Sunday, September 25, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Love and belonging – that’s what we all not only want, but need in life. We all need to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. We need to know that we’re not all alone in this world. We need to know that we are loved. We need to be seen. Yet not everyone is seen. Sometimes a person may feel invisible, like no one even knows they are there, like no one would even miss them, like no one would care if they lived or died. This was certainly the case for the person named Lazarus in our story today. In fact, when we first hear the name Lazarus our thoughts go to the Lazarus who was Jesus’ friend whom he raised from the dead. But the Lazarus in today’s story is not that person. This Lazarus was a very poor man, so poor that he was homeless and sick, and an outcast from the rest of society. He didn’t have any sense of belonging to a community – everyone stayed cleared of this Lazarus because he might “contaminate” them. Lazarus had sores all over his body and people were repulsed when they looked at him. So they didn’t look – they didn’t see Lazarus – they turned away or they were just so focused on themselves that eventually they couldn’t even see him.
That was the case for the rich man that Jesus tells us about in today’s story. Jesus wasn’t condemning the rich man because of his wealth, but because he let his wealth drive his actions instead of serving God. He let his wealth put up gates or walls between himself and those in society that needed him. Every day this poor man named Lazarus (who incidentally means God helps) needed help from this rich man who had more than enough to help him. The rich man had the best clothes, the best foods, the best means to provide care for not only himself, but others. He could have made a difference in Lazarus’ life. He could have shown God’s love to Lazarus. He could have been the answer to Lazarus’ prayers. Instead, Lazarus died – maybe from starvation even though he was right in front of the rich man’s house, maybe from freezing to death while the rich man slept in fine linens, maybe from infection due to the sores that were getting worse on his body while the rich man enjoyed hot baths and oils to anoint himself. We don’t know how Lazarus died; we only know that he died without that sense of love and belonging that the rich man could have showed him.
Extending God’s love and belonging to others is risky business. If the rich man had opened his gates and his arms to Lazarus it would have changed him as well as Lazarus, and change is not something people normally welcome. Most people like their own routine. They like doing things the way they’ve always done them. There’s a comfort it that.
Changing the way you live and welcoming new ideas challenges us and makes us feel uneasy, maybe even a little threatened.
Many years ago a friend of mine told me an incident that happened in their church that illustrates this. One Sunday morning, a woman walked into their church with old, dirty, ragged looking clothes and sat down in one of the pews. It was obvious she hadn’t showered in a while, she smelled a little, and looked like she perhaps had slept in the streets. The service hadn’t started yet, but she started talking to herself and making noises. As more people came into the church, they started looking at her and talking. They soon realized she was sitting in someone’s unofficial assigned seat. Quite a few people decided they were going to have to ask her to leave and so they went to a couple of the church council members and they agreed to escort her out. She was making everyone feel quite uncomfortable. When they approached the woman, she didn’t leave, instead she went to the front of the church. She went toward the pulpit and proceeded talk to them, while she started taking off some of her clothes. Underneath, were other clothes, and she wiped off her face, and fixed herself up revealing she was in fact, their pastor. Now everyone was even more uneasy.
The pastor didn’t do this to be manipulative. She did it to illustrate how easy it is for us an sinful humans to judge people by their appearances and how like the rich man in today’s story we put a separation – a gate or wall between us and those we want to keep out. The people in that church were not bad people, neither was the rich man, but they had a certain way of living that was challenged by the presence of these individuals who were different. And rather than change and think about doing things a little differently, then chose to ignore or send away those who would cause them to live and think differently.
That’s exactly what happened to Jesus. He challenged people to think and behave in ways that were different than what they had grown up to believe. He challenged people to see themselves in a different light. He challenged them to open their eyes and their hearts to all people with the compassionate love of God. Jesus challenged people to live their lives based on generosity and gratitude for all God had blessed them with and to spread the kingdom of God here on earth. Jesus is still speaking to us today and challenging us to be his faithful disciples by living lives of loving generosity and gratitude.
Every day we are given opportunities to be God’s hands and voices wherever we are. We are all God’s children and God lives in each person. Sometimes it’s not always easy to see that. There are times when people may hurt us or we may hurt others – and we must pray that the Holy Spirit open our hearts to see God in that person. When we see others as God’s beautiful creations, it changes us and changes the way we treat them. The story of the rich man and Lazarus today could have had a very different ending. The rich man who died did not have a second chance to go back and do things differently and neither do we. We have one life to live and Jesus demands that his disciples live it in a way that gives glory to God.
This week, this day, ask the Holy Spirit to open our hearts that we may embrace all people with the love of God, that we will make Christ known by the way we live our lives – lives that are overflowing with love, overflowing with gratitude, overflowing with generosity. That is what faithful disciples are called to do so that everyone may know Christ’s love and be embraced by his gracious love and belonging. Amen.