In pm's words
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September 26, 2016, 8:00 AM

the one about indifference and the rich man...


Sermon from September 25, 2016

Text: Luke 16: 19-31

Grace and peace to y’all from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, who here has ever heard this gospel story as a stewardship sermon? Just gives you warm fuzzies doesn’t it? You better use your wealth to care or you’ll be like the ol’ rich man – suffering in the ‘bad place’ not even able to quench your thirst with just the dip of a finger in water.

But, I’m not going to go that route this morning – don’t worry. Though, from our other texts leading up to this week, it is good to use what we have in abundance to help care for and share with those in need around us. Not because one might have more, but because God calls us to serve those around us.

I want to move a little bit in this story and focus on what it means for us to see or notice things around us. Did you know that whole industries and marketing strategies are designed so that we don’t have to look anywhere other than straight ahead. Go to any supermarket in town – Wal-Mart, Bi-Lo, or Food Lion and take a look at where the items you purchase tend to be placed.

If you buy more popular items, name brands, etc… where do you end up finding them? Right on eye-level. You don’t have to go looking down to find the most popular cereal, cheese, or even beer. It’s all right there at eye level for you. It might not even be the best or the cheapest item in comparison to the others, but it’s the one that has paid the most to make your life easier and take advantage of the fact that we can kind of be lazy and indifferent.

It’s done this way because we – as humanity – have a tendency to not look down. We march and look forward, sucked into our own little world as if we have blinders on and the marketers of the world have taken shrewd advantage of that. They put the brightest, flashiest, and at times the most popular items right in our eye level. They know most of us won’t look to find that particular item, so they make it so it’s just placed right in front of us.

And this whole marketing strategy reminds me of the rich man in this parable. Every day he passed by Lazarus who was at his gates. We aren’t given much information about how well they knew one another – though the rich man does know Lazarus’ name. However, it can be reasoned that the rich man – nor anyone else –bothered to look down and see him. Instead, they passed by with indifference throughout his life. Not even noticing to care that only the dogs would come to soothe his sores.

If anything, the point that Jesus is trying to drive home in this parable is not so much that his rich man didn’t use his abundance of stuff to help Lazarus (though, I’d wager that Jesus would say he probably should’ve), but instead that the rich man lived in indifference to Lazarus’ need.

The rich man didn’t see Lazarus. Sure, he may have noticed him just enough to know his name. But, he never saw Lazarus. He more than likely saw something ‘less’ than himself. Something not worthy to be noticed or interacted with. That seems harsh to interpret that after only a few verses, but look how the rich man acts after both men have died.

Even in the ‘bad place’ the rich man is still operating from a view of superiority. Still trying to get the person ‘less than him’ to go and do his bidding. Tell Lazarus to deep his finger in water and place it on my tongue. Send Lazarus to go and see my brothers so they won’t end up with me.

Now, there is a tendency to think that what Jesus is saying is that we better shape up so we don’t end up where the rich man is sent. I’m not so sure that’s what Jesus is getting at. Remember, parables are intentionally abrasive, exaggerated, and hyperbolic. I’m not so sure this parable is about how we ‘get’ our eternal reward like Lazarus and not like the rich man.

Instead, I think it focuses more on how we live our life now.

The rich man is indifferent to the world around him. Sucked into his own little bubble, not caring enough to even look outside it to see those in desperate need around him. So in-ward gazing to not even see the one in need at his front gate. Someone he may have had to literally step over in order to enter his home.

So, I ask you… who is Lazarus in your life? Is there someone – perhaps even a group of people – that you fail to notice? The one who cry out, yearning to be free from whatever it is that ails them. Notice them, see them, help them.

For you see, we as humanity do have a problem. We cease to ‘see’ things that are right in front of our eyes. We get sucked into our little worlds and we fail to see that which is all around us. The needs of others at times are so present – all the time – that it is as if it has just faded into the background. For the rich man, Lazarus became a part of the wall, a crack in the sidewalk, something so insignificant that it wasn’t worth paying attention to.

Have y’all done that before? I know I have. Yes, even your pastor.

I’m not sure I’ve shared this story before, but it is still worth repeating. When I was on internship in Alabama, I went to the Synod Assembly and arrived around lunch time. So, naturally I was hungry and went to the best and quickest place to eat that I knew – Jimmy John’s. That particular chain was directly in front of a downtown park. I got my sandwich and sat down facing the greenspace from within the restaurant. I noticed that there was a lot of activity in the park across the street and there were a lot of people. It took me a bit to realize that each of those people were homeless. Here I was eating my quick and easy lunch, just watching the people push grocery carts, carrying bags, and sitting in the hot sun. I was in a hurry and knew there really wasn’t much I could do. I may have said a prayer. I finished my meal and left to go back to the big convention hall to register for the Assembly.

I was there for three more days. I walked by that park every day as I had free time, as I went to meals, as I fetched coffee for the bishop, as I gathered with new friends to go out in the evenings for fun and fellowship. I never saw another homeless person.

They were still there. They were still in the park. They didn’t just magically disappear. I just failed to notice them. I continually looked past them. In my mind, they became as ‘insignificant’ as the trees and bushes in the park. Just there. No need to stop and notice.

I remember being hit with that realization when my internship supervisor asked how the assembly was a few weeks later. I was shocked. I was heartbroken. How could I do that? So easily too!

I mention that story not to say that I’m assured of going to the ‘bad place’ because I didn’t notice people in need one time. But, that day forever changed how I try to live my life. I know how easy it is to discount and look past and see over those around us. We do it a lot. All the time. It is when we recognize that we do it, and find ways, by the grace and call of God, to help and care for those in need that we move away from that life of indifference.

I’m going to share one final story – this is a good one.

As I read this text and thought of my own experiences I happen to see an article that came out in the last few weeks about someone that I now hold great respect for. I’ve never met him. He isn’t famous. But, he’s someone that I hope I can one day be like.

His name is Arnold Abbott. And he got arrested. Again. Second time in a week. In fact, he was so brazen after that first arrest he told those around him – including the ones arresting him – You’re going to have to do this again. You can’t stop me.

Twice he has been caught this past week breaking the law, and I fully expect that it’ll keep happening too.

His crime? Feeding the homeless of Fort Lauderdale. Mr. Abbott, the 90-year-old founder of his Love Thy Neighbor charity – which hands out hot and healthy meals to the homeless of Ft. Lauderdale was asked, “Why do you keep doing this?” His answer – the most gospel oriented answer I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing or reading –

“These are my people. And they deserve to be fed.”

Wow. That’s the gospel.

Throughout his entire ministry and his continued proclamation of the gospel through the guidance of the Spirit, Jesus has wanted us to see life like Mr. Abbott.

These are our people. We are in this together.

Amen.

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