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September 25th, 2022

Sermon By Rev Joel Crouse

When I was in Grade 10, my parents went away to a church convention, and a woman in our parish named Hilda Findlayson bravely came to stay with me and my brother. Mrs. Findlayson was a teacher. She didn’t have kids of her own, but she was an adult, in my life, who always seemed interested in what I had to say. I remember how she made her stay as special as she could. She bought us ice cream, which we didn’t often get back then. While my parents were away – and, let’s be honest, perhaps because my parents were away, I decided to shave my head. I remember coming home to Mrs. Findlayson, and she just looked at me. She didn’t judge. She didn’t freak out. She just said, “On my watch? Really?” So I guess if I had to say what something was that I liked about church growing up, I would have to say this: meaningful community. As a teenager, it was meaningful to me that an adult not related to me cared about what was happening in my life and didn’t judge me by my mistakes. I had a sense, way back, that church communities were special places that built those kinds of relationships. When death happened, when sickness came, they didn’t go silent and awkwardly slink away; they went into action, baking and cooking and offering support. On Sunday mornings they small-talked and had big discussions about meaning and faith. They mixed up generations in ways few community spaces do. Of course, they were not perfect. There were controversies and cliques. People didn’t always get along. But the common thread was the gospel and trying to live up to the ministry of Jesus and be purpose-driven people as best we could. It’s been my lifelong experience that when people are striving for that goal, meaningful community is what results. Isn’t that, in fact, what our very grim gospel is ultimately about? Jesus didn’t actually spend a lot of time, dividing people up between those worthy and those unworthy; the focus of his ministry wasn’t hell, but rather creating a heaven on earth. So I think we go wrong when we get distracted by all the hell and damnation part of this parable. If we – the comparatively wealthy of the world – just get defensive and offended – we also lose sight of the real message. It is not really about who is too rich and who is poor. It is not about how much money you need to give up to get into heaven. Or whether poverty is being depicted as a noble plight that brings you closer to God. This is a parable, to my mind, about meaningful community. We sometime struggle with how to define that in our church lives and in our own lives. What truly gives life meaning? What makes a community of people meaningful? These are parts of the discussion we will have this morning: what should our ministry as a community look like? Where, in the face of so much need, should we focus our time and treasure? What’s our brand? Those are important questions: ones we shouldn’t just ask once, but steadily, in our faith and church journeys. The definition of meaningful community – the kind that makes a difference – might take time to become clear. But we certainly know what it is not. And it is not the story of one person, rich and well-fed, warm in his grand house, while another person lies at the gate - freezing and sick and abandoned. We can see right away what is wrong with that picture: the one who is able to give is hoarding, and the one who needs help is not getting it. The relationship is not only broken: it doesn’t exist. Lazarus, lying at the gate, is not ignored; he is not even seen. His life seems to have no purpose, not even to make the rich guy inside feel a little guilty about his life’s lottery ticket. And the rich guy, overflowing in wine and food, lacks purpose and meaning as well: What will be his ultimate contribution? And so Jesus reminds us that when we are the haves in a story, it is much harder to give, and so easy to get distracted away from the choices that give life value. We create a trap – a hell – of our own making. How we get out of it is by belonging and being part of a meaningful community. That is what Lazarus and the rich man could have given each other. All it would have taken was opening the gate. I still connect with Mrs. Findlayson, and not only because she gave me some cover from my mom when she came home to find my hair gone. She was part of one of my first meaningful communities, the beginning of the places I have discovered throughout my ministry. They have always been created by imperfect, sometimes squabbling-yetalways-trying groups of people. I look forward to our communities continuing to create something meaningful and purpose-driven from the gift of the gospel. Amen

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