Plymouth United Church of Christ

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“The Spitting Image of God”
Sermon, Year C, Proper 21, September 29, 2013
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: Luke 16:19-31

This is another parable that is kind of difficult to listen to. Jesus has been on a bit of a rant, a tear, against the Pharisees and some of the other people around him and certainly on a rant here in a number of parables in a row about the dangers of wealth. The dangers of loving money. Of putting money before people. Of letting things get in the way of relationships. In the way of community.

For a couple chapters he has been hammering away on the Pharisees here, and others that the text describes as “lovers of money”.

And let us be honest with ourselves. At some level, we are all lovers of money. It’s a matter of how that gets lived out. But at some level, we all love money because we all know we need it. Try to live without money. It is really, really difficult. You can come out with us on the street ministry and talk to people who are living on nothing, or close to nothing. You will hear how difficult it is for them. And there are those who have intentionally chosen to live without money – you might have seen them on documentaries or other TV shows on occasion. They have some land, a house, and are trying to live without money as much as they can. They try to barter for everything they can, make as much by hand as they can, grow their own food, live off the grid. But even they need money sometimes. They have property taxes to pay, maybe stamps to buy. I don’t know if you ever tried to barter with the government, but they really don’t want a couple chickens and a pig instead of your property taxes. Being without money is very difficult. We need it, and I think Jesus recognized that. He’s not anti-money.

Jesus is not really ever anti- any kind of thing. Whether it be something physical like a house, livestock, clothing, or food. And he is not against those in and of themselves. And he is not something as abstract as money. Jesus’ concern is for us. Jesus’ concern is for people, and how we relate to our things, and how we relate to other people. That is what Jesus is talking about. It is not just anti-wealth or anti-money, it’s about bad attitudes around wealth, money, things, and other people. For Jesus, people come first. Someone’s immediate need is more important than our wants or desires.

So we have in this parable a rich man and a poor man. The rich man is very rich. He wears purple, and so possibly a noble. Definitely wealthy. He eats rich food. He has a gate on his house. He is so rich he doesn’t even have to be part of the world. He can put a gate on his house, and create his own bubble of reality, because he has so much money. He doesn’t have to be part of the world.

The poor man is very poor. He has open sores that the dogs lick. He lives at the rich man’s gate. He longs to eat the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table. But the poor man does have one thing that the rich man doesn’t have, at least in this parable as Jesus tells it. He has something that the rich man does not have: he has a name. He is named. His name is Lazarus, which means God has helped. Eleazar is the older Hebrew form of Lazarus. “God has helped.” Unique among Jesus’ parables, it is this poor, poor man who gets a name. In all of Jesus’ other parables, the characters are always generic people. Except here, the poorest of the poor is a specific person named Lazarus, God Has Helped.

Jesus does this, I think, to remind us that poor people have names. That the people outside our walls have names. The people on the margins have names. The people on the other side of the gate, whether they are on the inside of the prison gate, or on the outside of our gated communities, have a name. The people at Feed My People, the people at the free clinic, the people who receive food stamps. They have names. They have names because they are people.

Names are important. Once you have a name, you are someone. You have an identity. Once you learn someone’s name, they are no longer a stranger. They are now someone that you know. You know them by name. They are now a concrete person who is no longer a stranger. Think of babies. When babies are born, we might say how cute they are, that they are the spitting image of their father, but what they really want to know is, What is her name?

When the royal baby was born a few months ago, it took them a number of days to come up with a name, so it was just “the royal baby” during that time. But once he was named, AH!, now he’s someone. Now we have a name to put on this baby. Jesus reminds us that the guy with the cup who is asking for change has a name: Lazarus, "God has helped". The woman working on the street has a name: Lazarus, "God has helped". The shabby woman pushing the shopping cart around town is Lazarus, "God has helped". And all these Lazaruses have birthdays. They have parents, or had parents. They are from somewhere. They have stories that are their own, all of which are tied up in their identity. They are people, and they have a name.

So Lazarus and the rich man die, and the rich man gets a burial but he ends up in a place of fire and torment. Lazarus gets taken up by angels to be with Abraham. Abraham, the father of the faith. Abraham who is also the father of the nation from which Lazarus and the rich man both come. They are of the same family. They are people of Abraham. But now they are separated, and the rich man longs for comfort and relief. No more rich food. He would be happy now for water. Now this man who gave nothing but crumbs, if he gave anything at all to Lazarus, now demands to suckle water off Lazarus’ finger. More indignity on Lazarus. And I don’t know if the rich man knew Lazarus name while they are alive, but somehow he knows his name now that they are in this place. But he does not address Lazarus directly. He refers to Lazarus through Abraham, in the third person. He tells Abraham to send Lazarus with water. He still has this bad attitude! He has ignored Lazarus and now he sees him only as a tool. As something to come bring him water.

Then he tells Abraham to send Lazarus to go warn his brothers.

And Abraham and says “No” to both of these demands. And they are demands. They are not requests. Abraham says, “No, rich man, you had plenty while you were alive and now a great chasm divides you and Lazarus. Just as the economic chasm you created before. The physical chasm you created with your gate. The religious chasm you created by not paying attention to Lazarus, there is now a chasm between you, and me and Lazarus. The rich man is now not part of the community of Abraham. He is separated. And Abraham – or, really, Jesus, because Jesus is the one telling the story – is implying that the rich mas has built this separation, this chasm, himself. This divide between “me” and “them”, or “here” and “there”. But, guess what? God is “there” and God is with “them”.

He says “Your brothers have Moses and the prophets already. That is all they need. Sending someone, even one who rose from the dead, is not going to make any difference to them. If they have not heard the message already, they are not going to hear it just because someone shows up and says they have risen from the dead.”

That is a message to us, too. A message that we need to hear as well. There are no definite unambiguous signs like the rich man wants in order to believe what Moses, the prophets, and Jesus have already said. We do not get that kind of definite obvious sign that is unambiguous. But we do get other signs. And one of those signs that we get is the very definite and unambiguous sign of human suffering, in which Jesus can be seen.

The rich man’s sin here is not that he is rich. There is no sin in that necessarily. He is not wrong because he has a house and eats well. He doesn’t appear to be malicious or abusive or rude to Lazarus or to anyone else. His problem here is apathy. His apathy toward Lazarus. He separated himself. How many times did he walk by Lazarus and never say hello or ask his name or ask him for his story? The rich man’s failure is that he forgot that we are all Lazarus. At one level or another, we are all Lazarus, “God has helped.” We are all the rich man in some ways, we are all Lazarus in some way.

And we all have names.

Names which God knows.

We have a couple baptisms here this morning. In baptisms we are baptized by name. We don’t say, “I baptize you, brown haired guy” or “I baptize you, carpenter man” or “teacher woman”. We baptize by name. Who we are, what we have done, who we will be, whether it is good or bad, none of that matters. We are baptized by name. And we are baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

We are baptized by name, baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And that, I think, is a beautiful thing. God knows us by name.

And we might not look like Lazarus. With his open sores, and his dog licks, and his poverty and desperation. His unkempt hair, his bad smell. But Lazarus is certainly the spitting image of God.

And he has a name.


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Plymouth United Church of Christ
2010 Moholt Drive
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 54703

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