Minister's Sermon - Friday 27th September
Rev Sue Keegan von Allmen
Rev Sue Keegan von AllmenSermon for Chandler’s Ford Methodist Church

Friday 27th September

Reading: Luke 16.19-31

On Monday at the United Nations, a 16-year-old used 495 words to make a speech, as devastating as this parable. Greta Thunberg is probably the most challenge young person in our time. Asked what message she had for world leaders, she began, like this. “This is all wrong. I shouldn't be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.” (1) It was a powerful, emotional speech from a 16-year-old who sees, not only a bleak future for her generation, but that that future is already here in some parts of the world. As I watched, I found myself enjoying the speech she was making to all those powerful people. But then came a moment of realisation. She was talking to me. My generation has known about climate change for decades. The science has been crystal clear for more that 30 years. But in 2050, when the predictions are about, I’ll be 90. If I’m alive. And that still feels a long way away. Yet the evidence is now clear. As well as in Ethiopia, we see it in the rising sea level around the Pacific islands, in those parts of the world prone to hurricanes, and in the collapse of glaciers and ice sheets. Yet, I continue to not really see what’s happening all around me and think that the small things I’m doing are enough.

At first hearing, today’s Gospel reading is about wealth, and its dangers. But one of the other things it’s about, is, not seeing. Not just, not seeing, but choosing not to see what’s right in front of us. A rich man, dressed in purple and fine linen, feasted sumptuously every day. While Lazarus, covered in sores and starving, lay at the rich man’s gate. Lazarus was completely visible, yet the rich man doesn’t acknowledge his presence, nor do anything to alleviate his suffering. In fact, the neighbourhood dogs show him more compassion. They notice him. And lick his sores. Eventually, both men die. Lazarus is “carried away by the angels to be with Abraham,” while the rich man ends up in the other place, where the hot flames leave him parched and desperate. Remember this is a story not literal! Now the rich man sees Lazarus, and asks Abraham to send him with water to relieve his discomfort, and then to tell his brothers about the fate that awaits them. It’s the first time he’s acknowledged Lazarus, and called him by his name, so he did know who he was! And now, he wants him to do for him, what he didn’t do for Lazarus when they were alive. Abraham refuses. His brothers have Moses and the prophets, and if they won’t listen to their wisdom, “even someone rising from the dead will not convince them.”

This is a story that doesn’t hold back. Debie Thomas says, it “doesn’t pretend that our years are limitless and our options infinite. This is a story about time running out. About alternatives closing down.” (2) It’s an urgent story. A story for our time. A story about climate change. Bu more about the “the danger of blindness. Of moral apathy, indifference, [and the] inability to see human need, human suffering, human dignity.” Even ‘though the rich man didn’t see Lazarus until after his death, he knew him, so he must have noticed him. He might even have tossed him a coin. Agonised about whether or not to give money to beggars. Wondered what kind of beggar Lazarus was. But this sort of noticing, isn’t the seeing, Jesus calls us to. Really seeing requires us to take the “risk the vulnerability of relationship… to put aside questions of worthiness… and to [recognise our place] in the stories of other people’s hunger, illness, terror.” Debie Thomas says, that to really see Lazarus and not just notice him, “the rich man needs to recognize his own complicity in the poor man’s suffering.” (2) And that his inability to see Lazarus is a sign of his own impoverishment.

The same is true of us when we read this story, as a story about climate change, and its impact on the poorest and most vulnerable communities in the world. Greta Thunberg again. “You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that. Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And that I refuse to believe.” She’s giving us the benefit of the doubt. She wants to believe, that like the rich man, we don’t understand. We don’t get it. But I think we have to be honest. We do understand. We’ve understood for some years. But doing something, doesn’t feel urgent for us, because we don’t and won’t experience the most devasting consequences of climate change.

At the moment, hotter summers, lead to rejoicing in this country. And when communities are devastated by flooding, we blame the government, for not investing in flood defences. But we’re not taking the science seriously enough. And more seriously for Christians, we’re not taking Moses, the prophets or Jesus, seriously enough either. For over and over again they speak about the interdependence of humanity and creation. About the responsibility we humans have. And how we are all diminished when we put ourselves first. But we have to do more than notice this. We have to really see what we’re doing. Greta Thunberg ended her speech with these words. “You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”

I am not going to end where she ended, because the Christian message is that fear, hopelessness and despair do not have the final say. ‘Though if we’re to convince Greta Thunberg and the millions of teenagers experiencing anxiety about what’s coming, it’s going to cost us. The closest we’ve been to that was the threat of nuclear war in the 60s and 70s. William Meninger tells this story about how one young peace activist, saw things. “The big question that I'm struggling with,” she said, “is how I live… out of the reality of the Resurrection of Christ, in these times of crises? I really don’t want to… act out of fear, despair, or desperation. My hope is founded on the belief that the resurrection is real in our time. So, when I go to a nuclear weapons plant to pray for peace, it’s my hunch, that to dance and celebrate… has the potential turn Babylon into the New Jerusalem. But for the celebration to be genuine and authentic, it must come out of a heart open and vulnerable to the world's suffering.’” (3) I think this is important. The climate crisis is frightening many people today. It’s frightening for those who live in areas being affected now. And it’s frightening for young people who are not seeing a future. But what this young peace activist suggests, is that when we really see the suffering of other people, and God’s world. When our seeing changes our minds and our hearts. And when the change in our heart and minds changes how we live and the choices we make. That’s the way to live resurrection. But it costs. Because the only way to resurrection is through the loss, the death, the self-sacrifice of the cross. That’s what’s climate change and future harvests demand of all of us. We have a choice. We can lock ourselves out of the suffering that climate change is causing. We can feast while others starve. Or we can open ourselves to it before it’s too late. We have everything we need to know to experience resurrection. But will we dare to open our eyes. And will we dare to really see? Amen.

(1) https://www.npr.org/2019/09/23/763452863/transcript-greta-thunbergs-speech-at-the-u-n-climate-action-summit?t=1569490069050

(2) https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay?id=2374

(3) The spiritual journey: session 74

References

(1) https://www.npr.org/2019/09/23/763452863/transcript-greta-thunbergs-speech-at-the-u-n-climate-action-summit?t=1569490069050

(2) https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay?id=2374

(3) The spiritual journey: session 74