The Nineteeth Sunday after Pentecost: September 25, 2016
Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church
I speak to you in the Name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, Amen.
St. Augustine, one of the great theologians of Western Christian tradition states, “pride is the beginning of all sin.” Yet Paul in his letter to Timothy cites greed as the source of sinfulness saying “money is a root of all kinds of evil.”
Piggybacking off of this theme, Jesus’ story of Lazarus and the rich man provides yet another cautionary tale warning us against the dangers of wealth. In our gospel, we witness what will happen if we like the rich man fail to find contentment in who we are and what we have in this life. If we fail to let go and allow the riches we possess to bless us and bless others rather than allow our greed to possess and control us.
Consider the rich man who is enslaved by his greed—enslaved by his insatiable desire to always possess more—acquire more. Enslaved by his constant need for power and control, a man who only sees the value of others in how they can serve him—better him. He sees Lazarus at the gate as an unproductive member of society—one without wealth or status or skills—one who is meant to be shunned and ignored.
Yet even in death the rich man fails to see the chasm his greed has created between him and the rest of humanity. The image of a rich man in hell demanding that Lazarus be sent down from heaven just to bring him a drink of cool water. The image of the rich man demanding that Lazarus be sent down from heaven, back from the dead to warn his greedy brothers of their doomed fate.
Even in hades, the rich man ignores the chasm his greed has created—clinging to the riches of his wealth, status, privilege, power he acts as though heaven itself is there to serve him. Perhaps this is why he is unable to cross—for all the riches of God even those in heaven would never be enough.
Interestingly, this gospel reminds me of Christmas. Crazy right?! Not Christmas as in the story of Jesus’ birth or the fun of giving presents or having a festive feast. I mean Christmas as in Charles Dickens’ classic tale A Christmas Carol – a modern-day midrash of what could happen if the rich man actually acknowledged the chasm his greed creates and changed for the better.
A Christmas Carol begins with the infamous Jacob Marley, who is “dead as a doornail.” Marley’s ghost appears to pay a visit to his old partner and friend, Ebenezer Scrooge in order to warn him of the dangers of greed. Bound by a heavy, long iron chain, Marley confesses “I wear the chain I forged in life,…I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. And you Ebenezer have one twice as long and twice as heavy.”
Like the rich man in our gospel, Scrooge attempts to deny his own greed arguing, “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob.” But the ghost cries, “Business! Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
Yet the ghost of Marley fails to help Scrooge see the error of his ways just like the rich man is blind to his fate in hades. It is not until Scrooge listens to the prophetic haunting voices of his past, present, and future that he realizes the wealth he possess on earth he cannot possess beyond the grave.
Facing the future of his own death, Scrooge finally realizes the great chasm his greed has created spiritually, relationally, and physically in his life. And so he repents–in the final years of his life, Ebenezer Scrooge changes to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for himself the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that he may take hold of the true Life that really is all life.
What are the chains we forge in this life—the ones that bind us and weigh us down that we ignore? What chasms do we unknowingly create—chasms that drive us to seek power and control separating us from God and our fellow man?
Christ calls us to break these chains by binding ourselves to the love of God.
Christ calls us to fill our chasms by recognizing the ways that we are so richly blessed by God and by sharing these blessings with others. Blessings of power, privilege, relationship, wealth, status, etc. If we fail to let go and allow the riches we possess to bless us and bless others, then we remain possessed and controlled by our own insatiable fears and desires.
One of the richest blessings of this life is prayer. The ability to speak and listen to God on our own and in the community of others. This can be done in person, from afar, across time, and on social media.
Invite people to contemplate the image of God as a refuge, stronghold, shelter, deliverer, salvation from Psalm 91 and meditate on this image of God’s love. Allow it to fill your deepest darkest chasms and set you free. This Social Media Sunday you may choose to search Google images typing the word “God’s as refuge” or “shelter” to find an image that reminds you of God’s love—one that makes you feel grounded in God, content and at peace.
“We who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, abide under the shadow of the Almighty. We shall say to the Lord, ‘You are my refuge and my stronghold, our God in whom we put our trust.’” Amen.
 Psalm 91.