Pentecost 18, Proper 21 September 26, 2010
St. Christopher's Episcopal Church Rev. Paul Moore
A Love You Can Trust
It was late, the light was beginning to fade. In the tropics when the light fades it goes quickly. I knew we were relatively close to the car, but it had been a while since I was in this neck of the Andes mountains. I picked a ridge and we burned muscle getting to the top. I looked around and groaned! There was the car, alright, on the next ridge over, separated by a large, steep, brushy draw—with no trail.
Have you ever felt that way, like whenever you rushed to get somewhere you ended up just out of reach of your goal? Like you climb and climb to the top of the ladder, only to discover it's leaning on the wrong wall? Julian of Norwich, English mystic of the 13th century called knowledge the sense of something, wisdom the right use of it. I have on my desk an article titled, "Trendspotting the Quick and Easy Way: How savvy executives stay on top of the latest trends, crushing the competition and multiplying profits." But is crushed competition and multiplied profits really what it's all about? Or will that put you on the wrong ridge?
I'm sure the rich man felt that way in Jesus' parable today. Notice how the poor man has a name: Lazarus. We know him. He has an identity that is rooted and solid. You see him every time you pass the street corner downtown. He holds a placard asking for a handout. He shuffles by you, hair tousled and unkempt, (ever notice how the homeless are never overweight?) We all know who Lazarus is. In fact, this parable is so definite that in Argentina a "lazaro" is any street beggar. It should not surprise us, then, when Lazarus dies, that the angels carry him to Abraham's bosom. In this life he had no rest, but in the life to come he does. In spite of appearances, he wasn't a bad man.
By contrast, the rich man is not named. He could be anyone or everyone. He shifts around, just out of sight of the needy. He prefers to ignore the ways he is hurting people for his own gain. He explains it away: If Lazarus would only work harder he would have a good life like me. And no, he doesn't have work for Lazarus, he doesn't hire people like him. So when he dies he is laid to rest...end of story...almost. Now he is in torment. The "good upstanding citizen" has become the one judged and condemned. It's not merely that there is a certain amount of good and ill that each of us will experience, and in the afterlife the books are balanced. No, if the moral of the story means anything at all it means the way we live here does affect the way we will live there. It matters what wall your ladder leans against, it matters what ridge you choose to climb. And the rich man saw nothing in this life that oriented him to the truth of the next.
So where is the good news in this? Abraham tells the rich man that his brothers have the testimony of Moses and the prophets. Ah, there WAS something in this life that could have oriented him for the next. He just didn't pay attention to it. It is the gift of revelation, the revelation of the heart of God. We, too, have revelation. Jesus also died, like Lazarus and the rich man. But unlike the rich man, He did come back. He conquered death, and redeemed all our dyings. In His hands is the final resolution of all things. Jesus' life, death and resurrection is the sum total of what God is like. The love that drove Jesus to the Cross is the love of God for creation. The power that raised Him from the dead is the power of God on our behalf. The wisdom that designed such a redemption is the wisdom that orients our lives now. This, then, is a love we can trust.
The rich man trusted in the love of his money and it didn't work out very well in the end. Lazarus had no one else to trust but the good hearts of generous souls who drifted in and out of his life. These good hearts knew and expressed the love of God, as ours can and ought to today. And in the end it worked. We, too, can trust the love of God. It will anchor us in life's storms. It will orient us to the ridge we need to climb. And in the end it will serve us well.
My hawk is now back in the air. Most of you know I'm a falconer, and I have a hawk with which I hunt small game. It's one of those things I do to keep myself sane and grounded. Some of you have doubts as to its effectiveness, but that's another story. The month of September has one of learning to trust. During the summer months I have kept the bird hog fat, relieved of his hunting duties. His sole task was to direct all his body's energies to growing good, strong new feathers for this coming year. And he has had little use for me... Now, however, it's time to go back into the woods. And I've had to reestablish the trust we had last year. It's a trust that orients and grounds our activities. He trusts the dogs and me to produce game for you to chase. He trusts me to help him with whatever he catch so he doesn't break feathers or get hurt. He trusts me to keep him safe and to bring him back to a safe, warm and dry place to sleep at night. I trust him to do his thing where I can watch, and not to fly away,
Trust in God, my brothers and sisters. Like the great falconer in heaven, He can be trusted. He will ground your life and give it purpose, direction and meaning. He will orient you to what is important in this life and the next. He will place you in a community of fellow-pilgrims with whom to share the journey, all He asks is that you trust His direction, and not fly away!