Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity, 8:00am serviceadmin | 10 June 2012
“We love him because he first loved us.”
The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus illustrates powerfully the Christian concept of love, the love which we neglect at our peril. The love of God is the animating principle that drives the love of neighbour. If we are deaf and blind to what is seen and heard about the love of God as revealed in the witness of the Scriptures and which lies at the heart of the Christian Faith, then we shall find ourselves at a great remove from God and from one another; “a great gulf fixed” between where we are and where we would want to be.
Lazarus is lying at our feet. In ignoring him, the parable suggests, we are denying God. The love of God and the love of neighbour are intimately connected. How so? Because of the Incarnation and the Trinity without which there can be no human redemption.
The parable offers a remarkable reversal of situation. The poor man, Lazarus, dies and finds himself in the bosom of Abraham, a lovely image of the intimacy of Heaven itself, while the rich man dies and finds himself tormented in Hell. It is not simply that one was rich and the other poor as if the material circumstances of simply being poor or rich are the conditions of Heaven and Hell. No. At issue is our attitude and approach to one another. “The poor you have with you always,” Jesus says, “you can do for them what you will.” What do we will? Do we step over them and ignore them? Despise and decry them? Blame them for existing and/or pretend that they aren’t there? Have them removed from our sight like some inconvenient heap of rubbish? Nuke them till they glow? How do we treat one another?
In a way, John in the Epistle gives us the proper perspective. Human loves are all imperfect and impossible, considered in themselves. We are all such creatures of mixed and impure motifs, you and I. And yet, something has come into the world that makes all the difference. God has entered into the poverty of our human condition. We are poor and in disarray without the love of God. What we are given to see in the witness of the Scriptures are the ways in which God engages our humanity. “I have come,” Jesus says, “that they may have life and have it more abundantly.” The riches of God are opened out to us in the witness of the Scripture to Jesus Christ. We are really only rich when we are fully alive to God; our wealth cannot be measured in merely earthly terms for then we are truly poor, spiritually poor. To think this changes our attitude and approach to one another.
John makes the perfect and necessary point. God’s love is first. “He first loved us” and only out of his love can we love one another. God’s love is absolutely prior and primary. His is the perfecting love. When we ignore that love as proclaimed in the Scriptures we ignore the very means by which we can love one another. In a way, it is all in the intent and in wanting to act upon what we have been given to see.
What are we given to see in the figure of Lazarus? An aspect of ourselves, in fact, our very humanity. Lazarus, a beggar, full of sores, is really an image of our wounded and broken humanity. Like the Canaanite woman who comes to Jesus seeking the healing of her daughter who is grievously vexed with a devil, in other words, troubled in her mind, there is again the image of dogs and crumbs. “It is not right to take the children’s bread,” Jesus said to her, “and to cast it to dogs.” She replied, “truth, Lord, yet the little dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Here, Lazarus has only the company and the compassion of the dogs who “came and licked his sores”. His desire is simply “to be fed with the crumbs which [fall] from the rich man’s table”. Somehow, even the crumbs would be a sign of some sort of care; somehow even the crumbs would be a feast, even a foretaste of heaven. But only if we see Lazarus and see ourselves in Lazarus.
To see, in other words, our common humanity and to recognize our utter and complete need for God’s grace. It does not excuse our complacency but challenges us to act out of what we have been given to see and do. The love of God is made manifest in our love of neighbour.
We are perhaps quite confused about how that love is shown. It is, of course, very much about the love of the unlovely but with the realization that we are unlovely in our sins and follies, too. It is, of course, also about the realization that ‘but for the grace of God, there go I’ and thus a salutary counter to our pride and vanity, to our easy self-absorption.
That love cannot be the belittling, patronizing, demeaning kind of love which treats others without dignity and without common regard. It is not about our superiority and their inferiority; about our condescension and their unworthiness. No. The challenge of this Gospel is to see ourselves in the figure of Lazarus as souls in need of God’s redeeming grace and to act accordingly to those whom we see in need and whom in some way or another we can and must help, whether it is a kindly word which acknowledges their humanity and ours, or something more tangible that lies within our capacity to give and share. The challenge, too, is to realize the ways in which we are easily like Dives, the rich man, caught up in ourselves, in our enjoyments and our entitlements and utterly indifferent to all that is around us and before us, and all because we have been utterly indifferent to the things of God that have been opened out before us.
In the year of the Diamond Jubilee, we celebrate and give thanks to God for the reign and humble service of the most remarkable Sovereign in modern times, Queen Elizabeth II, a reign of service and devotion during very trying and tumultuous times. Her reign embodies the very ideal of loving service, a service that is open to the qualities of heavenly mercy, the mercy that “becomes the thronèd monarch better than [her] crown,” as Shakespeare puts it.
The journey of the Trinity season is very much about setting love in order in us, about acting upon the mysteries that we have been given to see. It is the way of love, to be sure, the love that restores and perfects, the love that reaches out and gathers in. But all because of the love that has been shown to us in the mercies of Christ.
“We love him because he first loved us.”
Fr. David Curry
Trinity I, HC