by The Rev. Margaret Thor
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart always be acceptable to you O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Every staff meeting at St John’s starts the same with prayer and then reflection on the upcoming gospel. During the reflection we try to answer this question: What does it mean to follow Jesus in my work this week? Now knowing some of the characters, I mean staff at St John’s, you can imagine that sometimes the conversation can be very lively and can also go down a rabbit hole. This week during our reflection we traveled down said rabbit hole and one of the staff reminded me of this cartoon by the Rev. Jay Sidebotham.
Picture a parishioner in conversation with the Rector.
Parishioner: Why didn’t you let us know of the new service schedule?
Rector: Well, I announced it last Sunday and put it in the bulletin…
Parishioner: Well, you knew I was away last Sunday! My annual golf tournament.
Rector: We put it in the weekly email. You do get that, don’t you?
Parishioner: I can’t possibly be expected to read all the emails I get from church!
Rector: Right! That’s why we did the all-parish phonathon.
Parishioner: Oh, I stopped listening to my phone messages a while ago. Its only people asking for money.
Rector: I’m so sorry. Let me start all over. Have you heard about our new service schedule?
Today’s gospel is about the rich man suffering after his death while Lazarus, the poor man, is carried away at the time of his death by the angels to sit next to Abraham. Clearly the rich man, who presumably ignored Lazarus who laid outside his gate, is not enjoying life after death. He begs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers what will happen to them if they don’t change their ways. Abraham responds, `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.'”
We are told time and time again what we are called to do as Christians. And often, like the rich man, we ignore that calling. I shouldn’t say that we ignore what we are called to do but often we “appear” to ignore it. I believe that all of us know that we are to follow the commandment to love our neighbor and to live as Timothy speaks to “do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share”. We hear it but sometimes we have a hard time living it.
I wonder what stopped the rich man from being generous to Lazarus. I imagine that each time the rich man left his home he saw Lazarus begging at his gate. Why not stop and give Lazarus some food or instruct his servants to do so? Did he fear what others would think of him? Did he fear that he wouldn’t know what to say to Lazarus? Did he fear that whatever he gave to Lazarus would be inadequate so why bother?
I can tell you that I frequently answer “yes” to these questions when seeing Lazarus in my life. And Lazarus seems to be everywhere – climate change, issues surrounding immigrations and refugees, racism, those experiencing homeless, those that are food insecure, discrimination against those that are LGBTQ+, gun violence, the list goes on. And then I see people like Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old environmental activist and admire her devotion to the issue of global warming. She is an outspoken witness about the damage that global warming is doing to God’s creation. Because of her passion and blunt speaking about this issue, millions of people are re-energized about doing something, anything about global warming and taking care of God’s creation.
And what about those Parkland students who inspired the protests against gun violence and all the students who protested with them? I wish I had their courage to step out and proclaim God’s commandment to love one another which specifically states that we will not kill. But I worry what would my non-church friends think of me. Why can’t I be like Greta, or Malala, or the students of Parkland and stand up for what is right? Why am I afraid? Why are anyone of us afraid?
Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously stated in his first inaugural address that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. By saying this, FDR was telling the American people that their fear was making things worse. He goes on to say, “fear itself…nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
In order to live up to one of the greatest commandments to love one another, we must let go of fear. Fear of the other, fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of what others will think of us. Fear paralyzes us from doing what is right. My mother, on my first day of work as a teenager, literally pushed me out the door because I was so afraid. But first she loaned me her pocket cross to carry to remind me that God is always with me. That little piece of silver comforted me and gave me courage to face the unknown. And this has stayed with me. God loves me and will always help me face my fears. And God loves you and does the same for you. Each time we renew our baptismal covenant we are reminded of this. When we say that we will seek and serve Christ in all persons. And again, that we will strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being, we respond that we will, with God’s help. We can face our fears and serve Lazarus in the world knowing that God is with us.
I read this on Facebook when preparing my sermon and it seems particularly fitting for our gospel lesson. It is by Epictetus, a Greek Stoic philosopher. He wrote:
“Caretake this moment.
Immerse yourself in its particulars.
Respond to this person, this challenge, this deed.
Quit the evasions.
Stop giving yourself needless trouble.
It is time to really live; to fully inhabit the situation you happen to be in now.
You are not some disinterested bystander.
Respect your partnership with providence.
Ask yourself often, How may I perform this particular deed
such that it would be consistent with and acceptable to the divine will?
Heed the answer and get to work.
When your doors are shut and your room is dark you are not alone.
The will of nature is within you as your natural genius is within.
Listen to its importunings.
Follow its directives.
As concerns the art of living, the material is your own life.
No great thing is created suddenly.
There must be time.
Give your best and always be kind.”
In closing, I am reminded of the term WWJD? What would Jesus do? Well there is a new twist on this term which is WWWD? That is, what would Whipple do? Bishop Whipple was the first Bishop of the diocese of Minnesota. His legacy was honored by naming a federal building near the airport after him. This same federal building is now where immigrants from Minnesota face deportation. This is contrary to what Bishop Whipple would have done. As a call to action states, Whipple would have spoken out against inhumane treatment of his neighbors. He’d follow the gospel mandate to welcome strangers as if they were Jesus. He’d resist the separation of families and the removal of good people from their homes and communities!
Normally sermons don’t include Public Service Announcements, but if you are inspired, I draw your attention to this PSA: You are invited to attend eucharist, press conference, and prayer vigil on the morning of October 29 at the Bishop Whipple building in support of our neighbors. This is an easy and safe way to live out our baptismal covenant to strive for justice and peace. See any of the clergy if you have any questions. We can do this with God’s help.