Sermon June 21, 2022: Contemplating Our Acts of Merciful Attention: Indigenous People’s Day
The Holy Gospel according to Luke, chapter 16, verses 19-31.
“Now there was a certain rich man who was habitually dressed in expensive purple and fine linen, and celebrated and lived joyously in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus, was laid at his gate, covered with sores. He [eagerly] longed to eat the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now it happened that the poor man died and his spirit was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom (paradise); and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades (the realm of the dead), being in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom (paradise). And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in severe agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things [all the comforts and delights], and Lazarus likewise bad things [all the discomforts and distresses]; but now he is comforted here [in paradise], while you are in severe agony. And besides all this, between us and you [people] a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to come over from here to you will not be able, and none may cross over from there to us.’ So the rich man said, ‘Then, father [Abraham], I beg you to send Lazarus to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—in order that he may solemnly warn them and witness to them, so that they too will not come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have [the Scriptures given by] Moses and the [writings of the] Prophets; let them listen to them.’ He replied, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent [they will change their old way of thinking and seek God and His righteousness].’ And he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to [the messages of] Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” [The Amplified Bible]
The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
The story Jesus tells in today’s Gospel reading is challenging. The presentation of the Rich Man (who is unnamed) and Lazarus - the story of their earthly lives and their respective lives in heaven and hell after earthly life gives us much to feel uncomfortable about. It speaks to the choices we make in our earthly lives, and even references persuasions that we might be resisting from Jesus, who we know, rises from the dead.
This story is not the appointed Gospel reading in our lectionary for either June 19th or June 26th, the two Sundays which flank this year’s Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21st. But this reading provides a particularly revealing mirror of our own responses to those who live near us, within Canada, who suffer and whom we often choose not to see, choose not to respond to, choose not to help – those on whose lands our homes on Native Land are built.
Indeed, the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus holds up a very compelling mirror. Many of us might choose to wash our faces, brush our hair before we behold our crumpled morning countenance in the mirror J Likewise, it may be more gentle to our souls if we first remember the gift of grace, faith and freedom which God has provided for us: in, with and through Jesus, before we look in the mirror of this Gospel reading.
We can readily access those reassurances from the Galatians readings of the two Sundays flanking June 21st. Galatians reminds us that we lay in a bed of God’s generosity: providing us with faith, liberating us from the disciplinarian of the law, yet inviting us into a voluntary enslavement to love – much like the voluntary enslavement Jesus undertook on our behalf when he was nailed to the cross.
Galatians provides us gospel reassurances, and gets us all dolled up to look in the mirror. So, let’s have that look in the mirror, shall we?
Let us look into the mirror of the Rich Man and Lazarus.
The Rich Man is obviously a believer in God, and very likely is Jewish, as he refers to Abraham as “Father Abraham” – a recognition of the ancestry that connected people of the Abrahamic covenant with God – the promise that the descendants of Abraham would, eternally, be God’s people.
The Rich Man had an earthly life that was “lived joyously in splendour every day”.
Then there was Lazarus …
From the description Jesus gives, in his earthly life, a sore-covered poor man, who eagerly longed to eat even the mere crumbs which fell from the Rich Man’s table. His life was so unfortunate that stray dogs would come and lick his sores.
I want us to bracket this story for just a moment, before we go into the after-life discussion of the Rich Man & Lazarus. I want us to bracket this story to absorb a few refugee statistics, and then a few Canadian statistics on the realities placed by First Nations people of this, our home on Native Land …
According to the UNHCR Canada website (citations in quotes – comments are my own):
- “Yemen remains the worst humanitarian crisis in the world with over 20 MILLION people in need.” – this crisis has been ongoing for over two decades. The people are brown.
- - “Since November 2020, fierce fighting has erupted between regional and federal forces in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, displacing an estimated 1.7 million people in the region … hunger looms for an additional 5.5 million people” – Crisis in Ethiopia has endured for decades. The people are Black.
- “Over 5 million refugees have fled Ukraine as of April 21st to neighbouring countries and that number is continuing to grow exponentially.” – The crisis began this year; the refugees are being accepted into the neighbouring countries. The people are mostly white.
Interestingly, when I go to the UNHCR Canada web page, the first message that comes up is a pop up identifying:
“Emergency in Ukraine”
“Donate today to help people fleeing their homes in Ukraine”
“Send Urgent Aid”
Why is there more urgency for the Ukrainian emergency of a few months, than the other emergencies of decades, affecting, most interestingly predominantly brown and Black people?
Ukraine, Yemen and Ethiopia share this in common: they are on other continents. What about here at home, on Native Land? What do our statistics say here?
Well, there are COVID-19 statistics and reports available, and then general reporting … neither one of these has a good story to tell.
The Government of Canada, Chief Public Health Officer reports from February 2021 identify:
- “For many years, Indigenous communities have experienced social and economic inequalities due to colonialism and face health inequities such as a high burden of cardiovascular disease, food insecurity, lack of clean water, etc.” (I found it interesting that the report actually said “etc” like listing the health inequities out was not required because we all know what they are?)
