the one about risky love...
September 30, 2019, 12:00 AM

Sermon by Rev. Jennifer Shimota from September 29, 2019

Text: Luke 16:19-31


Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father and form our Lord and Savior Jesus, who is the Christ. Amen.

Jesus has been telling lots of stories about riches guys these past few weeks! We had the story that we often call the Prodigal Son, where a fairly rich guy and his sons make some choices and struggle with relationships a bit.

We had a story of the dishonest manger last week, where a rich guy has a manger who doesn’t want to be poor, so he makes some choices. And today, we have a rich man and Lazarus.

Sometimes I think we lose track of how Jesus is teaching those around him because we just get a small snippet of scripture each week. We know quite well the story of the Prodigal Son, or Good Samaritan, or maybe the Rich Man and Lazarus, but we don’t always see the big picture of what Jesus is teaching – like we might if we read the whole gospel.

Which, by the way, would take you a couple of hours. It really is worth doing. Just sit down with a cup of coffee – or tea for me - and let Luke tell you the story of our Lord. If you do that, you will see which stories Jesus tells back to back. And sometimes you’ll see that those stories have a theme, and together they are bigger than they are individually.

There is a rich man in our story today.

He uses his wealth to serve himself. He has a home stockpiled with scrumptious food – on which he feasts whenever he wishes. And, there’s a poor man, Lazarus, whom the Rich Man walks by every time he goes in or out of his home.

Lazarus is covered in sores, and the rich man walks by. Well, yah… maybe Lazarus is contagious! Leprosy was no joke! And if his sores were leprosy, then I guess it makes sense that the Rich Man would stay away.

I guess the dogs didn’t know better. They licked Lazarus’ sores – which is gross, to be honest.

Lazarus is hungry, and the rich man walks by.

Well, yah… so do I!

I drive around Columbia, where I now live, and there are desperate people with sings along my travel routes. I don’t know what to do about that. I really don’t.

I cannot solve homelessness. And frankly, I don’t even think I can solve one person’s homelessness.

I mean, is a person experiencing homelessness because of addiction? If so, that is a multilayer problem. We need to address the addiction AND the poverty if they are related.

Well, I’m not an addiction counselor, and my salary is not sufficient to support myself and another person. I can’t afford the rent on two apartments. And I have a guest room in my house, but I’m not going to invite them to come live with me.

So, I guess I get the Rich Man. Maybe he walks by Lazarus because he has fatigue from all the problems in the world and just doesn’t know how to help.

But, the Rich Man’s selfishness lands him in Hades when he dies – where he is being tortured. And he sees Lazarus, who has also died, across the chasm between Hades and torture and the gentle place where Lazarus is hanging out with Abraham.

And, the Rich Man says, “Oh hey! Abraham! This place is awful! Can you help out? Send Lazarus over to help me. Just even to dip his finger in some water to get it wet and come over here and put his finger in my mouth, so my tongue will be cooled.

Could you just help a guy out for a hot minute? Send Lazarus over to me.”

And Abraham says the Rich Man is out of luck. The chasm is fixed, he says. The choices you made were the choices you made. You live there now, tortured forever – and Lazarus lives here, with me. Just hanging out and no longer covered in sores or starving.

That’s how it works.

And Rich Man says, “Okay, so if you won’t make Lazarus help me, at least have him go warn my brothers about this. I mean, tell them that God’s laws are for real. That taking care of the poor is actually a command.”

And Abraham says – “Rich man, you had the Holy Scriptures. You had Moses. Which means you had the Ten Commandments. You had the prophets – which means you had heard them time and again that you are to care for the poor, to welcome the stranger, to host the immigrant, to look out for the weak ones among you. You had all that, and you didn’t care.”

Your brothers have the fullness of Moses and the prophets, too. If they don’t listen, like you didn’t listen, it wouldn’t matter if Lazarus, a dead man, comes back to life to warn them. They still won’t listen.

And I think, Really?! If the beggar at their gate came back to life to tell them God is serous about the law of love, that wouldn’t affect them? Are you sure?

But, then I got to wondering if Lazarus as just one of the guys they stepped over at their gate each day, did they know he died? Did they notice? Would they know him enough to notice he was gone? Would it have occurred to them to ask after him in the village square? “Hey, anyone seen Lazarus lately?” Would they even know they were talking to a man raised form the dead – if his death never registered on their radars?

And, if they DID know he had died, and he DID appear to them as a resurrected man with a message… would they believe him? Would they listen?

I have to wonder.

Because you see, I profess to love Jesus and to be his follower. And Jesus is a resurrected man with a message… do I listen?

Do I listen when he says that I am to love my neighbor as myself?

Do I listen when he says following me is picking up a cross and going where I go?

Do I believe him when he talks about picking up a cross?

Do I lived a changed life because a dead man who had been raised to life has told me that if I have two coats, that only means I have one to share?

I actually tremble when I consider this question.

Because, I have been to seminary and I am a called ordained minister of the Church of Christ.

And I have a guestroom in my home that I refuse to share, so someone sleeps on the sidewalk again tonight.

And I drive right on past people who are asking for help.

And I tell myself it is fine to have a kind of fatigue about the world’s problems because there are too many, and I’m just one person, so what can I do about it?

And, whenever I have picked up a cross, it hasn’t been a rough hewn one. It’s been a sanded and varnished one that doesn’t scratch much when I carry it on my shoulder. And I have not followed my Jesus all the way to where they Use those crosses to hang people on them.

I do not believe I have ever served my neighbor in such a way that my life was at risk, that it was the same as carrying a cross. Being willing to die if that’s what happens while serving my neighbor.

And, I’m not saying that the only way to be faithful to Jesus is to put your life at risk. I’m not saying that at all.

But, Jesus said that following him would absolutely be risky, not comfortable.

Jesus asked us to have risky love for our neighbor.

Like Mother Theresa serving the poorest of the poor in the streets of Calcutta, risking catching the various diseases they had. Tending their wounds, feeding their tummies and their souls.

You know who is the mother Theresa of our Rich Man and Lazarus story?

The dogs.

The dogs who come to like Lazarus’ wounds. And my guess is they would lie down next to him in the sun and keep him company too. Because dogs are good creatures we can never quite deserve.

You know. The Prodigal Son goes off and wastes his dad’s money. Then, he comes to his sense and crawls back to his dad, begging for mercy, confessing his sins… and the relationship is restored.

This Rich Man, who has not cared for Lazarus, does not come to his senses, does not crawl back, does not beg for mercy…

Actually, he does ask for mercy, but not for his sins. He says, have mercy on me, make Lazarus be my servant and cool my tongue. I’m in agony. Make Lazarus fix it.

The Rich Man still doesn’t get how love works. He still doesn’t know and believe in the law of love spoken by Moses and the prophets.

And, when we don’t know or believe the law of love spoken by Moses, the prophets, and Jesus Christ, the son of God, who was raised from the dead by the power of love, when we don’t pick up our crosses to serve our neighbor because we are scared, or fatigued, or we just don’t get it…

We come to the font. We come to confession. Shoulder to shoulder, on our knees, saying out loud together that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.

And we come with cupped hands, like Lazarus’ beggar’s hands, to the Table of Mercy. Where we receive a piece of God, a piece of the one who Is not frightened or fatigued, and we are nourished.

We receive what we are: the Body of Christ.

Strengthened to serve the world God Loves. And follow a resurrected man with a message. Amen.

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