Who God Has Helped
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
Psalm 91, sung with power and drama for us by Gail Thompson, promises that God will provide for the faithful. In the psalm the faithful are described as those who love God, and call on God, will be shown a long life and salvation. It makes you want to sign on the dotted line right here and now.
When we turn to the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke’s gospel, we notice several things. Lazarus has been shown salvation, and has every comfort at the side of Abraham. But no where in the story is Lazarus described as being faithful or doing good things. All we know is that he was poor, diseased, and ignored by the rich man.
The rich man, whose name we do not know, is characterized as having had a life of ease on earth. He is dressed in fine clothes. He eats very well. And even from Hades he is trying to order Lazarus around. Did you notice that? “Father Abraham, order Lazarus to fetch me something cool for my burning throat.” A sense of power and privilege dies hard, doesn’t it?
This all suggests to me, is that being faithful is assessed by how we manage those resources that are ours to control. Those who have no disposable income, have very little expected of them, at least in terms of sharing their earthly goods. Those who live in luxury, have much expected of them.
A kind and generous man once confessed to me he was often anxious that he might not be doing enough to please God. He acknowledged that he received praise from others for some of the more public things that he did, but was it enough?
I tried to encourage him. The biblical tithe is 10%. 10% of your time, treasure, and talents are what is considered to be sufficient in the historic understanding of being faithful in our tradition.
I will be candid with you. When Martha and I were young, designating 10% of our income to the church and charity seemed an impossible dream. As we grew in the faith, and lived among other faithful people, we gradually increased our giving. In time it gave me relief, just as I hoped to give relief to the generous man who asked, “How do I know if I have done enough?”
The rich man, unable to persuade Abraham to order poor Lazarus to bring him a Pepsi from the fridge, now asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers and warn them about the doom that awaits them unless they change their ways.
How easy is it for us to hear the call to change our way of life? Do you need to be a hardened sinner, for the call to repentance to be hard to accept? In my own life, I know that change is hard. When confronted, even by caring people I respect, it is hard to change my mind and my perspective. So I suspect that it might be difficult for others, who are hardened sinners like I am, to hear the call to repent.
Abraham answers that the brothers of the rich man have Moses and the prophets to call them to justice in the eyes of the Lord. If they cannot or will not hear Moses and the prophets, they will not repent - even if Lazarus returns to them from the dead.
This week I spoke at length with the woman who has been our financial advisor for 30 years. The parent company she works for was exposed this month in a celebrated case of corporate corruption. She told me a little of the pressure she experiences from the corporate offices, and how she and her colleagues marvel at the drive for more profits. “How much is enough?” she wonders.
This insight from Abraham seems troubling to me. I believe it reveals a likely truth about human nature, could the insulation of comfort make us insensitive to others in our own times? I have seen pictures on the Internet, one from a pastor friend, of church signs that read, “Jesus Returns Soon - Let’s Hope It Is Before the Election.”
I thought that was humorous, until I read this scripture. If Jesus were to return, in humility and obedience - as we believe he came before; if he came in the dark skin of an actual Middle Eastern man; would he not be ignored at best, or victimized again by the prevailing political powers that be? If the return of Jesus were in any form other than power, majesty and victory, few hearts would be touched.
Is it an easier life to live in disease and poverty like Lazarus? Certainly not. That is anything but an easy life. Is it easier to gain your salvation from a life of poverty and illness than from a life of ease and comfort? The scriptures clearly say, “Yes, it is.”
Lazarus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Eleazar” - that means “who God has helped,” and this name is an example of what is often called Jesus’ preference for the poor. It is apparent that the compassion of God for those who have little in this world, gets extended in the portion of life where God has total control.
In the gospel of John, the name Lazarus is attached to a man who is the brother of Martha and Mary. Lazarus is raised from the dead, just before the events of Holy Week. In John’s gospel, the miraculous resurrection does not result in an increase in faith or anyone repenting and changing their ways. That Lazarus event hardens the hearts of the Temple authorities who step up their determination to do away with Jesus.
The Psalm says that the marks of faithful living are a love of God, and a sincere relationship, where we call upon God to be with us in the challenges of our lives. The promise of salvation and comfort is clearly expressed in Luke’s gospel, in the time after death. This exact promise was repeated by the devil taunting Jesus shortly after his Baptism, during his temptation in the wilderness.
As a rule, I am not one of those preachers who says that this world does not matter because God will make it all good in the life after this one. I prefer to say that when we live with grace, then God will use us to extend grace to those around us. We then are doubly blessed, accepting the grace intended for us, and having the grace flow through our lives that is intended for others. Living a life of grace, is sufficient good news for me to proclaim.
Yet once in a while, the scriptures make clear, that life as a child of God, is a life without end. Once in a while, the scriptures call us to claim our place among the saints of God, doing today what saints would do in the here and now, and putting ourselves in line to share with the saints every comfort in eternity.
So what can we do in the here and now? October is setup to proclaim our role as providing for Lazarus. October 2 is the CROP Walk, where we raise funds for Church World Service to feed needy children of God near and abroad. Pam, Madeline, Ginny and Jim will be happy to receive your donations.
On October 15th, the Food Resource Bank has scheduled it’s Harvest celebration, the local expression of Christian farming reaching out to feed others, and share both talent and treasure that might improve the effectiveness of farming in far away places. As a side note, the United Church of Christ collection for Neighbors in Need is being rescheduled for November, so as not to compete with these local ministries.
We may not feel like we are rich. We may not have multiple sets of purple robes and linen gowns and feast sumptuously every day. But for every one of us who eat 3 meals a day, there are a dozen who may not eat everyday. And Jesus still has a preference for the poor.
Lazarus, the one who God has helped, was unable to attend today, in order to persuade you to recommit yourselves to helping the poor. I suspect that a poor, dead, man, whose human body was covered in open sores, would not be able to change any hearts today. And yet, the call to justice and generosity is the driving beat of our holy scriptures, this day and every day, world without end, Amen.