Sunday, September 29, 2013

The One who Has Been Named Luke 16::19-31

A pastor Named William Turner reminds me and now us that “it's the stories we remember ... the stories from history, from our families, from the Bible, from the ministry of Jesus. Long after they've forgotten my sermons, people will say, "I remember a story you told one Sunday...."
Our lives and our values and our convictions get shaped by the stories we believe ... probably because they have the sound and feel of life and reality about them. We can identify with them. In my lifetime, I've been, at different times, the prodigal son, the older brother, and the waiting father. So have many of you. You've been the man in the ditch, the busy priest and Levite, and, hopefully, the Good Samaritan -- in various circumstances. So have I. Then, there's this story about Lazarus and the rich man. I don't have a single purple and linen outfit, but I'm the rich man all right, compared to three-fourths of the world. I don't eat gourmet foods every day, and I'm a glutton just every now and then ... but I live in luxury, compared to three-fourths of the world.”[1]
Today’s Parable is quite an interesting one to pick apart and just see Christ’s sarcasm and playfulness.  Bob pointed out last week’s parable was sarcastic and anyone in that community at that time would have heard at such and would have rejoiced in it.  What was not included was the reaction of those it was intended for.  Luke 16:14states that “the Pharisees, a money –obsessed bunch, heard him say these things they rolled their eyes, dismissing him as hopelessly out of touch.”[2] So Jesus downright admonishes them contradicting the world as they perceive then goes on to give this parable.
Jesus really wants to show the hypocrisies of the ruling class and so lays down this story which turned many things upside down.  First Christ names the poor man, Lazarus.  No other person in all of Jesus’ parables has a name, yet this one, the poorest of the poor the one who is to represent the nameless ones, the ultimate outcasts of society has a name.  Not only does he have a name but his name has meaning it means “God has helped”.
Meanwhile the rich man is nameless. You may have heard this rich man referred to by the name of Dives, but dives is simply the Latin word for "rich." In regular society by his description everyone would know his name and probably why there is an attempt to name him. Yet this man is made the nameless one.  The man who has the most expensive line of clothing to wear, the man who deems himself so well off he dresses as a high priest wearing linen robes.  I am not making an assumption here the priests wore linen robes and a plain white sash while that of the high priest work a sash embroidered in purple.  Purple was also the color of royalty so we know this rich man thought high of himself and Jesus is tying him to the leaders of the time.
The story goes on to tell us not only did this guy dress well he at sumptuously every day, every day, not just on some rare celebratory occasion but every day! Sumptuous, according to Miriam/Webster is “extremely costly, rich, luxurious, or magnificent.”[3] This means well he had the finest of meats and seafood and wine, 7 course meals at every turn. 
To make matter even more impressive he had his complex gated.  This was not normal except for the very rich and those in high power who might have needed protection from the common person.  Today we see even middle class homes have gates and walls but this was a huge added expense back then. Of course the question that is often asked today is just as true then was the gate to keep the world out or keep him locked in.
It is often said that one would be happy to just have the scraps off the table, or just a scrap of bread.  Well this is just what Lazarus waited for.  You see in those days the rich did not have napkins and fancy utensils they used their hands to eat and would wipe the grease off in bread which they would toss aside.  Lazarus was waiting just for that a scrap of bread.
Lazarus sat outside the gate of the rich man.  Outside the gate of the one who makes important decisions. Outside the Gate of one who may choose to notice him or not, outside the gate of general society and all the luxuries…and even the basic needs it can provide for.  Lazarus sat outside the gate of the unnamed rich man and was passed by daily as part of the rich man’s routine unnoticed, unseen, uncared for.  His only companions the dogs that cared for him as best they could.
Then Lazarus dies.  He is taken to heaven and placed on Abraham’s chest.  Meanwhile the nameless one dies as well and he goes to Hell.  Literally the word used is Hades as opposed to Sheol which was commonly known as the land of the dead.  Nope he gets the big time you’re going to suffer award.
The nameless one beseeches Abraham himself to ask Lazarus to get him just a drop of water.  I find this interesting here this guy dies, is buried, (By the way it is more than Lazarus had as a beggar he was probably just dumped on the trash pile outside the city) is suffering in Hades and still expects to address father Abraham himself and ask to be served by the one he considered not even worth y of his attention. He is still a touch arrogant even in his own suffering.
Here Abraham tells him simply the same message as the beatitudes.  Lazarus suffered on earth and is rewarded in heaven.  The rich man, the nameless one, had all his rewards on earth and now he must suffer.  But it is not just that he is suffering, there is this huge gap between them so, even though they may wish to offer comfort, they cannot.
Now I may be adding a level to this but we often say that sin is missing the target,, but here we have a man who never took aim.  His whole life was about him and he was totally separated from God and now in the afterlife of this story he remains totally separated from the realm that is God.
He goes on then to plead to send Lazarus to go warn his brothers at his father’s house. There is humor here as well for he again is asking Lazarus to perform a service, the man who received no service or care from the rich man.  Wouldn’t it had made more sense to say let me go warn my brothers of their ways?  Maybe I am just thinking too much but to me his request seems rude, arrogant and absurd. This unnamed rich man Just doesn’t get it!  Who is going to listen to a dead stranger?
Abraham points out that it really doesn’t matter who he sends for all the teachings they needed they all ready have.  If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets “they won’t be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.” (Luke 16:31), a little foreshadowing?   If they are not interested in Faith and the lessons already given why would they hear them after one rises?
There is a lot of metaphor, innuendo, downright sarcasm in this story but what does it mean for us today.  You know when the rich man asks for just a drop of water all I can think of is who has water and who doesn’t and was he concerned about that?  Are we concerned about that? You know that “At this point, approximately 40 percent of the entire population of the planet has little or no access to clean water and it is being projected that by 2025 two-thirds of humanity will live in "water-stressed" areas.”[4]
Most people cannot go 3 days without water before succumbing to dehydration.
The food that Lazarus never saw made me look into the food situation in the world today.  There is a book and a new exhibition entitled hungry planet. Peter Menzel traveled the world to look at consumption around the Planet.  He looked at what a family spent and what they considered to be favorite foods. A family of 5 in Germany spends about 532 Dollars a week on food Favorite foods: salads, shrimp, buttered vegetables, sweet rice with cinnamon and sugar, pasta, meanwhile; the Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp, a family of 6 their food expenditure for one week: $1.23. Favorite foods: soup with fresh sheep meat.

