Questions and Reflections

September 2016

Unpacking Luke, Lazarus, and the Rich Man

Starting this week, this space will be used to unpack parts of the reading of the gospel. Pastor Marc hopes this will help us return to this story during the week, discovering how God is speaking to us in our day-to-day lives, and letting us explore this story with our family and friends.

When it comes to the individual books in the Bible, there are different ways to outline each one. Here's the outline I use for Luke: Luke is part 1 of a 2 part work (the other half is Acts) and can be split into 4 major sections. The Beginning (1:1-2:52); Teaching (mostly around Galilee): 3:1-9:50; Last Journey to Jerusalem (9:51-19:28); Dying, Rising, and Return to the Temple: 19:29-24.53. Today's reading takes place in part 3 of Luke - the Journey to Jerusalem. Jesus has taught, preached, healed, and ate his way from Galilee to Jerusalem. Today's story takes place during a journey from where Jesus grew up to the place where he will die. That movement from Life to Death to Life again is an important backdrop to this story.  

Notice who is named and who isn't. Lazarus is poor, ill, and hungry. He doesn't have the strength to scare away dogs who bug him. He sits at the gate of a rich man's house, waiting for food and mercy. That mercy doesn't come. Lazarus and this rich man eventually die. The text doesn't mention heaven or hell but our imagination brings those images into the text. Lazarus is with the angels and Abraham, the father of the Israelites. The rich man is in a place of flame. The rich man sees Lazarus and asks Abraham to order Lazarus to serve him. The rich man doesn't ask to be taken away from where he is. He asks for Lazarus to bring him something and teach his brothers to follow a different way. Abraham refuses the rich man's request. The expected order of the world (the poor serve the rich) is upended in God's kingdom. Mercy and care are God's ways and have been that way since the beginning. 

This text is convicting. It reminds us of the ways we are rich and the ways we expect others to serve us. But it's also hope-filled. Abraham reminds the rich man that God's kingdom isn't a total surprise. The message of justice and love is old, rooted into who God is. Abraham tells the rich man to remember who he is. He is a child of God and made in God's image. Before he knew God, God knew him. Lazarus is God's child and know by God too. As God knew them, so does God know us. And we are called to live like God: showing mercy and love to all we meet. 


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Since Sliced Bread [Sermon Manuscript]

"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.'"

Luke 16:19-31

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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A Reflection on Daniel

The First Reading is Daniel 1:1-17.

The Book of Daniel is a fun book that is hard to interpret and understand. The book begins with stories about Daniel and his friends and ends with Daniel trying to understand the visions he's received. The book begins shortly after the king of Judah is deposed by Babylon (about 10 years before Jerusalem's fall). Daniel and 3 friends are, as our reading shares, members of the nobility. They are picked (along with others) out of all the exiles because of their good looks and intelligence. They will be trained to be members of the royal court and to oversee various administrative duties necessary in the Empire. The king provides food and drink for them but Daniel refuses to partake. He, like many immigrants, sees what he eats as a sign of his relationship to where he's come from and who he is. In Daniel's day, meat and other food items were typically offered to the gods before the people. Eating this food means being in relationship with those gods. Daniel wants to follow God so he uses food as a way to stay close to God while living in Babylon.

Food stands in for the line we walk on to be with God. And this line is central to the book of Daniel. When we strip away the difficulties in the book (what the visions stand for, why does Daniel describe events that happen hundreds of years after the Exile, and why is the book written in 2 different languages), the line between walking with God and not, shines through. As the story grows, Daniel is confronted by evil personified by the kings of Babylon. The military and cultural might of Babylon tries to drive Daniel away from God. And this line is easy to cross but, with God's help, Daniel hangs onto God. Even when Daniel is confronted with things he does not understand, like the destruction of Jerusalem, he turns to God in prayer (chapter 9). With God's love, guidance, and grace, we are able to walk with God no matter what hardships come our way. With God's help, we are able to see the line we're called to walk on. And this line with God is, like all lines, infinite in length, showing that evil will never have the final word. God's journey with us continues through today and beyond. 


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A reflection on Ezekiel: God the Shepherd

The First Reading is Ezekiel 34:11-16.

Today's first reading comes after the prophet Ezekiel condemns the false shepherds (i.e. leaders) of Judah. God's word labels the kings and queens of Jerusalem as false because they do not do what a shepherd does. A shepherd takes care of the sheep but Ezekiel's contemporaries do not. The leaders take for themselves, giving their sheep nothing. They feed themselves but not those who need it. They do not strengthen the weak, take care of the injured, heal the sick, or bring back those who have strayed. Instead, with force and fear, they rule over others. The sheep (i.e. the people) become "food for all the wild animals." The people are scattered and alone. No one sees them, except for God. 

God promises the people around Ezekiel that God is their shepherd. God will do what the leaders did not do. God will heal the sick, feed everyone, seek out those far away, and bring everyone home. God will reconcile God's people to God's promises. God invites the people to experience a promise others will make but only God can fulfill it.

But If we remember where Ezekiel is when this word from God comes to him, we see God making an extraordinary claim. Ezekiel is in Babylon, preaching and teaching among the exiles. Everyone is far from home. God's House, and their city are gone, are gone. In a culture where wars were more than just nation against nation but gods vs gods, the destruction of Jerusalem appears to show God being defeated. Babylon's gods won so how can God claim to be Israel's shepherd? 

This question is at the heart of the experience of the Exiles. They expected a certain amount of material success since they were God's people. But with Jerusalem destroyed, that expectation is gone. Faith, without material support (i.e. wealth, prestige, fame, etc) can feel like we're doing faith wrong. 

But it's telling that God, in this passage, doesn't promise wealth. God doesn't say that God's people will end up as rock stars or high priced CEO's. God promises relationship. Faith isn't about things; faith is about being connected to the source of everything. God makes a promise to people feeling isolated and alone that God sees them, loves them, and will not give up on them. God's people have God's presence and no one, not even the gods and military might of Babylon, can take that away from them.


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A Reflection on Ezekiel meeting God

The First Reading is Ezekiel 1:1, 4-9,13-15,18-21,22,26-28. 

When you first met God, did you have a vision like Ezekiel? I’ll admit that I did not. Instead of seeing winged creatures, a giant throne, and an image of the divine full of fire, my experience of Jesus was quieter. When I reflect on my faith journey, I first noticed Jesus in the love of my extended family, through the testimony of friends and strangers, and in the beauty of art, music, and laughter. I met Jesus through the everyday occurrences of the ordinary. The prophet Ezekiel, however, has a different experience.

Ezekiel, like the book of Revelation, is a book filled with images because the prophet speaks through pictures. His prophetic activity probably started around 593 BCE (BC), prior to the fall of Jerusalem. Like Jeremiah, he talked about the coming destruction of the Temple and the Exile. Unlike Jeremiah, however, Ezekiel survives and continues to preach through the early part of the Exile. The population of Jerusalem is in Babylon yet God’s words still come to them.

Ezekiel begins with an image of God. The description of winged creatures and a chariot bring to mind the Holy of Holies, the place in the Temple where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. God is not confined to any one place but is completely other-worldly. God cannot be tamed and is, instead, “holy beyond our understanding and control” (Lutheran Study Bible, 2009). When God appears to Ezekiel, Ezekiel can only see a glimpse of God’s outline and glory. The flames, winds, and fantastic creatures are a reminder that we are not as powerful as we think we are. God can go anywhere and moves seamlessly in any direction. God isn’t trapped in a linear experience of time. God isn’t limited to human expectations or controls. Instead, Ezekiel reminds us that God is God and we are not. 



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