Jeremiah 32:1-3a,6-15; Psalm 91:1-6,14-16;
1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31
The Rev. Drew Brislin
I have shared with some of you that my nickname in high school and well pretty much ever since has been “Bruiser.” As much as I would like to say it was earned as a result of my tenacity on the gridiron, inflicting bruises, it was earned on the scout team and from my ability to take a hit. Some of these same friends today now refer to me as the Rev. Bruiser. For a period of time though in college, I did get ordained with another nickname from a good friend. Whenever I would go out with this friend to eat, attend a ballgame or just be out, I always had this uncanny ability to run into someone I knew. Sometimes, the encounters would be with classmates. Sometimes it would be running into someone I worked with at Winn Dixie or just knew from customer interaction. More often than not, it was running into someone I knew from Selma that was going to school at Alabama as well (we are everywhere!) As my friend observed my interactions with various people, he said one day that I was like a mayor “with the proverbial shaking hands and kissing babies” and for a quite a while “the mayor” was how that friend addressed me. But I like people and I like hearing their stories and the label of mayor was really about naming that desire for relationship. This past week as I watched the various services related to the funeral of Queen Elizabeth, many commentators reflected on her life and that it was a life dedicated to genuine service to her people. One particular story that caught my attention, focused on was how she showed a real interest in those she served. Early Monday morning as I, like many of you, watched the procession of the Queen’s casket to the funeral services one of the commentators talked about Queen Elizabeth’s uncanny ability to remember people. That she could meet someone one time and remember them years later and recall to them where and under what circumstances they met and often remember what they talked about. The ability to do this almost seemed like a superpower to me. It is this ability to take a genuine interest in people that can help us to form lasting relationships.
In our Gospel this morning we hear Jesus tell a parable about a rich man and a poor man who lay at his gate. We are given some basic descriptions like the rich man wears purple and fine linen and dines sumptuously every day. The poor man (who is named Lazarus but is not Jesus’ friend and brother of Mary and Martha) was covered in sores and only wanted what fell from the rich man’s table. They both die and while the poor man is swept away by angels to Abraham, the rich man is buried and relegated to be tormented in Hades. The rich man begs to Abraham for relief, for him to send Lazarus to give him that relief to which Abraham responds a great chasm has been fixed. So what chasm, what divide has been fixed? What is it that Jesus wants us to learn in this story? At first it sounds like the leveling of socio-economic divides, it certainly resonates with us as we reflect on the Magnificat or Mary’s Glad Song in which Mary proclaims “he has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the might from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly” Maybe it’s not so much a leveling or evening up of the scoreboard but about restoration of relationship. This story is a parable though rather than an event, in which Jesus rather uncharacteristically decides to give the poor afflicted character in the story the name of Lazarus contrasted with the ‘rich’ man and in naming Lazarus reveals for us the love he has for the person the rich man deems insignificant. Jesus models for us the dignity that we should hold for all others whom we encounter. In naming Lazarus too, I think Jesus is modeling the reverence we should hold for the poor. In calling out the poor man’s name Jesus is showing him dignity. The rich man’s failure to acknowledge the presence of Lazarus in life and in death reveals for us the often dehumanization that society can often reveal in its dealings with those of lesser means. What does it take to get us to see those who are so often left behind? Even in death, the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus rather than addressing and asking Lazarus himself to warn his brothers. The rich man seems to show concern for his brothers in his exchange with Abraham, but he never sees the poor man who was laying at his gate. At first reading one might want to make this story about what is required of us to get to Heaven. That this is a story about the afterlife and the need to seek or make intercessory prayer on ours or our loved one’s behalf. But what if that is not what it is about? What if Abraham is inviting the rich man into transformation? What if Jesus’ message is the same one that Moses and the prophets have always preached? What if the message is about loving God and loving our neighbor? As Episcopalians we promise in our Baptismal Covenant to seek and serve Christ in all others loving our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus tells us over and over who our neighbors are through stories and in the parables like the Good Samaritan and that they (our neighbor) are embodied in those who love and serve others just as Jesus calls us to do. That our neighbor is not only family and friends but those whom we don’t know or don’t see.
In a speech on the day of her coronation in 1953, Queen Elizabeth II said “The ceremonies you have seen today are ancient, and some of their origins are veiled in the mists of the past. But their spirit and their meaning shine through the ages never, perhaps, more brightly than now. I have in sincerity pledged myself to your service, as so many of you are pledged to mine. Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.” This was a statement to the whole of people of the commonwealth, not just a certain group of people. God sees, invites and includes everyone and the queen in this statement is reflecting that same sense of inclusion and inviting this same sense of relationship. There are a lot of wonderful ways in which we as a community serve others here at Ascension and seek to help those of lesser means. How do we go even deeper though to invite those we serve into new and deeper relationships? When we are out and about do we recognize our neighbors in those places we do not expect to find them? And when we do see them do we channel our inner Mayor and do our best to make them feel loved and worthy as the beloved children of God that they truly are. This can be hard sometimes. It is difficult to get ourselves out of our way to do this but the joy that it brings to those whom we lift up makes this act of love so rewarding. This is the act of building Christian community that we as Christians are called to engage. Let us seek to find ways to repair that chasm that so often sets us apart from one another by finding ways to go deeper into relationship with our neighbor. Amen