Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | September 26, 2010

2010.09.26 Contrasts/Differences – Luke 16:19-31

 Central United Methodist Church

“Contrasts/Differences”

Pastoral Intern Lizzie Sherfey

September 26, 2010

Let us Pray,

Loving and Merciful God, we give you thanks for this day that you have given us. Give us ears to hear and an open heart that we might hear what You say to us today. In Christ’s name. Amen.

Contrasts. Differences. Today’s society and world is on the brink of cutting edge technologies. We have entered the world in which it is hard to keep up with the fast pace. With the onslaught of items like I pad’s, Skype, Facebook, and Twitter, many of us find ourselves yearning for a time when it was different. When it was simpler. Yet, these tools and technologies are not what are creating the problem. We are the creators of these elaborate means of communication, but even with these great strides of ingenuity and advancement, we are a society and world that still lives in a time of contrasts. Rich and poor. Black and White. Young and old. Educated and non-educated. Male and female. Gay and straight. Sadly, the list can go on and on into oblivion. These contrasts often dictate our lives, even when we might not realize it.

I grew up in rural North Carolina. My mother and father both had Master’s degrees. My mother taught high school English at a private school. My father taught school and then transitioned into sales. We were not wealthy. There are many times that I can remember us just barely surviving with the hard choices of whether or not to pay the electric bill or buy groceries. Even amidst some hard times, I had it made. Because my mother taught private school, my brother, sister, and I were able to go there for almost nothing, and we were given the opportunity and gift of a great education. We went to church every week, and we were surrounded with friends and people that cared and loved us. We were privileged. 

For my story of privilege, there are millions of stories that are the exact opposite. There are so many people without jobs, without food, without a home, and most importantly, without someone who recognizes them, loves them, and treats them as  human.

In today’s Gospel text, we hear a parable of great concern. Jesus is speaking the parable of the rich man and Lazarus to the Pharisees. In the previous text in Luke, the Pharisees overheard Jesus talking to his disciples about wealth and appearances. The Pharisees just blew off what Jesus said, while rolling their eyes in disdain because they felt that Jesus was so out of touch. Jesus responded by saying, “What society sees and calls monumental, God sees through and calls monstrous.” It is then that Jesus tells the story of poor Lazarus and the rich man.

The parable opens by describing the rich man, who is known as Dives. This man was one of great wealth; he was dressed in the latest and most expensive fashions, while sitting around his mansion and filling up his days consuming all the niceties and luxuries that life has to offer. As Dives is surrounded by his wealth, Lazarus is just on the other side of his house. As poor as one can be, Lazarus spends his days waiting outside Dives gate in the hopes that he might get a mere crumb from Dives table. Poor Lazarus, Rich Dives. As Dives only recognizes and values himself because of his status and wealth, poor Lazarus’s only friends are the dogs, for they at least will lick the sores on his body. 

Just as Lazarus must suffer through his poverty, people are living everyday in similar circumstances. This parable is not one that just distinguishes between people that are poor and wealthy; it also shows in what people place their value. Dives was not able to see the worth and value in his fellow man; instead, he let the facade of luxury get the better of him, while Lazarus was alone and outcast.

What do we place our own value in today? What is it that we hold dear to us? This parable shows us a new way to live; it is a way that is bold and radical.  It is the way of Christ, for Christ is the Way.

Martin Luther King Jr. preached a sermon using the text of the rich man and Lazarus called, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” He preached it at the National Cathedral in Washington DC on March 31, 1968, and he was killed on April 4th of 1968.  Martin Luther King placed his value Christ being the Way. In this sermon that he preached, he says with much grace and wisdom,

“Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.”

This quotation still rings true today, and it is through this humble text in Luke that we as the Church can better live out what it is Christ has called us to do and be. We are called to not walk past the gate each morning as another person, another child of God is lying there broken, in pain, hungry, lonely, cold, and the list, again can go on and on into oblivion. We get so swept up in our lives and our routines and reaching out in communication with others via these “scientific and technological geniuses,”  that we do not see our brother and sister in Christ who is reaching out for our help and our Love.

