someone else, perhaps someone important, or just someone like us, so we don’t have to become like someone else. In hist first letter to the church at Corinth Paul talks about how he becomes different things to different people. (1 Corinthians 9) But we often want people to become like us because we like being with people like us.
What is interesting in the story of Rich Man and Poor Lazarus is not the post-humus reversal of fortunes, but the fact that Lazarus lay at the rich man’s door but the door always remained shut. It’s like the rich man used the back entrance in order to avoid having to look that poor beggar in the eye. It’s human to look the other way, or not to know what to do. I can’t help everyone. And that is true. But I can acknowledge everyone, and we certainly can help some, and probably more than we think.
Yet there is a precedent. God has acknowledged us, has gone out of God’s way to meet us. Because God has done this in Jesus, we can, too.
I imagine most of us have been following Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg in one way or another. I watched her UN speech on YouTube. I admire her focus and her passion, as well as her smarts and her confidence. She is driven by her passion and her convictions, and in that she reminds me of an Old Testament prophet, perhaps Amos.
She too spoke of denial, of money and fairy tales, and of technologies yet to be invented. And she spoke of our perceived understanding of the urgency of the situation, only to say that she does not believe that we actually understand it, because if we did yet not acted, we would be evil, which she refuses to believe.
Thunberg uses strong moral language because the question before us is a moral one. She is not interested in condemning us, though she might never forgive us, but what she really wants is change. Change, so that her generation’s load be lightened, as well as the load of those already experiencing the consequences of climate change.
The parable holds before us an image of reversal, the rich are now suffering, and the poor are in the bosom of Abraham. Yet the story is not actually about the afterlife, the story is about now. Pay attention to the Law and the Prophets. Stop using the back door and open your front door. Look your neighbour in the eye and acknowledge her.
Acknowledge the next generation, acknowledge today’s climate refugees. Open your door and open the door to your heart.
The story is a chance for those who hear it. It is a gift. It is grace. Open your door and stop thinking only about you, God already thinks about you, and that is all you need.