29 September 2019
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
Rush United Methodist Church
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.
The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.
He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’
But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’
He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’
Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’
He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’
He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”
Jesus is a master storyteller.
Some of the parables Jesus tells
Just speak for themselves.
The message is obvious.
Little commentary is necessary.
Truth is revealed for all to see and experience.
I love these opportunities, such as today,
For it affords me greater latitude to
expand the story
and challenge us with questions we can apply to our lives and families.
This parable about a rich man and Lazarus,
Unique to Luke,
Plays itself out in three acts, and
Leads me to ask four questions.
First question: what separates us from each other?
I’m thinking about the gate;
The gate that came between the rich man and Lazarus.
I think about the chasm that is fixed
preventing passage between Hades and the
Elevated environs of angels and Father Abraham.
The gate and the chasm are obvious barriers.
Makes me think,
I erect gates and dig uncrossable chasms
Between others and myself all the time.
Instead of serving God,
I live enslaved by my schedule.
Instead of stopping to help someone in need,
I rush to make an appointment on time.
I justify passing by on the other side by telling myself that
My meeting was a church meeting.
I confess that I live according to Chronos time;
That counts the hours, minutes, and seconds of every day.
I confess that I fail to live according to God’s time,
That counts people, relationships, and service in the name of Jesus.
How about you?
What are the gates we erect and what are the chasms we dig
between ourselves and others
that are not so obvious?
The man living in the gated community is wealthy.
As I mentioned last Sunday,
Wealth is a sign of a failure to follow God’s laws:
Charging interest and not celebrating Jubilee.
According to the World Bank,
10.5% of the 7.7 billion people of the world
Live on less than $1.90 a day.
(I can’t speak for you, but …)
Living in a vault,
Swimming in gold coins,
Spending my days printing money.
I confess that my wealth is a barrier between others and me.
Lazarus’ health care is delivered by dogs who lick his open sores.
(And you thought your health care was bad!)
At the same time,
I complain about health care to anyone who will listen:
The copays, seeing my doctor, scheduling an appointment, referrals to a specialist, juggling my FSA and my HSA.
Meanwhile, the Center for Disease Control reported last year
that 11.1% of Americans under the age of 65 don’t even have health insurance.
That’s 30.1 million people.
The World Health Organization reports that in 2019
Life expectancy in high income countries is 80.8 years,
While life expectancy in low income countries is 62.7 years;
A difference of difference of 18.1 years.
In low income countries, one in three deaths are children under the age of five.
I confess that access to healthcare
is an unjust and uncrossable chasm the world has created and
In which, I enjoy the advantage of an unlevel playing field.
The Gospel begs the question,
What gates and chasms are placed in your life
That benefit you at the expense of others?
If you built the barrier, you can remove it.
If the barriers that give you privilege have been put in place by others,
We are called to honor our baptismal vow to
Reject injustice and oppression
Where ever and when ever they are found.
Speak for those without voice.
Defend the defenseless.
Reject injustice and oppression and
do it in the name of the author of Justice and equality,
Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Second question: how do I treat others? as objects or as individuals?
Jesus uses this fictional parable of Lazarus and the rich man
to teach us many lessons.
Pay close attention to the details.
As is often the characteristic of the Gospel of Luke,
Jesus identifies Lazarus and Abraham by name.
The rich man is not identified.
Perhaps Jesus is doling out justice;
Revocation of membership in the VIP club and
Granting eternal anonymity as payment
For a privileged, promoted, pimped-up and pimped-out mortal life?
Welcome to coach … and being called last to board.
Notice; the rich man knows Lazarus by name.
He noticed him begging and suffering at his gate
Over a long of enough period of time that he learned Lazarus’ name.
And still, he did nothing to help.
Notice; the rich man,
In the agony of Hades flames,
Looks up and doesn’t speak to Lazarus;
He speaks to Abraham.
In death, as in life,
The rich man treats Lazarus with disdain,
as less than a slave,
as one who can be ordered around.
The rich man treats Lazarus as an object.
To the rich man, Lazarus is nothing more than a pawn to be moved,
A means to an ends,
A disposable detail to be blamed
For the delay and, ultimately, the denial of his eternal objective.
I confess, I easily fall to the temptation of treating others as objects.
I pass judgment about others by the way they look,
Their lifestyle, or their choices.
