|[ source ]|
The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, "Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you. "Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, "Come here at once and take your place at the table'? Would you not rather say to him, "Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, "We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"
- Luke 17:5-10
There was this house when I was a kid.
I don’t remember it too well.
And I don’t remember
but what I do remember is
that some of my parents’ friends lived there (again, I don’t remember which ones)
that when it came to going there, I was generally afraid.
I don’t think it was dangerous.
They had pets. But I liked pets.
(Pets give a kid something to do while the adults are busy talking).
So I liked pets. I wasn’t afraid of them.
No, what frightened me about this place
the people who lived there followed this old tradition (maybe you’ve had grandparents who do this?)
they followed this old tradition of covering their couches
and other furniture
Right? Like sheets, pulled out everywhere, over everything. Everything covered up.
Now, the rooms with the sheets
are the rooms without the parents,
so obviously the rooms where the kids should be if they wanna play freely.
And so, as a kid, walking around, playing with the pets,
in the dark, among the old bedsheets,
you know… I’d get a little paranoid. What kid wouldn’t?
Sheets. Dust. Wind.
I’d swear the couches were moving,
the floor was creaking,
the curtains had monsters behind them,
and after a few minutes on my own, braving it out, reasoning with myself,
it became abundantly clear to me, of course, that my reason was sound,
and that, indeed, the house was obviously haunted.
And so inevitably, after a minute or two of bravery, I’d run to the kitchen or wherever the adults were,
and just wait there nervously until it was time to go.
Nowhere near the couches, nowhere near their sheets.
Apparently, this used to be a common practice, (the sheets) right?
This is what I’ve learned from Antiques Roadshow.
For a long time,
If folks lived in a bigger place, especially,
folks would cover furniture that they weren’t using in order to protect it:
from pets, from sun damage, from dust, from whatever,
so that the furniture would still look bright and fancy twice per year when they’d uncover it and have a bunch of people over—for Thanksgiving or Christmas or whatever.
The furniture, the house, it would be beautiful.
And the rest of the year, their house (at least to a kid) would simply look like it was full of scary, creepy ghosts.
They covered their stuff to protect it, to preserve it, and, you know, so they could show it off a little.
A pretty practical, a pretty pragmatic practice for preservation, protection, stewardship of their gifts, right?
Covering it up.
Last week our Gospel was about a Rich Man, his family, and this guy Lazarus, right?
In the story
The Rich Man (who certainly covered his extra furniture!) also covered himself.
The Rich Man (who certainly covered his extra furniture!) also covered himself
in fine linens, in purple,
and he feasted sumptuously everyday,
he did all of this while Lazarus, meanwhile, exposed to the sun,
hadn’t any covering for himself at all.
The dogs licked him, Jesus explained.
He begged outside the Rich man’s gate. Every day. Day after day.
Upon their death, said Jesus in the parable,
the Rich Man ended up in Hades, and Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham.
Suffering as he was there, “at least,” the rich man requested of Abraham, “send someone so that my family doesn’t end up here too.” A sweet and loving request, an act of love toward his family.
To which Abraham responds. They have the Law, they have the prophets already. (In other words: They’ve already received the warning).
“But send someone!” The rich man pleads.
But Abraham, in a somber tone, insists,
“If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets,
neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
The Law instructs us,
The prophets shock us, even scream at us,
again and again they repeat the theme:
“Love your neighbor, care for the poor, do not abandon the foreigner, the exile, the immigrant, the widows and the orphans!”
This is what the Law, the Prophets, the bible repeats again and again.
The Law instructs, and the Prophets demand:
“Help Lazarus,” right?
But here’s the thing:
all the instruction and all the screaming about our neighbor, about Lazarus won’t mean anything if we can’t see Lazarus, or if we don’t know who Lazarus is, right?
It won’t mean anything if we walk through life refusing, or simply unable to see our neighbor, to see Lazarus, and to respond accordingly.
It’ll just remain instructions in the abstract, right?
It’ll never turn into stuff we actually do.
Maybe the Rich Man and his family didn’t have purple cloths on the furniture, not like the ones he wore on his body. Maybe they were just rags.
But he covered them. And he covered himself.
He was covered.
To preserve his stuff, right?
He was covered
to preserve his lifestyle.
