The Rich Man and Lazarus
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.
20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.
22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.
The rich man also died and was buried.
23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.
24 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.’
25 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.
26 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.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’
29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’
31 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.’
Opener: Trail running and paying attention to each step, root, branch, incline and decline?
This summer I’ve been doing a good bit of trail running, up in the Chuckanuts and Galbraith Mountain.
Trail running is, literally, running on trails, in case you don’t know.
One of the most striking differences from running on the road versus running on a trail is the critical need to focus on what is immediately in front of you.
Trails twist and turn — a root pops up in front of you, an incline steepens, mud and puddles block the path and must be skipped over.
Trail running has an urgency to it, it draws the mind into deep focus, for safety and stability.
What is in front of our trail?
What needs urgent attention, not later, but now?
What cannot be avoided or ignored?
Today we finish this 5 week study of Jesus’ parables from the Gospel of Luke, read with eyes on the wicked problems of climate change and crisis.
No need to be distracted by the theology of heaven and hell here.
It is an important aspect, but we must also temper our reactions about the eternal homes of the dead with the notion of parable and Jesus’ poetic license to tell a powerful story and teach a meaningful truth.
What is important about the chasm and the two destinations of Lazarus and the rich man is the contrast they illustrate in comparison to Lazarus laying at his gate and eating scraps from his table.
Think about that for a moment: the gate is a threshold to the estate of the rich man.
It is the entrance into his domain, providing security to his home and definition to all that belongs to him.
For Lazarus to take up residence there for so long would certainly have led the two men to at least acknowledge and know each other.
How can you not?
I bet you even each of us, who don’t have an unhoused person sitting at the foot of our driveway most days, we recognize some of the folks who live on the streets around our town.
When I used to live over off Samish Parkway, I would drive past the same people every day — I knew them, if not personally, then in face and location.
There is an intimacy to the one sitting at the rich man’s gate.
Likewise, the crumbs from his table — an intimate reference.
Closeness, regardless of relationship.
And I highlight this because this closeness provides easy opportunity for care.
The rich man had all kinds of opportunity to feed, house, and heal Lazarus with his resources.
The problem was right in front of him and he needed to only act in compassion.
Now, with the great chasm between them, with the tables turned, the opportunity is lost.
No longer are they close enough for simple compassion to alleviate the pain and torment of the rich man.
The divide has been fixed for these men, when once it was not fixed.
This is one angle we have to reckon with today: is there a calling to act and engage the needs of our world that is right in front of us, and yet we are refusing to engage it?
What happens if we miss our chance?
What happens if the chasm opens and we no longer can cross it and get to help?
Jesus’ parables teach us wisdom for this urgent moment, for this very hour, for our lives today, here and now.
Even if they are about salvation and eternal homes at some level, the action is situated in the here and now.
If we do not choose to act in saving love for the ones in need now, we may never have a chance to do so again.
It seems, from the science and reports from trained statisticians and climate science that our time to act is now or possibly never again.
Dire warnings like “the last generation to have the chance” fill our news and research reports.
The time is now.
The other important angle that we have to face is how we reconcile living with ears closed to the ones who bring the news, the warning, and the opportunity to our doorstep.
Once more, we hear the story of this rich man and Lazarus, but the tone of the rich man has shifted.
“Ok” he says, “if you can’t help me, go help my family that still lives, save them, tell them the truth, make them listen to you.
Surely you can do this!”
The rich man understands the urgency for his family and hopes at least they can be saved from torment.
We might see Abraham’s response as cold.
“They have their chance to hear Moses and the prophets, they should listen.”
Callous, distant, not compassionate, right?
But who are you most apt to believe and act with: the direct, intimate, connected person as seen in the poor man Lazarus, right in front of you, his needs and sores and hunger so apparent OR a come back from the dead Patriarch of the faith who has a message that sounds an awful lot like time travel or validation of the existence of ghosts and perhaps makes you think you’re off your rocker?
Come on — it’s the poor man in front of you.
It’s the voices of compassion and voices rising for justice that are right here, right now, that we have to listen to.
And if we’re not going to listen to them, what makes us think that if some multi-dimensional back-from-the-dead wisp of a saint is going to convince us?
The foolish do not listen to truth even when it smacks them in the face or sits on their doorstep.
How true this is, even in our modern day?
We read the news and know deep down in our hearts what is true and what is a lie.
The rich man saw Lazarus and knew what was the right path to take.
My friends, we live in an urgent time.
It is no longer time for us to debate with one another whether it is right to act, to live in compassion, to make space for the ones who most desperately need our care, to attend to changing our lives so that future generations not only live, but flourish: we know what it means to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly, don’t we?
Before us is Lazarus — facing his anguish, his agony and torment of poverty.
And we can help.
Before us are refugees from war torn parts of our world — facing hunger, fear, and lacking a place to rest.
And we can welcome them.
Before us are powerful leaders — crafting messages to win votes, ignoring their call to govern.
And we can call them to account.
Before us is a world in peril — countless species facing extinction, plants struggling to provide the food for the overwhelming population, air growing less and less healthy to breathe.
And we can respond in collective action to ensure the crisis does not have the final word.
So how do we do this?
The urgent problems are far too wicked to handle on our own.
They overwhelm us.
Let’s go back once more to the rich man and Lazarus.
What did Lazarus need?
Bandages, some water and a bit of food from the feast.
A place to sleep in safety.
Certainly, he needed the systemic issues of his society to shift so that his poverty was no longer the norm, but in the moment, at the gate, he needed simple acts of human compassion.
Similarly, that’s what the rich man needed.
Water to cool the agony for a moment.
So what are the parallels for us?
Are we to hear that we must go before the United Nations and speak our case against climate injustice?
Are we supposed to rally our whole city into action?
Maybe, but it’s smaller than that.
It’s little things.
What’s the water you can bring to the rich man?
Do you have a couple extra bandages to spare?
I want to think about this in terms of our shared life together here, as a church, for a few moments too.
What is it that you can offer in the urgent moment we have as a church?
You’re not expected to go get a theological education and stand up and preach each Sunday, but…can you pray for me, your pastor?
You don’t have to chair a committee or drum up the support of the whole congregation to mobilize around the next mission project — but…can you show up?
Can you participate?
As we head into the Stewardship Season this next month, as we distribute pledge packets and as we all consider our part to play — you’re not expected to fund the whole budget of the church, support the entire Children’s Ministry or build a new wing to the building…but can you provide water?
Can you increase your support as you are able, stepping up in this urgent moment of growth and revival within our congregation?
The problem for so many of us is that we see the wicked problems of the world, the poverty, the environmental collapse, the sinister display of politicians and we think “it’s too big for me.”