Part 3 of 3.
Rev L Peterson: There’s a finiteness. It’s very clear in this Scripture from Luke today. There’s this reality of our actions and our inactions today yielding a future that has a finiteness to it, right? The rich man in this passage told by the gospel of Luke or the gospel of Polly who does an excellent job of telling the gospel stories. The rich man in this passage did not see the poor man in his lifetime. It’s not totally clear to me that, I mean, obviously he calls out Lazarus by name in the vision, in the scene that’s in the afterlife, but there’s a sense to me that he didn’t really know Lazarus by name in his life on earth. The rich man did not see the poor man in his lifetime and he still does not see him.
The rich man was so full of ease that he did not, he could not, and he would not let in what would disrupt him. He just didn’t see it. And it’s appalling really in the Scriptures, it’s really appalling how he asks Lazarus, this poor man who had been at his gate begging and whom he’d never seen and ignored, in this scene from the afterlife he asks him to come and put water on his lip. I mean, it’s like disgusting. Really. The hubris of that, the blindness of it, the willful– I mean, there’s a person who obviously is flesh and bone, but ‘he is of nothing except to serve me.’ I mean, it’s disgusting, right?
So there’s a lot of things. We, we who see, we who are willing to see, we who live most of us, I imagine, we who live between the always-ease, a life of always-at-ease and the hunger between the rich man and the beggar at the gate. We who see, who are willing to see, we have a responsibility to see and then to act on what we see while we still can.
What do I mean by seeing in this case? Well, convenience blinds us. It binds us to a blindness, making it easier and easier and easier for us to stay exactly as we are, calling out in us only an aspiration of more of itself. The ease of our need being met, right? More conveniently, quicker, just it’s done. It’s there. We have a need, satisfied. Dunkin Donuts at every block. Caffeine all the time. Familiarity too blinds us. Too much routine, it binds us to a blindness, to a rut. It is easier to stay in exactly as we are than to veer off track. Better here where we don’t have to feel the fact of our finitude, of what we don’t know, of there being some need that does not, cannot be readily, quickly, easily filled. That’s some of what I mean by seeing.
I mean allowing in the fact of our finitude. So allowing in, allowing it to really sit with us that we are always people, creatures, humans with need. That we have limits. Just that fact, we are limited, right? We know it, but we run from it so much. We know it, but we avoid it. In a culture that is fueled by convenience, by economic systems of endless growth. That idea of endless growth, of convenience and control. This kind of limit seeing, this kind of limit listening, it’s not easy. It’s counter-cultural. But we, we as siblings in Christ, we as members and friends and first timers and pulpit suppliers of South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Springfield, here in the midst of the city, we are counter-cultural. We are up to the task of seeing our limits, recognizing them and not letting the fear of them dictate what we do with that.
Larry mentioned that Christmas may be coming early with the hymn series that you’re doing. Well, I have a image that stuck with me. I preached this sermon a long time ago, but this image has been very helpful to me. Where I used to pastor in Glastonbury, Connecticut and there was a main street that ran through, along Main Street. There wasn’t much business. It was mostly big old homes. And I would drive Main Street from the church to my home and during December, right at the beginning of Advent time, the lights go up on the houses. And I always love Christmas lights and I love lights in the windows. I mean, these are grand homes, these are homes occupied more by rich people than not, right? So these are people who have more likely than not the ability to have their needs satisfied pretty quickly. They have the money to dish out in that way. But there was something that just struck me as I kept driving by these, that these Christmas lights were lighting up their limits. There were these lights in the window and said, ‘I end and you begin’ and ‘See me.’
You can sit with it. It’s an image that I’ll just carry with you a little bit, but it’s how I want us, it’s how I want myself to practice arriving at personally what I feel to be a limit in myself, which happens every day, right? Jesus – like every day we think we could do something and then we feel we can’t, or we fail to achieve a goal we set out or we arrive at some limit. Maybe physically we are changed than what we used to be. We’ve lost some ability. And then as a collective, we have limits too. Right?
