Monday, September 30, 2013

Choose Well

Luke 16: 19-31
A man named Louis woke up one day to the screeching of his alarm.  He rolled over to turn it off.  He had thought about hitting the snooze button however he knew that he needed to get up and head off to work. Lou was a hospital administrator.  He jumped in the shower and put on one of his suits; he chose a green tie to go with his white shirt.  Green he figured would have a calming effect on people. 

He poured his coffee, put an English muffin in the toaster and looked in the fridge to decide what jam to put on the muffin; there was strawberry or blueberry so he got the strawberry.  His wife was also getting ready for work and they chatted about dinner that evening, what to have, who would start it.  He finished his muffin, gave her a kiss and went to work.  He would have many important decisions to make that day as The Joint Commission was there doing their accreditation audit, always an intense time in the hospital.

By the time Lou had been awake even for only one hour, he had had to make many decisions.  There were choices that he was making all along the way.  Should he get up or snooze a while.  Should he shower or not, what color tie to wear, what to eat, what type of jam, should he kiss his wife goodbye.  Now some of these things, you might say, aren’t choices but givens especially kissing his wife.  But really, when it comes down to it, almost every act of ours is a decision that is made consciously or not.

Now let’s have a look at a man named Dives, the rich man in Jesus’ parable that we will hear in a minute.  He’s not named but scholars through the ages have called him Dives, which means ‘rich man’ in Latin.  I’ll warn you ahead of time, this has got to be one of the most disturbing parables on so many levels.  If we were to make up a greatest hits list of the parables of Jesus, this would not make the cut.    It’s pretty chilling, especially the part about the chasm which, the parable tells us is difficult to cross in this life and impossible in the next.

Here now the parable of Dives from the Gospel of Luke…..

‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.

In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.”

He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” ’

Dives has all the best that life in first century Palestine could offer.  He wore haute couture clothing of exquisite linen in the most luxurious color of purple you’d ever want to see; clothing of the high priests alone.  He ate gourmet food and meals, a feast fit for a king, every single day.  In a country where people were lucky enough to get meat into their diet once a week good old Dives lavishly ate it each day.  And if he was eating like this each day you can rest assured that he wasn’t keeping the Sabbath day and resting.   His household or kitchen was a buzz every day, working and slaving to make Dives’ feast.

And then there was Lazarus, not the Lazarus of Bethany Mary and Martha’s brother, another Lazarus. Poor, sick, covered in oozing sores Lazarus; each morning someone brought him to the gate of Dives estate just so that he could get the scraps of bread that were thrown out.  The text says he longed to satisfy his hunger, so he wasn’t even sure that he would get that day’s scraps.  His only friends, it seems, were the street dogs that came around like blood hounds sniffing to lick his sores.

I can’t imagine that Dives could walk through his gate without even noticing Lazarus and doing something, anything to help him.  I mean, come on, if Dives was as self indulgent as he was you’d think he’d have Lazarus carted off somewhere else to get help.  Why have a sick beggar at your doorstep?

Then they both die.  The angel’s fly Lazarus to his heavenly destination in the company of father Abraham and the likes of the prophets.  Dives is escorted down yonder, to Hades to be tormented in the hot and flaming mass.  And tormented he is.  He calls out to Abraham to remember him and to get Lazarus to bring him just a finger-tips drip of cool water.  From this comment we are sure that at least Dives knew who was sitting at his gate, to his credit.

Poor Dives, still unaware Dives.  He pleads with Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers but Abraham says that he’s still being self indulgent and asking poor Lazarus to do his work for him.  But Abraham is on to him, “No such luck, your brothers don’t listen to Moses or the prophets, what makes you think they’ll listen someone who has risen from the dead?  And besides all of this Dives, I’m making a chasm so that no one can cross over, go back.  What’s done is done.  You made your bed, now lie in it. 

Folks, there is just no redemption in this parable, only a stern warning, but there are things we can learn from it.

Jesus sets up this parable nicely as usual; it’s always easy to expose ‘error’s’ of the rich and the unassuming goodness of the poor.  You might think that this parable is about the evils of being rich.  But it’s not, Jesus already preaches about the dangers of serving wealth and mammon just a few verses earlier in Chapter 16.  Jesus doesn’t have anything against people who have money.  He does have issues with what people do with their wealth (or not) and how they choose to live their lives.

This parable is not about wealth but the choices that we make.  You can be poor as a pauper or rich as a king and make some very bad life choices.  And as we see there are choices to make at every juncture of our lives.  Dives? His fatal error was that he just was clueless, unaware of his surroundings and the people that he alienated or ignored in his lifetime.  He chose to indulge himself and ignore others in need, even those at his doorstep.

Do you know Dives?  It’s people who don’t listen to what you’ve just told them because they have their own agenda to pursue.  Or maybe it’s someone who ignores the ramifications of his or her behavior on others and does whatever they want to do.  Rather than practicing the art of mindful living, as Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk promotes, the person is neglectful and self absorbed, making choices for his or her own benefit and no other.

Had sad and ultimately destructive when living could be so rich and encompass the Gospel of Christ to love God, and to love your neighbor as yourself - to live mindfully of those around us in life and intentionally as Jesus wants us to live.

Whether you know it or now, whether you like it or not, almost everything we do has an effect on another human being and there are choices galore.  How will you choose to order your day?  What will be the choices that you make that will edify the kingdom of God, not ignore it?  How will the decisions you make affect your family, your neighbor, your community and ultimately the world?   You can choose to live generously in all ways. 

And we as a church make decision’s all of the time.  How can we make the best choices for the future while remaining faithful to our mission?  How can we include each person who walks through our doors and affirm them as a child of God?  Start living mindfully now for there are so many people that your life, and the life of this church touches.  You can make a difference and not find yourself on the wrong side of the chasm. 

Remember Lou at the beginning of this sermon?  He had many choices to make; some of them were relatively inconsequential and some of them were quite heady. He made the decision to not sleep an extra ten minutes because he wanted to be right ‘on target’ for his job that day and he didn’t want to be late causing his office to panic with The Joint Commission breathing down their necks.  Remember he was a hospital administrator who was responsible for providing quality and affordable health care for people with means and without the means.  Healthcare reform notwithstanding he had to be an ethical representative for all parties involved.  And, bottom line, he cared deeply about people which is why he got a medical degree first and then decided to go into hospital administration.

When he jumped in the shower it was for only a minute or so, five tops because he and his wife have tried to make a very conscious and ‘green’ effort to reduce their energy and water consumption over the past year.  The suit that he put on was made in the United States where fair and equal wages are the norm providing work for people locally. And that great green tie he put on was a gift from his daughter who bought it from ‘A World of Goods’ on eBay which is a fair trade organization helping people globally help themselves in sustainable living.  The coffee that they drink was also fair trade coffee. 

The strawberry jam on his English muffin was made locally and purchased from the farmer’s market.  The strawberries grown right here in Connecticut and the kiss for his wife?   That was a definite and must – no matter what the cost!  And you thought Lou never got out of the boardroom long enough to see who was presenting in the ER.

May God bless your living with grace, generosity, and with mindfulness.  May you see the need around you and resolve with all of your heart to do something, anything about it.  May your living be a harbinger of justice and peace and may you answer God’s call with ‘here I am’, in all that you do and all that you say.  Let us close that unfathomable chasm with love.