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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Do You See Me Now?

Luke 16:19-31
            What difference does it make that Jesus rose from the dead? What changes in our lives when the realization strikes that Jesus came as one of us, and that he was crucified, died, and rose again?
            I saw a video on the internet the other day. It showed this incident I’m about to describe to you, which took place on the street of a city – it could have been Baltimore, D.C., Wilmington – it could have been any city – even Easton.
            A man is lying on the sidewalk in the doorway of what appears to be a vacant store. Right next door there are classy shops and an upscale restaurant. The man appears to be homeless. He’s dirty, his hair is long and stringy. He’s wearing long pants but he’s barefoot, and has no shirt.
            People walk by and cars pass through the scene. The homeless man is trying to sleep, there on the sidewalk, under the small amount of protection provided by the façade of the building. Another man enters the scene.
            At first he might be going to pass by, too. But then he hesitates.  He stops and looks down. He speaks to the man who is lying there, asks if he is okay. Then he reaches into a plastic bag and pulls out a pair of brand new socks. He hands these to the man.  
            The homeless man looks confused at first, then begins to reject this gift. But the Good Samaritan insists and soon, the homeless man is pulling on his new pair of socks, while the guy tells him there is another pair right here, and he’s putting them in the sack pack he is carrying, along with some other items, then he gives the man the sack pack and a pair of canvas shoes as well.
            Finally, the homeless man stands up, new socks and shoes covering his worn feet, thanking his benefactor for his kindness, when his new friend takes off the t-shirt he is wearing and insists on his neighbor putting the shirt on, too. “It smells good!” the recipient declares, after pulling the shirt over his head and slips the sack pack over his shoulder. The two men embrace and the giver of these gifts ask the man if he can pray with him.  
            What difference does it make in our lives to confess that we are not only followers but disciples of Christ?  Through the parable in our Gospel text this morning, we see what difference it could make.   
            You might have gotten the idea by now, from the various accounts and stories in the gospel of Luke, that Jesus didn’t have much use for money.  The wealthy in this gospel are often depicted in negative ways, and it makes us uncomfortable.
Jesus is definitely not neutral in his attitude about money – and we who, even if we are living paycheck-to-paycheck, are still among the wealthiest people in the world today, find this offensive. What is wrong with having money?
Here we have another parable about how wealth cannot save you, and about how what we do in life tells a story about where our greatest allegiance lies.  This isn’t a story designed to point to the after-life, as much as to highlight that how we live in the here and now reflects the nature of our relationship with Jesus, and that the choices we make matter.
            The main character is “dressed in purple and fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day.” Linen cloth was very expensive in the first century world of Judea. And purple was a color reserved for royalty or for the very well-connected.
So right off the bat we see that this man is not just comfortable/rich, but might be called one of the “one percent”.
            On the other hand, the second character in the parable is someone people would want to avoid. He lies at the gate, day and night. He is covered with sores. He is the man in the doorway.
Needing to depend upon the kindness of others – even if it would simply come in the form of cast-off left-overs from the richly laden tables of the rich man, he is denied even that.
People pass him by every day. Every single day, coming and going from his estate, the rich man passes him, too. Yet he never acknowledges him, never lends him a hand, never extends a kindness. It is as if he is invisible.
Yet, the dogs notice him; they at least lick at his sores. This poor man, whose name we later learn is Lazarus –  was so hungry, that he would have been happy for the scraps that fell off the rich man’s table, which those dogs scrambled to consume.
To add insult to injury, imagine him lying there, starving, yet as those dogs come around to lick his wounds, he is able to smell the lingering scent of the food scraps he would die for - on the dogs’ breath.
Ultimately, the poor man, Lazarus, dies and he finds himself in the benevolent company of the patriarch, Abraham. His agony is turned to bliss as he is welcomed, comforted, embraced, and fed with heavenly food.
The rich man also dies, but his outcome is not nearly as good. In fact, it diverges as far as possible from that of the formerly pathetic cripple Lazarus he ignored all that time.
While in life he enjoyed all the comforts, status, food, drink, fancy clothes, and rings for his fingers that he could possibly desire, in death he is stripped of every good thing and finds himself in agony.
Rather than humbled by this turn in fortune, the rich man still sees himself as superior, still sees himself as deserving the ministrations of a person like Lazarus. But death is the great equalizer. It comes to all of us and none of the wealth, goods or status we have amassed in life, can follow us to the grave.
