Recognizing Lazarus

+ A sermon given for the Nineteenth Monday after Pentecost (Year C) – Proper 21C/Ordinary 26C at Augustana Chapel, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on September 26, 2016 +

Texts: Luke 16:19-31

Audio can be found here

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
810iasgmuylThis is one of the nuggets of advice immortalized by Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People – and it’s advice I’ve been given on a number of occasions.
I am admittedly terrible at following this bit of wisdom because I am terrible at remembering names.
And let me tell you, internship was especially trying for me in this department – suddenly I was at a congregation with a thousand members who all knew exactly who I was, but when they came to shake my hand after worship, I frankly wasn’t sure if they were long-time pillars of the community or first-time visitors.

“Hello, Intern Paul!” they’d say. “Thank you for worship today!”

“Hello…you! Thank you for being here!”

I really did work on learning names, but for the first few months, I would get a twisted gut every time someone came up to me with their hand outstretched and I wracked my brain in vain for their name.
And by the time I finally learned everyone’s names, it was almost time to say goodbye so I could come back to seminary – only to realize that nearly the entire student body has changed since I’ve been gone and I have a whole new set of names to learn!

Now I know names really are important and something I need to diligently work on when I get into a new place. As Mr. Carnegie says, they are the sweetest sound in our ears.
And I think that is because names help give us our humanity.
Using a person’s name shows that you recognize them, you see them, and you value them.
We see the importance of names throughout Scripture – the divine renaming of Abram and Sarai, the holy mystery of I AM, the revelation of the resurrected Jesus through the name “Mary.” And in the waters of our baptism, God names us and claims us as beloved children of God.

This past summer, we have learned many names that have been thrust into our national consciousness because of violence.
061216_ch_orlandovigil_01-02Alton Sterling and Philando Castile – shot by police officers in Baton Rouge and St. Paul.
Lorne Ahrens and Michael Smith – two of the five Dallas police officers killed protecting a peaceful protest.
Juan Ramon Guerrero and Christopher “Drew” Leinonen, partners whose families were hoping to plan a wedding, but instead held a joint funeral after they were shot and killed in a gay nightclub in Orlando.
In a few weeks, people around the world will gather in communion to remember the names of the trans folk who have been murdered this year – people like Crystal Edmonds and Dee Whigham.
And this last week, this country has added Terence Crutcher and Keith Scott to our grizzly list of remembrances after their shootings by police in Tulsa and Charlotte.

We remember their names so that their unique stories are not forgotten.
We remember their names to remind ourselves of the injustices of the world and the work left to do.
We remember their names to remember their humanity – the humanity that was taken from them by acts of fear or hatred.

143_bigToday, Jesus tells us a story about Lazarus.
His story is unique too – not only because it only appears in Luke’s gospel, but also because Lazarus is the only character in any of Jesus’ parables to get a name, so immediately we know something is different.
On its face, this parable seems to fit into the Lukan theme of God’s great reversal – Lazarus the poor man dies and goes to heaven while the unnamed rich man goes to Hades. The man who had everything ends up with nothing while the man with nothing ends up in paradise. Or, as we hear in Mary’s song in Luke 1, “[God] has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; [God] has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

Typical Luke – God’s divine justice upending human economy.

And we can understand why this reversal has happened in the parable: the rich man knew Lazarus – he passed by him as he left his house each morning, he witnessed his suffering and yet, he did nothing to alleviate it.
Even in the afterlife, he dismisses Lazarus’ humanity by asking Father Abraham to send Lazarus to serve him. We know the rich man knew Lazarus because he recognized and named him when he saw Lazarus with Abraham. But we also know that during life and after death, the rich man did not see Lazarus as who he was – a human being worthy of love and respect.
The rich man could not see beyond his own privilege to see Lazarus’ suffering – to see the suffering of the communities around him.

It’s as if Lazarus was holding a sign that said, “Black Lives Matter” and the rich man walks by saying, “All Lives Matter.”g5x6ubkq

It’s as if Lazarus was a police officer killed in the line of duty and the rich man walks by saying, “all cops are pigs.”

It’s as if Lazarus was gunned down while dancing in a gay nightclub on Latino night and the rich man refuses to even acknowledge that he was gay or Latino.

It’s as if Lazarus was murdered for being trans and the rich man misgenders him and utters a slur.

But it’s also as if Lazarus was homeless on the street and the rich man walks by without acknowledging his existence.

Now I know, beloved siblings, that I am personally guilty of at least one of those violations of Lazarus’ humanity. And that’s why I think this parable is less about what will happen when we die and more about how we should live now.
I think the Lukan Jesus is more interested in how we relate with each other in this life than the punishments that may follow if we fall short.
Luke is telling us of the community we can have in Christ – a community where all people are valued and cared for.
A community where my humanity is bound up in your humanity and oppression and violence cease.
A community where the kingdom of God breaks into this world, not just the next one.
Because sending the rich man to Hades does not alleviate Lazarus’ suffering in this life – but truly seeing him could.
If the rich man were to recognize Lazarus as a fellow child of God – bridge the chasm between them – he would do everything he could to help him.

“Beautiful Jesus”, Mariama McCarthy

And just as the rich man requested of Abraham, we have one who has come to teach us that we should love each other – even one who has come from the dead.
One who has named the prophets as the basis of his ministry – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because [God] has anointed me to bring good news to the poor” – and one who, following his resurrection, interpreted to his disciples the scriptures, beginning with Moses and the prophets.

God has given us a life of abundance with love and joy to share.
We are called to share that love with each other here and now – not wait to be brought to the bosom of Abraham.
We are called to recognize each other’s sufferings and bear our neighbor’s burdens – not pass by without seeing them.
We are called to bring forth the kingdom of God through the beloved community we have in Christ Jesus so all may know God’s abundant life.

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