I want to speak to you today about being a blessing to others. When I say being a blessing I mean helping a friend or neighbour when they are in trouble or are in need or by opening a door or opportunity for them that they might not have though possible. Sometimes it is a kind word or lending a hand, or doing what ever is needed. Sometimes being a blessing is taking someone under your wing and help move forward, a new person at work, or a neighbour or friend who has experienced a change in their life, started a family, lost a loved one, or moved to a new city. We can be a blessing to someone because we have been there and done that and we can help someone else walk through it, help them to make the connections to folks we know that can help them move forward in their life or career. I believe that if you and I are to be the people that God calls us to be, then being a blessing to others needs to be a very important part of our everyday life, because being a blessing to others is a very basic part of Jesus teaching. When he was asked to sum up all the important teachings of Old Testament, Jesus boiled it down down to two rules: love God and love your neighbour as yourself.
One of the most memorable stories of Jesus is the the story of the Good Samaritan, where a fellow is robbed, beat up, and left at the side of the road. The first two people that pass by our beat-up fellow, are folks who should have been his friend, but they see him and avoid him, and lastly, the story goes, a person who you might not have expected to stop and be a real blessing in this beat-up persons life, in fact stops and helps, and makes sure that the man is cared for. Jesus tells this story to answer the question about “who is our neighbour?”
You know the phrase “Good fences make good neighbours”, well it does make a lot of sense in our society where being clear about what belongs to who is so important. Just think about all the talk about copyright and patent law we hear in the news to see how deep the concept of fences goes in our society. But as the story of the Good Samaritan, an important Christian teaching, would attest, a fence doesn’t make for a good neighbour unless it has a gate we can use to cross it. To be a good neighbour and to be a blessing to others we need to be able to get close enough to actually help and show compassion. If a fence has no gate it might as well be a chasm if we never cross it.
Now I want us to turn to look at the story from the scripture passage from Luke 16, verses 19 to 31, because it is all about gates and chasms. Now, I will admit that with it’s fire and brimstone setting you might have thought it an odd reading for the Sunday that the church decides to encourage folks to come back to church. I know from talking to people who have left church or have stayed away from church and organized religion that they often say it is because they felt that church has been too judgement and usually too hypocritical (hip-a-critical) at the same time. As a priest it is easy to see how a passage like this could be used like a sword and probably has been used like that by others. With this being Back To Church Sunday, I will take this opportunity to say that this teaching, like the teaching of the Good Samaritan, is directed at the church and it’s leaders as much as anyone else who wants to follow Jesus. Jesus certainly has a message for all of us in this story but he was also directing this story at the arrogance of the leaders of the church of his day and their choice to ignore the poor and outcast and even the people who were not Jewish. Jesus knew first hand that high and holy religious leaders can fall victim to loving themselves more than others instead of loving others and themselves equally. The story told by Jesus clearly makes no bones about judging the nameless rich guy for not helping the poor Lazarus who lay hurting just outside his gate. The story’s fantastical afterlife setting with the chasm which can not be crossed makes it clear that the now dead rich guy regrets the selfishness of his lifestyle. The story sort of reminds me of my favourite line from Harold Percy’s Christianity 101 course, when he says, “no one on their deathbed ever said they wish they had spent more time at the office.” They story Jesus tells is a lot less subtle. As I said earlier Jesus’s two most important rules are to love God and to love your neighbour as yourself. Even though the rich guy from the story was a guy to believed that he followed the first, he did not follow the second, and as harsh as it may seem, the truth is that there is no chance of being a blessing to others when our life is over and there is no time to use the gates in our fences.
Recognising that today being a day that some folks here have been hurt in the past by Christians who seemed hypocritical and who have acted like they were, I am glad that I might have this chance to use this Sunday as a gate and to say I am sorry. I am also appreciative that not everyone we invited today could come, but it is still meaningful that we asked, and crossed through that gate. I hope that the fact that some of those have accepted our invitation are here today at one of our three services gives us each a chance to use and reopen our gates, cross our fences, and speak with and listen to you, our friends and neighbours.
Lastly, I think that our reading today might makes us all aware that we all have gates and chasms in our relationships between our friends, loved ones, and neighbours. I hope that today we can take advantage of the opportunity that we have today, as we all live and breath, to use those gates to love others. It maybe here in church and with our neighbours here, or it may be with other important people in our lives, to whom we can be a blessing. Today, we even have the chance to mend our chasms, to build bridges and repair gates. And as harsh as it may seem, the truth is that when we are dead, a chasm will always remain a chasm. So, I encourage you today, and this week to uses the gates you have in your fences to be a blessing to others and you will be amazed at what good things God will bring about in you and through you.