Summit Presbyterian Church Delivered by Jim Eby September 30, 2007
HAVE YOU HEARD? Luke 16:19-31
There are other parables with which I would rather be confronted this morning. Many others. Almost any other.
One commentator on the parables of Jesus said "A parable is like a mirror. It has a purpose of helping a person take a good look at oneself." I'm not so sure I want to look into the mirror of this parable. And I'm not so sure I want to hold up the mirror and ask you to take a look at yourselves in this particular mirror either, for that might cause some ruffled feathers, to say the least. We're working on the important task of thinking through the contents of the church study. We are beginning to think about next year's financial support for the work of our congregation. We are in the midst of the process of listening for the Holy Spirit as we ask for direction for the next chapter of our lives as Summit Presbyterian Church. To hold up a mirror might risk getting the wrong answer when we ask "Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?"But if you and I are to recover the focus of our daily discipleship, if we are to be so presumptuous as to claim to be disciples of Jesus, and we should, then it is precisely now, in the midst of thinking about the future, it's right now that we need to be confronted by this parable, and the plight of the five brothers.
It doesn't take much imagination to picture the surprise of the five brothers when they died and probably joined their older brother in Hades, in great pain themselves. I imagine each would be as puzzled the other. "How in the world did I get here? There must have been a computer glitch. I never did anything wrong. I didn't kill anyone. I didn't purposefully steal from anyone. I don't deserve to be on this side of the deep pit that separates me from Abraham and the family God has given him. I haven't done anything to deserve this eternal torment."And their observations would be partially true. They hadn't done anything. And that was their problem. They hadn't done anything because they were content with things the way they were. They were content because they were healthy and wealthy and considered themselves wise. They hadn't done anything, because they couldn't see Lazarus at their very door step. Oh, they didn't kick him, they didn't send him away. They didn't spit on him with contempt. And that was their problem. They didn't do anything. They didn't care.
And this parable of Jesus comes like a splash of cold water in the face of those who have money and contentment and respected positions. Of course, it's not evil to have money, and it's not a sin to be contented and to know peace, and it's not wrong to carry responsibility. But it is a sin to be rich and contented and to maintain the status quo in the face of starvation, poverty and misery. It is true that the gulf between ourselves and the poor is the gulf between ourselves and God.That was what the rich man in this parable discovered. And as he thought about his five brothers, he realized that they were in the same situation in which he had been. They too were doing nothing about the poor and the hungry and the outcast in their community, at their doorstep. Oh, they had the scriptures, they had the writing of Moses and the prophets. They had the history of the way God called his people to tell of God's lordship and love.
"But that's not enough," the rich man said. "They need something spectacular. Won't you send them a sign from heaven, to startle my brothers into awareness? They are too set in their ways to hear human words. Can't you see they need some audio-visual display to catch their attention. How about a computer print-out strung across the heavens that spells L-O-V-E? Or how about some miraculous suspension of God's laws of nature? How about a resurrection?"
Father Abraham, who knew God and knew people, still shakes his head. "They have the word of Scripture, and that is sufficient. Those who will not listen to the message of scripture will not be convinced by a miracle, not even by a resurrection. Those who cannot see Lazarus at their door step will not listen and believe and respond."
The parable is a mirror. What do we see reflected as we look into it? What to we see as we prepare ourselves to gather next Sunday on World Communion Sunday?Can we see the hungry, even as we gather to celebrate the gracious gifts of God? Can we hear and feel the pain around us, even as we come to receive all God has prepared for us? Can we respond, can we stand with them as brothers and sisters? Can we be the hands and the arms through which Christ works to bring healing and growth?
When Jesus told parables, he intended that the one who heard would identify with someone or something in the parable. He intended for us to get caught up in the parable to the degree that our lives will be enriched or changed or focused.When we look at this parable, it's obvious that we are not Father Abraham. And we can't claim to be Lazarus. And we can't really see ourselves as the rich man, can we? For the rich man is a man who has no hope. His life on this earth is ended, and there are no more choices available to him.Who then is left with whom we can identify?
Just the five brothers. There was still hope for them. And there is hope for us as well. God has answered the cry of the rich man for help. He answered the cry when he sent Jesus so each person could hear and see how God's orders to love God and love neighbor and love self were to look. We have the Scriptures and we have the resurrected Christ as well. And there is a Spirit that continues to hover expectantly, waiting to help us see and help us hear and help us do the work God intends for us.
There was hope for the five brothers and there is hope for us. We cannot minister to Lazarus, but there are others around us who need who we are and what we have.What will you do this week to obliterate the chasms and bridge the gulf between the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the persons of different racial origins or lifestyles? What will you do to affirm the reality that we are all children of God?
It continues to be blatantly true -- how we treat the poor and homeless, the destitute and the hopeless, is God's primary evidence of our faith. Let us live a life that demonstrates that we are disciples of our risen Lord, disciples who hear and respond.
As we ordain and install Elders and Deacons and Trustees this morning, may we do so with expectation and support as they spend themselves leading us where Jesus would have us go and minister in his name.
God, in your love for us, you have given us a resurrection in addition to the Scriptures. Now, by the work of your Spirit, open our eyes to see the Lazarus at our doorstep. Then move us to response that finds expression in our loving and caring and sharing. In the name of our Lord and Savior we ask this. Amen.