This report accessed data from two remote/virtual consultations, so we must understand that access to technology would have limited those who could even participate in the data gathering for this report. The report itself identifies in most First Nations communities “the bandwidth is inadequate for the heavy demands of video and audio especially when multiple users rely upon the same network according to some participants. Children and youth cannot attend virtual classes when the resources are made inaccessible through language.”
So, if you thought at-home on-line learning was hard, imagine the education gap you would be suffering if you didn’t even have access to reasonable internet? That is the legacy faced by most on-reserve learners from the pandemic.
I raise these statistics, just to set some context, so we may understand the story Jesus tells in this Gospel is not just a parable.
Lazarus has been sore-ridden and in need, all around our own tables, in our own homes on Native Land for a very long time. The dogs have been licking the wounds of Lazarus: the brown and black Lazarus refugees, and the First Nations Lazarus within our own national borders. But I know I see more Ukrainian flags all over the place than orange flags and signs to show our support that “Every Child Matters.”
Lazarus is left at the rich one’s gate, and it would seem from statistics, that if Lazarus is not white, he is mostly locked out of the rich one’s conscience.
When Lazarus and the Rich Man die, they arrive on a scene where heaven is on one side and Lazarus is received there. Lazarus is not identified anywhere in the story as being faithful. Lazarus’ heavenly comfort is a product of God’s goodness, not his own – and this is good news. Not because it renders meaningless the call to care for the downtrodden, but because it recognizes correctly that God’s grace does not rely upon our own faithfulness or our ability to deserve it.
The Rich Man is received in the realm of death when he dies which we might equate to what we commonly call hell). There he is engulfed in flame and agony, and he calls out to Father Abraham that Lazarus might bear onto him a drop of water. Here he is, never paid a drop of attention to Lazarus in earthly life, but wants Lazarus to minister to him, with water to cool his tongue, in hell …
How ironic is it, that the Rich Man asks for a drop of water to cool his tongue, yet how many of us have lifted a finger to respond to the severe lack of drinking water in the First Nations communities that surround us?
Water is a basic right, isn’t it?
But do we understand it as such for Indigenous communities too??
The Rich Man goes on to demonstrate his sense of entitlement, insisting that his brothers should have special treatment – again through Lazarus’ ministry – that Lazarus should go back to earth and tell his brothers they will get what-for if they don’t smarten up! Father Abraham responds: they have their teachings from prophets and scriptures to guide them.
The Rich Man comes back with “they will get the message for sure if someone returns from the dead to give it to them”.
Well. We have gotten a message. From someone who returned from the dead. But have we heard it?
Have we heard the message for sure because Jesus has returned from the dead? Or are we, despite resurrection knowledge, also deaf? We are certainly not blind, for we respond to Ukraine’s crisis with great compassion. And we are completely free to respond to our local Lazarus, liberated by the gift of faith given us through God’s own grace.
The joyousness we experience from receiving these gifts of faith and grace has expression in our witness of faith – in reaching out to Lazarus in generous ways, ways that would provide more than crumbs, ways that would heal sores and express our freedom not in demands of selfishness and entitlement, but rather express our freedom in acts of real love representative of the Kingdom of God.
Such acts, done out of our joyful freedom as believers might serve to instrument the curiosity of those who do not yet believe. This is what it means to witness.
In the story Jesus tells, he has not yet died and come back to life, securing the redemption of humanity, granting freedom to all who receive the gift of faith. The Rich Man in that story at least had that excuse – but what excuse do we have?
Hear what Spirit may be showing us in this mirror. Amen.
 June 19th 2022 lectionary (Galatians 3:23-29) and June 26th lectionary (Galatians 5:1, 13-25)  https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/corporate/publications/chief-public-health-officer-reports-state-public-health-canada/from-risk-resilience-equity-approach-covid-19/indigenous-peoples-covid-19-report.html  Also, from the report: “[Many] First Nations communities cannot fully implement public health behaviours like frequent hand washing due to concerns about the availability of clean water, nor can they physically distance or self-isolate as houses are overcrowded and there are insufficient community buildings to house those who are infected (like a makeshift hospital) … the inequalities that First Nations people face every day are amplified in emergency”  Learning resources on “Every Child Matters” is available at this link https://www.canadashistory.ca/education/classroom-resources/every-child-matters-en/every-child-matters-educational-package  Many of the exegetical notes in today’s sermon are closely paraphrased from the commentary “Feasting on the Gospels”.  Martin Luther, in his work “On Christian Freedom” (accessible at https://www.elca500.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Freedom-of-a-Christian_final-proof_3.17.20201.pdf) identifies that: “The Christian individual is a completely free lord of all, subject to none. The Christian individual is a completely dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”
 Martin Luther, in his work “On Christian Freedom” (accessible at https://www.elca500.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Freedom-of-a-Christian_final-proof_3.17.20201.pdf) identifies that:
“The Christian individual is a completely free lord of all, subject to none.
The Christian individual is a completely dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”