Skip to content

We are All One – A Reflection

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.

Pace e Bene – 24 September 2022

image and quote courtesy of Pace e Bene

“As we seek this healing, let us do so with the knowledge that oneness is not sameness. It is the transcendence of our differences and the weaving of our diverse expressions into a tapestry that is harmonized and aligned with common purpose.”—Sherri Mitchell, Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change

Pace e Bene – 23 September 2022

image and quote courtesy of Pace e Bene

“When you forgive somebody, when you are generous, when you withhold judgment, when you love and when you stand up to injustice, you are, in that moment, bringing heaven to earth.”—Rob Bell

Pace e Bene – 22 September 2022

image and quote courtesy of Pace e Bene

“At its core, war is impoverishment. War’s genesis and ultimate end is in the poverty of our hearts. If we can realize that the world’s liberation begins within those troubled hearts, then we may yet find peace…What good has ever come from the slaughter of the innocents?”—Kathy Kelly

A Prayer for Peace

As the sun rose on our walk this morning we beheld God’s glory and peace

Today is the International Day of Peace. Denise and I put together and led services at Presbyterian Community Church of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado each September. They were a reminder to our congregation and to us that peace is life-giving and essential to the future of this world. I have been thinking a lot about Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King Jr, Dorothy Day, Daniel, Philip Berrigan, Jim Forest, and so many others who raised their voices for peace in the midst of the insanity that was the war in Vietnam and the Nuclear arms race.

As I hear Vladimir Putin threaten Ukraine and the world with tactical nuclear weapons my heart hurts deeply. I have watched the rise of christian (yes, the lower case is intentional) nationalism and white supremacy, my heart breaks. Have we learned nothing from history? The history of Hitler, Mussolini, and their followers who touted the marriage of christianity and state? Have we learned nothing from so many other examples throughout the world?

With these thoughts in mind, I thought a portion of Thomas Merton’s “Prayer for Peace” which can be found in the book, Passion for Peace (pp. 166-169). Merton’s prayer was read in the House of Representatives the Wednesday of Holy Week in 1962 by Congressman Frank Kowalski (D-Conn.).

Help us to be masters of the weapons that threaten to master us.
Help us to use our science for peace and plenty, not for war and
destruction. Save us from the compulsion to follow our adversaries
in all that we most hate, confirming them in their hatred and
suspicion of us. Resolve our inner contradictions, which now
grow beyond belief and beyond bearing. They are at once a torment
and a blessing: for if you had not left us the light of conscience,
we would not have to endure them. Teach us to wait and trust.

Grant light, grant strength and patience to all who work for peace.
But grant us above all to see that our ways are not necessarily
your ways, that we cannot fully penetrate the mystery of your
designs and that the very storm of power now raging on this earth
reveals your hidden will and your inscrutable decision.

Grant us to see your face in the lightning of this cosmic storm,
O God of holiness, merciful to men. Grant us to seek peace where
it is truly found. In your will, O God, is our peace.

As we used to sing at our midweek Season of Peace, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

The Divine Within – Christine Valters Paintner

“The divine is infused into all of creation so that we need look no further than ourselves to discover the sacred in our bodies, in our flesh and blood being.”

— Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, Creative Flourishing with St Hildegard of Bingen: A Self-Study Online Retreat

What difference might it make to the way you see yourself if you started to envision your body as sacred being?

The Most Important Choice – Henri Nouwen

If I die with much anger and bitterness, I will leave my family and friends behind in confusion, guilt, shame, or weakness. When I felt my death approaching, I suddenly realized how much I could influence the hearts of those whom I would leave behind. If I could truly say that I was grateful for what I had lived, eager to forgive and be forgiven, full of hope that those who loved me would continue their lives of joy and peace, and confident that Jesus who calls me would guide all who somehow belonged to my life—if I could do that—I would, in the hour of my death, reveal more true spiritual freedom than I had been able to reveal during all the years of my life. I realize on a very deep level that dying is the most important act of living. It involves a choice to bind others with guilt or to set them free with gratitude.

Pace e Bene – 20 September 2022

image and quote courtesy of Pace e Bene

“Peace means far more than the opposite of war. Peace, like love or like hope, is an action one can take, something that can be done, not just something that might arrive.”—Fred Rogers

Lament – Christine Valters Paintner

“Lament releases the layers of grief we are holding and makes room within us for the Spirit to break through in new ways.” 

— Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, Earth, Our Original Monastery: Cultivating Wonder and Gratitude through Intimacy with Nature

What can you do to begin to acknowledge the reality of disorientation and grief in the world we all live in?

The Measure of Our Identity – Thomas Merton

Stella decided to climb into the bookcase and this is where she popped out!

This morning I was midway through my sermon at the 8am worship service when I began to feel lightheaded and needed to sit down. Thankfully two members of our safety team helped me to a chair in the fellowship hall while Denise got the car. After being checked out at the ER we were relieved to find out that the anemia which I have as a result of long-COVID was the culprit (along with my blood pressure).

I had been preaching on the difficult and challenging parable of Jesus about the dishonest manager in Luke 16:1-10. The message that came to my heart was about idols that get in the way of serving God with all that we are. No one can serve two masters… you can’t serve God and wealth is the closing verse in the passage. So imagine my surprise when I read today’s reading from the book A Year with Thomas Merton: Daily Meditations from His Journals! This particular passage is found in Run to the Mountain: The Story of a Vocation (Journal 1).

The measure of our identity, of our being (the two are the same), is the amount of our love for God. The more we love earthly things, reputation, importance, pleasures, ease, and success, the less we love God. Our identity is dissipated among things that have no value, and we are drowned and die in trying to live in the material things we would like to possess, or in the projects we would like to complete to objectify the work of our own wills…. My life is measured by my love of God, and that, in turn, is measured by my love for the least of His children. And that love is not an abstract benevolence: it must mean sharing their tribulation. — September 3, 1941

Love is really the bottom line when it comes to life as a Christ-Follower. I was reminded of that today through the care and support of the congregation, our safety team, and the medical staff at South Baldwin Regional Medical Center. Denise and I both experienced that love and are so thankful for the gifts of love given to us by so many.