He covered it
to keep it safe so he could put it on display a couple of times each year,
and he celebrated at those times, pulled out all the stops,
pulled off the the covers, and put on even more purple,
and in so doing, he made his mom proud. Right?
She’d brag about him to her friends next Sunday at brunch.
The problem with all the coverings,
the purple gowns,
and even the gates for that matter
(the gates are just another covering, right?)…
The problem with all of the coverings
around all of his stuff, all of his possessions, his property,
it seems that in all the covering, all the hiding, and preserving, and protecting…
It seems that in all the covering…
Lazarus got covered up too
and you don’t have to help your neighbor, it seems,
if you can’t see her,
if he’s “already covered”
if she’s already hidden
or out of sight.
And it seems
that in all the covering, all the hiding, and preserving, and protecting of stuff,
in all the preserving of the Rich Man’s property,
there was Lazarus, perishing.
Exposed. To the dogs.
But simultaneously still covered (to the rich man), hidden from sight to him and his family.
The least, the last, and the lost.
Locked up… Institutionalized…
Beyond some distant wall…
A great chasm had been fixed…
Out of sight, out of mind…
The law and the prophets tell you what to do:
To love your neighbor, to love Lazarus, said Abraham to us.
The problem is, you’ve covered him up.
You don’t know he’s there, that Lazarus exists, at hand, near by, so close you can touch him. Beloved of God.
What does all of this have to do with today’s gospel reading?
Today’s lesson follows this story.
And as the disciples follow Jesus town to town, as they walked on their Way, listening to Jesus, debating among themselves,
I imagine that they were starting to feel pretty good about themselves after that last one, that last parable about the rich man and Lazarus…
“Thank God we’re not that rich man!”
“We care for Lazarus,” said Thomas.
“Heck, we are Lazarus, we gave up everything we ever had to follow Jesus,” chimed in Mary and Phillip, and some of the others.
“We don’t have anything and we still feed people.”
They kept going.
You can imagine, right?
“In fact, our church even runs a clothing pantry called God’s Closet! It’s not perfect, by any means, but it’s definitely one of a kind, the best one in town.”
They continued. Therefore:
“The rich man is evil.”
“We are good.”
“We’ve go this covered.”
“Thank God we’re so awesome!” “Let’s celebrate! Let’s celebrate how great we are!”
“We’ve got this covered.”
Perhaps this was the conversation among the disciples as they walked along…
And then Jesus tells them these parables today, as they are celebrating, that are kind of hard to hear, for a lotta reasons, right?
But parables, still, that end with pretty good punchlines:
Faith removes things, trees, mountains, covers, fences—faith moves things, faith un-veils, and
Don’t be so proud about the vision faith has given you—you were given it. You don’t have it because you’re “all that.” It’s a gift. And if you are given eyes to see, you have a responsibility—to use your gift in the world to do good.
Faith gives us eyes to see. Faith brings with it responsibility.
And, lastly, maybe this is the point of both the parables, at least for me this week:
as fun as it is to judge, and as good as it feels to feel self righteous…
And I know how great it feels to judge and to feel self-righteous. I watched the debates Monday and I was judging the whole time, both of the candidates!
As fun as it is to judge, and as good as it feels to feel self righteous,
these parables are not about figuring out who is good and who is bad.
They are not about who deserves hell or who deserves heaven,
they are not about judging or judgment, or labels or any of that. They are not about proving we are “the good.” Or “the chosen” or “the saved” or anything else…
Rather, they are a call to us to be transformed, and to see with eyes of faith.
That is, they are a call to sense the world through compassion, through God’s love,
to see one another, to hear one another,
and to respond accordingly.
They are not a tool to judge, but a call to be transformed.
Whether we hide behind a fence, or purple clothing,
or an institution or a charity, arrogance or self righteousness, or stained glass and big red doors,
or anything else, really,
it’s true, we might feel safe, feel good, protected, covered,
but in our hiding, we never see our neighbor,
in our hiding, we cover up Lazarus.
And so we never hear the Gospels, the Law, or the Prophets present the challenge that they do.
To uncover those things within and without that hide us from others and others from us,
and to trust that even faith the size of a seed
can remove our blinders,
can help us to see,
and to hear
as we ought,
with our heart and with the love of God.
So that we might spend our time not only preserving and caring for couches,
but preserving and caring for one another, as well.
God, give us eyes to see, hearts that love, and a faith that draws us her to you. Amen.