>The Kingdom of Heaven is a place where equality is and always will be. There are no barriers due to class, color or gender. All are loved and respected. Friends, do you believe that such a kingdom is within our reach, or is here and now?
I believe that it is within our grasp, and we have the means to make it tangible and real. We don’t have the extreme class divisions like those in the first century – oh, we have divisions aplenty, and they are visible, but today we have hope and opportunities to change our conditions. Unlike the poor today, Lazarus would not have been allowed to rise above his class even if he had been given purple cloth to wear instead of sores, or have a medical plan that offered antibiotics instead of a dog to wash his wounds. Nor would he have had a chance at a lottery for a bed in a local shelter rather than sleeping outside the Rich Man’s gate, or counselors to help teach new job skills..
The message we have this morning is a continuation of the themes we’ve heard over the past few weeks – coveting and hoarding wealth is not the way to earn points with God. God loves you, but don’t think for a minute God likes how you’re living large. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty are evident in society, but the wealth and richness of Christ’s good news are the treasures we should hold on to, as well as sharing what we have. As we have heard, “what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.”
Now we all need money – it gives us the necessities of food, shelter, clothing, livelihood. Poverty can destroy one’s soul. But if we have the Gospel to live by, and we have the love of God through Christ, we have the foundation for the life that is true life, don’t you think? A bit simplistic, but Jesus asks us, and we are reminded every time we come to his table, that love is paramount, that we love one another as he loves us. Nothing simple in that message.
Two of the baptismal charges are that we seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves and to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. The Rich Man didn’t have these, but he did have the words of Moses and the prophets to live by. Had he used his resources wisely for the benefit of the community, had he honored an obligation expected of him to the poor and oppressed, his end would have been different. The Rich Man did not grasp that his lack of compassion toward Lazarus was against the will of God. The tables turned on him. Lazarus did not earn his place in the hereafter, but received compensation for the misfortune and misery that was his earthly life and were beyond his control. We know what his life was, and we can guess what his needs were: clothing, shelter, food, medicine, companionship, what we know as basic necessities, and yet, they were denied him.
The Rich Man had needs too – he needed to serve his brother Lazarus, to experience a life that was a true, real life and one that he might have shared with people like Lazarus. But, in failing to recognize that money is a root of all kinds of evil, and, in failing to recognize Lazarus as an equal, the Rich Man builds a chasm between them – and so he finds himself staring up at Lazarus with Abraham. And even then he wants to use Lazarus for a servant, to give him a drop of water on his tongue.
Jesus’ parable illustrates that there is something better for us and more real than those materialistic things we long for – the reality that we were not created in isolation, but to love and be loved; not to use one another, but to be partners in a world that has endless possibilities for equality and justice. We were created not to face one another across chasms that we make, but to build bridges.
This parable has immediacy. It is for all who have ears to listen. And as we listen, perhaps we wonder which character in the story fits us best.
Lazarus? We all have needs and longings.
The Rich Man? There is that acquisitive, materialistic tendency in our society that is almost hypnotic…
If we are anyone, I think, it would be the brothers. Still living, we have the benefit of hearing this parable and knowing history, and as its current audience, we can learn what is required of us.
There is hope in our lessons today.
For all the wealthy in the world who are like the Rich Man, there are people who take their wealth and invest it in projects that may turn out to be the earthen jars containing deeds to life for millions of people. Not too long ago, I rallied parishiones to combine our wealth and gave over seven thousand dollars to Episcopal Relief and Development’s “Gifts for Life” to benefit emerging communities throughout the world. We’ve also given generously in time, talent and currency to help our own community in Berkeley.
We have the hope that is the Word, the prophets, we have God in Christ.
All of us have a Lazarus outside our gates; someone who presents an opportunity for us to live up to our baptismal promises. How we respond will decide our lives here and in the hereafter. The choice is up to us; we can build bridges across class divisions or create chasms to keep us apart. We can choose to offer our love now and not wait for the after life.
The Kingdom of Heaven is here and now; look around you. It is a place where we all have a part helping people at the gates, in the shelters, in hospitals and homes, in the workplace: some ‘do’ the work and some ‘lead,’ and there are some who go back and forth, leading over bridges, repairing them if they must – I like to call those people deacons. But let me tell you, deacons are not lone rangers or God’s commandos solving the world’s ills alone and standing up to injustice and inequality like a super hero – we cannot be a faith community of one – it is a community of many, a community where the poor in their common cloth may sit down at the table with the rich in their purple, where we all drink from the same cup and share a loaf of bread, where all are truly welcome.
My friends, the Kingdom of Heaven is like that, and like this.