16 Pentecost C (Michael & All Angels)—9/29/19
Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3; Revelation 12:7-12; Luke 16:19-31
Pr. Scott Kramer
This past Thursday night, my wife and I drove to the movie theaters at The Landing to watch Downton Abbey. Any fans here? We have been fans from the very beginning of the TV series and were not disappointed by the movie!
I admit that I am conflicted. I call Downton Abbey a sort of guilty pleasure. Why do many of us so enjoy this series about the rich and mighty, whose house alone would probably cover the entire footprint of our church property?
Well, one of the most compelling aspects of this series is the interaction between “Upstairs” and “Downstairs”. Upstairs live Lord and Lady Grantham, and the Crawley household. Downstairs is the servants’ quarters. This series shows no favoritism. It treats the human drama of both Upstairs and Downstairs with equal dignity, compassion, and humor.
In today’s gospel reading we get to “watch a film” starring a rich man—an “Upstairs” kind of guy. We don’t know his name but let’s call him “Rich.” There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. Beyond this, we don’t know much about Rich, so let’s not jump to conclusions about motivations. Let’s not assume that he’s evil and heartless, because we may fail to see him in us—and miss an opportunity to grow.
Maybe during his life on Earth Rich had generously supported his local synagogue. Maybe he was a philanthropist, giving to local charities. But, we can say this much with confidence: Like many rich people, Rich is clueless about his place and responsibility in the world, and blind to the need which is right under his nose.
The evidence for that is this: 20At 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.
How could Rich not see what was right under his nose? Well, one answer is the gate. If you have wealth, you want to guard your wealth. That means gated communities, walls, fences, security services and systems, represented not only by the gate but the “chasm” in the story. When we are separated from one another, we become isolated and lose perspective, becoming either more fearful or more complacent, more clueless, unable to make a real difference in the world because we are preoccupied with “me and mine.”
Notice that in death Rich finally notices Lazarus! But, instead of repenting of his blindness and asking Lazarus for forgiveness, he sees Lazarus as a tool to get what he wants, which is relief from his own suffering, and the future suffering of his family. Rich is concerned primarily for himself and his own family. His is a very small world.
But maybe the most sobering detail of this story is Abraham’s response to Rich. “Send Lazarus to warn my brothers,” Rich cries out. But Abraham replies, If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. Yikes!
In this Season of Creation Lazarus faithfully represents not only the poor, but the skies, the seas, the animals, the plants, and all children—the whole Earth that continues to suffer under the weight of human ignorance, indifference, and inaction. During his life, Rich could not see the connection between his life choices and the well-being of Lazarus. In our own time, as Greta Thunberg showed us in her speech to the U.N., we seem unable to see the connection between our daily choices and their consequences for future generations.
In our reading from Revelation, the writer shares a vision—think of it as a movie!–of a great battle between good and evil, with God and the angels emerging victorious. And yet, he warns, Earth continues to be under attack by evil forces that threaten to undo it all.
and those who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
for the devil has come down to you
with great wrath,
because he knows that his time is short!
Our time also is short. This epic battle the writer describes continues to be played out every day. And friends, this is not like going to The Landing to watch Downton Abbey. We are not mere observers in the drama of other people’s lives. No, we are participants in the battle for the earth and the seas. The Devil (whatever you imagine that to be) doesn’t have to attack you and me personally. If Evil can destroy the land, the water, the air, the destruction of humanity will follow automatically.
In my imagination, I picture a movie producer writing a sequel to this Revelation story, that includes a scene in which the Devil is amazed. “Human beings are so busy destroying the Earth on their own,” he says, “I really don’t have that much work to do!”
This past week sixteen year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden blasted not only the United Nations delegates but the world of grown-ups for failing to protect today’s children and generations yet unborn. “How dare you…” she exclaimed, again and again.
Well, what can one say? Like the rich man in Jesus’ story, the crisis is right in front of us. The evidence is right under our noses—right at the gate! As Abraham explained to the rich man, if people can’t accept what is obvious, they will not listen even to people rising from the dead.
If we grown-ups deny climate change, if we support leaders who are liars and deniers, and if we fail to act, young people and future generations–as Greta promised–will not forgive us. Our spiritual ancestors and our scriptures are clear: Justice eventually will be served and we will be held accountable for our choices–to God, our descendants, and the whole Earth.
The good news of God in the midst of the immense challenges that confront us, is that we are not alone and we don’t have to start from scratch. The hard work has been, and continues to be done, by God and the spiritual forces of light. It’s a matter of choosing whose side we’re on. The saving power of Christ is at all times available for us to continue the battle for life against death and destruction. This saving power is none other than love—not merely human love for “me and mine” but God’s love for all humanity, future generations, and the whole Earth.
May we grown-ups choose God’s love. May we daily take the side of Greta, Ian, Anna, Gabe, Elizabeth, Hayden, Avery, Gregory, Lucia, Lancey, Lucy, Serena–to join them in the Godly work…of Michael and All Angels!