09/25/2022 ~ Proper 21 ~ Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost ~ Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15; Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16; Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/754423552
“‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets,’ Abraham and Sarah replied, ‘neither will they be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.’” — Luke 16:31.
It’s likely that when someone says “New York” many people think “New York City.” Norwich, the New York location of the church I served for 23 years, is in New York State but it’s nowhere near New York City.
Norwich is in a rural area of the State. It is the county seat but it’s small, less than 7,000 souls. You have to go nearly an hour to hit a larger town.
Most of you know I grew up in the other New York, the City. And yes, New York City is really, really big. So life can be very different than it is in a rural area. But once I met Bonnie Scott this New York City native, a big city guy, decided moving to Maine was necessary.
Maine is a rural state, a state that does not even have a really big city. On a national ranking Portland is 519th in size. So, having moved to a rural state, I then moved to Norwich, a state with a couple of big cities but a whole lot of rural.
Now, one might argue when I moved to Maine and then continued on to Norwich those moves meant I experienced a very large shift in cultural surroundings. Why yes I did. My motto had always been “If the Subway doesn’t go there it’s too far.”
But what was it that did not change? What remained the same? People— people are people are people are people.
Different cultural influences may expose us to different experiences. And yes, the influence culture has on us can be overwhelmingly powerful, sometimes in a detrimental way. But no matter how strong cultural influence is, we cannot and should not let it affect us to the point where we lose sight of what it means to be human. (Slight pause.)
There are two corollaries to the fact that people are people are people. Pastors are pastors are pastors. Churches are churches are churches. This is true even when the pastors are called rabbis and the churches are called synagogues.
Rabbi Seth Goldstein wrote an article which I think illustrates that. Similar to myself, the Rabbi had a long term tenure at a congregation. Yes, synagogues are known as congregations.
In fact, congregation is a term found all over the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew word we translate as congregation means a called-out assembly or a congregation. So if the place of worship is named synagogue or named church, we are talking about the same thing.
The title of Seth’s article was 10 Things I Have Learned About Serving as a Congregational Rabbi. I won’t repeat the list.
I’ll just to skip to some of the conclusions the Rabbi reached. Note: I have edited the words of the Rabbi a little but not a lot. First, as for those conclusions— first, said the Rabbi, first, I don’t want you to become a member of this congregation. I want you to become a friend, a part of a whole.
I don’t want you to be a part of a club. I want you to be a part of a community, to find value in the organization by finding value in the community.
This friendship is not based on your frequency of attendance, your religiosity, your preference or your disdain for the food at coffee hour. It’s based on the shared value that we are better off together than alone and that congregations are needed not to just maintain traditions but to forge people to people connections.
Next, I don’t want you to simply offer financial support as if that’s all that counts and the only thing that counts. Yes, we need money to turn on the lights, to pay for the heat— the annoying, practical and real stuff. But it’s essential for you to understand what your financial support does for the mission of this church, what it does for the community both inside this meeting house and beyond the walls.
Support needs to come from deep commitment, engagement, gratitude. Which is to say financial support should be a result of participation. But I also invite you to participate in our work here even if you never give a dime. Money can do a lot; it’s necessary. Commitment, your commitment, in any way you can, does more. (Slight pause.)
This is vital: I don’t want you to join a committee. No, indeed— I want you to join with other like minded folks, committed to the same goals and outcomes. I want you to work together on a common cause to make things happen.
Wherever your interest lies— governance, music, education, grounds-keeping, an entirely new idea— it matters not. Find some like minded folks and do it. Forget meetings and minutes. Think about creating. Think about making. (Slight pause.)
Here’s another way to look at our community, said the Rabbi. I don’t want you to just show up. Rather, I want you to be present. In the context of community to see yourself as a passive recipient is a questionable practice. To see yourself as an active participant in congregational life means you own what happens here, in this community.
Part of how that is done is by coming to services hoping to be moved, hoping to find meaning. Come to classes hoping to learn, hoping to be inspired. Come to do a service project hoping to get your hands dirty, hoping to make a change in the world.
And yes, come to the community to be open to new relationships, new friendships. Come to laugh, to eat, to share, to accept help when you need it, to give help when you are able. And yes, come to be a part of this community. But please don’t just show up.
Then Rabbi writes this: if you do your part and I do my part we can fulfill the promise of what it means to live in a sacred community, a holy community. Last, let us demonstrate that when we join together we can both transform and we can, ourselves, be transformed— transform and be transformed. All that was from Rabbi Seth Goldstein.  (Slight pause.)
These words are from Luke/Acts in the section commonly referred to as Luke: “‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets,’ Abraham and Sarah replied, ‘neither will they be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.’” (Slight pause.)
In the Gospel story the rich person is unable to even know the beggar is at the gate. Why? This person of wealth has a flaw. That flaw is not one of purposeful meanness or abusiveness or arrogance. The flaw is not even wealth. This person is simply unaware of what is going on right at the gate. (Slight pause.)
It seems to me human society, the culture, is often flawed. This can be but may not be because society is purposefully mean or abusive or arrogant. Too often we are, the society is, simply unaware of what is going on right in front of us.
I want to suggest we have the ability to fix that flaw. How is it fixable? We need to be involved.
You see, the person of wealth realizes everyone in the household has the same problem, the same flaw, and says (quote): “I beg you, then, to send Lazarus to my own house where I have five siblings. Let Lazarus be a warning to them,…”
Let me be clear about this: being frightened is not anything like being involved. Being frightened means retreating into our own shell. Being frightened means being unaware of what’s around us. Being frightened means being detached from reality.
Being frightened means not taking action when it’s needed. Being frightened means losing track of this deep truth: people are people are people are people.
This seems obvious: the person of wealth always had a way to be aware of Lazarus. After all, Lazarus was sitting right at the gate. But I suspect the rich person was always distracted— distracted by the culture, by wealth, by being (quote): “…dressed in purple and fine linen….”
In fact, there’s nothing wrong with fine linen. But sometimes people do get detached from reality because of the trappings society offers.
Because of the trappings, because of the culture, because of fine linen, because of the society in which people live, distraction happens. Which is to say this story is not, is not a warning about what might happen in the afterlife.
It is, however, a threefold admonition. The admonitions are these: first, do not be afraid. Second, the trappings of our society may cloud your vision, if you let them.
And, if you let the trappings of our society cloud your vision, that has the possibility of making you afraid not of what might happen in the afterlife. It will make you afraid of reality. What reality? People are people are people.
Third and to reiterate, people are people are people. Love them. Treat them with respect, with equity.
When we forget that people are people are people who we need to love we have forgotten what a community, what a congregation is about. And a community, a congregation is a place where we can both transform and a place where each of us can be transformed. (Slight pause.)
Let me suggest a radical idea. Christianity is about being transformed each and every day. And that— transformation— is why we are invited by God, why we are called by God to be community. Amen.
Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine
ENDPIECE— It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Benediction and response. This is a précis of what was said: “Theologian Richard Rohr (and we heard from him in our Thoughts for Meditation) has said ‘much of organized religion tends to be peopled by folks who have a mania for some ideal order. An ideal order is something which is not possible. The purpose of religion is not for the sake of social order. The purpose of religion is for the sake of divine union.’ Union with God and with one another is the point.”
BENEDICTION: There is a cost and there is a joy in discipleship. There is a cost and there is a joy in truly being church, in deeply loving one another. May the face of God shine upon us; may the peace of Christ rule among us; may the fire of the Spirit burn within us this day and forevermore. Amen.
Note: I did used the Rabbi’s ideas and much of the verbiage in this article. But I did change some of the wording.