This semester I am taking a new preaching course at YDS titled : REL 830 – Radical Lives of Proclamation with new YDS professor Dr. Donyelle McCray. As part of our work we have to preach two sermons in class that have been inspired by someone we have studied the week we preach or the week before. Yesterday (Thursday, 22 September 2016) I offered my first sermon of the semester, and I took my inspiration from Pauli Murray. Below you can find a copy of the manuscript as well as a recording of the sermon. For my scriptural text, I used the Gospel for Proper 21C (Luke 16:19-31).
Assignment Description: Two 10-minute homilies. Allow the visionary assigned for the week or previous week to inspire your approach to hermeneutics, form, delivery, or shape your spiritual preparation process. Plan to discuss the visionary’s influence in class after you preach. Complete the sermon self-evaluation (available on ClassesV2) within one week of delivering your sermon.
Inspiration: In reading Murray’s sermons I found that she would often incorporate language of the Book of Common Prayer, and so I allowed myself to access the language of the Prayer Book that has filled my spirit. She also preaches in a very calm and deliberate manner, hence the manuscript and the attempt to mirror that in my voice. Murray also used the voices of others to highlight her preaching. In thinking about this text, I looked to my own experiences and communities as to how I would find someone so spoke to me in these lessons.
Final word: I realize that using Jonathan Myrick Daniels in this sermon sets up a bit of a “white hero” complex. That was not at all my intention, and having given this sermon in a racially diverse class, I recognize the pros and cons of this approach. As a 26 year-old white seminarian, like Daniels, I took him as my image because it was one that fit my context and experience. Murray preached from her experience, and community – and Daniels is my attempt to do the same.
Before us today we have one of the lesser-known parables of Jesus. The familiarity, or lack thereof, of this parable is probably okay with the average, contemporary, American preacher. This parable is hard and if we are paying attention it should make us, at the very least, uncomfortable.
We hear of Lazarus, poor man Lazarus, who longs for a modicum of relief – who longs for just a simple crumb from the rich man’s table. Jesus tells us that Lazarus’ station in life is so low that even the dogs lick his wounds and sores. All this while the rich man basks in the lavishness and sumptuousness of life.
The day comes when both men die, and in that moment the great reversal begins.
Scripture tells us that when Lazarus dies, he is “carried away by the angels to be with Abraham;” he is carried away by the company of heaven, to enjoy rest eternal with God. And the rich man, well he died and was buried. He however, is not carried, lifted, or even dragged into the heavenly kingdom; no, the rich man goes to Hades to be tormented for eternity. To live in such anguish and agony that he wishes the dogs licked his wounds and sores.
Here is where the great reversal comes to its climax. The rich man looks up from his torment and sees for the first time Lazarus who stands by Abraham’s side.
While the rich man sees Lazarus, he does not truly see him, because the rich man still wants to use Lazarus as an object – he still understands Lazarus to be subservient to him. The rich man does not beg, “Lazarus, please come help me,” he begs, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.” Scripture makes clear that for this rich man, Lazarus – the beloved child of God resting in Abraham’s bosom – is no more than a delivery system.
Abraham makes clear, there will be no relief for this rich man. He had his chance on earth and now must suffer the consequences.
This parable narrates the very reversal of fortune that we find promised at the beginning of Luke’s narrative, “he has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (BCP, 91). While we may love, while I love, to sing these words of the Magnificat during Evensong; we are far less eager to sing these words into our world.
Jonathan Myrick Daniels is one of the first saints of the Church that I fell in love with. As a rising freshman in high school, I first learned of Daniels while at my Diocesan Summer Camp. The session I was at was invited to make a pilgrimage to the Elmwood neighborhood of Providence, Rhode Island, on August 14th – the feast day of Daniels. We, a bunch of white, mostly middle-class and higher teenagers, were invited to join the procession through this mostly non-white, economically challenged, violence ridden neighborhood. In many ways this procession, this prayer vigil, was a sort of racial reconciliation version of the Stations of the Cross. We walked this neighbor and prayed for peace, we shouted for justice, we cried for mercy, as we sang, “we’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion; we’re marching upward to Zion; the beautiful city of God.” We marched to give witness to the person laying at the gate. We marched so that all people may one day rest in the bosom of Abraham.
It was in those days that I learned Daniel’s story. I will never forget hearing Ruby Sales talk about the man who saved her life – the man who saw her.
On August 14th, Daniels, Sales, and their companions were unexpectedly released from jail, and they walked to a local corner store to get something to drink. As the teenaged Sales reached for the door the owner appeared with a gun and started yelling and cursing at her. Recognizing the danger, Daniels pushed Sales out of the way thus shielding her from the blast of the 12-gauge shotgun. Daniels died that day, because he sang the words of the Magnificat into the world.
Jonathan Myrick Daniels was a seminarian who left the comforts of Cambridge, Massachusetts to march with that great prophet Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma. Daniels answered King’s call because he had been convicted by the great reversal promised in Luke. Daniels died because he saw the invisible suffering of Lazarus, the invisible suffering of people of color made visible.
Whenever I hear the story of Lazarus at the gate, I cannot help but think of Daniels the 26 year-old seminarian who willingly gave his life because he saw the invisible suffering turn visible. Today, this connection is all the more powerful as I stand before you as a 26 year-old seminarian.
It seems to me the story of Lazarus laying at the gate could just as easily be the story of Terence Crutcher, or Keith Scott, or Sandra Bland, or Ty Underwood, or the countless black men, women, and transgender people who are murdered each and every year. And if they are Lazarus, what does that make us? What does that make me?
No matter how much he begs, there is no relief for the rich man, neither will there be help for his family. Abraham says to the rich man, and this is the phrase that concludes this pericope from Luke, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even is someone rises from the dead.” I do not know about you but that makes me more uncomfortable, more nervous, than anything else.
The rich man and his family have missed the mark, they out of luck, there is no hope for them. As we, particularly those of us who are white, look out on the bodies laying at our gates and in our streets we must also wonder where is our hope? Is there still time to make things right? For Terence Crutcher, Keith Scott, and the unknown people who will die to today, the answer is no.
But, we are still here. We have not died, and we have not been buried. There is still time for us to be convicted by the promised reversal of fortunes.
We live within political and economic systems that feed upon the sufferings of others, all the while keeping those sufferings invisible. The call of Christ is to refuse the blindness that plagues our world and darkens our hearts. We must not call out to Abraham. We must call out to Lazarus. We must learn the names of the people laying at our gates and in the streets.
There is still time for us, for we have seen a person raised from the dead and we have witnessed the glory and majesty of death being destroyed forever. Just as Christ broke down the gates of hell, we must break down the gates of our hearts, the gates of our political systems, and the actual gates we put up to keep “those people” out. We like Jonathan Myrick Daniels must sing the great promise of reversal – the great promise of mercy, justice, love, and compassion – into the world. For if we do this, then we will see old things passing away and new things coming into being. Then the invisible will be made visible. Then there will be hope.
Let us pray:
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquillity the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were being cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.