Dying on Easy Street

SJF • P21c • Tobias Haller BSG
Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria...

You probably all know the expression, “Living on Easy Street.” It means everything’s going your way; you’ve got it made; everything’s coming up roses and daffodils, as Ethel Merman used to sing. You haven’t got a care in the world and all your needs are provided for, because you are living in the lap of luxury.

Sounds like the folks Amos is talking about in this morning’s Scripture reading, doesn’t it? They lie on beds of ivory, lounging like regular couch potatoes, dining on tender lamb and veal, entertaining themselves with the latest pop tunes and performing cool musical improvisations; savoring vintage wine not just from cups but from bowls, and getting oil massages as they luxuriate in comfort. They are living on easy street like nobody’s business.

And, “Alas,” says Amos — “alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria.” For while they are enjoying themselves and taking their ease, things are afoot that will shake their comfortable world to its foundations. The Assyrians are coming, and at their coming there will be warfare, destruction, defeat and eventual exile — and the revelry of the loungers will pass away. They are not, after all, living on easy street — they are dying on easy street.

+ + +

This is a powerful lesson — for us today as much as it was in the days of the prophet Amos. For it addresses a human failing that we are no less liable to in our day than they were in his. And that is the failing of complacency, the kind of complacency that gives in to comfort and relaxes into a kind of nearsightedness that not only doesn’t see danger coming, combined with a kind of farsightedness that makes us oblivious to others who are nearby, and who areno danger to us at all.

We see that in our Gospel today: the story of the rich man who ignored the poor man who sat just outside his house. This rich man was living on easy street. He dressed like royalty — in those days purple cloth was earmarked for the Imperial household. He feasted not just off and on, but every day.

But out on the street — not easy street but the real hard-paved, dusty street — there was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing for something to eat — lying there in misery at the gate while dogs came by and licked his sores.

Well, Lazarus died — no surprise there — but at his death God sent angels to carry him to Abraham’s side. The rich man died too — also no surprise; with all his daily feasting he probably ate and drank his way into heart and liver disease: a perfect example of dying on easy street. But instead of angels, what does this rich man get? — the torment of Hades, and the oblivion of being forgotten, even his name having passed away with him, to be known to us only as “a rich man.”

Now, it’s not as if he hasn’t been warned of his fate. As a Jew, even if he wasn’t particularly observant, he would have been familiar with the law of charity — that one is to be openhanded and generous, and to help the poor and the oppressed, the widows and orphans, the sick and the suffering; in short, to love one’s neighbor as oneself. The problem is that his own self-comfort had blinded him to the dis-comfort of the neighbors all around him — even something as obvious as a dying man lying at his very gate — and you can’t get much closer to home than that. No, he had been warned countless times of his duty to love his neighbor as himself; and instead of that he’d spent his wealth on himself, clothing himself in purple and feasting everyday — while Lazarus suffered at his doorway, half-dressed and starving.

The warnings were there for him and all to see — which is why Abraham gives the rich man some hard news down in Hades, when he has the nerve to ask Abraham to send Lazarus on an errand to his five brothers, to warn them of their fate. And the bad news is — Sorry, but they’ve already received the only warning they are going to get: the teaching of Moses and the prophets — the teachings about loving one’s neighbor, and helping the poor and oppressed.

And, if I can extend Abraham’s warning, he might well have said — “And by the way, you didn’t pay any attention to Lazarus when he was right outside your door every day; so why do you think your brothers would pay any attention to him either? Do you think they’ll listen to this dead man, even if he returns from the grave, when they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, who were once alive but now are here with me as well— for though they died, their words live on and are preached week by week in the synagogue. All of you had your chance to heed the words of the dead and behold the lives of the living — and you ignored both.”

+ + +

That’s what living on easy street can do to you. We can get so comfortable that we forget the most elementary lessons of the faith: to love God and neighbor. Comfort — even relative comfort, not just luxury — can take our minds off of our duty to those less fortunate than we are.

I dare say none of us here are wealthy — since they discovered chemical dyes in the 19th century purple cloth has been no more expensive than any other color; and I very much doubt that any of us here feasts every day.

Yet even if we don’t consider our daily meals to be feasts, there are parts of this world of ours where people would be glad to eat the scraps that fall from our tables, places in the world where a loaf of fresh bread is considered a delicacy, and a few ounces of meat a feast worthy of a monarch.

We don’t really appreciate how good we have it — until we turn and consider those who have less. And thanks be to God that members of this parish have made that effort, and continue to do so. The message we heard wasn’t from a dying man at the gate, but from the voices of children calling to us from half-way around the world, from Dabalo in Tanzania: and we heard their call, and we answered and sent them help. Just this past May fifty-three children received the gifts that members of this parish provided for them, gifts they still enjoy as they are fed in body and mind, dressed in new school uniforms and with shoes on their feet and food in their stomachs, and books and school supplies to support their minds as well as their bodies.

I just received an email this week from the project manager in Dabalo, which included this message from the children — “May God bless our supporters in America also for our breakfast every morning!” Think about that — when was the last time you thanked God or anybody else for the fact that you were able to have breakfast! We have it so, so easy here on easy street. Perhaps this will be a reminder to us to give thanks more often. And to be of even greater help.

It seems such a simple thing to do what Saint Paul advised in the good counsel we heard today: to do good, to be rich in good works, generous and ready to share. Thus we store up “the treasure of a good foundation for the future,” to “take hold of the life that really is life.”

We don’t have to give up living on the easy (or at least comfortable) street we live on — we just need to be aware of the people out on that street, out by our gates, or on other streets not so well paved as ours, even those half-way around the world. Neighbors are near and far, and they have been given to us by Jesus asan object for the good he has equipped us and enabled us to do. None of us is asked to do more than we can — but only what we can, with the help of God, which is surely to do more than simply live, but to help others live as well.

May our ears be always open to the calls for help, may our hands be always full of the means to give that help, may we press forward in service to help and minister to all whom we can, by God’s grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord.+