Sunday, September 25, 2016

Lazarus and "It"

Luke 16 
Chatfield UMC
September 25, 2016

 “But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” Luke 16:31 

What more do we need? We have Moses, the Prophets, we even have the crucified and resurrected Jesus.
What more do we need before we stop making excuses?

Abraham speaking from the depths of eternity was right wasn’t he: even if a man died and rose from the dead we won’t listen.

Let’s listen to the conversation again: But first let’s look at the characters in this story. The rich man, who doesn’t even have a name. This is important because we mustn’t take this passage of scripture as a condemnation of rich people. Of anyone we know who is rich. Because this person isn’t named this person isn’t really a person. We know from scriptures that God has everyone’s name written on the palm of God’s hand.
We know from scriptures that God does not forsake anyone.

So we know that this rich man is a prototype or a mythological being. A warning to us, yes. But not an actual person that we can point to and say, You are him.
This is important because we often take these texts and start pointing fingers at people. Look at how that rich person, Terry, acts, that is the rich person Jesus was talking about. But this is not true because this rich person in scripture has no name. No identity. So it isn’t a he or a she. It is an it. At least in God’s kindom. So that is what we will call this rich man: “It”

So. the rich “it” has died. After living an incredible life of luxury and ease. Purple garments so that everyone who saw it would know how wealthy it was. Fine linen, nothing ever irritated it’s delicate skin. Living behind a gate, a fence. So that nothing could threaten the fine lifestyle. No dogs could get in to lick  it’s face. No disease could threaten it’s health. And certainly no one who was different or challenging to it’s well being could mar it’s perception of the world. No refuges. No small children with outstretched hands. No widow with a small mite. No poor man named Lazarus.

Ahhh. Someone has a name. Someone’s being is written on the palm of God’s hand.  Lazarus. A child of God. Now this is very important. Because we live in a culture, in a world that has taught that those who are rich are children of God. Those who have what It has are blessed children of God and people like Lazarus are poor souls whom we should feel sorry for because, obviously, God hasn’t blessed them.

You think I’m wrong. Well think of this...
I wear this goat skin bracelet to remind me of my time in Oaxaca, Mexico. As some of you know I went there last March with the Land Stewardship Project to encounter some of what it means to be impacted by free trade agreements. I was struck by so much on that trip but I was reminded of something that I often forget. Throughout the centuries, Generations and generations people have believed and taught others to believe that God helps those who help themselves. That God’s blessing is most often seen by the wealth of a person or nation.
This myth is very evident in a county like Mexico.  Or Texas. Or Oklahoma. Or Minnesota.

Let’s move this biblical story to the scene of a Hacienda. Or any gated community. There is a new one being built in Rochester so it works here, too.

So in Mexico what happened when the conquestodors came from Spain is that they saw all this wonderfully furtile land and beautiful temples built to the gods and goddesses of the Incas and Mayans.
But these weren’t the Christian God of Spain and the RC church. These were idols and myths in their mind. And were abominations.
And they saw how the people lived. In humble dwellings in communities that supported each other. In guilds. Where each person’s worth was based on the skill they brought to the community.

Now, this is an oversimplification, I realize. But the Spanards looked at this society with eyes that oversimplified so it is fair.
Because what they saw is a poor community sitting on a wealth of resources they were not being used in the way a ‘modern’ society would be able to use them. The Spainards saw the potential for amasing wealth.

And what they had been taught by the Church was that the accumulation of wealth was the way God showed God’s blessings on communities and individuals.
And this is what they taught the Mexican people.
As the Spaniards set up their ranches and haceindas and stole land from the indiginos people of Mexico they told the people that this was God’s plan for their land. That the way people would know that God was blessing them was indicated by wealth.

Well, the rest is history that repeats itself over and over and over again. A small group of people got wealthy. And got the honor of being called the blessed of God.
Or the horror.

So those who were not wealthy soon began to believe that they weren’t blessed by God somehow. And those that were wealthy became the arbitrators of God’s blessings.
So that ‘hard work’ and ‘much stuff’ and ‘fine linen’ and ‘gates around property’ became the standard for God’s blessing. And if you didn’t have any of that then the myth was you weren’t working hard enough. To get God’s blessing.

But that isn’t what is revealed in scriptures is it?
The person who gets God’s blessing in our story, and in the teachings of Moses and the Prophets and most assurdedly the man who rose from the dead, is the one with a name, Lazarus.

You know whenever I go on a trip like the one to Oaxaca I always have to be careful of how I compare my life, where I have running tap water that is very, very clean, a washing machine, and a toilet that works, I always have to be careful to not say: Oh I am so blessed.

No, I am so lucky. So lucky to live in a system that provides me at a small cost with clean water, electricity and good, reliable sewage systems. I am lucky.

God’s blessings have nothing to do with this. I have to be careful that I don’t fall into the trap of thinking material wealth and advantage is somehow tied into God’s favor.

In our bible studies this week we are looking at the Gospel of Matthew. Central to this Gospel is the teaching of the sermon on the mount. Which begins with these words: Blessed are the poor.

We always want to qualify that with additional words don’t we: blessed are the poor in spirit. Not really financially poor but humble in spirit. Blessed are the ones who take care of the poor. Not really poor themselves but working on behalf of the poor. Blessed are the ones who are willing to be poor for God’s sake.

But the words need to stand as they are Blessed are the poor.
Because we who live in a world that preaches and lives as if one’s wealth is a sign of God’s blessings just need to stand for a moment in that sentence. Blessed are the poor.
Not more blessed are the poor.
Not the poor are the only one’s blessed
Just Blessed are the poor.

To remind ourselves that the people we don’t name: the poor, are named by God. The people we tend to overlook, to not associate with, to not learn their names, they are named by God. They are blessed. They are fully and completely named as human beings of worth.

Lazarus who sits at the gate and has only the dogs giving him grace, is a child of God, a Named Child of God.
Blessed, Named, Child of God are the poor.

We have to pay attention because we are taught otherwise, carefully taught otherwise.
Let us not be those who do not listen to the Law and the Prophets. Let us not be those who don’t listen even when a man is resurrected from the dead. Jesus who said: Blessed are the poor. And told us the story of the rich ‘it’ and Lazarus. I think he wants us to hear.