First United Methodist Church
September 25 , 2022
Rev. Lauren Hall
The Open Window
Today’s readings could be described by the South African phrase, “ubuntu” or “I am because of you.” In “No Future without Forgiveness,” Desmond Tutu defines Ubuntu in the following manner:
“Ubuntu […] speaks of the very essence of being human. [We] say… ‘Hey, so-and-so has ubuntu.’ [This means] that you are generous, you are hospitable, you are friendly and caring and compassionate. You share what you have…A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she or they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she or they belong in a greater whole and are diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are.”
Ubuntu reflects the grace of interdependence, essential to God’s world, in which we recognize that our lives are completely dependent on others. As we explore today’s scriptures, we are presented with the challenge that our hope is not only interconnected with, but also rooted in our relationship with God and others.
Let us pray…
God of Abraham, of Moses and the prophets, we pray that your word will not fall on deaf ears, on closed minds, on hardened hearts. May the message that is spoken today transform our minds and our hearts, unveiling the richness of your love, the depth of your grace, and the goodness of your mercy…Amen.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to observe a Christian youth group participate in an activity which personifies our gospel story in a very unique way. The youth arrived at camp for the weekend and played a variety of board games, such as Monopoly and the Game of Life. After a certain length of time, they were instructed to stop playing and count the money they had won. It was time for dinner and they were to use the play money they had won from the games to “pay” for their meal. Some of the youth had been very lucky and had won a lot of money. They were admitted into the Dining Hall. Others were less fortunate and didn’t have enough to cover the cost of their dinner. They were told to wait in a designated area. After all the “wealthy” youth were inside the Dining Hall, the meal was served and they began to eat. The other group remained outside, waiting to be allowed to come in for dinner. Out of the thirty or so youth inside, only a couple of kids asked about their friends outside. Everyone else either made fun of them or ignored them completely. One girl offered to pay for her friend’s meal – she had won enough money to pay for two and didn’t want her to be left out.
The purpose of this particular exercise had more to do with systematic injustice than the point Jesus is trying to make in our gospel today, but it came to my mind as I studied our scriptures this week because the behaviors I observed in the youth so closely resembled the description of the rich man in our story (except for the one girl – she stood out among her peers because she consistently demonstrated ubuntu thinking in every situation that placed her in a position of privilege).
In our gospel, Jesus’ parable speaks of this interdependence that Tutu describes in the lives of the rich man and Lazarus. As the rich man enjoys his wealth and abundance, he may not even notice the beggar at the door and, if he does, Lazarus is an inconvenience, standing in the way of enjoying his property, and frankly a blight on the neighborhood. The wealthy man’s sin is not his consumption but his apathy. In this, Jesus gives us a very direct warning against wealth – enjoyment and abundance lived apart from care for the poor leads to spiritual destruction. In the afterlife, the tables are turned and the rich man suffers, while the beggar rejoices.
The tragedy of the story is not the reversal that occurs in the rich man’s life, but rather that he had the resources to lift up his “neighbor” all along, but he didn’t care. Perhaps, he saw his wealth as a matter of entitlement and effort, and the poverty of the beggar as a matter of personal laziness or lack of initiative. His failure to see and hear, or empathize, created a gulf in this life that echoed into eternity.
While this parable is particularly challenging, one of the things we need to remember about parables is that they are stories about the reality of the Kingdom of God, but we have the ability to rewrite the ending through our own actions. There are times when we may have limits in our ability to respond, but we are never released from the responsibility to feel, and – to be honest – to experience an “uneasiness” about our spiritual, economic, and political limits in terms of kindness and generosity. Our relationship to Christ is connected with hope for the future, and we do have options.
We can sacrifice – by sharing our resources or living more simply – so that others may simply live. We can work to become more compassionate, noticing the distress of the vulnerable and creatively assisting them to overcome their plight. We can challenge our leaders to develop a system that distributes our resources in a fair and effective manner. That’s what it means to be human. That’s what it means to follow Jesus.
The choice to hear the cries of the poor and to observe our own attitudes and responses occurs moment by moment. It occurs as we pick up the newspaper or check our news feeds online. It occurs as we pay our bills and respond to the worthy causes that present themselves to us. It occurs in the stewardship of time and talent, that is, will our use of our gifts and resources bring greater or lesser beauty of experience to the world? It occurs as we choose to listen or turn away from the pain and joy of a grandchild, child, or children in our community.
Every now and then, God opens a window, a window of blessing, or an opportunity to be a part of the kingdom.
The choices we make open the way for greater or lesser manifestations of God’s vision in the world. They bring greater or lesser beauty to God’s experience of the world. God rejoices or suffers as a result of our moment by moment decisions. Nothing is too large or small for God’s consideration, no one is left behind by God nor should anyone be left behind by us. If you remember, in the story, “Horton Hears a Who,” Dr. Suess reminds us, “a person’s a person no matter how small.”
In this ordinary time, we would do well to pay attention. Are we fulfilling our side of the baptismal covenant? Are we secure enough in God’s love that we readily give preferential treatment to the overlooked and underappreciated? Do we, as individuals and as a church, have the courage to “show we are Christians by our love”—not just for one another but for the marginalized as well? Do we notice when the window is open and recognize the interconnectedness we have with the world and the people and with God?
Sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t. And then the window closes. These moments in which we are called to share God’s love can slip by us and we may not notice until it is too late. That is the warning we receive in our gospel this morning. For the rich man, it was too late. For us? Well, Jesus calls us to rewrite the end of this parable.
The “wealthy” youth in the exercise I discussed earlier eventually found themselves imprisoned by the marginalized kids who waited outside while they feasted. They were “tortured” by having to participate in some messy games, which were not harmful, but not altogether pleasant for young teenagers who care about their appearance most of the time. Their captors were allowed to pardon one of the prisoners. The girl who showed compassion was spared.
God loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten Son, so that every person who believes in him would not perish, but have everlasting life. This is our hope.
Everlasting life comes with responsibility. Are we living our lives with ubuntu? Are we living our lives in such a way that is worthy of Christ’s sacrifice? Let us pray…
Gracious God, we are grateful for the gift of belonging to you. We see the hurts, the poverty, the injustice and the violence that mars your world, and we know that your heart is broken. We thank you for the high calling to care, respond and give to meet the needs and ease the suffering of people you love so much. Give us the courage to be responsible in our choices as we fulfill the mission of your church. We pray this prayer in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.