Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity Year C
25th Sep 2016
Sermon for the 18th Sunday after Trinity
1 Timothy 6.6-19
The word ‘ubuntu’ is an African word meaning ‘the essence of being human’. Ubuntu means that we need other human beings just to be human. The Zulu and Shona people of Southern Africa say: ‘a person is a person through other persons’—not apart from them. Ubuntu means that for us to do well, we need others to do well.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said that a person with ubuntu is one who is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others prosper, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong to a greater whole. Archbishop Tutu has also said that in South Africa, when they wish to speak well of someone they say, ‘So-and-so has ubuntu.’ So-and-so is a person who recognizes others as persons.
The rich man in the ‘Pearly Gates-type’ story that Jesus retold, did not have ubuntu. He didn’t recognize Lazarus, the man suffering at his gate as a real person. Lazarus ‘longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table’. But Lazarus went hungry. Or rather he was kept hungry by the rich man. The rich man suffered from what one song calls ‘the old ennui’ as a resigned boredom, an indifference. In this story you it is important who is named and who isn’t. In most stories, the rich and powerful are named and the ordinary persons remain anonymous. Here, it’s the other way around. Jesus names the poor man, Lazarus. The other—the powerful man—is referred to merely as ‘a rich man’. In fact, the ‘rich man’ is every person who has enough of the world’s goods—shelter, food, health care, education—yet who closes their heart to the poor. In Psalm 91 God says:
I deliver all who cling to me,
Lazarus calls to God; not only does Lazarus know God by name, but more importantly, God knows the name of Lazarus and rescues and honours him. God knows the name of the poor; God stands with them. There are many poor in the world today. Do we see them as real persons? As neighbours in need? Do we relate to them with a spirit of ubuntu?
How do we bring this parable into our present? Well, as Lazarus is named, so too, in the name of Christ, the social ills of our day and their causes and effects also need to be named. The appointment of a savvy economist to be Archbishop of Canterbury in 2012 has coincided with a critical (and Christian) focus on the challenging social effects of our national economy. Governments have always taken it for granted that it is a good thing for the economy to grow. With this growth, new opportunities are surely opened up for the lives of our people to be improved. But the evidence of what was once called a ‘trickle down’ approach to the economy, and of the predictable social benefits of a so called ‘healthy’ economy to the greater number of people, has proved faulty. There has been an increase in the number of those unable to pay their way. The rise of initiatives like food banks and credit underlines a situation in which the one economy, having recovered from an economic depression and secured historically low interest rates, has nonetheless witnessed raised levels of social inequality.
The existence of short term loan companies like Wonga and the exorbitant interest rates charged by the store Brighthouse are a scandal because they target the poorest citizens with the promise of an apparently easy quick loan or cheap payments for goods spread over long periods. A corner sofa that can be bought for less than £500 will at Brighthouse cost the buyer a staggering £3,120 as they pay £20 per week for it over 156 weeks! ‘The Evening Standard’ has in the past week raised attention to the huge amounts of food wasted by the supermarkets and attempts are now being made to offer this still good and edible food back to those who could use it.
A raised awareness of these matters and their character underlines the message of the Gospel which sets the naming of these things as central to The Christian Gospel. We must support efforts to act on the part of those, the poorest, for whom black or grey economies are in fact and in deed, radically exploitative. Ubuntu also means that ‘where one suffers, all suffer’, and our Gospel Reading sets this in relation to the salvation of the individual Christian and the community of which they are a part; The Church. ‘Yes’ to food banks, ‘Yes’ to credit unions. But we must also say ‘Yes’ to naming and challenging of a faulty economic system which would uncritically serve the well-being and prosperity of the ‘deserving many’ at the expense of the deserving few.
Let us pray:
God of life,