This is the homily given by Rev. Laura Foley in our Wednesday Prayers service, Sept. 28, 2016.
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’
This story, truly, is already a sermon. There’s not a whole lot of need to add anything. I have asked Mike and Katherine to help me add to our time of reflection on this text by sharing when, how, where, in our world today do we see this story or stories like this story. And I thought I’d share one too and then ask what y’all think.
Mike (from the introduction of The Poverty Industry):
Alex was taken into foster care at age twelve after his mother’s death. Over a six-year period, he was moved at least twenty times between temporary placements and group homes. Soon after losing his mother, Alex learned his older brother might be able to care for him, but then his brother died. There were also hopes that Alex could go to live with his father, but then his father died as well. Unknown to Alex, he was eligible to receive Social Security survivor benefits after his father died. These funds could have provided an invaluable benefit to Alex, supplying an emotional connection to his deceased father and financial resources to help with his difficult transition out of foster care. But without telling Alex, the Maryland foster care agency applied for the survivor benefits on his behalf and to become his representative payee. Then, although obligated to only use the benefits for the child’s best interests, the agency took every payment from Alex. The agency didn’t tell Alex it was applying for the funds, and didn’t tell him when the agency took the money for itself. Alex struggled during his years in foster care, left foster care penniless, and continued to struggle on his own. And after taking Alex’s funds, the agency hired a private revenue contractor to learn how to obtain more resources from foster children.
I remember seeing their eyes widen when they first saw the large baskets of chocolate truffles before them. The truffles had been donated by a local chocolatier, intended for an end of year celebration for local high school students that had overcome academic probation and made the honor roll. For many of the students, this would be the first time they would experience the richness of these chocolates, normally reserved only for wealthy tourists visiting the area. The youth group that came to volunteer that day were working to package the truffles into small boxes and write congratulatory notes to the students. The smell of chocolate filled the air, the small gems of truffles stretched before us, filled with fruit or nuts or ganache. The delicate dusting of cocoa stuck to our gloves as we placed them in their boxes. It was intended to be a fun and easy experience of service, a simple way for this privileged group of youth to give back.
As the day came to a close, the group gathered in the parking lot and I caught the eye of one young girl. She looked uneasy as her eyes darted away from mine. Concerned, I slowly made my way over, pulling her aside and asking what was wrong. She hesitantly pointed at two of the boys in the group, and in a hushed voice said, “Check their pockets”.
Along with the adults in the group we gathered the two boys and instructed them to empty their jacket pockets. After some tense back and forth they conceded, and produced the handful of truffles they had hoped to keep for themselves. “Why?” we asked, confused and disappointed. “Because we packaged them, we deserve them. Those kids probably wouldn’t even be able to appreciate something like this.”
There were the people of downtown Raleigh. There were many who wore Chanel and Armani suits and dresses, with beautiful ties or scarves or handbags. Their walk had that powerful, distinct – click, click, click – of heels hitting the pavement. Walking on, walking on to some meeting or lavish meal about how to keep the skyscrapers high, the spending low, this All-American city full, but Moore Square empty… of people taking a nap. Empty of tired feet and sweaty tee shirts. Empty of the many who’ve been in this city, 5-10-20 years longer than the new clicks of those new heels.
Then they all died.
And when they did the suits and dresses and ties and heels reached out to Jesus and said send “those people” up there with you – to come help us!
Jesus throwing his arm around his friends who are no longer tired, but rested, no longer sweaty or wet, but clean and dry, no longer having unsatisfied hunger, but just having eaten – Chicago deep dish pizza, fried chicken, chicken wings, t-bone steak, mashed potatoes, new potatoes, baked potatoes, dumplings, cornbread, collards, beans, beans and rice, corn, cream of corn, corn on the cob, fruit – fruit, all the fruit, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, chocolate pie, hot brownie with a scoop of ice cream and a cherry on top – Jesus said to them – that can’t happen now, like it could have back then. This chasm in this here after life is fixed. Before you died there could have been helping and handshaking, mutual affection, friendships and shoe swapping (…walking in one another’s shoes). But now it’s done.
Well then send them to our families, they cried out – warn them about this.
Martin Luther King Jr., 1929-1968:
Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’
Mother Teresa, 1910-1997:
If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.
Muhammad, 570-632 C.E.:
None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.
The Buddha, 6th-4th century B.C.E.:
Ardently do today what must be done. Who knows? Tomorrow, death comes.
Give, even if you have a little.
For, truly, we have been warned.