"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 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.’ 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. 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.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 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.'"
Pastor Marc's sermon on the 19th Sunday after Pentecost (September 25, 2016) on Luke 16:19-31. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
I’ll admit I’m a bit of sucker when it comes to community events of a historical nature. If someone brings out a blacksmith, wears colonial American outfits, and offers me a chance to wear a three corner hat out in public, well, there’s a good chance I’m going to be there. Yesterday, my family and I headed north and crossed state lines to visit Colonial Day at the DeWint House in Tappan. I’ve never been to the DeWint House before which is the oldest surviving structure in Rockland county and served as George Washington’s headquarters twice during the war. Now, this Colonial Day had it all. There were Revolutionary War re-enactors, a blacksmith showing my kids how to make nails, and Ben Franklin walking around on a cloudless day with his kite. And it was there, between the shepherd talking about sheep and a table where we could make candles the old fashion way, that I saw six little stones, sticking out of the ground. The stones were white, came up just past my ankle, and they had letters on them. One said D. Another says A.M. They were so small and so hard to see, I could have tripped over them. Luckily, though, there’s a large sign standing chest high, describing what these stones are. They’re from somewhere else, just a few miles down the road, and were donated when that other property was being redeveloped into something new. These little, ankle high stones with letters on them, are tombstones and they marked the graves of slaves who settled in our neighborhood hundreds of years ago. And unlike the tombstones I usually see in graveyards, I don’t know when these stones were placed. I don’t know who these people were or when they died. They lived hard and terrible lives - lives where freedom was something only other people, mostly white, had. In life, they were on par with cattle and oxen, animals who were unseen and undignified. In death, even their graves didn’t receive their names. Once their usefulness was used up, these men, women, and possibly children were left to be forgotten, lost to history, forever.
And that’s what makes this gospel story so powerful because it’s not the rich man who’s ever named. That’s...not how our world works. The rich - the important - those who wear the best clothes, eat at the best restaurants, and who are quoted in newspapers, magazines, and books - they are the ones we remember. They’re the ones we usually look up to. In the middle of this presidential campaign, the endorsements were hearing about are from senators and celebrities, not from the minimum wage retail workers or the homeless person squatting in the house down the block. We shouldn't know Lazarus’ name but we do. He's sick, hungry, sitting at the rich man’s gate - he’s literally getting in the way so that someone would definitely see him. But they don't. They step around and over him. No matter how close he is, the world has built a chasm between him and anyone who has food to share. Lazarus is left to be forgotten - but, through God, he’s not.
When I look at this text and I look at today, a day when we celebrate our long and fruitful relationship with the Center for Food Action and the Care we provide to members inside and outside this community, I realize we help a lot of people and we will never know their names. The vegetables grown in our garden, the food we collect all year, and the 850 kids we hope to provide Snack Packs for so that no child goes to school hungry - everything we do helps real people. People with lives. People who are struggling to get by. We might not know their names but we refuse to act like they aren't there. We don't let them go unseen because we know how hard it is to share a name if we're too hungry to speak. The food we give is just a beginning - a foretaste of a longer, more lasting, relationship where everyone's names and all people are truly known.
And that's because knowing names is a powerful thing. Names help ground our identity, ground who we are, and help our face stand out in a crowd. Our names, when they are spoken by others, means we are more than just a human. We're a human being, a person who is seen. When our name is known by another, they see our face, see our clothes, and they open themselves to the possibility of connection and we open ourselves to the possibility of being known. Our world likes to claim that only some people, only the right kind of people, are to be known. But God’s Word says something very different. We are called to learn names, to meet people, and to discover why they are who they are. It's in that relationship, that knowing happens. It's in that relationship when true care is shared. To share our name and to know another's is how walls are broken, it’s how love spreads. To share a name is to share in something holy. And we’ve felt this holiness, this connection, before - because when we were baptized, we were baptized through a name. When the water poured over us, even if we were too young to know our name, all of who we are, including our name, was united in and with God’s precious name. A name that is so holy, we are commanded to never take it in vain and a name that is so holy, God can’t help but spread it around. We go out to learn names because Jesus knows ours. And we keep sharing his name, sharing his love, feeding all of God’s people until, in God’s most glorious future, no stone is left with only an initial and no one is left to be forgotten or ignored.
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