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When I think of scraps from the table, the House of Representatives wants to cut billions from food stamps.  A program that offers $5 a day to feed people.  They cannot see Lazarus outside their gate.
We have a program here and what we do is but a drop in the bucket, to feed the homeless in the park.  We help the food pantry who feeds hundreds, thousands of people a year.  There are nearly 60000 homeless people in Los Angeles County.  Worse than that, according to the united way, in Los Angeles county there are 250,000 millionaires and 1.4 million poor[5], and most of the poor are the working poor.  This means in spite of work, sometimes two or 3 incomes the household is still below the poverty level. Lazarus at the gate.

I am not saying we can feed every hungry person or clothe all those who need it but if you see someone who is asking for help…even if you cannot do anything at that moment, just by saying I am sorry I can’t help right now, you are seeing Lazarus, when you help even with a quarter to the feeding programs or by using your Ralphs card, you see Lazarus.  When you drop of items in the collection box on the corner or you leave meds at my door for the hospice in Mexico …you see Lazarus.
This is all today’s story is asking.  Not that you solve everything but that you at least see and try, for every time you reach out in any way shape or form you are reach out towards God.  Every time you see Lazarus, you see Christ.  Every time you noticed the unnamed, the outcast the hungry, the homeless, the poor.  You know that Christ took time to name the poor, the outcast, and all that is asked of us is to take notice and try and to remember they are  worthy of notice.
May we see Christ in each and every person we meet and know that they have a name and I pray that we may all strive to continue to make this world a better place for all.  Amen.

[1] William L. Turner, World Hunger: Beggars at the Gate Luke 16:19-31, (accessed September 24, 2013).
[2] Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress, 2003), 1902.
[3] Merriam-Webster, Sumptous, (accessed September 24, 2013).
[4] Michael Snyder, 30 Facts About The Coming Water Crisis That Will Change The Lives Of Every Person On The Planet, (accessed September 24, 2013).
[5] United Way, United Way Reports Growing Poverty in Los Angeles, (accessed September 24, 2013).

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