Sunday, July 19, 2015

July 19, 2015 - The Rich Man and Lazarus

Luke 16.19 - 31 ...

Gather around boys and girls.
Set yourself down.
I’ve story to tell you.

And so begins many a fun time for families and children, with all the appropriate moans and groans - “Oh no, Grampa’s at it again; we’ve heard this story ten thousand times” … at the dinner table, by a campfire, before bedtime … and just about every time a minister steps into a pulpit to share the love of God, with all the appropriate moans and groans - “Oh no, we’ve heard this story ten thousand times.”

There is no finer tradition, in any culture, than that of story-telling … whether it be Garrison Keillor from Prairie Home Companion or Mark Twain a century ago, or Grampa at the dinner table … story tellers have a way of revealing the nooks and crannies of life, inviting us to think and rethink who we are and what life is all about, what it means to be a family, what it means to be a human being.

Jesus is a story-teller.

Someone raises a question, Jesus might well respond with a stroke of his chin, maybe even a wink, and then unwind a tale … sheep and shepherds, pearls and merchants, wayward children, anxious parents, clever managers who hoodwink the boss … and bosses who play rough with their workers.

All the stories our LORD tells are gracious with much love … yet grace can be hard-edged and disturbing, too … like today’s story.

Only recently have I learned something about it … it’s often called, “The Rich Man and Lazarus,” but there are two rich men here, men of great wealth … the man without a name, and Abraham, the Father of all the nations.

I long thought that it was a story that puts a hard press on wealth … and it does, no doubt … Jesus warns us so many times about the perils of wealth … but it’s not wealth per se, but the attitudes one can buy with it … and as a preacher once said: “Attitude is everything!”

In this parable, it’s the story of two rich men, and one man, very, very, poor.

As Jesus tells it, the Rich Man in Hades recognizes Lazarus … perhaps Lazarus worked for him at some point in time … a tenant farmer maybe … or a household servant … and then something happened to Lazarus - an injury, a chronic illness … Lazarus can no longer work, but now can only beg from the hand that once employed him.

I’ve played around a bit with the story … let’s see how it goes … a night-time tale told by a village elder around an evening campfire.

Gather around boys and girls, I’ve a story to tell you:

Once upon a time, there was a Rich Man … 
Well dressed and well fed.
Had everything, and then some.
He was a Rich Man.

By his gate, a poor man.
Lazarus by name.

Hungry all the time.
Sick much of the time.
Good to the dogs in the neighborhood, and the dogs licked his sores … oooh, kinda icky, right … but that’s what dogs do.

And then one day, Lazarus died.
And off he went.
To be with Father Abraham.
Goodness, boys and girls, don’t we all want to be with Father Abraham?

And then one day, the Rich Man died, too.
And off he went.
To a very unpleasant place.

Have you noticed something odd here?
What’s the Rich Man’s name?
That’s right.
He doesn’t have a name in our story.

Everyone has a name, except …
The Rich Man.

Oh, he has name, I’m sure!
Lots of folks knew it, no doubt.

Folks would walk by his big house and say, “Do you know who lives there in that great big house? Mr. so-and-so lives there. He’s important!”
Everyone knows his name.

But in our story, the Rich Man has no name.
His name isn’t in the Book of Life boys and girls.
He didn’t have time for that.
He was too busy writing his name every where else.
Except in the Book of Life.

And the nameless poor man at his gate, we find has a name after all.

In Hebrew, it’s Elazar.
And, boys and girls, do you know what Elazar means?
It means: “God has helped.”

The poor man at the gate has a beautiful name.

And so does Father Abraham; Abraham means: “Father of a multitude” … the Father of many peoples all around the world … Father Abraham is everyone’s Father.

Anyway, boys and girls, the Rich Man sees Father Abraham.
And he sees Lazarus, too.
And what do you suppose Lazarus is doing?
Well, boys and girls, he’s sitting on Father Abraham’s lap.