When the rich man spots Lazarus in the company of Abraham he fails to comprehend his own true predicament. He fails to fully understand the great impenetrable chasm that separates him from Lazarus.
What we learn from his exchange with Abraham is that the rich man’s money and his status did not exactly blind him to the need of Lazarus. His use of Lazarus’ name reveals the truth; he knows who Lazarus is, which means he saw Lazarus’ plight all along. He could have helped him. He could have eased his suffering. But he chose not to. He did nothing to relieve his thirst or the ache in his belly.
Even now the rich man still acts like a king, ordering Abraham to tell Lazarus to serve him. He just doesn’t get it. Even now, on the other side of the curtain between life and death, the rich man clings to his pretentions.
            When Abraham shows him the error in his thinking and the finality that death brings, the rich man demonstrates no remorse – still expecting preferential treatment for the sake of his brothers who are still living. Tell them, he says, tell them what they must do so that they don’t end up like me.
            Abraham replies, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them. If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
            What difference does it make that Jesus rose from the dead? What changes in our lives because we know this Jesus, who came as one of us, and was crucified, died, and rose again?
            Jesus changes everything, because in love and mercy for the whole world, Jesus does take sides.  We are the ones who have the law and the prophets and have now seen God’s compassion embodied in the life of Jesus.
Throughout the gospel Jesus tells us to look out with the same compassion - for our neighbor, whomever that might be; the homeless, the destitute, the lonely, the refugee, the outcast, the addict, the migrant worker, the blind, the lame, the needful, acting-out child or teen, the barely-hanging on ex-con; just as Jesus consistently looked out for the marginalized, the downtrodden, the cast-away sinners.
Jesus holds us to what is at the heart of the Law that God, through Moses, brings: love of neighbor; unrelenting care for the poor, the widow, the foreigner.
Jesus reminds us that what was expected of the rich man, what is expected from us, is not new.  It reveals the fundamental character of God, enacted in Jesus, demanded of the disciples, that there be no invisible downtrodden.
We are to seek out, see, and respond to those in need, share the love of God and God’s preferential care for those who are powerless and vulnerable. We are to use our resources for their sake and for the sake of the world.
Each week as we gather here, we celebrate around the table Jesus’ victory over the grave.  Nourished in the Spirit we are sent from here to make choices which are shaped by the compassion, love, forgiveness, and mercy of God through Jesus Christ.
What difference does it make in our lives to confess that we are not only followers but disciples of Christ?
It makes all the difference in the world. As followers of the crucified and Risen Lord, we live our lives as disciples of Christ by doing what Jesus did. Doing like the man in the video did.
We share our resources. We operate out of gratitude for the abundant life God has given us in Jesus Christ; we are freed to be alert to the need around us. We see the man asleep in the doorway. Rather than judge why he is there, we respond in Christ-like love to his need.
We do not do this alone. We do this as members of a community, the body of Christ, God’s hands and feet in the world. Disciples live in response to the love, care, and wealth with which Jesus blesses us for the sake of the world.
We might not consider ourselves rich, but in that case we are not looking very closely in the mirror. Our perception may be warped by the powers and principalities around us that skew our vision and self-understanding. The truth is that for each of us in this place this morning, we have opportunities and access, we have choices and resources. And that is simply not true for everyone.
The great chasm that existed between the rich man and Lazarus in death might have been impenetrable, but the deep chasm between the rich and the poor today is penetrable. There is a dichotomy in a world where many of us have multiple cars, the latest smartphones, ginormous TVs, perhaps more than one, nice houses with park-like lawns to care for, yet where, in January 2015, 564,708 people were homeless on any given night in our country alone, and 206,286 of those were families; 83,170 were considered chronically homeless.
Lazarus lives today in our neighbors right here and far away. And we have the ability and the responsibility to see them, to embrace them, to give them warm socks and shoes for their feet, sometimes even the shirt off our backs, a hug and a prayer.
The glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ blesses us with abundant life that comes from seeing those around us as God’s beloved children hungering and thirsting for our compassion, care and fellowship. The blessing of the gospel enables us, in love, to risk taking off our shirts to fill the need in our brother’s and sister’s life. The hope and assurance of the gospel is that we will all, one day, be welcomed, comforted, and blessed in the afterlife as was Lazarus himself not because of what we have done, but because of what Christ has done in and for us.   

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