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This Week at Holy Trinity

This Week at Holy Trinity

WORSHIP

St. Michael and All Angels – October 2, 2016
Mass –
11 o’clock in the morning

The Baptism of Dylan Joseph Chase

Join the growing number of members, prospective members, and visitors worshiping together at Holy Trinity.

Pastor Miller’s Sermon: “Let Your Holy Angel Be with Me”

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“Where Lazarus Is Poor No More”

The Rev. Wilbert S. Miller’s Sermon
“Where Lazarus Is Poor No More”
Luke 16: 19-31
September 25, 2016
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

How many times have you been in a dinnertime conversation when you and your cerebral guests have ended up deliberating over who will end up in heaven and who will end up in hell?

This question was apparently asked at dinner parties in Jesus’ day as well. There was the assumption that those with well-paying jobs, thriving children, and lovely homes had a leg up on entering heaven.  Well informed dinner guests thought these successes more than enough to achieve heavenly ascent.  Their opinion was strikingly similar to the old adage, “God helps those who helps themselves”—which, by the way, ain’t in the Bible.  It also sounds analogous to works-righteousness, that exasperating belief Martin Luther railed against in which good works are thought to earn us our way into heaven.

The rich fellow in today’s gospel wrote the commercial, “I got into heaven the old fashioned way: I earned it!”  He was certain that his swanky accoutrements-planes, mansions, and boats—or at least camels, tents, and arks—were his divine ticket into heaven.

And then there was the other guy, the pitiable one named Lazarus.  You know Lazarus, of course you do.  If you don’t, you can find him any night sleeping on Holy Trinity’s doorsteps.  Now, I am simply presuming that your dinner guests don’t reckon Lazarus to be heaven bound.  How could he be with matted hair, oozing sores, teeth rotted from crystal meth, and a Pit Bull on a chain?  Shockingly, at least according to Jesus, it is this sad sack, not the one in the Armani suit, who ends up with box seats in heaven.

I am pretty new around here so I have been doing some neighborhood research.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the average Manhattan home price is $1.87 million—the guy sleeping on the church steps has definitely figured out where the cheap seats are.  Now, please don’t get me wrong.  We are gaga over living in our lovely renovated Central Park apartment which you have divulged has a rental value between $50,000 to $60,000 a year.  What freaks me out about Jesus’ telling of today’s parable is that, contrary to dinner party astuteness, the rich fellow ends up in Hades not in heaven—and here I thought I was finally living on the right side of the tracks!  After contemplating today’s gospel reading, I have been wondering where I might end up when the final trumpet sounds.

Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus is such a surprise.  Reminds you, doesn’t it, of that carpenter’s son from Nazareth who kept popping off about the first being last and the last being first.

Now, if you are feeling a bit agitated right about now, not to worry.  I don’t think Jesus is suggesting that Saint Peter will examine our financial portfolios when we arrive at the Pearly Gates—then again, whoever knows?  I do have a hunch, though, that this is Jesus’ way of saying exactly what our second reading from First Timothy says, “For we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it…”  When our final day arrives, we will leave empty-handed, not in a Learjet; our hope will be built on nothing more than Jesus’s blood and righteousness.

I often ask people to write their obituaries before they die: how do you wish to be remembered?  The New York Times writer and NPR NewsHour correspondent David Brooks, in his excellent book, “The Road to Character,” provides assistance in obituary writing as he discusses resume virtues and eulogy virtues: “The resume virtues are the ones you list on your resume, the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success”—these are the virtues the rich man thought would secure his place in heaven.  Brooks goes on: “The eulogy virtues are deeper.  They’re the virtues that get talked about at funerals, the ones that exist at the core of your being—whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you have formed.”

These eulogy virtues have to do with what we deem as ultimately important.  You might say they are a vision of heaven according to Jesus, a place where the least and lost, the humble and kind, are held in highest esteem and where honor is meted out to people, not because of their power, possessions, or brashness, but simply because they are unassuming children of God.

Whenever I think of my funeral, what I want sung at the very end is what is always sung at the end of the traditional Requiem Mass; it is called In Paradisum (In Paradise).  (Dagmar always tells me, “Write down what you want at your funeral so I don’t forget!”)  In Paradisum is the remarkable vision the church has passed down from age to age.  According to this ancient wisdom, when we arrive in heaven, the heroic martyrs will welcome us and the holy angels will usher us through the eternal gates; that is, of course, exactly what we expect.  What will likely come as a much greater surprise is that the person who will give us the biggest bear hug as we enter through the heavenly gates will be none other than raggedy ol’ Lazarus himself.  Who would ever imagine that the skanky guy sleeping on our church doorsteps is on the executive board of the heavenly welcoming committee?

Maybe the homeless folks who sleep right outside here are God’s gift to us.  They teach us that the freer our hands are of all that seems so important, the better chance we have of grasping onto the kingdom of heaven when God offers it to us.

Hear now the church’s astonishing vision from the Requiem Mass so when you arrive in paradise and smelly old Lazarus plants a juicy kiss right on your lips, slaps you a little too hard on the back, and says, “Welcome into heaven, good friend,” you won’t be too surprised.

“May the angels lead you into paradise;
may the martyrs receive you at your arrival
and lead you to the holy city Jerusalem.
May choirs of angels receive you
and with Lazarus, once poor,
may you have eternal rest.”

This Week at Holy Trinity

This Week at Holy Trinity

WORSHIP

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 25, 2016
Mass –
11 o’clock in the morning

Join the growing number of members, prospective members, and visitors worshiping together at Holy Trinity.