I treat others as objects when I think about them by labels or categories:
That welfare mother,
That lazy immigrant,
That ignorant member of the other political party,
That convicted prisoner,
That woman with Down Syndrome,
That pain in my butt,
That triple bypass,
That widow with dementia.
The Gospel is clear,
How we treat our neighbor matters.
Using broad brush strokes and generalities lumps everyone together and
Makes other groups the object of our rage.
Objectifying others becomes the catalyst for
Cold, insensitive words and escalating violence.
When it comes to being a disciple of Jesus
Words and behavior matter.
Jesus teaches us to treat our neighbors as human,
Learn their name and respectfully call them by name.
Jesus teaches us to speak and act with respect and compassion,
Treating every individual as a child of God of sacred worth,
As a near perfect image of our Creator.
The way we act and speak about others
the honest way we think about God and
our true behavior in God’s Kingdom.
Third question: Is my heart at war or at peace?
Jesus does a masterful job of casting the roll of the rich man
As a character in this parable as a man whose heart is at war.
He fights for privilege
To receive good things.
He demands to be respected,
To be treated with the honor worthy of his purple, royal clothing.
He resorts to manipulation
To get his way.
(Notice how he addresses Abraham as ‘Father’? It’s a shameless appeal to recognize the fact that he is a child of Abraham, too.)
Equal justice is good for me when it gives me a leg up,
But it’s bad for me when it gives someone else the advantage.
A heart that fights is a heart at war.
A heart that demands special treatment is a heart at war.
A heart that is manipulative is a heart at war.
How’s your heart these days?
I confess that
I fight to increase my net wealth and improve my future pension.
I love being seated at the table of honor and getting called to go first to the buffet.
Sometimes I’m even known to try to manipulate my marriage, my children, my friends, and parish.
I confess that sometimes my heart cold as ice, made of stone, and at war with the world.
Obsession is often a sign and symptom of a heart at war.
Isn’t Jesus using this story of a rich man and Lazarus
To change our hearts?
To remold and remake our hearts into hearts of peace?
Which leads us to the fourth question,
Quietly lurking in the background of this Gospel lesson;
The unspoken truth that is obvious
But no one wants to talk about …
Fourth question: How will we respond to Jesus’ call to repentance?
No one wants to talk about repentance,
Let alone do it,
Because repentance is hard and painful.
Repentance is coming to terms with the truth about ourselves and our sins.
Repentance exposes the fact that we sometimes treat others as objects, less worthy, inferior, not as God’s children.
Repentance reveals the truth about our wealth and how we use it.
Repentance is a painful slap in the face, and
We know it’s going to cost us.
Repentance lifts the curtain,
Exposes our hearts when at war,
And lets all the world to see the hypocrisy,
Of stepping over the poor and the sick
dying at our front door or front gate.
Repentance is painful because it demands a change.
I can’t speak for you, but I know that I don’t like to make changes in my life.
Change costs me time and money.
Jesus’ story of a rich man and Lazarus
Is a call for you and me to make necessary changes in our lives
While we still have the time and the means to do so.
The clock is ticking.
Repentance requires me to fess up to my mistakes,
Tear down barriers I’ve built between others and myself, and
Get to work making it right.
Repentance is as painful as ribs getting spread for heart surgery;
It transforms the heart,
Giving us a heart of peace when we follow Jesus
In place of a heart at war
When we live in wealth and privilege at the expense of others.
What separates us from each other and from our Lord, Jesus Christ?
Grant us, O Lord, the will to repent of our ways,
To tear down our barriers,
And to replace every gate and chasm in our life
With a door or a bridge.
How do we treat others? As individuals; each with a name, story, and of sacred worth?
Grant us, O Lord, the courage to repent of our ways,
To embrace every person, without exception,
as a person of worth, as your precious child.
Is your heart at war, at peace, or someplace in between?
Hear our cry of repentance, O Lord,
That we may turn away from war
And receive your perfect and eternal peace.
“Turn back, O man
Forswear thy foolish ways
Old now is earth
And none may count her days
Da da da da da
Yet thou, her child
Whose head is crowned with flames
Still will not hear
Thine inner God proclaims
Turn back, O man
Turn back, O man
Turn back, O man
Forswear thy foolish ways”
(Godspell, by John-Michael Tebelak, lyrics from “Turn Back, O Man”)