Monday, September 24, 2007

reviewing the situation

Readings for 30th September 2007 Proper 21

What sort of heart do you want to have?
Most of us think that people who are soft-hearted are weak,
yet we don't want to be thought 'hard hearted'.
When we look at the way God deals with his people in the Old Testament
we see both of these sides
he is sometimes hard because the people constantly turn away from him.
But I don't think that is the predominant way we see him,
rather time and time again
God is persuaded to NOT punish his faithless people.,
Here this morning right at the end of Jeremiah remonstrations we read quiet words,
sealed by a notary and stored in a vault
thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.
that is, God promises after almost a whole book of despair and disillusionment
that he will re-establish his covenant promise.
God will be tender-hearted towards his people
and not cruel and vindictive.

The curious story of the Gospel reminds us that
unlike God
we are often not tender or soft hearted at all
we are often hard hearted
Worse than that
we just don't care.

It is role-reversal story of Lazarus and the Rich man
( one of the seven familiar stories to us from literary tradition)
A poor man, Lazarus, who has been ignored and brutalised
during his lifetime
is called upon to be kind
to a rich man who has simply ignored him.
[This is not, I would suggest
a commentary on what happens to us after we die.]
It is, like all the parables of Jesus,
an invitation for us today.
To change
to stop being hard-hearted
and start being tender-hearted.

The tragedy of the way this rich man (now cast out) has treated Lazarus
is not that he has been particularly harsh
it is that he has ignored him
which is a different sort of harshness.

He has stepped over his suffering
every time he has driven out of the house.
This is what gets us too.
It is not that habitually we are unkind or uncaring (by and large)
it is that we choose to ignore.
This is more subtle and more serious,
to combat it
it requires
that we actually choose to act differently
to not just step over the problem
and/or pretend it is not there.

We have to choose to be people
who are not disengaged
who will try and make a difference
visiting Churchman Steve Chalke said this week
somehow over the course of the 20th century, post-Wilberforce and friends, the church began to shrink and it began to shrink back from active public service into its own buildings and as I often say, has spent, in the UK at least, the last kind of 80 years singing itself to death. I've nothing against singing and songs and I think music and art is a part of the richness of what the church is, but we moved indoors and we've been entertaining ourselves to death,
I think he has a point
one of my major concerns for us,
for the church
is that we have ceased to be a vibrant, caring, world changing community
and chosen to be inward looking & self-indulgent
"singing ourself to death".
The warning of this parable
is that this is exactly what this rich man chose to do
and it is the wrong choice.
It is the choice of apathy and carelessness
In the end it is hard-hearted and cruel.

We do not have to do everything
We do have to do something
At the very least we have to respond to what is lying at our doorstep.
What is the need that God is asking you to respond to,
what is the need that God asks us to do something about?

This week
  • We ask ourselves the brutal question--where have I become hardhearted?
  • Where can I respond to genuine need?
  • Pray for courage to do it!

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