God of new beginnings, meet is where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Our gospel lesson this morning continues the theme that we had last week about serving God and serving wealth, of the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots. Today we have the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. It's a graphic story, complete with open sores and flames of hell.
Jesus is telling this parable to the Pharisees, who were known to be lovers of money. He has just told them that they cannot serve God and wealth, that God knows their hearts. But the Pharisees scoff at him. To their way of thinking, those who are wealthy are blessed and favored by God. Those who are poor have somehow displeased God.
So Jesus tells them the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. Lazarus is a poor man who lies at the gate of the rich man's house and longs to satisfy his hunger with crumbs from the rich man's table. He is obviously sick as well, with open sores on his body. The rich man is not mean to Lazarus. He doesn't hurt him. He merely ignores him. The rich man doesn't even see Lazarus lying at the front gate, obviously in great need.
Both men die. Lazarus is carried to heaven by the angels and the rich man is buried. Lazarus ends up with Abraham in heaven, while the rich man ends up in Hades - thirsty, tormented and in agony. Still treating Lazarus as someone inferior to himself, the rich man begs Abraham to SEND Lazarus to dip his finger in cool water and cool his parched tongue. But Abraham replies that the rich man had all he wanted while he was on earth and Lazarus suffered. Now the tables are turned. Besides, there is a large chasm between them so they cannot cross to the other side. But the rich man continues to plead with Abraham. He implores Abraham to send Lazarus to his five brothers who are still alive so they might change their ways and not end up like him. But Abraham holds his ground and replies that the rich man had Moses and the prophets to teach them and they should have listened to them. The rich man persists. If someone came back from the dead, surely his brothers would listen and repent. Abraham disagrees. If they did not listen to Moses and the prophets, they won't listen to someone who has been raised from the dead.
Let me make it clear that the rich man is NOT in Hades just because he is rich. He is there because he refused to see the need of Lazarus who was sitting right there on his doorstep. He was so engrossed with himself and his wealth that he did not see, or respond to, the need that was staring him right in the face, a need that he could easily have filled.
Jesus tells this parable, in part, I think, to try to dispel the idea that the Pharisees had that God favors those who are rich, and the poor have brought their problems on themselves. Therefore, the rich have no obligation to help the poor, since it is "their fault." Jesus is trying to get the Pharisees to see that this is NOT the case and that as long as they put their money above everything else, they cannot serve God.
In Paul's First Letter to Timothy, he says, "For we brought nothing into this world, so that we can take nothing out of it, but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these." Everything we have in this life and everything we are belongs to God, and we should use what we have been given to the furthering of God's kingdom - to help the poor and those in need, to bring justice to all, to respect the dignity of every human being. The rich man refused to do that.
Who are we in this parable? Are we the rich man, refusing to see those who are in need around us? Are we Lazarus, who is starving and needs medical attention? Most of us, I think, are not in that dire situation. But many around the world are starving and homeless and without hope. Are we the chasm that separates the rich from the poor, the have from the have-nots, those who want to keep an "us versus them" mentality?
Or are we perhaps one the five brothers, who the rich man wants to save from the torment that he is enduring? These brothers, like the rich man, had heard the teachings of Moses and the prophets. These Pharisees knew about God and the 10 commandments. Yet they chose not to listen, not to follow. They were more interested in their own selfish desires, their own accumulation of wealth, their own social standing in the community. They did not seem to have the time or the interest in following the ways of God, of helping the poor and destitute. The way they lived their lives was more about "what's in it for me?" rather than helping one's neighbor. So Abraham tells the rich man that since his brothers did not listen to Moses and the prophets, they certainly would not listen to Lazarus as one raised from the dead.
We are called as Christians to "respect the dignity of every human being", no matter their age, or social class, or wealth, or color, or gender, or nationality or political persuasion. We respect the dignity of every human being because we are all made in the image of God. We come into this world with nothing and we leave with nothing. What we do between our birth and our death, whether we hear, listen and respond to God's call to us, or not - that is what we have to offer when we meet God face to face. God doesn't care about our resume or wealth or social standing. God wants to know about how our faith in God shaped our lives. Did we help the poor and the homeless? Did we reach out to those in need? Did we spend our time in a community of faith, encouraging others and ourselves, to live the life that God calls us to live.
In a few moments, we will baptize into God's family Julianna Mae Spigner and Mei Hu. They will be marked as Christ's own forever. Forever. Not until they mess up, not until God gets tired of them. Forever. They are marked as Christ's own forever. What these candidates, godparents and their families are saying is that they will strive to live the life that God has called them to live, and that with our help and support, they will learn the lessons of the bible, listen to the voice of Jesus, spend time in prayer and in a loving relationship with God, follow and obey Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
In the baptismal covenant that the entire congregation says, we vow to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and we will strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. The answer to these vows is, "I will with God's help."
We are not asked to do live the life that God calls us to by ourselves. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, through the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Eucharist, God gives us the strength and wisdom and understanding to do the work God has given us to do. We are all called. And through the sacrament of Holy Baptism, we begin our life in Christ. Amen.
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