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We are All One – A Reflection

September 24, 2022
Someone is reminding me that I need to blog and wrap up my sermon preparation before the football game!

In Luke 16:19-31, we read the story of another challenge Jesus offers the Pharisees and others who were listening to him speak.  He tells them about the rich man and Lazarus. A rich man who was dressed in purple (a very expensive cloth dyed from the liquid obtained from a species of shellfish) is living a life that is large and self-absorbed. He feasted sumptuously every day while there was starvation literally at his front door. Using my imagination, I can see a home that is spacious and richly decorated with a staff who waited on him night and day. I am sure that he was a powerful and respected member of the community who never lacked for anything.

This is in direct contrast to Lazarus (whose name ironically means “God has helped) who has absolutely nothing. Day after day, Lazarus along with other invisible and discarded members of the society would wait in the hope that someone would take pity on him. He didn’t want much. In fact, he would have been satisfied with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Yet at the end of the day, all he had was the dogs licking his sores and an empty stomach. Alone and invisible, Lazarus was completely isolated from society and ignored.

It is easy to jump on one’s high horse and roundly condemn the rich man for being so heartless by ignoring the needs of the community right outside the door. To make matters worse, Lazarus was so invisible that the rich man didn’t even bother to get to know his story. Ah, there is so much to be righteously judgmental about in this story.

In the parable Lazarus and the rich man die but go in opposite directions so to speak! Condemned to eternity in Hades the rich man is suffering greatly. Without a staff to cater to his every whim or a banquet table full of food every day, he was suddenly introduced to the world of Lazarus. As he was being tormented the man still didn’t see the larger picture. From Hades he asks Abraham to send Lazarus down to dip his finger in water and cool his tongue. The rich man was essentially asking Abraham to send Lazarus as a servant down to do what he never did for Lazarus when they were both alive.

This parable was intended to show the Pharisees the hypocrisy of their ways and to challenge the way they lived out their faith. Jesus was challenging them to look beyond themselves and their scheming for power and control to walk with and care for the people they had been called to support as spiritual advisors.

So how does this parable speak to us today? For me it highlights the dualistic gaps that I see in the world today. Just as a chasm separated the rich man from Lazarus, there are chasms that are often self-created that separate us from each other. The rich versus the poor, the hungry versus those who have more than enough food, those who have mansions versus those who have no place to live; these are some of the chasms that come to my mind. Too often these dualistic differences boil down to an “us versus them” mentality where barriers are erected to separate people.

What would the world look like if we built bridges over the chasms that separate and transform the “us versus them” mentality into a “we are together” mentality? What would the world look like if we saw siblings instead of “those people” who are “different” from us? What would the world look like if we actually stepped out from behind the walls we have built and actually get to know our neighbor?

The church where I am serving as the Transitional minister operated a weekly food pantry. What struck me the first time that I worked the pantry was the fact that it wasn’t “those people” the church was helping; rather, it was “our neighbors” we are helping. Getting to know the names and stories of their neighbors and knowing what the family needs is building bridges instead of separating “us” from “them.”

John Donne, a seventeenth century clergyperson who was the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, is known for the phrase “no man is an island.” The phrase is from a sermon he delivered at the Cathedral. It is part of a larger quote from that sermon. Here is the full quote: No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

We are all connected to each other and the divisions that we create are completely artificial. Thomas Merton used the phrase as the title for one of his books of spiritual reflections; No Man Is an Island. The following quote comes from Merton’s book, and I believe it ties into the thoughts of John Donne and the parable that Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus.

It is therefore of supreme importance that we consent to live not for ourselves but for others. When we do this we will be able first of all to face and accept our own limitations. As long as we secretly adore ourselves, our own deficiencies will remain to torture us with an apparent defilement. But if we live for others, we will gradually discover that no one expects us to be ‘as gods’. We will see that we are human, like everyone else, that we all have weaknesses and deficiencies, and that these limitations of ours play a most important part in all our lives. It is because of them that we need others and others need us. We are not all weak in the same spots, and so we supplement and complete one another, each one making up in himself for the lack in another. (Thomas Merton in No Man Is an Island)

I believe the church could lead by example today by recognizing and celebrating the fact that we are not individuals, and that faith isn’t about individual salvation as much as it is about building the kin-dom of God here on earth as it is in heaven. A kin-dom of love, justice, mercy, and peace. In the words of Merton, we must consent to live not for ourselves but for others.

  1. Reblogged this on Anniegoose's Blog and commented:
    This is a very powerful sermon – it should be re-read periodically as a reminder.

  2. Totally spectacular – awesome. Blessings

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