9.29.2013

Sunday Sermie: Lazarus and Rich Man


Before the reading of the gospel: Jesus is a brilliant storyteller. People would gather around him,and he'd capture everyone's attention. In today's lesson, he tells a parable. It's a story about a rich man and a poor man. Right before Jesus tells the story, he's just criticized a group of super religious people for their misuse of power and money. When people are awful to other people, it breaks Jesus' heart. This story is from the Gospel of Luke. Of all the four gospels, Luke is the gospel most focused on the stories and needs of those who are poor, sick, and oppressed.

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, Chapter 16:
Jesus said: “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.’”
Sermon: This gospel lesson is like sitting in a dark room, and then Jesus switches the lights on. Or like being asleep and then the curtains are torn open and the sunlight comes pouring in. It wakes us up. And it gives us a new perspective.

Jesus tells parables as a way to expose the realities of life in a different way. So instead of giving the people a big sermon on why THEY MUST CARE about poor people, he tells a story. And then he leaves it to his followers to interpret and make connections.

As the brilliant story teller that he is, Jesus draws people in using language and images that were familiar. At it's core, today’s gospel isn’t a story about heaven and hell. First off, the word "heaven" is never used. And "hell" isn't either. Instead, Hades is mentioned as a place of eternal torment. It's never described this way anywhere else in the Bible. Hades is a Greek term. In Jesus’ day, Greek and Roman culture was everywhere. So Jesus uses a Greek mythical concept of the afterlife and how it worked as an entry point into deeper subjects.

It’s somewhat like Jesus using popular culture as an entry point to talk with us – like talking about an episode of Breaking Bad or Mad Men or CSI. It’s a door through which to start a conversation.

So if it’s not centrally about heaven and hell, what IS this gospel lesson about?

It’s about the gaps the separate us as people. It's about paying attention to those gaps. In verse 26 a special word is used: chasms. Chasms are large divides. They are gaps. The Greek word: Khasma - is only used once in the whole Bible. By using this word, Jesus encourages his listeners to think about the gaps in our own lives. The parable mentions chasm in eternity between Lazarus and the rich man. Jesus uses this image because he knows it could help people start to think about the chasms here on earth. The things that divide us.

Between Lazarus and rich guy...there was a chasm. A great big divide.

Clearly, the rich unnamed guy has some issues with entitlement, greed, indifference, lack of compassion. Rich. Fancy clothes. He has a gate which means he's extra fance. He is not paying attention to the people in his midst. Jesus really paints a vivid picture. We can imagine this man.

Lazarus, on the other hand, is very poor. He’s been dumped at the gate. Dogs lick his sores. He has nothing. No hope.

Interestingly, he’s the ONLY one Jesus ever gives a name to in a parable. His name means; “God helps.”

This name means a lot. When Jesus told his parable, some of the folks he was talking to were really struggling with self-righteous attitudes. These were people who assumed they were rich because they were being blessed by God. By naming the poor man "Lazarus" - Jesus is flipping over the tables. Jesus is making it clear that God doesn't play favorites.

Jesus wants us to see each other – to recognize each other. Poor people. Rich people. And everyone in between. Men. Women. Progressive. Conservative. Book smart. People smart. Whatever. Everyone. All humans. We are called to pay attention to each other.

When we stop SEEING each other - when we just assume the gaps are forever going to separate...it’s something terrible. Really terrible. Eternally terrible.

There were giant chasms in Jesus’ time. Big divisions between people. And Jesus wanted to call some attention to them. He didn’t tell people “Here’s how to fix it all.” He just wanted to take a first step. To see each other. Look and see.

There are plenty of chasms that threaten to separate us still. We all get it. We feel it. Wealth, jobs, marital status, geography, politics...and also the chasms in our own families. It’s a helpless feeling to sense these great divides. But Jesus offers us hope.

We hear this parable with slightly different ears than that original crew. We hear it with the ears of people who KNOW how the Gospel of Luke ends. We know that Jesus ends up dying and rising again - in many ways so that we don't live in a hopeless world of separation. We hear it with ears that know that Jesus is filled with mercy and grace. We don’t hear it with fear. We hear it with curiosity and hope. Knowing what we do about Jesus – we know he brings hope and guidance for a different kind of living.

Wherever we see a gap, we can safely assume Jesus is already there. Jesus is already standing in it and filling it and making a bridge. Jesus is inviting us to mind the gap. And close it.

Closing the chasms is about allowing Jesus to be the bridge that helps us connect to others.

Jesus is not saying that we can instantly end poverty tomorrow. But he is saying: pay attention to each other. He reminds us of that name: "God helps." As loved children of God, we can all claim that name. And we can remember that Jesus gives that name to all his children.

Jesus came - lived, died, and rose again – to close the chasms. When we feel like the gap is too big, we can remember Jesus is already there. And he offers us a helping hand of grace.

A few examples:

In the coming weeks you will be introduced to Zion's new backpack project. There's a gap – a chasm – between kids and food in our community. There are kids who are literally going hungry. Who don't have enough. So Jesus stands in that gap - he forms a bridge - and he has provided a way for us to help. We will be backing bags with food from Channel One and delivering it to the schools.

There's also a man in our community who is no longer able to get to his medical appointments on his own. He isn't able to drive. There's a chasm between him and the doctor. A gap between his reality and his medical needs. So Jesus stands in that gap. And he has provided a connection. There is a man who comes to house and picks him and takes him where he needs to be.

There is such turmoil in Egypt – especially Cairo. There are millions of people just trying to live their lives in peace and security. Sometimes the gap seems so large between our lives here in Stewartville and our brothers and sisters in Egypt. But Jesus stands in that gap. He stands in that chasm. And he builds bridges. Amazingly, we have a connection to one of these bridges! A daughter of this very congregation, Pastor Kirsten Fryer, is serving a congregation there.

There are chasms in this world. And Jesus builds bridges.

Jesus is Christ of the Chasms. So where we would be tempted to see only differences and gaps, may God inspire us to see bridges of hope and possibility. Amen.

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