Pastor Miller’s Sermon: “Where Lazarus Is Poor No More”

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“In Praise of the Mob”

Pastor Wilbert S. Miller’s Sermon
“In Praise of the Mob”
Luke 16: 1-13
Sunday, September 18, 2016
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Are you as spellbound as I am by the mob?
Believe it or not, my hometown, Wheeling, West Virginia, had a robust mob when I was growing up.  Big Bill Lias, all 400-pounds of him, left the family grocery business to seek greater glory in the world of banned booze and bookmaking, ponies and prostitution.  You better believe Wheeling had mobsters!  Paul Hankish received his mob nickname, “No Legs,” soon after they were blown off when he got into his Studebaker one sunny January morning in 1964.  As you might speculate, Big Bill Lias was a key suspect in the bombing.

In every city we have lived, I have been enthralled by the mob.  Philadelphia—are you kidding me?  Angelo Bruno (The Gentle Don), Little Nicky Scarfo, Skinny Joey Merlino.

And, recently in San Diego, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the Mexican drug lord.  I was fascinated by the illegal tunnels his minions dug between Tijuana and the San Diego and couldn’t wait to read Sean Penn’s interview with “El Chapo” in “Rolling Stone Magazine.”

Now New York.  I long to learn about this city’s dazzling luminaries—for evangelism purposes, of course: Lucky Luciano, Vito Genovese, Joe Bananas Bonanno, Albert Anastasia of Murder Incorporated.

Is it just me?  “Goodfellas,” “Casino,” “Godfather 1, 2…and 3”—do you rush to the theater the moment these gangster movies hit the big screen?

I know what you are thinking: shut up, enough already!  But here’s my point.  I am not a risk-taker by nature so maybe that’s why these wise guys fascinate me.  Perhaps that’s also why Jesus’ parable of the dishonest steward baffles me and, I imagine, most of us.  You know the parable.  It is about another wise guy, one too lazy to dig and too proud to beg.   He had not managed his boss’s accounts in a timely or prudent fashion so, to save his neck, he paid each client a visit and floated deals too good to pass on.  One owed his boss a hundred jugs of olive oil and the scheming steward struck a deal: “How about paying me fifty and we will call it even Steven?”  Another client in arrears owed for a hundred containers of wheat and again, the ever fraudulent one concocted a crafty ruse, “Just make it eighty, Bub, and you can be on your way.”

Jesus’ parable infuriates those of us who pay our taxes well in advance of April 15 and scrutinize every angle in any planning process before taking a potentially disastrous misstep. We cannot fathom how Jesus extoled that devious schemer and, in the process, ends up scolding us judicious sorts for our tedious calculations and humdrum moderation.

Jesus must have known what he was doing though, don’t you think, when he told that crazy parable about the dishonest steward.  There is something about wise guys like him that, while turning the stomachs of good little girls and boys, also fascinates us.  We can’t get enough of these ornery rascals’ antics.  Deep down, we wish we could be a whole lot gutsier when it comes to taking risks for the kingdom of God.

Many people ask me, “When did God call you to be a pastor?”  The inquisitors seem in search of a saintly answer as to exactly when the Holy Spirit elevated me into holy vapors.  That’s not how it happened.  I wanted to be a pastor as far back as I can remember but I was always embarrassed to admit it.  Being a pastor seemed so…. well…. gloomy and boring.  One of my pastors growing up was fond of saying of our congregation’s ministry, “We have no burning issues here”—and that’s exactly how it felt: nothing particularly urgent, nothing terribly fiery, certainly nothing worth fighting for.  A dear friend of mine was fond of calling such ministries, “no hits, no runs, no errors.”   Good people, for sure, but the ministry was dreary and dull nonetheless.

As far as I can tell, my call occurred when I was interviewing for my seminary internship.  I had already completed two years at divinity school.  You would think, by then, I would have felt the call but I still wondered if I was cut out for this so-called Jesus business.  My supervisor-to-be, Pastor John Cochran, picked me up at the train station in a rickety old Datsun station wagon and took me on a whirlwind journey of South Philadelphia’s rough and tumble Southwark Housing Project.  Thousands of people lived there.  Three, twenty-five story high-rises loomed over Emanuel Lutheran Church.  Mass was held every day as were morning prayers; there was a parish school; kids from the projects were the crucifers and torchbearers and knew exactly how to swing the incense.  Lights were always on well after midnight.  The church never had enough money and yet outsiders were always captivated.  When seminary classmates and family visited, they claimed they had never seen anything like it.  Emanuel, in the mid-1970s, was the largest African American Lutheran church in America; we baptized forty-eight people at the Easter Vigil the year I was there.  I didn’t know it then but the minute we went on our whirlwind journey through the neighborhood where four teenage members were killed the year I was there, that was when God called me.  It was dicey and dangerous and urgent and marvelous.

We live and worship in a different neighborhood but at times it, too, can feel dicey and dangerous. This morning is one of those times.  We are again numbed by senseless bombings that have injured at least twenty-nine people in the Chelsea neighborhood.  And yet, just being here this morning means we are doing something bold as we trust that God “standeth, within the shadow, keeping watch above [God’s] own.”

I suppose that is why today’s parable strikes us as so strangely delightful.  The congregations and people that take risks for God’s kingdom are always the thrilling ones.  They stumble and make ghastly errors from time-to-time, and yet there is an exquisite faithfulness as they trust only that God is leading them and guiding them.  William Sloane Coffin, once the pastor of Riverside Church just up the street, said it this way, “I love the recklessness of faith. First you leap, and then you grow wings.”

Just being here this morning is testament that you have leapt.  May you find joy as you soar in the presence of God.

This Week at Holy Trinity

This Week at Holy Trinity

WORSHIP

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 18, 2016
Mass –
11 o’clock in the morning

Join the growing number of members, prospective members, and visitors worshiping together at Holy Trinity.

Pastor Miller’s Sermon: “In Praise of the Mob”

(more…)