Friday, September 23, 2016

Now Is the Kingdom, Now Is the Day: Reflections on Luke 16.19-31 (RCL Proper 26C, 25 September 2016)

Now Is the Kingdom; Now Is the Day
Reflections on Luke 16.19-31

RCL Proper 26C
25 September 2016

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church

                  16.19 [Jesus told them this parable,] “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.  20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.  22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.  The rich man also died and was buried.  23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.  24 He 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.’  25 But 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.  26 Besides 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.’  27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house — 28 for I have five brothers — that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’  29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’  30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  31 He 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.’”

            In 1956, when I was three years’ old and newly-arrived in Colorado, William Carl Frey was ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of Colorado.  Fluent in Spanish and French, Bill went to Latin America in 1962 as a missionary of the Episcopal Church.  In those days most Anglicans in Latin America were served by missionary clergy from the United Kingdom or the United States.  In 1967 Bill was consecrated as Missionary Bishop of Guatemala.
            In those days Guatemala was in the midst of a de facto civil war.  Various opposition political groups were pitted against the government, including some indigenous communities whose lands, resources and rights were being taken from them.  Bill, as a bishop whose ministry included many of the opposition groups, joined other religious leaders in calling upon the government to honour the human rights of all citizens and to work for justice and peace.  He and several other non-Guatemalan religious leaders were accused of anti-government agitation and deported in 1971.
            Soon after his return to the United States, Bill was elected to succeed Edwin Thayer, the Bishop of Colorado.  Bill took office in 1973 and began to transform the Diocese of Colorado.  It would be fair to say that Paula and I are who we are as Christians because of the influence of Bill and his wife, Barbara, who died in 2014.
            Bill was, and still is, an interesting blend of Christian influences.  Bill is theologically conservative but a staunch champion of social justice, the ordination of women and, in the 1970’s, what some called the ‘new’ Prayer Book.  Although he is ‘high church’ in his worship style, he has been strongly influenced by the Charismatic renewal.  He’s quite content with a liturgy that includes incense, catholic ritual and speaking in tongues.  This is the Bishop who ordained me in 1981.
            He came to my defense in 1982 when a parishioner at Christ Church Denver, where I was the curate, complained to the Bishop that I was teaching heresy.  I won’t bore you with all the details, but the complaint centred on an ancient debate in the Christian tradition:  Is God’s love irresistible?
            Bill dismissed the complaint, but he did call me in to his office for a chat.  He had reminded the parishioner that the fate of every human soul, believer and non-believer alike, was in God’s hands.  Our job, Bill told him, was to followers of Jesus in this world and to bear witness to the good news of God in Jesus.  Everything else was God’s business.  ‘Some Christians,’ Bill said to me, ‘are so heavenly-minded that they are often no damn earthly good.  They major in minors.’
            Today’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus can be read as a tale about the life to come:  Do good now or you’ll go to perdition after your death!  But I prefer to read it in the light of my ordaining Bishop’s wisdom:  Do good now because the kingdom of God is already here and God is depending upon us!
            Did you notice how often Abraham reminds the rich man that he has always had what he needed to understand God’s expectations?  When the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus as a ghostly messenger to his brothers, Abraham reminds him that his brothers already have messengers:  the Moses and the Prophets.  When the rich man persists and suggests someone returning from the dead might have greater impact, Abraham replies that his brothers are unlikely to believe something as strange as a ghost’s advice if they won’t believe in something that they have been taught since childhood:  the Moses and the Prophets.
            We who call ourselves Christians speak of Jesus as our way, our truth and our life.  By following the way of Jesus, what one Christian writer called ‘the imitation of Christ’, we are led to the truth.  That truth is, as Archbishop Tutu has written, is that

Goodness is strong than evil;
love is stronger than hate;
light is stronger than darkness;
life is stronger than death;
victory is ours through God who loves us.

To walk the way of Jesus and to come to this truth frees us to live the life of the kingdom now and to work for its realization in the present, even as we pray and hope for its completion in the age to come.
            Every Sunday we listen to the words of the Moses and the Prophets.  Every Sunday we listen to the words of Paul and the other apostolic writers who knew this Moses and these Prophets as they were made known in the life and teaching of Jesus.  And every Sunday, we are asked to stand, as we are physically able, to listen to the words and stories the Evangelists thought were vital to our life as disciples of Jesus.
            We stand, whether physically or in our hearts, because we are ready to walk the way of discipleship, to seek the truth that is already before and among us, to live lives that give concrete and personal expression to the good news of the kingdom of God --- in these days, in this place, among our neighbours, our friends and our families.
            Yes.  Christ has died.  Yes.  Christ is risen.  Yes.  Christ will come again.  But in the meantime, in these ‘mean’ times, we who are rich already know what is expected of us.  And we are surrounded by Lazarus’ who need us.  Because now is the kingdom.  Now is the day. 

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