A Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest
Abilene, Texas
Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost + Proper 21C
First Lesson: Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
Second Lesson: I Timothy 6:6-19
Gospel: Luke 16:19-31

✠ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

curry-michael-outdoors

The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry

Last week, I came across a new video featuring our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry. In the video, Bishop Curry talks about the Jesus Movement. Now, this should come as no surprise to those of you who have heard our Presiding Bishop speak or deliver a sermon. He loves to talk about the Jesus Movement! In fact, the phrase has become so popular among Episcopalians, it’s even showing up on our merchandise. You, too, can buy a bumper sticker that says, “We are the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.”

But what, exactly, is the Jesus Movement? In the video, Bishop Curry paints us a picture by reflecting on a pivotal moment in our celebration of the Eucharist.

Slowly walking in the midst of the noise and commotion of New York City, the Bishop describes that moment in our liturgy when we stand for the proclamation of the Gospel- that moment when we stand and sing praises to God as we prepare our hearts and minds to receive God’s Word through the reading of the Gospel. We stand, and we sing. The Gospel book is held high as the procession moves from the Altar to the center of the Nave where the Gospel will be read by a deacon or a priest. And, as all of this is happening, everyone in the congregation re-orients themselves in order to see the place where the Gospel will be proclaimed. “That Gospel moment,” according to Bishop Curry, “the Church has become the Jesus Movement, with life re-oriented around the teachings of Jesus and around his very spirit- teachings and a spirit that embody the love of God in our lives and in this world.”

For a little over a year now, I’ve been thinking about the Jesus Movement in terms of an event- something that is taking place at a specific time in the life of our Church. But, what I think Bishop Curry is trying to convey is that the Jesus Movement is best thought of as a verb rather than a noun, an action rather than a single event in history. It’s what happens when the people of God stand up and re-orient themselves toward the Gospel of Jesus. That is the Jesus Movement.

There’s so much beauty in the way that we worship- not only in the words that we speak but also in the way that we use our whole bodies to express our love of God and our commitment to Christ. And, what’s even more amazing about the way that we worship is that our worship of God is actually preparing us for the work that God has given us to do when we depart this place. So, there’s a reason why we stand and turn our bodies to face the place of the Gospel. Not only is it a sign of reverence for the words of Jesus, but it’s also preparing us to stand and turn toward Jesus in our everyday lives- to turn toward those whom the world has turned away- the poor, the hungry, and the oppressed.

In today’s lesson from the Gospel of Luke, we hear the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Contrary to popular belief, this parable is not a description of what happens to us when we die or where we spend eternity. “If that were its point,” according to author N.T. Wright, “it would not be a parable: a story about someone getting lost in London would not be a parable if addressed to people attempting to find their way through that city without a map.”

That isn’t the point of Jesus’ story. It isn’t a set of instructions on how to get to heaven or how to avoid spending eternity in hell. Rather, the story of the rich man and Lazarus points us to something much more significant than the afterlife- it points us to the truth of God’s Kingdom here and now and the work that we, as followers of Christ, are called to do in our own day.

You’ll notice that, in the parable, the rich man doesn’t deliberately treat Lazarus unfairly. He doesn’t refuse to give him scraps of food from the dinner table, and he doesn’t tell Lazarus to move away from the gate. He simply goes about his business, day after day, not really giving any thought to Lazarus or the care that he needs. In a sense, the rich man has allowed his wealth and prosperity to blind him from seeing the poor man living on the other side of the gate, and it’s his blindness- not his greed- that causes him to be tormented in the flames and separated by a great chasm from Lazarus and Abraham in the afterlife.

Perhaps, what Jesus is really trying to tell us in this story is that hell is being so consumed with one’s self that he or she is able to pass by someone in need without even realizing that they’re there. Perhaps, hell is being so disconnected from God that one fails to see the image of God in the eyes of his or her fellow man.

Based on this description of hell, I imagine that it applies to a lot people that we may know, perhaps even friends and family members- people who don’t even realize how far removed they are from God’s desire for their lives. And, we see it every day in the news as well- people who are so concerned with their own well being that they’re either unable or unwilling to see the pain of those who suffer from violence and oppression.

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is a call to repentance. It teaches us that, in order to inherit the Kingdom of God, we must not allow things like wealth and power and our stations in life to blind us from seeing our brothers and sisters on the margins of society. To do so would be to reject the very one whom we serve. As St. John Chrysostom once wrote, “If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find him in the chalice.” We must keep our eyes open and continue to re-orient ourselves toward Jesus, the one who calls us to go beyond the walls of the church to love and serve the least among us.

This is why I have such admiration for our Presiding Bishop and why his message about being part of the Jesus Movement resonates so deeply among Episcopalians. Being a part of the Jesus Movement and participating in the reconciling work of Christ is noisy and messy. It calls us to move beyond our selves and pushes us to do things that may be difficult or uncomfortable. I think that it probably looks a lot like Bishop Curry in his video- moving from beyond the comfort and safety of the headquarters of the Episcopal Church into the chaos and uncertainty of the streets of Manhattan.

My friends, this is the ministry to which all of us are called, but we won’t find Jesus simply by sitting comfortably in our pews on Sunday mornings.

We’ll find him lying on the other side of the gate in the “Lazaruses” of the world. Amen.

Click here to hear an audio recording of the sermon.

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