Thursday, October 6, 2016

Remembering the Mission

25 September 2016 
Proper 21C 

Please, stay calm. “Don’t let this story [from the gospel passage this morning] freak us 
out about hell and damnation. It is not about the afterlife and its conditions. It is a 
parable, a made up fictional story told to make a point, a point on how to live this life 
here and now.” (PreachingTip.com) 

If you were with us last week, you know that I talked about parables and how they 
challenge, humor, and teach us. The parable in the gospel passage this morning 
definitely continues that style of teaching. This parable is not as confusing as the one 
about the corrupt manager that we heard last week, but “The story is left opened ended 
because it points to us. We are opened ended. Remember parables are always about this 
life. This story is asking us if we will come around and change our ways.”
(PreachingTip.com) 

So in what way is this parable asking us if we will change? In order to discern this, we 
are going to use one of the most time honored ways of reading scripture. One of the 
most time honored ways of reading the scriptures is a practice called Lectio Divina. 
Lectio Divina requires reading a short passage over and over again and looking at it in 
different ways. Interestingly, this practice has been applied to many other things in the 
world. Lectio divina, meaning “divine reading” in Latin, comes out of the Benedictine 
tradition and typically has four parts. Reading, meditating, contemplating, and praying. 
However, the lectio divina model doesn't only have to be used for scripture. Recently, I
have been listening to a podcast called Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. In the podcast, 
the hosts look at a chapter of a Harry Potter book through the lens of a chosen word and 
then randomly choose a sentence and go through a lectio divina practice of reading and 
studying the sentence in four ways, literally, metaphorically, related to ourselves, and 
action. The hosts of this show are very secular, but they are trying to find ways of finding 
value in the world through something that many people already consider very special. 
To a whole generation of young adults, along with other people, the Harry Potter world 
and story hold a special place. 

So in order to find the meaning and challenge in this parable, we are going to try out this 
lectio divina practice and look at one sentence of the parable literally, metaphorically, in 
relation to our community at St. John’s, and its challenge for action. 
The random, finger chosen, sentence for this morning is: "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." 

First, what is literally going on here? The rich man, has asked Abraham to send Lazarus 
to give him some water because he is in agony after death. Abraham gives him this 
answer. The answer is interesting in many ways. Before we can look at the answer, we 
have to look at the request. The request is interesting in many ways as well. The rich 
man asks Abraham and not Lazarus, about giving him some water, which still shows the 
rich man as treating Lazarus badly. The rich man still believes in his own status and 
thinks he has the honor to ask Abraham. But Abraham puts him in his place. Child, he 
addresses him. Child, the rich man has no name in this story. Child, a lowly human 
being without any power. Child, remember. I think it is interesting that the first verb 
Abraham uses is remember. Because the rich man did not remember during his life time 
to follow the rules and spirit of the Jewish tradition and faith. He did not give alms to 
the poor. He did not remember. The rich man remembered who Abraham was, but he 
did not remember any of the rules. Remember your life and all those good things you 
received. This is also very much a story stuck in the clash between cultures. In Jewish 
tradition, after death all souls went to Sheol, which was basically a shadowy pit in the 
ground where nothing happened. There is no agony there. There is no delight there. But 
this rich man is not in Sheol, he is in Hades, the Greek underworld. In the Greek 
tradition, there is a Field of Punishment for those who committed crimes while living. A 
place of agony. There is a lot of counterpoint in this story. The rich man received many 
good things in this world and thus, to balance the story, must receive evil now. And 
Lazarus, who had received plenty of evil things in this world, now must receive good 
things. Also, Lazarus, the man with nothing and no dignity is given honor in this story 
because he is the one named. The rich man, who has everything, has no name in this 
story, signifying his lack of honor. Both the Jewish and Greek traditions had strains of 
high value being placed on balance which comes out in this story. 

Second, what is metaphorically going on here? Well, Abraham is balancing out the 
world. There is a sense of justice here, not just for the rich man and Lazarus, but also for 
all those who are poor and do not have honor. Abraham is putting the world back to 
rights. Straightening the world out again. There is also something about the choice of 
the verb remember in this sentence that grabs me. Remember. Remember the justice 
that you learned about rich man? Now it is here. Remember what you were supposed to 
do? Well, this is the consequence of not doing it. Not only is Abraham addressing the 
rich man, Abraham is also warning us. Abraham is reminding us. Jesus speaks through 
Abraham in this parable. Jesus has been discussing wealth and priorities, our 
stewardship, in the last few gospel passages and he continues those themes here. We all 
have been given gifts and what we do with them does matter. What the rich man did and 
didn’t do matters with the riches of his world gifts greatly in the situation he finds himself in. 

Third, how is what is going on here apply to us? In my mind the themes of balance, 
remembering, and stewardship all apply to us at St. John’s. Jesus through Abraham is 
challenging and teaching us. Jesus speaks about grace and love, but there is that kind of Fatherly love that requires correction and returning to the path. Repentance is only an 
issue if there is something to be held to. And Abraham is reminding us of what that is. 
There are things we ought to be doing. Another application is the understanding present 
in this passage of the balance in the world between having too much and too little. We 
cannot always control when we have too little, but we are able to control what we do 
when we have too much. We have great wealth here in our parish. We have wonderful 
capital. We have a faithful community who supports each other and the life of the 
community. But there was an attitude problem in this parable and Abraham seeks to 
change the rich man's attitude and ours as well. We cannot keep what we have to 
ourselves. 

Fourth, and naturally following the last section, we have to ask ourselves what action 
should we take out of this parable? The action in the chosen sentence, the active verb, is 
remember. What action do we at St. John's need to take out of this parable? Remember, 
remember that while we have good things in this world, we need to be sharing them. We 
have much that is good in this world in our community. And while we don't always share 
it, we need to be looking at how we share it. Remember can point to a lot of things we do 
in the church. Especially in a church such as St. John’s, history is a palpable part of our 
life together. I was poignantly reminded of our history as we rehung the pictures of the 
priests of this parish in the Parish Hall on Friday. As we look around us at the beauty of 
our windows, the brass, the mosaics, we know we have a rich history, filled with people 
who cared. Abraham, however, is not reminding us of our history. We do that enough as 
it is. He is reminding us of why all that history exists in the first place. It exists because 
we have a mission. A mission we must remember and act upon. Daily, weekly, monthly, 
seasonally, yearly, we are called to gather together in worship and then to go out into the 
world to share. To share the story, to share the gifts, and to share the love of God that 
has been abundantly given to us. Remember, Abraham tells us, remember the mission. 
Remember what you are called to do.