Minister's Sermon - Sunday 29th September
Rev Sue Keegan von Allmen
Rev Sue Keegan von AllmenSermon for Chandler’s Ford Methodist Church

Sunday 29th September 10.30am

Luke 15. 19-31

The theme that All We Can suggested for this service, is, “Deepen your Roots.” For the community in Cherkos, that’s about potatoes that take root quickly, and produce fruitful crops. But what about us? In the coming weeks, those of you who are members of this church, will receive your annual membership tickets. And there’s something new on them this year. As well as including Our Calling and what that means for the Methodist Church. This year’s tickets, also say this. “Let your whole way of life respond to God’s call: Letting life grow in you everyday. Nurturing life in the church. Bringing life to the world. This is a Methodist Way of Life.” (1) I think this is a pretty good summary of what deepening roots looks like for us, it’s about life! Life for us all. For us. For the church. For the world. And that brings me to today’s Gospel reading.

At first hearing, today’s parable is about wealth, and the dangers of greed, and that would be a good theme for a harvest service. But that’s not where I’m going to focus, today, because I think this reading is also about not seeing. Not just, not seeing, but choosing not to see what’s right in front of us. A rich man, expensively dressed in the latest fashions wasted his days in conspicuous consumption. While Lazarus, who was starving and covered in sores, had been dumped on his doorstep. It was obvious Lazarus was there, but the rich man doesn’t seem to notice him, nor do anything to help him. In fact, his best friends were dogs, who saw him and licked his sores. These pictures are from the 11th century. They read the story literally. It is not a story to be read literally. But that doesn’t make it less challenging. Eventually, both men die. Lazarus is “taken up by the angels to the lap of Abraham,” while the rich man ends up in the other place, where the hot flames leave him parched and desperate. Now the rich man sees Lazarus, and asks Abraham to cool his tongue, and then go and tell his brothers about the fate that awaits them. He calls Lazarus by his name, so ‘though he ignored him before, he did know who he was! And now, he wants him to do for him, what he didn’t do for Lazarus when he was alive. Abraham refuses. His brothers have Moses and the prophets to tell them the score, and if they won’t listen to them “they’re not going to be convinced by someone rising from the dead.” 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. About climate change and apathy. And about poverty and greed. But it’s also more than that. It’s about “the danger of blindness, indifference, [and the] inability to see human need, human suffering, human dignity.” Since the rich man knew Lazarus’ name, he must have noticed him, at his gate. He might even have wondered about him and thrown him a coin. But this sort of noticing, isn’t the seeing, that Jesus calls us to. It isn’t the sort of seeing that lets life grow in us. Or that nurtures life in the church. Or brings life to the world. To really see Lazarus, and not just notice him, “the rich man needs to recognize that his way of life contributes to the poor man’s suffering.” (2) And his inability to see Lazarus is a sign of how poor he is.

What’s being asked of the rich man, is what was being asked of the Pharisees Jesus told this parable to, to his disciples, and to us. On Friday, at the Shopper’s service, I spoke about Greta Thunberg’s speech at the United Nations last Monday. Her speech was as devastating as this parable. It was passionate, emotional, angry. As I watched, I was enjoying hearing her speak to all those powerful people, but then came a moment of realisation. She was speaking to me and everyone else in the generations that have gone before her. I’ve known about climate change for decades. But 2050, the date most spoken about, is a long way away in the future. If I’m still alive, I’ll be 90, so it doesn’t have much to do with me. So, like the rich man, I carry on living. Unlike him, I’ve made some small adjustments to the way I live, but nothing like what’s needed if we’re to stop the planet heating up further. I see, but my seeing has not yet led me to really grasp the full impact of climate change. In Ethiopia. On the Pacific islands. In those parts of the world prone to hurricanes. On the ecology of glaciers and ice sheets. And on those places that are being affected by rising sea levels now. Really seeing requires us to see our role in other people’s hunger, fear and terror. The rich man cannot do that. He reaps the consequences of his greed. And ends up in the fires of hell. At the moment, most of us are avoiding the central issue, that for Christians is made absolutely clear by Moses, the prophets and Jesus. Humanity and creation are interdependent. God gave humans the responsibility to care for the earth and all that is in it. And we are all diminished when we do not live in ways that allow every created thing to flourish and thrive.

So how we deepen our roots so that everything – and everyone God has created can thrive? That brings me back to our membership cards and the Methodist Way of Life. It begins with letting life grow in us every day. Letting God’s life, letting God’s desires for our lives inform our lives through prayer, scripture, and through the other “Holy Habits” we’ll be exploring over the next 2 years. As we nurture life in the church, through worship, fellowship, learning, serving, hospitality, and sharing faith, God’s life will grow in us, equipping us to live in the world in a way that brings life – rather than death. A summary of the way of life, God calls us all to live, is resurrection life. Life that emerges out of – life patterned on – the life Jesus lived while he was with us. The life he let go of by dying so that we all might live. The life God affirmed when he raised him from the dead. At the heart of this life, was his willingness to carry his cross and to die, for the sake of all God created. And this letting go so that others might live is at the heart of the message of Moses and the prophets. The rich man should have known this. Yet he chose to ignore the warnings of the past. We who live on the other side of Jesus’ resurrection should be in no doubt! But resurrection costs. For the only way to resurrection is through the loss, the death, the self-sacrifice of the cross. And that’s what’s climate change and future harvests demand of all of us now. 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 our eyes and really see. We have everything we need to know to experience resurrection - 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 - we will begin to experience resurrection. But will we dare to open our eyes? And dare to really see?

(1) 2019-20 Membership card