This is, without a doubt, a very hard set of readings for us to

listen to. The words of Jesus and the prophet Amos seem to challenge the

very core of our existence as lower middle, middle, and upper middle class

citizens of this nation and the world.

        We have to ask ourselves, "What was the sin of the rich man? The

fact that he was rich? What did he do that put him in the torment of the

netherworld after he died?

        Apparently, it wasn't because he did SOMETHING. He didn't order his

security guards to have Lazarus removed from his doorway. He didn't

verbally abuse him. Jesus doesn't give us any indication that the rich man

was evil. He didn't do anything harmful to Lazarus.  But that seems to be

the point of the whole parable: the rich man did nothing wrong, he simply

did NOTHING. His sin was one that is especially dangerous to those of us

who are religiously observant: the failure to observe the needs of others.

In the eyes of Jesus, the omission of good is as grave a sin as the

commission of evil. It was the complacency that Amos talked about in the

first reading.

        The tragedy of Sept. 11 seems to have shaken us out of our

complacency for a time. We've all opened our hearts AND our wallets to help

the families of the victims in one way or another. Our federal government

is planning on spending upwards of 40 billion dollars to help New York City

and the families affected by the tragedy recover as well as to help bail

out the airline industry. All of this is well and good. Due to

circumstances beyond their control, tens of thousands of Americans  have

seen their lives and existence fall apart. An industry vital to our economy

is bleeding red ink. And we've all come together, individually and

collectively as a nation to help them in their time of need.

        But what will happen when this crisis is over? Will we fall back

into the comfortableness of our moral complacency? What does it take to get

us, not only to take notice of the Lazarus' of the world, but to take

action for them? Surely the rich man noticed Lazarus lying outside his

door, although he might claim never to have seen him - just like we do -

"Well I didn't know!"

        There was an article in this past week's Post-Gazette by a Matthew

Miller that pointed out there are many other situations in which even

larger numbers of people suffer through no fault of their own. He cites two

examples. In the first, he points out that 10 million urban children

languish in failing schools that we know will blight their lives. These

kids had nothing to do with the system in which they're being "educated."

In Miller's words: "Osama bin Laden couldn't have hatched a more nefarious

scheme to assure them bleak futures."

        In his second example he pointed out that millions of Americans

earn poverty level wages despite working full time. The union jobs that

once gave less skilled Americans a path to the middle class are gone,

leaving many people unable to support their families even with two jobs.

        Those are just two examples. I'm sure it wouldn't take long for all

of us to come up with a longer list.

        But in light of today's gospel, I have to ask, how come we can

instinctively open our hearts and wallets and urge massive government

intervention in the face of this month's crisis, yet we can allow millions

of people to suffer on a long term basis with barely any public outcry - or

at least none that is consistant or intense enough to do anything serious

about it. Just think how tall we could stand in the eyes of the world - and

of God -  if we, as a people and as a nation, could become as galvanized in

repairing the greater, but less visible, ills of our nation once this

current crisis has passed; if we could harness this current spirit of

togetherness and put it in the service of building an even more perfect


        Or will the words of Amos come back to haunt us: "Woe to the

complacent in Zion! Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on

their couches, they eat lambs taken from the flock, and calves from the

stall! Improvising to the music of the harp."

        Speaking of improvising to the music of the harp, Chris and I took

a trip to Cleveland a week or so ago to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

(How's that for a segueway?) There's probably something of interest there

for anyone who came of age during the last fifty years or so. But the

exhibits are all kind of a sanitized version of rock and roll, all prettied

up for public and rated "G" for family consumption. It focuses mostly on

the music itself and the musical influences that came together to create

all the different genres of rock that we're familiar with today. And I

guess that's as it should be given the mission of the place, but it seems

to me future generations would benefit by knowing something of the lives of

excess that ended many a musical career way too soon.

        But that's not why I bring this up. Before I left for Cleveland I

had been doing some research on another popular young man who came from a

wealthy family. He liked to sing and party and carouse around with his

buddies and, like many of the artists enshrined next to Lake Erie,

experienced war, and like them, it had a profound influence on his life. He

took this gospel we heard today and lived it in a most radical way,

renouncing his wealth and living with the poor and outcasts of society.

This man is a saint whose feast day we are going to celebrate this week.

        Now up at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the top two floors are

devoted to a special exhibit honoring an artist that was always a favorite

of mine. Although he didn't become wealthy until later in life, he too

liked to sing and did his share of partying and carousing around. He also

didn't like what he saw in war (though he never fought in one himself) and

like the other man, it influenced his music and his life. But certainly not

to the radical degree of the first man. Yet, if our secular culture could

have saints, this man would be a secular saint. In fact, his exhibit was

sort of like going to see his "relics." You could look through a piece of

protective glass at an unopened paper bag that held his clothes and

possessions the day he was "martyred." You could see his wedding clothes,

his leather jacket and his many glasses. They had his bed, some of his

report cards, guitars and pianos, many of his original handwritten lyrics

and some of the outfits he wore when he was with the Beatles. Of course I'm

talking about John Lennon. The saint whose feast day we're gonna celebrate

this week is St. Francis of Assisi.

        After the tragedy of Sept. 11 people around the country wanted to

hear Lennon's song "Imagine." Most of you know it: "Imagine there's no

heaven, it's easy if you try, no hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine

no possesions, it's easy if you can, no need for greed or hunger, a

brotherhood of man."

        I noticed that there's a great deal of difference between that and

the famous prayer of St. Francis: "Lord, make me an instrument of your

peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury,

pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, let me sow

hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Lennon's

song doesn't challenge us PERSONALLY. It makes no demands on us to change

so that the world might change. It's kind of a pie-in-the-sky, dreamer,

kind of thing that, even if we can accomplish this utopian world at all,

suggests that we can do it ourselves and even be better off if God were

left out of the picture entirely.

        Francis, on the other hand, invokes the Lord, praying for HIS

peace, a greater peace than we could ever know ourselves and he not only

imagined no possesions, he stripped off all his fashionable clothes,

renounced his family and walked out of town buck naked to live with the

poorest of the poor.

        Lennon only takes us so far into his utopian vision of peace,

musing about a world of peace as we lie complacently on our couches with

full stomachs and listening to music. We, as a society, can be comfortable

with that vision.

        Francis leads us to the extreme, challenging us to change ourselves

and therefore the world around us so that we'll know God's peace in eternal


        Most of us here probably find ourselves somewhere in the middle,

somewhere between being comfortable and total self-giving. With the current

crisis we probably find ourselves leaning toward Francis' challenge to

become God's instruments of peace, but where will our hearts be when this

crisis is over?