Luke 16:19-31 St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church
“The Discordance of it All: Francis, the Rich Man, Lazurus and Us”
A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Susan Allison-Hatch
What is that gospel doing here? In this space? On this day when we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis and honor the life of the one who cast aside his cloak of privilege to live a life of service to God, one who embraced the leper on his path, one who gave his own coat to a poorly clad fellow soldier, one who loved tenderly all of God’s creation?
The discordance of it all
—the story of a the rich man living a life of conspicuous consumption,1 daily ignoring the poor man Lazarus lying at his gate, then enduring the torments of Hades while seeing that sore-infested fellow who, in life, had lain across his path now in the afterlife resting comfortably in the embracing arms of Sarah and Abraham; the story of that rich man’s pointless pleas for just a drop of water to relieve his eternal thirst; the story of a vast and unbroachable chasm dividing that rich man and Lazarus
—How can this be a parable told by Jesus, the one sent by God not to condemn the world but to save the world; the one who assures us that he came that we might have life and have it abundantly. What gives? And what are we to make of it?
In my mind, I play that story Jesus tells in different keys.
There once was a rich and powerful land home to a people clad in organic cottons and designer jeans; a people feasting on grass-fed beef and fresh kale and fingerling potatoes all the way from Idaho, their food washed down with boutique beers, crisp roses, and subtly nuanced reds. Boxes from Amazon lay at their gates.
There once was a woman—not rich but not poor—who lived in a comfortable detached house with a two-car garage. She had two kids—one played soccer; the other piano—she drove them to school, to games, to lessons; and she drove herself to work. Some weeks she drove a thousand miles and didn’t even leave her own home town.
There once was a planet. Folks called it earth. For years, for centuries, for millennia, it served its people well-providing them with what they needed to live in harmony with their host the planet earth—food and fuel and water to drink. Then the people began to hunger for more—more food, more stuff, more comfort. One day, that planet Earth looked around and saw that it was running out of food and fuel and even water to drink.
Each time I run that story in my head, I get stuck. That chasm, that vast divide, stops me cold. I can’t finish the story. I can’t escape the judgment that I hear.
Then I remember another story—a story from a different place, a different time, a different millennium.
There once was a young man who lived in a palace. Maybe not a palace. Maybe it was just a fancy villa. His father, a prosperous merchant, indulged him, providing him not only with what he needed but also all that he wanted. At first, he just wanted to party. Then, caught up in the romance of his time, he sought to be a knight. He got his wish. He became a knight—a knight sent off to battle. And when his town was defeated, he was held in an enemy dungeon for almost a year. Ransomed by his father, he returned home to a life of partying.
That young knight got another chance to venture off to war. This time he went off in armor decorated with gold and wearing a coat of the finest cloth. No mistaking him for some poor soldier. But this adventurer, this budding knight, never made it back to the battlefield. He was stopped in his tracks just a day’s ride from his home. The first night out he had a dream. In that dream, he heard God say “go home.” Go home he did.
You know the rest of the story. It’s the story of St. Francis. The story of a rich young man, an impoverished soldier, a leper, a crumbling church, and Christ speaking from the Cross .
The story of a rich man clad in fine brocades and soft linens.
The story of person crossing the vast divides of his day and our own as well.
The story of a man of privilege saying “yes” to God’s invitation to live lightly on the earth.
You and I, we live in a time marked by chasms as great as the one that separated the rich man from Lazarus. Divided by lines of class and party, alienated from those with whom we differ and from the earth on which we dwell.
How can we not feel just a bit uncomfortable with the parable we just heard? We know the times we look away from the deep need before our very eyes, the times we consume more than we need; we remember the vegetables we threw out because they rotted before we could eat them; we can count the miles we’ve driven when we could have walked or ridden our bikes; we remember the Amazon packages on our doorstep and we know just how they got there. We watch our glaciers recede and our oceans swell. We know that 100 degree+ temperatures in early October are not normal. And we know the cause. It’s okay to feel just a bit uncomfortable with this parable.
But don’t stop there. Don’t stop with that discomfort.
That is not the point of the parable. Jesus tells this story of Lazarus and that rich man and his kin because he wants those within earshot to amend their lives. It’s not a parable of judgment; it’s an invitation. An invitation to cross the divides of our lives. An invitation not unlike the one Francis received as headed off to yet another war.
An invitation offered over and over and over again.
An invitation to join in bringing about the reign of God. Now. In this moment.
An invitation to embrace.