Can you imagine that, boys and girls?
Lazarus, sitting on Abraham’s lap?
Father Abraham has a big comfy lap.

The Rich Man thinks to himself:
“Abraham will understand me.”
He’s rich, and he’ll know what I need.
We’re two of the same kind; cut from the same bolt of cloth.

So the Rich Man calls out to Father Abraham.
“Father Abraham,” 
I think the Rich Man tried to sound important.

“Father Abraham, send Lazarus, with a little water for me.”
He used to be my servant; he’ll know what to do.

Father Abraham said: “Can’t do that son.”

“And why not?” asked the Rich Man.
All blustery and none too pleased.

“Because you’re there, and we’re here … and that’s that!”
“Besides, you had your chance.”

Well, the Rich Man didn’t like that for an answer.

So, he said, “Father Abraham, look, we understand one another, don’t we? We’re of the same stuff, you and me. We’ve made our way through life, we did all right.”

“If you won’t send Lazarus to me, the least you can do is send him to my five brothers, to warn them, tell them they’d better pay attention. I don’t want them to end up like me.”

Father Abraham was getting a little tired with the Rich Man telling him what to do all the time … so Father Abraham said, “Your brothers already have what they need to figure things out. They have Moses and the Prophets - it’s all there, clear and clean. Your brothers should listen to them.”

“But my brothers need a big deal, some kind of smash hit, something really big - some hoohah and kaboom. Okay, Father Abraham? I’m sure we understand one another. Send them someone from the dead; that’ll get their attention.”

“I could do that,” said Father Abraham, “but truth be told, son, your brothers are just about as stubborn as you are, and they’re not interested in such things. If they don’t believe what Moses and the Prophets teach, someone rising from the dead and standing right in front of them won’t convince them either.”

Boys and girls … we have Moses and the Prophets, and we have Father Abraham … they tell us how to live a good and godly life. Let’s pay attention to them, okay? Good Night boys and girls. Sleep well boys and girls; the love of God give you rest; the wisdom of Father Abraham guide your dreams.

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

July 5, 2015, "New Wine, New Skins"

First Congregational Church of Los Angeles
July 5, 2015
Mark 2.21-22

Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem …
Can you be more than you are?

And so begins a new sermon series today …

A sermon series Dr. Colglazier and I will be working on for the next two months … we’re excited about the series and grateful to share with all of you in the Parables of Jesus.

Because parables are the way Jesus taught … and why did he teach this way? 

Parables provoke, raise questions, startle us with unexpected images … 

A dishonest steward who knows what he’s doing with money … a shepherd unwilling to lose even one sheep … a pearl merchant making a deal … a father who never gives up hope for a wayward son.

Parables offer a different way of thinking about the tried and the true … maybe the tried and the true can tell us more than we expect … maybe the tried and true ain’t so true anymore, and it’s time to try something new.

Which reminds me - last week, I put a dollar into a change machine, and nothing changed! 

Shall we move on?

Today’s parable: new wine, new skins … a parable understood by everyone, growers and consumers alike … the last of the old, and soon the new … hip hip hooray, a new vintage comes our way.

And who knows, the new wine might surpass the old in flavor and quality!

Wine is one thing … but religion another …

Religion tends to settle down and settle in … hard and fast … decades worth, centuries worth … smells, bells and doodahs … this is the way it’s done because this is the way we’ve always done it, and by golly, no one’s gonna change our mind.

And here comes Jesus … pushing hard to make some changes … and lot of folks didn’t like it one bit.

Scribes question his “table manners” - eating with “sinners and tax collectors.”
People wonder about his fidelity to the rules of fasting.
Pharisees question his commitment to Sabbath restrictions.
The prim and the proper are offended by the woman who anoints his feet with her tears.

Jesus speaks to all of them of new times and new ways.
The old is good, but it’s time has passed.
Nothing lasts forever.

