|Ash Wednesday, Year A||March 5, 2014||Ash Wednesday, Year A||2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21|
|Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||March 2, 2014||Last Sunday after Epiphany||Exodus 24:12-18, 2 Peter 1:16-21. Matthew 17:1-9|
|Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||February 23, 2014||Seventh Sunday after Epiphany||Leviticus 19:1-2. 9-18; Matthew 5:38-48|
|Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||February 16, 2014||Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||Matthew 5:21-37|
|John Hines sermon||February 11, 2014||Daily Office||I Kings 8:22-23, 27-30, Ps 84, Mark 7:1-13|
|Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||February 9, 2014||Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Isaiah 58:1-12, 1 Corinthians 2:1-16, Matthew 5:13-20|
|The Presentation, Year A||February 2, 2014||Presentation in the Temple, Year A||Luke 2:22-40|
|Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||January 26, 2014||Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Matthew 4:12-23|
|Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||January 19, 2014||Second Sunday after the Epiphany||Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, John 1:29-42|
|First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||January 12, 2014||First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Matthew 3:13-17|
|The Epiphany, Year A||January 6, 2014||Epiphany, Year A||Matthew 2:1-12|
|Second Sunday After Christmas, Year A||January 5, 2014||Second Sunday after Christmas, Year A||Psalm 84, Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a, Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23|
|Christmas Eve||December 24, 2013||Christmas Eve, 2013||Luke 2:1-20|
|Third Sunday in Advent, Year A||December 15, 2013||Third Sunday in Advent, Year A||Isaiah 35:1-10, Matthew 11:2-11|
|First Sunday in Advent, Year A -The Circle of the Church Year||December 1, 2013||Advent 1, Year A||Isaiah 2:1-5, Matthew 24:36-44|
Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C
Sermon Date:September 29, 2013
Scripture: Luke 16:19-31
Liturgy Calendar: Proper 21, Year C
Gates have always fascinated me.
Because gates are the way betwixt and between, the threshold between one world and another—
Gates play an important role in the Old Testament. The gates of cities contained spaces inside the walls that the people used for meetings and gatherings.
This area in the gates was also the place where disputes were settled and where justice was done.
The prophet Amos talks about gates in Chapter 5, right before the reading we’ve heard today, when Amos rails against the selfish injustice of those who are at ease and oblivious to those in need outside their gates.
In Chapter 5, Amos says, “I know how many are your transgressions…how you push aside the needy in the gate.” (vs 12) And then he goes on to tell them “to hate evil and love good, and to establish justice in the gate.” (vs 15)
Because it’s in the gate where justice is established that God is truly present—where God’s mercy becomes reality, and the kingdom of God becomes visible on earth.
Which brings us to the story that Jesus tells us today—the one about the rich man and Lazarus, and the gate between them.
The rich man’s gate keeps people like Lazarus out. And not only that, but this gate also keeps the rich man from feeling anything but the softness of the cushions on his ivory couch, and the richest of fine silks and linens against his body, or tasting anything but the most delectable fruits, seafood, and tender meats that his servants spread on his banquet table day after day.
The rich man sees only the beauty of the little world he has created for himself inside his gate.
The rich man stays inside, and Lazarus lies outside.
Then both men die.
And now we see another gate, described as a great transparent chasm that has been fixed between the rich man who is engulfed in flames in Hades and Lazarus, who is resting in the bosom of Abraham.
In his lifetime, the rich man controlled his own gate. He chose to keep his gate closed against unpleasant sights and smells of the needy in the gate, especially Lazarus, the hungry beggar, covered in sores.
Now, down in Hades, the rich man can see through that great transparent gate and he recognizes Lazarus. And he begs Abraham to send Lazarus across the chasm, through that gate, to bring him water and to cool his tongue now that he is need himself.
But this heavenly gate is not in the control of the rich man at all. This gate is locked and he can’t pass through it and no help can come to him.
And here I have to stop and wonder. Who really locked this gate, set this chasm in place, and made it impassable?
If he had opened his gate and had shown God’s mercy in his lifetime to Lazarus and others in need, the rich man could have established justice in his own gate. But by keeping the gate locked, the rich man fixed a great chasm in place that could not be crossed once he died.
Ultimately, justice was established in his gate, but it wasn’t the kind of justice that the rich man wanted for himself.
I like what Mike Yankoski has to say about leaving our comfortable lives, opening the gates we’ve so carefully kept shut, and entering into the “places of need” out in the world—that is, establishing justice in the gate.
Mike says that “those places of need are where we discover ourselves, our faith, and best of all, our God. It’s there, in our weakness, that we find that God is true, faithful, powerful, gracious and loving.” And these places of need are where we actually see the shining beauty of God’s mercy and God’s grace at work in the ugliness that we’d rather avoid.
Mike knows what he’s talking about. One Sunday he heard a sermon about living a Christian life.
Mike says of this sermon, “Suddenly I was shocked to realize that I had just driven twenty minutes past the world that needed me to be the Christian I say I am, in order to hear a sermon entitled ‘Be the Christian you say you are.’ Soon I would drive back past the same world to the privilege of my comfortable life on campus at a Christian college.”
In one of those God moments we’re sometimes blessed with, an idea came to Mike during that sermon. “What if I stepped out of my comfortable life with nothing but God and put my faith to the test alongside of those who live with nothing every day?”
Ultimately, Mike made the decision to open his metaphorical gate that had been shut and to leave behind his comfortable life for a time and to join the over half a million homeless and hungry people in the United States, to live as one of them on the streets for the next five months of his life.
You can read the whole story in Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America, the book he wrote about his experiences as a homeless and hungry person in America.
His experiences as a homeless person made Mike a more merciful and thoughtful Christian once he returned to his normal life. And I love this—through the experiences he had of needing mercy and showing mercy during his time on the streets, Mike’s heart became a gate.
Mike says, “A door (a gate) in my heart would always stay open for my ragged brothers and sisters of the street.”
Mike says that he found a bigger world than he had ever imagined existed, more “forgotten, ruined, beautiful people than he had ever known existed, and more reason to hope for their redemption, and a great God, and more reason to journey with God anywhere that God is calling you.”
Toward the end of the book, Mike asks this challenging question.
“What would I do during my day or in my life for God if I wasn’t concerned with what I wear, what I eat, where I sleep, what I own, what people think of me, or what discomforts I face? “
I’m not suggesting that all of us do something as challenging and as audacious as leaving our comfortable lives behind and becoming homeless and hungry for five months like Mike did.
But each and every one of us in this room can do something in our days and in our lives for God outside of the comfort of our own gates, maybe something big, but certainly something little—
To take action,
To unlock the doors of our hearts and to seek out the ways that God is calling us to be merciful in this world.
As Mike says, “Little things do mean a lot, especially in the kingdom of God, where giving a drink of cold water has eternal repercussions.”
When we establish justice in our own gates, by opening our hearts to those in need, whoever they are, and showing them God’s mercy, we stand betwixt and between, on the threshold between one world and another,
because in our acts of mercy God is truly present, and heaven comes to earth.
Yankoski, Mike. Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America. Multnomah Books, Colorado Springs, CO. 2005.