Sermon for Trinity 17
Sunday 26 September 2010
Bridging the Gap (Luke 16.19-31)
‘Back to Church Sunday’
A very successful and rich professional (could be a banker, could be a lawyer) parked his brand new Porsche Carrera GT in front of the office, ready to show it off to his colleagues. As he got out, a lorry came along too close to the curb and completely tore off the driver’s door. Fortunately, a policeman in his car was close enough to see the accident and pulled up behind the Porsche, his lights flashing. But, before he had a chance to ask any questions, the man started screaming hysterically about how his Porsche, which he had just picked up the day before, was now completely ruined and would never be the same, no matter how hard the body shop tries to make it new again. After he’d finally wound down from his rant, the policeman shook his head in disgust and disbelief. “I can’t believe how materialistic you are,” he said. “You are so focused on your possessions that you neglect the most important things in life.” “How can you say such a thing?” asked the Porsche owner. The policeman replied, “Don’t you even realize that your left arm is missing? It got ripped off when the truck hit you!!!” “OH, MY GOD!” screamed the man. … “MY ROLEX!!”
During the past few weeks we have been hearing passages from the Bible emphasising the dangers of money and materialism. Luke’s gospel contains an enormous wadge of teaching from Jesus on this subject. As I have often pointed out, despite the obsession of the Church there’s far, far more from Jesus on the dangers of wealth than there is about sexuality. This section of Jesus’ teaching which begins in chapter 12 of Luke’s gospel is now brought to a conclusion in chapter 16 with the story of Dives and Lazarus. In this parable Jesus dramatically draws our attention to the dangers of wealth. The rich man is so caught up in material things that he simply and overlooks Lazarus, the poor man. The result of this is that in due course he separates himself from God. The gospel uses the pictorial language of heaven and hell. But the crucial message of the parable is that the consequence of being focussed on possessions and material things rather than spiritual things is dehumanising. We become less than fully human, less than fully alive if our sole gaze is upon the physical things we own. But the moral of Jesus’ words is very subtle. For he does not say that we should spend all our time wrapt up in spiritual thoughts. No. For him being focussed on the spiritual means taking account of the needy. It means having an acute moral sense. That is why Mrs Alexander got it completely wrong in All things bright and beautiful when she penned the lines, “the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, God made them high and lowly and ordered their estate.” If you think about it those words are in direct opposition to the teaching of Jesus in this parable. For what Jesus is saying is that we must do something about the poor man at our gate, not just leave him lying there! Caring for those in need is not a burden, a sheer drudge and a duty, it is a way of expressing and indeed enhancing our humanity. And, as I have often said from this pulpit, the more truly human we are, the closer we are to God.
There is, of course, one person of whom that is supremely true. Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ. He lived a human life that was fully alive and such a life was a divine life. He bridges the gap between humanity and divinity and where he leads we can follow. If you were listening carefully to the parable you will remember the bleak words of Abraham to Dives, suffering in Hades, “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.” I hadn’t thought about this until recently, but in a way those words contradict another teaching of scripture which has become an article of faith. For the Apostles’, the baptismal Creed says of Christ, “he descended to the dead” or, in the more vigorous words of the Prayer Book, “he descended into hell.” So there is somone who can cross the chasm and rescue us from ourselves and from our obsession with material possessions and that is Jesus Christ. It is only by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that we can come to know the fullness of life which is union with God, who is our origin and our destiny, the ground of our being, our alpha and omega. However far away from God we are or think we are, Jesus can draw us back. Jesus didn’t rise from the dead to warn us of something, as Dives suggested he might, he did so to accomplish something, to raise us to life with God. As the prayer powerfully expresses it, “he came to share the life of our humanity, that we might share the life of his divinity”. Nothing and nobody is beyond the reach of the transforming, deifying love of Christ. So to you who have joined us specially on this ‘Back to Church Sunday” and to all of you gathered here today, you are welcome. But you are welcome, not just to church, but to the invincible grace of Christ who longs to draw your restless hearts back to the presence of his loving Father.
Trinity 17 | Sunday 26 September 2010