Several months ago, a Sunday morning, getting ready for church, I put my Bible on the trunk of the car, brought a bag of garbage to the trash bin … went back upstairs … returned a few moments later, walked around the front of the car, got in and drove off to church: you know what happened.

My Bible was gone.

A hour later, my wife and son followed my route to church, looking for it, but to no avail - it was gone. 25 years worth notes, cross-references and comments. 


Jesus my LORD.

I ordered a new Bible … and here it is … clean and fresh … and it feels great …

Would I have willingly set aside the old one?

I don’t know. Nostalgia and familiarity are powerful resistors to change.

Let me say that again: Nostalgia and familiarity are powerful resistors to change.

I miss that old Bible sometimes, just the thought of it - wondering where it is, what happened to it, but I’m glad the LORD took it from my hand … new wine, new skins.

On another note:

The Santa Monica Art Museum is moving out of Bergamot Station … the Executive Director said:

I want it to be very clear that we are not closing. We are moving. Our museum is all about agility and experimentation and being a collection of ideas, not being a permanent collection of art. Although this is not something we had planned, we realize we have to take the mission, vision and purpose to a next stage.”

Sometimes by choice, sometimes by chance, sometimes by necessity, the next stage … time doesn’t stand still … and God moves on … new wine, new skins.

As for Jesus, he’s no iconoclast … though he does overturn a few tables.
Jesus honors the traditions … and then plays with them.

Like Christoph on the organ, and Peter Fennema today.
Take what is, and play with it.
Bring out new insights.
Raise questions:
Maybe we can go this way.
Or that way.
Let’s see what happens.

Like a potter with clay.
An artist with paint.
A dancer with form and movement.
An actor with a script.
And Jesus with his stories.

“You have heard it said thus and so, but I say unto you, here’s another take on it.”

New wine, new skins.
Last year’s vintage is done.

It was good.
We drank it all.
The skins are depleted now.
And what we didn’t drink, turned to vinegar.

“Fear not,” says God.
Never ever, ever, ever, be afraid.

A new season is upon us.
Grape clusters hang heavy on the vine, ready for harvest.

God is never done with us.
And we are never done with God.

The nature of faith is dynamic … moving, shifting, dancing.

They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
      they shall run and not be weary,
      they shall walk and not faint.

The nature of faith prompts us to change:
Change of heart.
Change of mind.
And who doesn’t need a change of mind now and then?
Moses said, “I can’t do that,” and then changed his mind.
King David said, “I didn’t do anything wrong,” and then changed his mind.
Jesus said to God, “Get me outta here,” and then changed his mind.

Saul, on the Damascus Road, said, “I know everything about God,” and then God showed up in a bright light, and Saul changed his mind real fast, and God changed Saul’s name to Paul.

And in our time and place … changed minds have made for a better world … school desegregation, voting rights and lunch-counter integration, women’s ordination … and these days Marriage Equality and the Confederate Flag … changed minds, changed hearts … new wine, new skins …

Jerusalem, Jerusalem.
Can you be more than you are?

Some turned away and said, “No thank you.”
We’re satisfied with the way things are.
And, by the way, Mr. Jesus, don’t press your luck with us.

Others heard the invitation and said, “Of course, tell us more.”
Jesus said, “It won’t be easy, but it’ll be good.”
And people still said yes!

Peter, Andrew, James and John left their nets to follow him.
Mary and Martha opened their hearts and home to him. 
Joanna and Susanna, women of means, provided for him.
Matthew set aside his stacks of coins to join him on the way.
One-by-one, two-by-two, they heard the call and followed him.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem …
Can you be more than you are?

New wine, new skins.

Because we’re not done with God.
And God isn’t done with us.

From the Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock 
To the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles.
You and me, right here, right now!
For this world, and for the glory of God.

What else can we do?
But follow Christ anew.
“Come and follow me,” says he.
I’ve places to go and people to see.
Lives to change and a world to set free.

New wine, new skins!
Dear People of God.
Are we ready?

I know that we are! Amen and Amen!