The Rev. Peter M. Carey
Sermon – 29 September 2013
St. Paul’s Memorial Church – Charlottesville, Virginia
Luke – Rich Man and Lazarus
Jesus’ story today from the gospel gives us a stark example of what not to do. The rich man was not aware, did not care, and did not share.
The Rich Man’s sin was his lack of any awareness at all of the suffering of Lazarus, rather he was self-absorbed. He had no awareness at all of this man’s suffering, right at his doorstep. And, for this, he was punished – perhaps eternally in the fires of hell. … and what about his lack of awareness.
The Old Testament speaks an urgent and sufficient call to repentance. The rich man’s failure to care for Lazarus is not in accord with the Old Testament and with Jesus’ teaching in verse 9 (from last week: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes”. Every Jew knew the Old Testament laws commanding the compassionate use of riches, so the rich man had no excuse for his wanton neglect of one whom he saw regularly, and could have helped easily.
Does the rich man’s punishment seem harsh? Perhaps. However, Jesus is teaching us a hard lesson that unless we need to be aware, to care, and to share. Of course we are so often preoccupied with our lives, busy beyond all limits, we live and move and have our being, often, with no awareness at all of those who are suffering and hurting all around us. Of course, when we slow down, when we turn aside, we might allow ourselves to be present, to see those around us, to consider those outside our normal circles. When we begin to pray to have our hearts softened, our eyes opened, our ears unclogged, we might feel and see and hear the opportunities all around us.
The lesson is a stark one for us sitting here, knowing, when we reflect just how rich we are, and, also how unaware we can become of human suffering and even the humanity of our fellow women and men. We have good excuses for being caught up in our own lives, we have much to do, and even when we don’t, we have much to be distracted by. Walking down the street with both ears plugged up with our headphones, either real or metaphorical.
I would propose that Jesus is really calling us to be aware of the suffering around us, and also to respond. Jesus not only calls us, but also empowers us, arms us, supplies us, challenges us, and fills us with the spirit, the enthusiasm to be aware, to care and to share! So, how do we open our eyes and ears to see and hear those in need? I would say that the first step is to work to soften our hearts, to find a prayer inside us to allow us to be present to the needs of those around us, to find the humanity of the people who we encounter every day – on the exit of the bypass on the way to Barracks Road, of the people suffering loneliness, of the people cut off from their families, of the people in every place whe are in need. As we allow God to soften our hearts we deepen our awareness of the larger world beyond our seemingly comfortable boundaries.
As we are praying to have our hearts softened, to be aware and to care we do well to turn to the saints. The saints in the church’s designation, and also the saints in our midst. Saints such as St. Francis, who left a life of privilege and being the “rich man” who was unaware of the needs of people all around him, to enter a life of joy and beauty amidst those in deepest need. He accepted radical poverty and gave away all the stuff that he had, so that he might live a life of deep sharing and compassion.
Like Francis, whose feast day we celebrate this week upcoming, we also have the opportunity to share. Not out of guilt or coercion, but I hope out of a deep sense of generosity which emerges from our own soft hearts, our caring, and our gratitude.
And, it is not merely these saints such as Francis, but the saints all around us. I am reminded of the inspiring words, “I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true, who lived and died and toiled and fought for the Lord they loved and knew….and I mean to be one too.” [Though this hymn is often maligned by some choir directors, it was one that inspired me when I was young, and still does today.] How audacious to think that we could also be saints – perhaps not like Francis, who gave it all away, but we each can do more to be aware, to care, and to share.
I think that we would do well to find the saints in our midst who have found a way to not only open their hearts, and also to be aware, to care, and to share. Not every response is the same for everyone. For some, it may be to devote themselves to a cause, to find the work and ministry that gives joy, and also serves the world’s deepest need.
“Let the beauty you love be what you do, there are thousands of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” ~ Rumi
Folks at The Haven
Canterbury at Habitat
What about our wonderful Mary Lee Webb, here at St. Paul’s, who has spent many years serving the elderly in our community through Ministry on the Aging. Visiting those in need, making sure that they are cared for, bringing love and hope to those who are struggling with the ways that the years offer us challenge and suffering and loneliness. Could we find a way to not only often our hearts, but also to find a way to respond to the need in our midst?
What about our dedicated parishioner, Dr. Tom Daniel who is off in Africa on a medical mission trip; the second one he has embarked upon this year, to serve those in need…to be aware, to care, and to share.
Wyatt Melzer was a UVA Men's Lacrosse player who was wondering what he would do after college and he happened upon this wonderful organization, Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership. He decided to share his love for lacrosse, and all the wonderful lessons he learned here at UVA to young people in need in Harlem. …Harlem Lacrosse…leadership and teaching….lacrosse … caring and sharing!
“Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership is a nonprofit organization that uses the game of lacrosse to help structure the lives of at-risk middle school children in Harlem.”
“HLL is a school-based program that operates in Harlem public middle schools. Throughout the school day, HLL employees work closely with teachers, guidance counselors and school administrators to identify and strategically recruit students who are struggling behaviorally and academically to play lacrosse.”
“I am always half joking with these guys, forget Wall Street, go be a teacher, get involved with education
get involved with young people
seeing Wyatt and the influence he has had
I think it will be the kind of thing that all of our guys will be interested in
How they can give back in a situation like this.” ~ Coach Dom Starsia
Don’t be like the rich man. Don’t wait for a deathbed confession, don’t wait for the lightning to strike or the burning bush to appear. Be a saint. Pray to soften your hearts. Find the joy that comes through being present to our fellow people. See the way that Christ breaks into our world. “There are thousands of ways to kiss the ground,” and there are thousands of ways to worship God; to be aware, to care, and to share.