The pie in the sky is rotten – sermon for March 26, 2017Lazarus and the Rich Man – Luke 16.19-31

I wonder, what kind of pie? What kind of pie was Lazarus enjoying in heaven? I know I would like one piece of apple pie, coconut cream pie, chocolate pie, and oh a piece of pecan pie. Umm. That’s my idea of pie in the sky. Isn’t that what we see in this story Jesus tells? Lazarus suffers in this life here on earth, but don’t worry he’ll be taken care of in the here after.
Chorus

 You will eat, bye and bye

In that glorious land above the sky 

Work and pray, live on hay 

You’ll get pie in the sky when you die

I didn’t write those words. The origin of “Pie in the sky” is from a song written in 1911 by the labor activist Joe Hill. The song is entitled, “The Preacher and the Slave” which was in part a parody and a criticism of the Salvation Army hymn “In the Sweet Bye and Bye”. It begins:

 Long-haired preachers come out every night 

 Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right

But when asked how ’bout something to eat 

They will answer in voices so sweet
Chorus

 You will eat, bye and bye

In that glorious land above the sky 

Work and pray, live on hay 

You’ll get pie in the sky when you die

And the Starvation Army, they play 

And they sing and they clap and they pray 

 Till they get all your coin on the drum 

 Then they tell you when you’re on the bum
 Holy Rollers and Jumpers come out 

 And they holler, they jump and they shout 

 Give your money to Jesus, they say     

 He will cure all diseases today
Chorus

 You will eat, bye and bye

In that glorious land above the sky 

Work and pray, live on hay 

You’ll get pie in the sky when you die

The song goes on with a couple more verses. You get the idea. This wasn’t the only protest song Joe Hill wrote as a leader of the labor movement. And, as I hope is clear this promise “pie in the sky” should leave a real bad taste in our mouths, for two reasons. First of all, if the story of Lazarus and the rich man is a description of God’s plan, a description of how heaven works, and if Lazarus and those like him have pie in the sky waiting for them, if those who suffer and starve well then the rich, the ones with plenty to eat, those who can sit at a table at Starbucks with a coffee and scone while someone else is begging for coins, if we can stroll through our choice of Sendiks or metro market, Whole Foods, Trader Joes and pick out whatever meets our fancy, while others stand in lines at soup kitchens, and pantry, or worse yet starve in drought ridden and conflict riddled south Sudan and other parts of Africa—doesn’t that mean our “goose is cooked”. Considered that way, this whole pie in the sky theology tastes pretty darn rotten to me.
Oh sure, we can justify ourselves, we’ll do what we can: we are nice people, we are the kind of people who will advocate for meals on wheels and school lunches, foreign aid, WIC. Hey, we have pantry here in our basement, and some of us work long hard hours there, we give money and time. We make donations. How do we feel as we drive past the men and women by the side of the road with their signs? Do you still feel overwhelmed or a bit guilty when you see the face of Lazarus, see those who hunger, who are mentally ill, who live on the streets?
Even with the promise of pie in the bosom Abraham, this story isn’t warm or fuzzy. Someone, everyone suffers. And no one likes to hear that. Especially the Pharisees who, as Luke tells us just a few verses before this story, loved money, this story, this teaching—Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, and they didn’t like it one bit. Of course neither did the businessmen, the politicians, the police, the establishment, the industrialists, the government like Joe Hill. Joe Hill, who by the way was an immigrant from Sweden, within 5 years of writing this song Joe Hill was arrested and may have been wrongly convicted of murder, and then he was executed by firing squad by the state of Utah.
Sound familiar? I hope it does, for the last weeks we’ve been hearing from Jesus that the religious leaders, the lovers of money, would conspire with the empire, and that Jesus would be arrested, wrongly convicted (for Jesus his conviction was of insurrection), and executed. Now, I just said Jesus was wrongly convicted. He wasn’t planning to overthrow the Romans. Or better said: he wasn’t planning to overthrow just the Roman occupiers. I think he actually was a revolutionary, a rebel, and insurrectionist working to overthrow all empire: all oppressors. Because what Jesus is really telling us in this story of the rich man and Lazarus is that this whole pie in the sky thing isn’t God’s recipe. That’s not how God wants this world to work.  

But the empire, or industrialists, or capitalists, or the rich, or the plutocracy, whatever you want to call it doesn’t want to hear that, doesn’t want us to preach that, doesn’t want us to sing about that, and evil will do whatever it can to quiet us down, and so that we don’t work for that piece of the pie in the here and now.  
It occurred to me this week, that if the church is kept so busy feeding the hordes of people made hungry form the latest proposed budget, maybe we will be too busy to question the system, to work to end inequality, to overturn a system designed by the very few haves which feeds on the lives of the have-nots. Let me tell you, Jesus doesn’t want, and didn’t die for another church food-pantry. 
What is good news in these words of Jesus for us today, is that Jesus isn’t merely concerned with souls in heaven. He isn’t just trying to save us from some hell in the hereafter. Jesus is all about the hell we make in the here and now. So first of all, let’s be clear that is the hell we should be concerned about. The one people are suffering right now in this world of violence and inequality, hatred and fear. And this hell, it’s not God’s idea. It’s all on us.
God has a different vision. One where there frankly is no room for hell. The song of God that Jesus sings, preaches, and lives is the vision of a world where all God’s children have enough, where no one is tossed outside the gate or stands by or sleeps under the bridge while rich drive over. Instead of drones dropping bombs, instead of food programs, development, addiction treatment, education cuts, Jesus is in tune with God’s grander vision for this world, right now. Jesus has a grander vision of Lazarus and the rich man sitting at a table cutting into, sharing, and eating that pie together today. Amen.

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