In the end of this passage in Luke, both Dives and Lazarus have died. Dives is said to be in Hades and living in torment, yet Lazarus is in heaven resting in the presence and comfort of Abraham. Dives still had his eyes and heart closed. He wanted Lazarus to come and comfort him in Hades because he only saw Lazarus as a lowly servant. Father Abraham told him that Lazarus could not come to him because there was a great chasm between them. Desperately, Dives asks if Lazarus could then be sent to warn his brother, who were still alive about what would happen to them. Again, Abraham denies Dives of his request to which Dives replied by saying, “ If someone came back to them from the dead, they would change their ways.” “ Abraham replied, “If they won’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, they’re not going to be convinced by someone who rises from the dead.”

Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, came to Earth and took the form of a servant, so that we might be shown what it is to love and be loved. Christ showed us a way, the way, which seems to be the greatest contrast of all. Love. To love one’s enemies, to love one’s neighbor as we love God is the reversal and opposite of our fallen nature, but Christ has given the ultimate gift, so we can lead a life of fullness. We must seek to create a world in which we recognize the other, the people that only are allowed on the peripheries of existence. We all know people like this. People that the world have forsaken and forgotten, but it is we, the body of Christ, the Church that must do better.

But we must remember Jesus calls us to live as disciples of Him. We are called to be the salt and light of the world, yet, when we do not remove ourselves from the crowd and become the hands and feet of Jesus then we are not doing what we have been created to do. St. Francis of Asissi was born the son of a wealthy merchant. He was headed down the path of success and glory. He was part of the military, which was offered to the elite. He was destined to follow in his father’s footsteps and become wealthy and prestigious. Yet, he had an experience of a beggar asking for alms that changed his life forever. That person had nothing while he had everything that he needed and much more. He was convicted and after this experience questioned his role in society, and he came to understand that for him that he could serve God best through submitting to poverty.  He recognized that we are all equal before God and that these people who continued to remain nameless and without a voice were in fact Jesus compelled him to give himself to others. But, mostly he gave himself back to God. He remembered that we are all humble servants of God. He had only his cloak and undergarment, and he recognized that even these were not his own. He begged for food and helped the poor not because he gave all his earthly possessions away. But he offered the love of Christ by submitting himself and loved all others freely with the grace and mercy that only God can bestow. My brothers and sisters in Christ this is what we are called to do; this is what we were created to do. We must step out of the crowd and reach out and help the person on the streets who might be hungry by offering food or money, by helping those who are sick or in prison, and  we must give them our love and our presence: God’s presence and God’s love. We must not pass by, but we must do as Jesus and try to offer that love that gives peace. God can use us in ways that are miraculous and beyond all possible imaginings. We can be an instrument of God’s peace, by giving our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness to all. God can use us as a vessel to help others have peace: one that makes us whole and provides salvation and healing. It is scary to think that we have been called to something so big, but we have. Yet, the good news is that we are not alone when we have to step out of the crowd and offer ourselves to others. Because as we are offering ourselves for others so that we might live out God’s love and presence, it is then that Jesus is reaching out His hand to us and saying, “ DO NOT FEAR, ONLY BELIEVE.”  We do not have to be afraid because God is there with us, showing us what it is that we are called to do. We must only believe and make that leap of faith. We must grab a hold of the hand of Jesus by grabbing hold of someone’s hand that is crying out to us: longing to be loved and accepted. Let us not be afraid to make our way out of the crowds and be the presence of God’s love and grace and only believe that God will give us the strength to be the church: the people and children of God and to be the hands and feet of Jesus’ in this world .

To live in a world where people who are different are cast aside is not acceptable, not okay, and not right. Dives and his brothers would not have understood how to live even if someone was raised from the dead. Christ rose, and we can live in a manner that is worthy of the Gospel. We can use the privilege that we have been given and use it to help, to protect, and to aid so that God’s children will be loved. Instead of walking by the gate and not even noticing someone who desperately needs to be recognized, we are given the joyous gift of being able to reach out our hands in love and hospitality just as Christ reaches out his hands for all.

As Marin Luther King Jr. was finishing his sermon, he reminded his hearers of the good news that our faith in Christ can bring true peace and harmony to all. He says, “With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair the stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”  This too is my prayer. Amen

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