26 September 2010 - I Timothy 6:6-19/Luke 16: 19-31
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Peter's at Ellicott Mills
The Life That Really Is Life
Living at a time when the gap between the rich and the poor is ever-widening is one of the most pressing issues facing us, along comes Luke with this story about the Rich Man and poor Lazarus.
Coupled with this all too familiar parable is the First Letter of Timothy laden with imperatives to "fight the good fight," "take hold of the eternal life," " do good, be rich in good works, generous, ready to share," "take hold of the life that really is life."
And of course the familiar and oft misquoted, "For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil..."
Enter Michael Douglas stage right to reprise the role of Gordon Gekko in the sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. You have to love the irony of it all - synchronicity as Carl Jung would have it: Gordon Gekko and the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus crash into our collective consciousness side by side, all at once!
We like to call the Gospel "Good News." What is perhaps most interesting about this morning's lessons is that they are not, strictly speaking, "news" at all.
Jesus says as much. The pitiful image of the now poor, tormented rich man, begging for a drop of water, and then begging for Abraham, who appears as judge in the after-life, to send someone, anyone at all, to warn his five brothers not to squander their lives as he had.
Or, as Paul to Timothy would have it: "As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment...so that they may take hold of the life that really is life."
Alas, Abraham says, in effect, "This is not news. This is no warning. Since the time of Moses and the prophets it has all been said before."
That is, the Good News this morning is no news at all. It is yesterday's news. In fact it is yesteryear's news - yesteryear having been as long as 1300 years ago when Jesus told this story! And for us, of course, something like 3,300 years ago.
Yet, here we find ourselves, our nation, our government, and indeed most every nation on earth, placing our "faith" somewhere, anywhere, other than in the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus. We give it all fancy names like "free markets," "capitalism," "trade agreements," "derivatives," and whatnot, but at the end of the day we are placing an tremendous amount of faith in money. What elsewhere Jesus calls "unrighteous Mammon," personifying money as a player on the world stage.
So we build bigger and bigger barns, filled with more and more stuff, until finally we get to the end of the line only to find that Paul to Timothy has it just right: "...we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it."
Footnote: other great world religions also ponder the problem of money. The Hindus believe keeping money in circulation is good karma, accumulating money is bad karma. Muslims have very strict guidelines for what we would call tithing. What with Islam developing out of Judeo-Christian monotheism this should come as no surprise. Seen as a reform movement within the monotheistic tradition, Islam agrees with Jesus on this one - you know what the Lord God Almighty says about money, so let's do it and tithe.
Yet, all these years beyond the attempts at the prophet Muhammad, blessed be his name, to remind the world of what was delivered by God through Moses in the wilderness, delivered to the prophets in and out of exile, and reiterated by Jesus during the Roman occupation, as an alleged "Judeo-Christian" culture in America we seem to have conveniently forgotten it all.
Enter Zen Buddhism - no I am not suggesting we all become Zen monks. But there is an idea, a way of approaching life in general really, that might help us to remember all that we tend to forget - remember all that we desperately need to remember.
Shoshin - or, Beginner's Mind. "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few." Shunryku Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (Weatherhill, NY:1973), p.21
I think we approach these stories we call Gospel with more of the expert's mind than the beginner's. We believe we have heard them and heard them over and over and know what they are all about - until we do not hear them anymore. What else can explain the current socio-economic predicament and the environmental predicament?
Jesus is right. Abraham is right. We have heard it all before - so much so that we no longer hear it. Turns out the Good News, and the Best News, is Old News!
It is up to us to go back to our sacred writings and listen to them as if for the very first time, with no presumptions, no preconceptions, no clever exegetical, historical-critical explanations. We will be richly rewarded if we do.
Unlike the rich man's brothers, we have the opportunity to listen anew "with an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's there are few." ibid
I believe it is in listening with a beginner's mind - Shoshin - that we "may take hold of the life that really is life."