Monday, October 4, 2010

Compare and Contrast...

Sermon Preached for Pentecost 18, Proper 21C, on Sunday, September 26, 2010.

     The college tests I dreaded most were those test questions written on the chalk board and answered in booklets with light blue covers.  Inevitably, one of the questions began with the request to "Compare and Contrast..." – and usually I knew about the one but did not know as much about the other which I was to compare and contrast.  Didn't you hate those essay questions that began with such simple directions.
    All summer long Jesus has been comparing and contrasting the kingdom of God with the kingdom of this world.  Today is no different.  We heard this installment in the familiar words of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man.  So let us compare and contrast the kingdom of God with the kingdom fo the world through the means of Jesus’ parable.
    What do we see in the world around us?  We see a world which knows well and honors the rich in all sorts of ways.  We follow their exploits on TV, internet, and tabloids.  We are so accustomed to the fame and notoriety of the rich that tradition has given the rich man a name rather than leave him anonymous -- Dives. Those who have not only get more, but they get away with more.  As much as we resent this double standard we secretly hope that one day we will be the rich whose names we all know.  In contrast to the rich, the poor are largely anonymous in our culture.  They have no names because we don't want to be reminded that there are homeless, poor, and needy.  In the world, the poor are an offense against the rich and not the other way around.
    What do we see in the world around us?  We see a world in which the present is more valuable than the future.  This world is focused on the money, power, happiness and pleasure of the moment.  Isn't that part of the reason for our current economic problems?  We chose to worry more about now than about the future – especially about the eternal future.  The world grabs the gusto of the moment with the naive idea that the future will care for itself.
    What do we see in the world around us?  We see a world in which regrets and fears are commonplace.  We live in fear that might miss out on a moment of pleasure when making choices between two wants.  We fear that if we pass up on a moment of self-indulgence we will regret it tomorrow.  We are like that addict whose only concern is how can I get what I want and whose only worry is that we may not get everything we want.  Nothing is ever our fault and everything is supposed to make us happy and the government is here to make it so.
    Now, in contrast to this, compare what Jesus says about the kingdom of God.  What do we see in God's kingdom?  We see an upside down world where the poor are known, where they have a name (Lazarus), and the rich are anonymous. This is the kingdom ushered in by Christ, whom Mary heralds in her Magnificat - the God who fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty.  The poor spoken of here are not merely those without the riches of this world but the truly humble, who do not think of themselves more highly than they ought and who are not caught up in the things of the moment (be they good or bad).
    What do we see in God's kingdom?  The eye is not on the moment but on eternity.  For the poor this means the vision of God's future is our comfort and consolation in the struggles of this moment.  Like the slaves of old who sang in the cotton fields of the freedom to come in Christ, the poor are so rooted and planted in God's future of blessing and blessedness, that they are able to endure the injustice, wounds, and disappointments of this present moment.
    What do we see in God's Kingdom?  An end to fear and an end to regret. The place where sins are forgiven so that they cannot ever come back to accuse us again and our consciences are washed clear and clean in the blood of Christ.  It is not that Christians do not have fears or regrets or sins but Christ has set us free from being held captive to them.
    Compare and contrast the kingdoms... the world where the rich man is known and honored and he gets what he wants and the poor is anonymous, forgotten, and left empty handed; the kingdom of God where the poor are known, honored and get more than ever expected and the rich are unnamed, unknown, and left with only the fleeting comforts of the present moment.
    Think of that rich man who was offended by the sores and stain of Lazarus’s poverty every time he left his big house.  Think of the way he stepped over old poor Lazarus in order to get on to his business, his shopping, and his social life.  In contrast, Lazarus hoped only to get through the day without more pain or want.  His only agenda was survival.  Do you see how the values of the world and the Kingdom of God are contrasted and compared in this parable?
    The rich man finally learned his lesson but it was too late.  He was left to the regrets which would torment him for eternity and the fears for those whom he loved whom he could not help.  The poor man knew only need and want in this life and all his hope rested in the promise of God's grace.  Now this is no moralistic Aesop style fable.  This is the radical difference between life which grounded in grace and hopeing for grace and a life grounded in the present moment and hoping only for more good things to come.
    Too often we may think we are thinking the values of the kingdom but we are living and working in the values of the world.  Now let us be clear.  God does not hate the rich but loves them enough to afflict their comfortable lives so that they may build them not on the things of this moment but the blood of Christ and the promise of eternity.  God does not favor the poor but loves them enough to comfort them in their afflictions with the grace that is sufficient to carry them through their troubles and to point them to the blessed and endless joy of eternal life.
    Compare and contrast... that is what we do in faith every day.  We daily compare the world and its values with the kingdom of God and its values.  Every day we wrestle with what it means to live as a child of God in an unfriendly world.  Every day we face choices between trusting in the things of this moment or Christ.  Every day we are asked, "where is our hope?"  Every day we are given the opportunity to demonstrate the values of God’s kingdom today and not to walk past those opportunities because we are wrapped up in the present moment.  Every day, whether we face joys sublime or the dept of sorrow, we choose what will be the ground of our day and the hope of our tomorrow. Every day God bids us trust in Him, use well and wisely what resources He supplies for this world, and speak in hope of the kingdom that is built upon the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
     How shall we answer?  Is our hope in Christ or in me and the things of now?  Whether we are poor lamenting our pain or the rich consumed with our things, God calls us to build our lives upon the true foundation of His grace through our Lord Jesus Christ.  May the Lord grant us His Spirit that our hope may be in Christ and grace alone!

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