Welcome + Worship + Witness

Ian Hunter Smart: Dives and Lazarus

Trinity 1
23 June 2019
10.30 Eucharist
Ian Hunter Smart

God is Love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.

(Words from the appointed epistle for today and to which I shall return.)

It is a privilege, for me at least, to be here this morning in this magnificent and historic priory church, and if it hadn’t been for a serendipitous moment on the steps of Ripon Cathedral on Maundy Thursday where I met your Rector, Nicholas, reacquainting ourselves after forty years since leaving school, I wouldn’t be here today.

And of course neither of us has aged a jot since those days!

Bolton Abbey is one of the most southerly parishes in the Ripon Episcopal Area in our Diocese of Leeds and I live in one of the most northerly parishes of the area in the Stanwick Benefice, nine miles north of Richmond.

My day job is in Local Government, working for Durham County Council as their Voluntary and Community Sector Officer.

As well as being an Anglican priest, with permission to officiate in the diocese, I am also a Quaker, and at the end of May I attended the annual meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, at Friends House, opposite Euston station, in London.

A gathering of 1,200 Quakers from all over Britain together with visiting Friends from Quaker Meetings in other parts of the world. A diverse group from all ages 0-90.

There were many different talks, workshops and activities throughout the weekend but our main focus during the gathered plenary sessions for worship and discernment was to consider the theme of privilege and the lack of privilege in relation to both diversity and inclusion in our meetings as well as in relation to climate change and climate justice.

These are big themes and it was only the start of an ongoing conversation. But perhaps it is a conversation that we should be having in the Church of England too, looking at our own privilege, power and influence, or perhaps lack of it in relation to how diverse, inclusive and welcoming our congregations are.

What might be the unconscious biases that we hold which might be a barrier to others feeling welcome or included in our worshipping communities?

How welcome would Lazarus be, in today’s Gospel parable, in this community?

And on a wide scale how does our privilege or lack of it affect our ability to act as individuals and as a community in relation to climate change. What are the steps we can take, as individuals and as a community, to make a difference?

At first it was difficult to see how these two big themes are related but gradually it became clearer that we were considering ‘what it means to be in unity with others and with the whole of creation, acting out of love rather than duty or fear’.

But that unity will only come about when we recognise that of God in ourselves and that of God in our neighbours, whoever they might be, and that of God in the earth which we inhabit.

Recognition that whatever perceived outward power and privilege we may have, or lack of it, we are all fundamentally equal before God.

The rich man in the parable, sometimes referred to as Dives, failed to recognise that despite his own privilege he shared a common humanity with Lazarus. Even in his torment he was more concerned that his five brothers should not suffer the same fate rather than showing any sense of remorse for his actions let alone compassion for, or shared humanity with, Lazarus.

God is Love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.’

Love is at the heart of the universe – the big smile before the big bang. And we are called to embody that love in our lives, just as Jesus embodied the God of love in his life.

I was interested to read in your Parish Magazine, on line, a report from Skipton Foodbank and encouraged by the support given by members of the Priory both as volunteers and by responding to requests for certain items.

I was not surprised to learn that there had been a 45% increase in demand last year which in turn was a 35% increase on the previous year.

These facts are highlighted by the recent report of Professor Philip Alston the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, which cites independent experts saying that 14 million people in the UK – a fifth of the population – live in poverty.

It is easy to be blind to this reality if our worlds and experiences are so radically different. The contrast between the world of Dives and that of Lazarus could not be starker. It is sometimes not out of malice but out of ignorance that such inequality is allowed to persist.

By becoming aware that the word privilege can be used in two distinct ways: ‘As a blessing we experience (as in ‘It’s a privilege to be here this morning’) and as the unearned advantages a person can inherit from birth and/or accumulate over time’, we can hopefully become more aware of our ‘accountability and responsibility’ to make changes in our lives which will in turn enrich the lives of others.

Changes to the unconscious biases which may unwittingly be a barrier which makes others feel excluded. And changes to the way we live in relation to the sustainability of our environment.

As Christians, and in the words of a Quaker advice, we are called to ‘Bear witness to the humanity of all people..’ and to work to bring about ‘…a just and compassionate society which allows everyone to develop their capacities and fosters the desire to serve’.

As a Priory community whose worship is based on the Book of Common Prayer you may appreciate the words of the seventeenth century founder of Quakerism, George Fox, and with which I end.

‘Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come, that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.’ (George Fox, 1656)