I want us to figure out how to arrive at those limits and understand them as places of prayer, as sacramental spaces — because there are these gaps all around us. The rich and the poor is the extreme that we hear in the Scriptures, right? But there are gaps all over the place and we are being told that those gaps you should be afraid of. We are being told that we should arm one another so as not to arrive at the end of ourselves and the beginning of another where we’re not quite sure what’s there. We here know better than that. We who have been bathed in the Scriptures, we know that there’s an infinity that our finitude rests in.
Last time I was here I preached on a refrain that everything about Jesus is political. Right? Those of you who were here, I said that a lot last time. The twin of that, the flip side, I don’t really like to say the flip side because like they can’t both be up at the same time because so it’s more like the twin. The twin of that is that all of life is sacred. Everything about Jesus is political; all of life is sacred. Even the gaps between us maybe especially.
So we who have a mindset of holiness, a seeing in faith, an understanding that all of creation, all of it is alive with the breath of the Creator, with the connective vitality of the Spirit. We who have a mindset of holiness, an impulse toward that mindset at least, we can recognize that the limits are places we can arrive at and not run from. That we can let the knowledge of our finitude just sit there and invite us to be curious, to be courageous, to move across that massive chasm where I end and you begin. And sometimes it’s really big, sometimes it’s not, but sometimes it’s huge, so let’s get a little more tangible, right? There are differences between us. And there are some differences that will always be differences that we can’t erase, right? There are some experiences that will forever place us in different places.
In fact, the impulse to sort of make the difference go away will likely result in some acts of injustice, of erasing people just for the sake of order and ease. So there’s all these differences between us. So there are the differences of people who are rich and poor, right? There are the differences between people who are comfortable and poor. These are gaps. There is the gap between Republican and Democrat, between digital natives and people who choose not to use technology in any way, shape, or form. There are differences between us who were raised in white bodies and those who were raised in brown and black bodies. There are differences between activists and proud moderates. There are differences between the descendants of slaveholders and the descendants of slaves. There are differences between people whose home has been in Springfield, Massachusetts forever. Are there some of you here who have literally lived in Springfield your whole lives? No, that’s amazing because I feel like I’ve met, one, one person. Yeah. Right? So this has been your home your whole life. You know this ground so well. And then the difference between that experience and the experience of refugees or immigrants whose home is in movement. And then there’s all the in-between places.
There are gaps between the upper Valley. Yep.
Congregant: Tofu curtain.
Rev L Peterson: The tofu curtain. That would be a great ritual. We should initiate a ritual to cross the tofu curtain while there is still time. I like that. Right, and that’s a great image actually, because the point is right that there’s differences. We have different experiences, we have different impulses, that some of those can be actually, we actually come to realize we’re not that different. Right. Some of it does merge, but some of it doesn’t. Some of it just stays a difference. But the gap need not be so massive and the gap need not be a place that we don’t interact across. Right. The gap can be like, hey, look at my Christmas lights, you know, and literally the best image I have is to reach your hand out across the gap. Right. And shake somebody’s hand on the other side.
So that impulse to bridge the gaps. I think it comes from, it doesn’t have to only come from, but I think we’re blessed by a life of faith to have that impulse. That we desire to be connected to one another even when and especially when we’re different because how God and us are so radically different and yet we are blessed with this mystery of incarnation, which is this center of our lives. That impulse informs all that we dare do. I think we are well equipped as a congregation bathed in the stories of Christ, as a congregation informed by the inheritance of the United Church of Christ and all of that history. As I preached in my first time here, we’re practiced. We have disciplines of attention, we have practices of patience, we have rituals of reverence. We value, I know it, we value humility and hard work and kindness. We seek to know that of God in the other. We desire to cross the gaps between us. We are peace-loving people in that way.
The challenge, the challenge, and I don’t know exactly how to do it, but the challenge is I feel like we have to be bolder in our humility. We have to be like louder in our quiet. The world needs this impulse that we have. We need it while there’s still time. So it’s a challenge. It’s a task. We need to be the bridge builders. You probably already have been in lots of ways that I don’t yet know, but we are ready for these times. We are equipped. We need one another and we can do it. We can bridge the gaps while there’s still time, because we don’t want to be like that freaking horrible rich dude who didn’t ever see Lazarus. Amen.
Recorded on Sunday, September 29th, 2019
Location: South Congregational UCC Church in Springfield MA