Sermon: Proper 21 RCL C – "Broken Soul"

Luke 16:19-31


Jesus said, “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, `Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, `Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house– for I have five brothers– that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, `No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

The young woman prays: Jesus, my own Jesus — I am only Thine — I am so stupid — I do not know what to say but do with me whatever You wish — as You wish — as long as you wish. [But] why can’t I be a perfect Loreto Nun — here — why can’t I be like everybody else?  Jesus responds, I want Indian Nuns, Missionaries of Charity, who would be my fire of love amongst the poor, the sick, the dying and the little children … You are, I know, the most incapable person — weak and sinful but just because you are that — I want to use you for My glory. Wilt thou refuse?

Who was the young woman?  She was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, but she is now known as the Saint of Calcutta – Mother Teresa.  That prayer dialogue she told to her superior in 1947.  In 1948 she was given permission to begin her ministry in India.  She started out alone, a small woman in her white and blue habit.  When she died in 1997, the order she founded, the Missionaries of Charity, consisted of 610 missions in 123 countries including the US.  In 1979 she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work.  She donated the $192,000 cash prize to the poor of India.  Let’s face it, when we get to heaven and are standing in line waiting to get through the pearly gates, she really is the one that we do not want to find ourselves behind.

Now, let me share another prayer with you: Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The Child of your Love — and now become as the most hated one — the one — You have thrown away as unwanted — unloved.  I call, I cling, I want — and there is no One to answer — no One on Whom I can cling — no, No One. — Alone … Where is my Faith — even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness and darkness — My God — how painful is this unknown pain — I have no Faith — I dare not utter the words and thoughts that crowd in my heart — and make me suffer untold agony.  I am told God loves me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. — Heaven means nothing.  Those sound like the words of someone who has lost their faith and left the church.  Someone who no longer believes in God, yet those are also the prayers of Mother Teresa.

God called her to serve the poor in India, but for the fifty years that followed she reports that she felt spiritually dry.  Empty.  God never came to her like he did at first.  She concluded, “The saving of Souls holds no attraction  — pray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything.”

She later would find comfort in the words that Jesus spoke from the Cross, “My God, My God.  Why have you forsaken me?”  She would come to understand that in his distance, God was keeping her humble so that she would not take pride in her successes but that still did not make it any less painful.

When I read of these new revelations of Mother Teresa’s life in one of her biographies, Come be My Light, I couldn’t help but think of a passage from the Song of Solomon: My lover tried to unlatch the door, and my heart thrilled within me.  I jumped up to open the door for my love, and my hands dripped with perfume.  My fingers dripped with lovely myrrh as I pulled back the bolt.  I opened to my lover, but he was gone!  My heart sank. I searched for him but could not find him anywhere.  I called to him, but there was no reply.

She knew the thrill and beauty of her lover, but now he was gone and she could not find him.  The same was true for Mother Teresa, she knew the love of Jesus deep within her heart.  She had spoken to him, had visions of him, but for fifty years after that until the day she died he was no where to be found  In her mind rose these huge doubts, one of which even questioned the very existence of God.

In our Gospel reading today we have the story of Lazarus and the rich man.  During their earthly lives, Lazarus was poor and suffering.  The rich man was obviously well off, having all the pleasures this world has to offer.  Yet, in their deaths, their roles were switched.  Lazarus now enjoyed all the joys and pleasures of heaven, while the rich man was tormented in Hell.  The rich man’s eternal life was so wretched that he petitioned the Patriarch Abraham to “send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue,” but not even that could be done.

Now let me ask you: Like Mother Teresa, have you ever found yourself desiring the consolation – the nearness of God – only to feel as though you had been abandoned by Him?  Like the young lover have you ever desired to find that one thing – peace, health, joy – only to go in search of it and not find it?  Or like the rich man, have you needed just one small drop of cool water to quench your spiritual thirst but discovered that it was nowhere to be found?  Not for all, but for many, this is their state of life.  In their search to find answers they will turn to all sorts of remedies, but what they need above everything is to be healed.

When we think of being healed, it generally falls under the physical: I have some illness and I need God to intervene and heal me.  But what if it is not a broken bone or some sickness?  What if it’s not, “Dear Lord, I broke my arm and I need you to help heal it,” but is instead, “Dear Lord, I broke my soul and I need you to heal it”?  Anymore, when we think of healing, we think of someone getting slapped on the forehead, dropping their crutches, and walking unassisted for the first time in ten years.  I believe in physical healings.  I’ve witnessed physical healings.  But I suggest to you that healing is not necessarily about the physical body, but more importantly is about the healing of the soul.  Healing is not always about the elimination of suffering or the overcoming of death, instead healing is about filling those places with peace and joy and blessings.  Henry Nouwen writes, “Many people don’t think they are loved, or held safe, and so when suffering comes they see it as an affirmation of their worthlessness. The great question of ministry and the spiritual life is to learn to live our brokenness under the blessing and not the curse.”  To learn to endure our brokenness under the blessing and not the curse… that is true healing, because when the arm was not miraculously healed, death still comes, or we still feel alone, there is still peace – joy – blessing.

Today, following the confession, the Sacrament of Unction, of healing, will be offered.  If you are suffering from some physical issue, then by all means come forward; God can bring healing to that.  But I would also encourage those who have an injured or broken soul to also come forward.  It is the things eternal that God ultimately desires to heal.

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