9/29/2010 -- Anne-Marie Jeffery -- The 18th Sunday after Pentecost

posted Sep 29, 2010, 10:03 AM by Unknown user   [ updated Sep 29, 2010, 10:07 AM by Terry Brady ]

Are we seeing?

Texts: 1 Timothy 6:6-19, Luke 16:19-31  

It’s that time of year again.  The weather should be starting to get cooler. The leaves are just beginning to change colors.  The days are getting shorter.  Yes – that time is right around the corner -- stewardship time that is.  And no, this isn’t a stewardship sermon, but in the next several weeks our stewardship chairs, Miranda Cooter and Lou Rollinson, will be rolling out this year’s stewardship’s campaign.

            I was reminded that stewardship season – the time when we talk about giving our time and talent to our church - was approaching when one of my fellow priests and good friend sent me a text asking for suggestions for a biblical reference on stewardship.  I was at my computer and had the lectionary page with this Sunday’s readings up. As I glanced at the computer, the following words from the New Testament reading jumped out at me “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”  Hmm I thought with a mischievous smile on my face, that will get people giving, and texted the words back to him.  His response said, “Not quite what I was looking for.” Ah well. He is in his first year at his parish, and perhaps that would not be the best scripture for his initial stewardship campaign. 

            However, as I spent more time with that reading from First Timothy, I began to think that the whole passage really would be good for stewardship.  The reading began, “There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it.”  This reminded me of one of the most compelling reasons for giving away our money that I heard from Dean Lloyd at the National Cathedral. He said, when we die we have to give it all away.  The church, by teaching us how to give, prepares us for that time – something we need to practice throughout our lifetime. I know – it is really sounding like a stewardship sermon now.

            But what stays with me is that when you have a lot of money or many possessions, it makes it, as it says later in the passage - difficult to fight the good fight of the faith and to take hold of the eternal life. Money can blind us to and insulate us from what is important and life giving and that is what has happened to our rich man in today’s gospel.  The story of the rich man dressing in purple and fine linens, who eats sumptuous food and who ignores Lazarus sitting at his gate hungry with dogs licking his sores, is a tough one.  I suspect that many of us here today worry that we are the rich man in the story. I know I do.

            Whether you live in the city and encounter a person crouched against the side of a building asking for some change or in the suburbs where someone stands in the median holding a sign that says ‘Hungry’, we walk or drive past someone very much like Lazarus almost every day. Sometimes we see them and sometimes we don’t. As faithful people we struggle with what to do.  Give money or not?  Try to help by supporting and volunteering with organizations that care for the poor? Take political action to change the systems that leave people in poverty?  And yet even if we are working to help, the poor remain at our gates.

    I was struck by one commentary that noted that the rich man is not made out to be inherently evil.  The writer said “The rich man does not persecute Lazarus, nor does he refuse him food, nor does he sponsor legislation to rid the gates of poor people like Lazarus.[1]  The rich man’s problem was that he didn’t see. He didn’t see the man sitting outside his gate.  His money and the fine things around him made him blind to the man in need who sat at his gate. And then when he ends up in Hades, and it was too late for him, the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers so that they don’t end up where he is. But Abraham says that they have Moses and the prophets and that if they can’t listen to them then they won’t listen to some one returning from the dead.

            And so it comes back to us. Are we listening? Are we seeing? Are we hearing the message that Moses and the prophets taught? Are we listening to the word that Jesus gives us in this passage? Think about how money blinds you. Think about how you live, where you live and what you do and then how that affects your view of the world. Who do you not see?  

            There is another aspect to this as well. I think we need to ponder what else blinds us.  In church, we often go after how our money affects us, especially if we have been listening to these readings from Luke’s Gospel these past several weeks. But our riches are not the only thing that blinds us. What else keep us from not seeing? Perhaps one of the big ones is how busy we are, how much we have to do each day.  The intensity and demands of our lives can easily leave no room for those who sit at the gate. Maybe our own stresses of fighting an illness or of keeping up with the needs of our children or of dealing with a lot of stress at work, leaves us blind. We must find ways to take a moment to pause, look around and see who we are not seeing.  We may not be able to help them today, but maybe in the next month or next year, we will figure out something we can do.

            Also think about who you are not seeing besides the beggar at the side of the road. Maybe, the friend, who hasn’t heard from you in a long time, needs to hear your voice.  Maybe your spouse or partner needs you to sit down and just listen for awhile.  Maybe someone at school or at work who always gets left out, needs a friendly “Hi how are you doing?”

            Our world has no shortage of people who sit at the gate whether it is literally or figuratively. Our call and our challenge is to see one another.  This is part of our lives as the faithful people of God. And unlike the rich man, we cannot say that we didn’t know and that we were not told. By being here in this place today, we have some inkling that God has already broken through. God has broken through with God’s word spoken through Moses and the prophets and the Word manifested through Jesus Christ. We have been given what we need to live faithful lives. This is God’s Christ who stands at our gate knocking so that we may see and no longer be blind. [2] When we respond, when we begin to see, we may very well find ourselves face to face with Christ.

[1] Charles Cousar, Feasting on the Word, Proper 21, Year C.

[2] Helen Montgomery Debevoise, Feasting on the Word, Proper 21, Year C, pg.