Sunday, June 18, 2017

Don't neglect Lazarus

THE OFFERING FROM BLESSINGS RECEIVED


There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.  And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table.  Luke 16:19-21

WE should be careful how we interpret the parable we have before us today.  It is not a morality tale.  It does not exalt poverty or condemn wealth, but it does have a great deal to teach us none the less.

The first thing to know is that you are the rich man in the parable!  Like him, you too are opulently arrayed in glorious dress by virtue of your baptism.  At the font you are draped with the fine linen of Christ's righteousness and there is none more splendid than that; none that affords you greater defense against God's wrath and judgment than that.

Though you are stained with sin and merit nothing but punishment, your guilt is removed by Jesus' blood offered on the altar of the cross, and now you, like Jesus, are crowned with glory and honor.  Now you are redeemed.  Now you are rescued.  Now you can live with calm and die in peace because the millstone of sin has been removed from around your neck.  Your star is rising and your future is bright because, like poor Lazarus, you are bound for Abraham's bosom:  the place where true joys are found.  Like the rich man you too feast sumptuously.  You eat the Bread of Angels from the Lord's table, the flesh and blood of Christ which purifies human flesh and blood so terribly compromised and corrupted by sin.

Today eating healthy is all the rage.  People spend large sums of money to purchase whole foods, grass fed beef, and edibles that are gluten-free and non-GMO, but at the same time they pollute their souls and insure their own place in torment by feasting on the irrational opinions and unbridled behavior of the culture whose jurisdiction begins immediately outside these walls.

The rich man's sin was not that he was rich, but rather that he gladly received but was unwilling to give so much as a crumb to one in need.  Plenteous gifts of mercy were poured into his lap, but he would not give up so much as a crumb that might fall from his table.

How about you?

In the holy Christian religion mercy is not a choice but an obligation.  Neither is it left to chance, but is built into our worship in the offertory.  The Offertory is an essential element of the church's praise that has been with us since the beginning.  Every Sunday when God's people gathered for Holy Communion they brought gifts and offerings with them.   They brought bread and wine to be used for the Lord's supper along with many others which were used for the support of the clergy, the church, and to distribute to the Lazarus' in the parish.  This last part, the distribution to the poor, was as essential to Christian worship as every other part, and it is still today.  It's what the rich man did not do and what landed him in the Lake of Fire.

The Offertory has two parts:  First the gathering of the people's offerings.  Because we no longer live close to the land we bring our gifts in the form of currency which is used to secure bread and wine for the sumptuous feast, to support the clergy, maintain the church and to distribute to the poor of the parish.

As the offerings are being gathered the celebrant moves the bread and wine which represent our offerings, from  he credence table to the altar.  This is the second part of the Offertory and is no haphazard move but a deliberate liturgical action by which the church symbolizes the movement of our Lord from Bethlehem to Calvary, to the place where He became the sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world.  Here is perfect worship.  Here is divine service.  Here is the great oblation that sets us free from death and the devil, and that promises us life beyond this present sorrow.  Here, the church offers God the gifts she received from Him in the first place.

Just as Jesus received the five loaves and two fish and returned them infinitely multiplied, even so God receives the earthly gifts of bread and wine here offered and gives them back to us as heavenly ones; as the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given for us Christians to eat and to drink for the remission of sins, life and salvation.  This is the Eucharistic    Sacrifice wherein the church continually offers the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God, but please be very clear that whoever receives these good and perfect gifts from the      altar must "go and do likewise!"

The church does this formally by using a portion of the offerings to conduct her charitable work, but that's not the end of the story.  Each Christian is bound to share the gifts he receives from God with those who are in greater need, but please remember and keep in mind that as often as we perform such charitable works that they are not simple virtuous deeds.  Anyone can do those, but these are acts of holy worship instead, no different and no less sacred than the praise we offer our God in this holy house.  Know too, that whatever we do for Lazarus is directly connected to and flows through this sacred altar where we praise God, "from whom all blessings flow."

Now there's no questions that a Christian must proceed thoughtfully, not only because  resources are limited, but also because there is no more dangerous, addictive or debilitating drug than charity.  By its careless administration well-meaning people have done great harm to those whom they proposed to help.  Don't do that, but don't neglect Lazarus, either!  Instead think carefully, use your mind, then give with a grateful heart as you are able, large or small, "whate'er the gift may be."  This is what our Lord calls us to do on the first Sunday after Trinity.  Amen.

~  Rev. Dean Kavouras

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