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Sunday 21st January 2018 11:00
Sung Eucharist for the Third Sunday of Epiphany
Celebrant and Preacher: Rev'd Nathanial

Sunday 28th January 2018 11:00
Sung Eucharist for the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany
Celebrant: Rev'd Nathanial
Preacher: Jack Noonan

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25th September 2016 – Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity – Rev’d Kathy Ferguson

Sermon (Click Link to Listen)

Bible Readings: Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 6. 6-19; Luke 16. 19-31

Trinity 18 Year C 25/9/16

Back in April I celebrated my 70th birthday. Reaching the Biblical three score years and ten made me rather thoughtful and I’ve found myself looking back over my life quite a lot since then.

I was born the year after World War 2 ended, in a Britain almost bankrupted by war, where food rationing was to last until I was eight years old. The welfare state was in its infancy and the beginning of Britain’s much-loved National Health Service was still two years away.

My father worked in a paper mill and my mother was a school cook, so money was very limited when I was growing up, and I think back with admiration to how my mother used all her skills to feed and clothe our family of 6 on a very small budget.

However we never thought of ourselves as poor. We never went hungry, we had clothes to wear and a roof over our heads, and above all we had the security of a happy family life.

Sadly not everyone is as fortunate as I was as a child. One of the hard but inescapable facts of life in our world is that far too many people are poor.

We’re all painfully aware of the huge discrepancies of wealth and opportunity between the developed and developing world. But of course there is also glaring and often growing inequality between the richest and poorest within each country.

None of us can be unaware of the poorest in our society today, those out of work or whose work is badly paid and uncertain, those struggling to bring up families on very limited incomes, those living in appallingly inadequate housing.

We are brought face to face with this poverty most starkly in the homeless huddled in doorways to sleep or begging on street corners – modern day equivalents of Lazarus in our Gospel reading.

And of course we try to help. We may give money to the beggar or try to find somewhere for the homeless to sleep. We donate to food-banks and campaign for better housing or against bad working practices. But of course it is never enough. There is always more to be done.

Then we read the parable in today’s Gospel and uncomfortable thoughts can start to bother us. Is that beggar, to whom I gave the price of a meal, Lazarus? Am I the rich man? Will he one day be comforted in the bosom of Abraham while I am in torment? Will I see next him from afar, separated by a chasm neither one of us can cross?

Those are the kind of questions that arise when we interpret parables literally, questions that are usually endless and unanswerable. But neither can we treat parables as merely metaphor or symbolism, that have no real-life implications for how we live. So what about today’s parable? What is it saying to us and what is it not saying to us?

First, God is concerned about the poor and expects us to also be concerned. That is clear throughout scripture in both the Old Testament and the New. We reveal God’s presence in our lives by sharing God’s concerns and by acting as God acts.

That does not mean, however, that the poor are our ticket into heaven, for we cannot buy our way to heaven. We help the poor, feed the hungry, house the homeless, care for the sick, visit prisoners and work for justice because that’s simply who and how God’s people are to be.

The question isn’t what’s in it for me. but what’s in it for them? What does our Christianity, our faith, our experience of Jesus Christ offer them?

Second, there is a relationship between this life and the next life. The choices we make, the words we speak, and the actions we take in this life, have consequences in the next life.

Now we mustn’t push that too far with this story. Today’s gospel isn’t a systematic explanation or theological analysis of heaven and hell. The story isn’t a judgement that rich people go to hell and poor people go to heaven. This story isn’t so much about our future, but about our present lives. It’s about how we live here and now. It’s a reminder that our lives are connected and intertwined in this world and in the next. In the words of St. Antony the Great: “Our life and our death is with our neighbour.”

I don’t think this parable is asking us to make judgements about who is the rich man and who is Lazarus. Instead, it is asking us to acknowledge and deal with the gates and chasms that separate us from each other. Throughout this parable chasms are the one constant. From beginning to end the parable is full of divisions and separations.

Remember the gate at the beginning? The gate in the wall with which the rich man had surrounded himself and his possessions? On one side of the gate lies Lazarus, dressed in rags and sores, hungry, and unable to get up and walk. On the other side the rich man, dressed in fine linen and purple, sits at his table and feasts every day.

Remember the chasm at the end? On one side of the chasm Lazarus sits comforted in the bosom of Abraham. On the other side the rich man stands tormented in the flames of Hades.

The gate and the chasm are the same thing. The chasm that separates Lazarus and the rich man in the next world is simply another version of the gate that separated them in this world. The rich man carried it with him into the next world. It was a part of him.

The gate that separates and divides us in this world isn’t a condition of circumstances or categories, rich or poor, black or white, gay or straight, Muslim or Christian, or any other category you might add to this list. That gate is a condition of the human heart.

The gate that becomes a chasm always exists within us, before it exists between us. That means we must each examine our own heart to find the gates and walls that separate us from ourselves, our neighbours, our enemies, those we love and, ultimately, God. 

What are those gates for you? for me? for this church and city and country? What gates, what barriers, do we each live with? Fear, anger, greed, pride, prejudice, loneliness, sorrow, addiction, busyness, indifference, apathy, hurt, resentment, envy, cynicism. The list is endless but you get the idea.

There are lots of possibilities for the gates within us. We all have them, but that’s not how we are intended to live and it’s certainly not how Jesus lived. Gates destroy relationships, they unmake God’s creation.

I don’t know what gates you carry within you, but I do know this. Every time we love our neighbour as ourselves, every time we love our enemies, every time we see & treat one another as created in the image and likeness of God, gates are opened and chasms are filled.

I can’t give you detailed instructions on how to do those things. It is something we must each live our way into, a choice set before us every day. It can happen in our homes and families, at work and at school, in the supermarket car park or in the street, and in our prayers for the world. It can happen with our friends, or with strangers, and even with our enemies.

It’s not easy work but it is possible. Jesus demonstrated that in his life, death, and resurrection. He is the image of our opened gates and our filled chasms, the image of who we most truly are and who we are to become.

We already have everything we need. That was Abraham’s point in not sending Lazarus to the rich man’s brothers. Abraham wasn’t denying them anything. Nothing was lacking, they already had everything they needed.

The word of God that opens gates and fills chasms is the same word of God proclaimed by Moses and the prophets, the very same word embodied in the person of Jesus Christ.

Christ’s love, mercy, grace, and presence make it possible for us to open our gates and ensure they do not become chasms. Let your gates be opened and your chasms filled. This is our work and the salvation of the world. Quite simply this is what the kingdom of God looks like. Amen.