The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 29, 2013
Boys like rocket ships and soccer balls. Girls like princesses and cute birds. Boys like the colors blue and greens. Girls like pink and purple. Boys like sports. Girls like baking.
I walked through the aisles of Babies ‘R Us not long ago, and that is what I saw. If you don’t know, Maggie and I are expecting a baby girl in December. While we were registering for baby showers at Babies ‘R Us, I accidentally registered for some boys’ clothing. I don’t know, I thought it was a cute little blue onesie with soccer balls on it. Oh no. That item was flagged as problematic on our registry at Babies ‘R Us. See, we are having a girl, and that little onesie is for a boy, because it’s blue with soccer balls.
The assumption made by Babies ‘R Us, and really by all of society, is that girls like some things and boys like others. The assumption made is that boys like sports and super heroes, and that girls like rainbows and kittens. And if a customer strays beyond those strict assumptions, they will let you know.
And of course, we know how downright silly those assumptions are. Women’s soccer is actually really exciting. Girls can be astronauts and men are in ballets. And if you’ve ever seen me during the week, you know that I am not ashamed to wear a pink shirt or put on a pink tie.
It’s just human to make assumptions. Take one of the assumptions from the time of Jesus. The assumption was that if you were a wealthy person, then God was on your side and that God had blessed you; plus, you were doing everything right in God’s eyes. The opposite was also true. The poor, because they were poor, were not in God’s favor. The assumption was that if God was on your side, God would make sure that you were not poor. It was an assumption, a dangerous one at that; and an assumption that Jesus is all too happy to put to rest.
See, this parable from Jesus that we heard this morning is not about heaven and hell. At it’s heart, it’s not even about how we should respond to the poor in our midst. Rather, this parable of the rich man and Lazarus is about assumptions; the assumption that God loves the wealthy and that God does not care about the poor. Think about this, even as we first encounter the parable, Jesus has a subtle way of telling us that this assumption is wrong. The rich man does not have a name, but the poor man does have a name.
So again, the assumption in the time of Jesus – an assumption that has somehow survived until today – is that God favors the rich. And if a man is favored by God, then obviously that man would be doing everything right in God’s eyes. He would have no need of repentance. If anything, this parable is about repentance. Think of the pleading words from the rich man, when he asks Abraham to let his brothers know that the poor are just as valuable in God’s eyes. The rich man pleads, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” They will repent.
That word repentance actually means “to turn.” Repentance means to turn; to turn from one way of doing things to a new way of doing things. In the ancient church, candidates for holy baptism had to face the back wall of the church during the first part of the service. Then they would quite literally, turn – or repent – and face the altar and the front of the church. That was supposed to be symbolic of the repentance it took to follow Jesus; to turn from the old way of life, to the new way of life.
As individuals, repentance is part of our life with Christ. We turn from our callous assumptions that God favors the wealthy over the poor. We turn from whatever it is we are doing that takes us away from God, in order to be drawn closer to God. Now, we could assume that we are good before God’s eyes; like the rich man, that we don’t need repentance. But this assumption is challenged every Sunday as we hit our knees and say a confession before God. And then making a solemn promise before God that we will turn from our old ways into God’s ways. It’s not just that we say sorry to God, but we promise to turn from our old ways.
Let’s not kid ourselves. This is probably the hardest thing we have to do in our life. We have to be brutally honest with God and ourselves. It’s no surprise that the rich man doesn’t repent, because he loves his life. And it’s no surprise that we have a tough time repenting. Because we all succumb to inertia, doing the same thing that you’ve done in the past, regardless of how harmful it is. The lesson, the take away, is that turning away from inertia and beginning a new thing is nothing other than the work of Christ.
And let’s not kid ourselves. Inertia doesn’t just affect individuals, it infects churches as well. It is much easier to do things as we’ve always done them, because well, we’ve never done it any differently. That’s the inertia, those are the assumptions, and that is what Jesus is telling us this morning. We, as a church community, must assess where we are and turn into something new.
You know this has already started here at Holy Comforter. No one assumes that just because we have always done it that way, means that we have to do it that way again. No one assumes that there is only one way to run a Vestry. No one assumes that they can’t post pictures of church on Facebook, during church. No one assumes what I’m going to say next, because I think I’ve surprised just about every one of you in Bible study or Sunday School. Most importantly, no one assumes that our best days are in the past.
Now, just as a disclaimer, we have not changed the core elements of our faith. We have not and will not turn away from the creeds, the Holy Eucharist, or our allegiance to Jesus as Lord.
But stepping back, as a church, what we are experiencing right now is nothing other than repentance, turning. A new way of doing things. This will be uncomfortable for many of us, but then again, repentance is never easy. Overcoming the inertia of things past was impossible for the rich man, difficult for us, and challenging for churches.
But of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t say what the reward is. Overcoming the inertia and letting go of our assumptions is the only way to experience new life in Christ. I’m serious when I say this. Individually, it’s the only way to get past your past. And as a church, we cannot be doing things the way we did them 10 years ago. And there will be something wrong if we are doing the same thing in 10 years that we are doing now. Because Jesus is always calling us forward, calling us to turn into a more fulfilling life with him. Repentance is not a one time event, repentance is a lifestyle. A lifestyle that takes work.
And there is much work before us. There are hungry mouths to feed, there are children to be taught, there are songs to sing. There is a gospel to be proclaimed. And that’s the whole point – turning into whatever church we need to become in order to more effectively proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in the twenty first century. That is the final goal, and we will repent from any old ways that hinder us from that glorious task.
I exhort you. Commit yourself to the Lord Jesus, and turn away from whatever it is that has a death grip of inertia on your life. Commit yourself to the Church, and turn with us as we proclaim anew the love of God. And don’t do it because you listened to me, don’t do it because you listened to Moses and the prophets. Repent, turn, commit, be convinced because the Lord Jesus has risen from the dead. Amen.