Ghost of Change
19There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25But 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. 26Besides all this, 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.’ 27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house — 28for I have five brothers — that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He 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.’
Ghost of Change
Let us pray,
At our gates, Lord,
Yes, you. Covered in sores,
At other gates, Lord,
Yes, us. Thirsty for mercy,
At our gates, Lord,
Lie our neighbor.
Hungry for justice,
And all the gatekeepers need do
Is change the gate from locked
Help us to unlock our gates today,
Life is made up of seasons. We’re now in Pumpkin Spice Latte season; I think most of you are aware of that.
And we’re just now heading into Halloween season, one of my favorite holidays. And fortunately some seasons overlap. For instance, it will still be Pumpkin Spice Latte season during Halloween, so you can be dressed up like a vampire and still drink your PSL…fear not.
But we all know that Halloween is a time for ghost stories, and sure enough, Jesus is attentive and delivers.
Today’s gospel is a parable; yes. But it’s also a ghost story.
And we love ghost stories, do we not? In fact, this season is so much about ghosts and ghost stories that the upcoming gathering for the mission start I’m involved in, De.con.struct, has the same title as this sermon, “Ghost of Change.” We’re holding it on October 24th, I hope you can join us.
Because so many of our ghost stories in this life revolve around change: turns we should have taken that still haunt us, turns we took that still haunt us, the confusion over different paths of life that are possibilities that still haunt us.
The Onion, that sarcastic rag that I love to read, had a headline this last week that was hilarious. Well, the main headline was, “Jesus Reluctantly Enters Man’s Heart”…and I thought that was funny. In the article Jesus apparently notes that the man “is a loser.”
But that’s not the one I’m talking about. On the side there was another headline that says, “Stop sign takes forever to change.” The implication being, of course, that eventually that stop sign will change into a “go” sign…
And we’re all waiting for some sort of sign, some stop sign to become a “go” sign to give direction, like the rich man in this parable today.
It’d be helpful if the stop signs in our lives would change…but stop signs don’t do that.
Had the rich man in this parable known that Lazarus was at his gate and that one of his duties in life was to attend to him, he would have! If only he’d known, if he had a sign, he would have changed…
And now the rich man is suffering at the gate of the afterlife because he didn’t attend to the matters of this life. It haunts him, and he wants to send Lazarus to go haunt his brothers so that they’ll get their acts together.
But, as the text says, there is a great chasm that has come between them. Changes not made cannot be reversed. That old adage, “It’s never too late,” just may not be true eventually.
Sometimes it is too late; we just don’t want to believe that.
Remember folks, this is a parable. Jesus isn’t making a commentary on heaven and hell. Parables are about this life. Let us not get sucked into think Jesus is talking that rich people go to hell because they didn’t share…
But just because it’s about this life doesn’t make it any less haunting of a ghost story. In fact, I find it more so.
The rub, of course, is that the rich man did know. He did know what he was supposed to do in this life. As a good religious person he had been given the law and the prophets. There are expectations for how those who have are to treat those who don’t in life…
Look, this is a familiar theme. Humanity has played with this theme forever. Think about all the stories where the ghost of change comes to haunt us and turn us around.
A Christmas Carol is the classic one. A Christmas Carol is the opposite of this parable, yes? There is still time for Ebenezer Scrooge to turn his life around. Marley and the ghosts of the past, present, and future come and take him on a journey…
But that doesn’t take away the fact that Scrooge knew. He knew what he was supposed to be doing; he just didn’t do it.
I use the term “supposed to be doing.” What does that mean, anyway?
Well, for as much as we want to talk about the grace of God covering all things…and it does…and as much as we want to talk about how faith is personal…and in some ways, it is…let us not be blind to the fact that there is a social expectation that God holds out for humanity.
And it’s an expectation that the resurrected dead man, Jesus, points us to.
Because this parable is, after all, about hospitality. We are expected in this life to offer hospitality to one another.
Hospitality is one of the hallmarks of the church; it’s one of the things we do here.
And we do it so as not end up in the chains of bickering and elitism, we welcome others into our lives so that the chains of our own sameness, our own egos, our own wealth do not drown us the pools ignorance for just how this life is. As Jacob Marley tells Scrooge in that dark bedroom chamber, “These are the chains I’ve forged in life…”
Chains that drown him.
We avoid carrying the chains of bickering and elitism and inflexibility and ungraciousness by opening our gates as a church, and our gates as individuals, to others in this world.
That is a spiritual discipline, people.
We tend to our souls in this way, by breaking the chains our privilege has in this life to open our lives to others…and the dead and resurrected man Jesus attests to it.
After all, we are all shown hospitality, a home, in the heart of a God who loves us.
In breaking our own chains which keep us from engaging others because, well, we’re too darn judgmental, or because we’re too darn busy, or because we’re too darn wrapped up in our own situations that can’t even see who is lying at our gate, we attend the soul of God living in us.
And those are chains we carry around. Maybe the rich man didn’t know Lazarus was outside his gate. Maybe he was too wrapped up in his own affairs to notice. Maybe Lazarus just blended in with all the other rocks he had to step over to attend his opulence…
I wonder if The Onion is only satire. I imagine many of us are waiting for the stop signs in our lives to change before we make that life switch.
But what if the sign remains the same? Do you not know what you are supposed to do without it?
I imagine that many of us are haunted by the ghost of things we’ve done or left undone. They visit us in our sleep; they haunt our dreams. We wish we had done such and such earlier in our life, made that change, done that turn…
But such focus on the past does nothing for anyone, not even you. You cannot heal your past by harping on it. A past is only healed through embracing the wound and tending to its future.
See, that is a mistake the rich man made. His concern is first and foremost for himself. Poor him; if only he’d known. In focusing on himself so much he still misses Lazarus in his midst even in the afterlife! The Lazarus he wouldn’t tend to in life, he now asks to attend to him in the afterlife! Such chains of egocentrism will drown him just as quickly as his wealth…and let’s not fool ourselves, we all benefit from the labor of those who aren’t adequately paid for their services. We won’t spend enough to give them a living wage, and we complain when we feel their service is substandard.
This is a ghost story. It haunts me. Because it’s true.
Redemption for the rich man, for Lazarus (whose name ironically means, “God has helped”), for you, for me, for our past, for the changes that come or haven’t come in both our lives and in society, are found in the God who is hospitable to us and embraces us lying at the gate of mercy so many times in this life.
And that’s the thing about Jesus. In these parables, in these little ways he holds a mirror ot my life, he’s just bound and determined not to let me live a life ignoring God or ignoring the others around me.
And that’s annoying. Because it’s inconvenient to be called to be so aware…and yet, it’s even more inconvenient to live with the chains that develop when we ignore such things.
And that made me realize, the stop sign in your life, and my life, doesn’t need to change; we can stop waiting for it. God invites you to stop waiting for it because whether it changes or not, you are safe in love of God.
That’s a life that only has one chain, us chained to God. And it’s freeing.
And our calling, then, is to emulate such divine love and mercy to others lying at our gate because we are free to do so.
There are no two ways about it. We in the season of privilege all beg at the gate of mortality, and God provides us with abundant life. Are we not, then, to open our own gates to those in this world who go without?
That might involve some changes, though…
But it’s a ghost story; an idle tale, right? It’s all a dream, this responsibility we have to be hospitable to one another. I’ve earned by keep; let others earn theirs. I’m not forging chains around my soul by keeping others out. My season of abundance allows me to reap my harvest for myself.
Well, if life can’t convince you, neither will a man rising from the dead.
Wait…didn’t Jesus do that?