“A stewardship sermon”
I have a stewardship sermon for you today. “Oh, boy,” I can hear you say. I felt compelled to tell you this is a stewardship sermon, because I am not sure that you will recognize what I have to say as having anything to do with stewardship. So here goes: a stewardship sermon.
In HER sermon at Virginia Theological Seminary earlier this month, senior Samantha Gottlich preached about new life that can only grow from the seeds of death. Dorothy Linthicum, our Forum speaker two weeks ago, shared Samantha’s sermon with us, with the preacher’s permission. When I read it, I KNEW why God had sent Samantha’s sermon our way. After all, we ARE Church of the RESURRECTION; we BELIEVE in new life springing from death.
I put Samantha’s sermon into your hands today, with her permission, so that you can read it in its entirety. Here’s a summary, though, enough to connect to today’s message.
Samantha knew, she said, from her very first tennis lesson at age five (thanks to her grandmother) that she would be a tennis pro, a tennis star. And she invested her whole life—successfully—in this outcome. Until the ripe old age of 20, when she literally hit a wall, a concrete wall, and broke two bones in her spine. The life Samantha knew died that day. Her hopes and dreams died, also, right then and there.
That’s when, in her 20s, Samantha learned about the seeds released by death bringing new life, new hope, new possibilities. Samantha didn’t choose death—few people do, at least at age 20, but she sure chose the new life that the seeds of death would become.
We have names for this process of bringing new life out of death. We say “making lemonade from the lemons life gives us.” Easier said than done, but possible. We say, “The phoenix rises from the ashes.” We know there really isn’t a bird called a phoenix that bursts into flames periodically and gets a new lease on life and creates new possibilities for the future. But we know, intrinsically, that death brings new life. We just prefer the death to be someone else’s. When we, ourselves, think about dying, we think of what kind of legacy we will leave, what kind of seeds our life will give to those left behind. These seeds of future possibilities give meaning to THIS life.
In our gospel lesson today, both characters died. And I don’t want to be EITHER of these two characters. I don’t want to be the rich man who wore purple and dined sumptuously every day. As Jesus’ story revealed, this character apparently had a hard heart. I was going to suggest that maybe this rich man was blind, in a way. He apparently didn’t even register the presence of the poor man who begged at his gate. But wait, the rich man knew the poor man’s name when he asked Abraham to send Lazarus over to him with some cool water. So the rich man wasn’t bling, just hard hearted. No, I don’t want to be this person; I just want his bank account!
I don’t want to be Lazarus, either. This man was poor, homeless, and covered with sores. But apparently he was shrewd: he had parked himself outside the rich man’s gate. THAT ought to have been good for a lot of sympathy benevolence. You know, the unspoken “this rich man doesn’t help me; won’t you?” Sympathy benevolence. I don’t want to be this person, either. Who would?
Now obviously Jesus was setting up the point of his story by describing two individuals whose lots in this life were as far apart as one can get. And he named two flat characters, to cardboard characters, to make his point. But what was Jesus’ point?
A lot of people, over time, have suggested that the point of Jesus’ story was to condemn the great chasm between the ultra-rich and the ultra-poor. We get a hint at this interpretation when we hear the other lessons paired with today’s gospel lesson. Our lesson from the prophet Amos and our Psalm both suggest that God loves poor people best.
The late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, by the way, famously preached about this chasm just four days before he was shot to death. Dr. King saw the chasm as racism. He had a great point, too. But he hijacked the chasm to make his point. Brilliant!
I think that Jesus had another point in mind, a point that may not have had anything to do with either money or racism. I think Jesus was condemning the Pharisees and scribes of his day, those who dressed in costly purple and ate so lavishly on the things of God while people outside the gates of the Temple were starving to be let in and fed with God’s Word.
Whatever Jesus originally meant: rich versus poor in money, rich versus poor in access to God, or whatever else that divides us (racism, politics, you name OUR chasms), Jesus ultimately was suggesting that we find those chasms that WE use to separate ourselves from each other and bridge those chasms in this life, while we still can. Eliminating those man-made chasms while we are alive is critical, Jesus suggests, or else we risk spending our eternal life in the wrong place! Eliminating those chasms is a life-essential task, an eternal-life-essential task. (Even if you may not believe in chasms in the eternal landscape.)
So, you might be wondering, what does all this have to do with seeds and new life? I want to peer at Jesus’ story through THIS lens: What seeds were released to new life by these characters’ deaths?
Lazarus’ life got a gazillion times better after he died. Not only did he go to heaven, now he is being consoled by the great Abraham. And, at the other end of the polarity, the rich man had achieved insight and understanding; his hard heart had been softened and he had learned what he should have learned in this life.
But what seeds did either of these two characters leave behind? The rich man left brothers who were following in his own empty footsteps. Lazarus apparently left nothing behind. What new life grew from the seeds of their deaths?
Jesus’ dying changed the eternal landscape forever. Somehow Christ Jesus bridged that un-crossable chasm when he rose again. He couldn’t do that while he was here with us in the flesh; conquering death requires dying. And Jesus, as we know, was the ultimate seed.
This story told by Jesus assures us there is life after death, if we life a chasm-crossing, chasm-erasing life here in this world. How will be accomplish that?