26th Sep, 2004

The Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost

8am Low Mass, 10.30am High Mass

Jer 32:1-3a, 6-15
I Tim 6:6-19 fight the good fight, take hold of life eternal
St Luke 16:1-13 Dives & Lazarus

From the Holy Gospel according to St Luke, chapter 16,
“Abraham said to Dives, ‘if they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'”

The Gospel lection we’ve heard this morning is from a perplexing series of chapters in St Luke’s Gospel- these chapters contain a whole series of inversion narratives that are full of strange, almost apocalyptic imagery and pictures- declined wedding invitations, the true cost of discipline and discipleship, lost sheep and coins, lost sons and grouchy brothers, the rogue steward who won esteem through dishonest and questionable financial practices- and now head-on confrontation with the Pharisees and other religiously respectable leaders-

Christ is now in conversation with these people who want to know all about the times and the seasons, the whys and wherefores, and what will come at the end of time, but Christ tells them that they are not yet able to comprehend nor discern the Kingdom of God. Not because they are stupid. It might be because they are trying too hard, they are TOO religious and their religion has managed to get in the way of God’s Holy Spirit. That’s the context of this story of Dives and Lazarus- the Rich Man sits at his table feasting and filling himself with all kinds of delectable morsels and delights while just outside his front door sits a man who cannot even shoo away the dogs because he is so weak from malnutrition. The Rich Man was so pre-occupied with his own way of feeling, enjoyment and seeing things, his own issues, problems, necessities and worries that he could not see what was right there under his own nose. Life can be so full of stuff.

The religious leaders were astonishingly caught up with technicalities, minutiae and trivia- they looked for astrological or political signs, Christ flatly tells them that the Kingdom is already here, “the Kingdom of God is among you”, and he says that to the Pharisees.

It’s there right under their noses but they still fail to see it. They still fail to see Him. They are still looking elsewhere, in the Temple, somewhere, anywhere, except in their own hearts, or in the hearts of the followers of Christ, or even here right by our own front doors.¬†You see, God does not always come in the way we expect him- some of the contemporaries of Christ expected a Messiah in their own image and making to come and save them in the way that they wanted. They never expected Messiah would come as the prophet Isaiah described, in the guise of the Suffering Servant, “He had no beauty or comeliness or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”

And just in case we get too complacent in our over familiarity with the stories of Jesus, Jesus ends these discourses in the next chapter with the astonishingly cryptic “where the body is, there the vultures will gather.” The Bible is full of stories that end in the most unsatisfactory way. Noah is so wise and obedient he survives the destruction of humanity, managing a floating zoological garden in the process. What happened then? He goes and gets steamingly drunk, hardly the actions, one might imagine, of a Saint of God. Moses turns a ramshackle group of slaves into a great nation with an identity and a legal system, and leads this ragbag nation towards the Promised Land. What happens then? Um, well, he dies before they actually get there. And then the New Testament provides us not so much with inconvenient endings as no endings at all. What happened to the Rich Young Ruler, what happened to the brothers of Dives that are mentioned in this morning’s parable, or the Woman Healed of Her Flow of Blood, or what happened to the other Lazarus in St John’s Gospel? Did St Peter really fulfil that promise to be the Church’s Rock, or did he just fade out in favour of St Paul? Mixed emotions, loose ends, half-hearted promises, frustratingly weak and feeble commitments, the places and situations we would least expect the Holy Spirit to be found, but you know what- “the Kingdom of God is among you.”

The Bible is like this because life is like this. And if life is like this, then our worship and discipleship, our way of living, had better reflect it too. God does not need us as his spin doctors. But he does need us to be honest with him- have you ever thought of being honest enough with God to tell him your doubts, your frustrations?
God doesn’t want you shiny and pristine, he wants you as you, God is in love with you as you and not as some super-hero mega-saint.

You are, if you can honestly present yourself to God, the kingdom, you are to be salt and light. The metaphors of salt and light for the role of the believer seem more than ever applicable in a world that is desperate, so desperate for meaning and direction that it is prepared to believe what it reads in the daily horoscopes of newspapers. Society that looks for truth in glamour or pop stars or entertainment- and ignores the plight of those who live so close to our doorsteps. I don’t mean just the homeless and the hungry, I mean the broken, battered and bruised.

That was one of the moving features of the Requiem, a couple of years ago, for Cardinal Basil Hume. He was not a film star or pop celebrity that rose to fame because of his ability to entertain the masses (no pun intended), but he was quite simply a man of prayer and Christian devotion. He was salt and light in the Archdiocese of Westminster and beyond. The Roman Catholic Bishop who preached at the Requiem put it well when he spoke of Cardinal Hume’s simple praying and brief commentary on the Lord’s Prayer in his last days on this earth. All this in marked contrast to the usual media hype, the violence or sexual perversity and profane language that seem to have rendered us almost unshockable. But God wants you as salt and light in the world as well. If Christians keep what light we have hidden inside Churches, no wonder so many people are lost and lonely and broken.

Christ does not tell his followers to do salt and light, to try ever so hard at being holy, religious and nice- but simply to be salt and light in the right places, in your work or at home or in your social life. If genuine believers, committed to integrity, are living our faith “out there”, then the Kingdom of God is in our midst. Life enhancing properties will flow in the very way you live and talk and interact and people will notice. Our faith should be so much the part of the people we are that it cannot but come out in the way we relate to our friends and colleagues and families. And that is not an escape or fleeing from the problems of every day life, but a deeper and more genuine engaging with them. “The kingdom of God is among you.”



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