(Not) Funny the Way It Is

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19th Sunday after Pentecost; September 25, 2016, Year C

Amos 6.1a, 4-7; Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 6.6-19; Luke 16.19-31

Pastor Renee Splichal Larson

 

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

My favorite musician, Dave Matthews, wrote a song called, “Funny the Way It Is.” He sings:

Funny the way it is, if you think about it

One kid walks 10 miles to school, another’s dropping out

Funny the way it is, not right or wrong

On a soldier’s last breath, his baby’s being born

Funny the way it is, if you think about it

Somebody’s going hungry, someone else is eating out

Funny the way it is, not right or wrong

Somebody’s broken heart become your favorite song

Of course Dave doesn’t think these realities in our world are actually funny and neither do we. He simply names what he sees in a world where some people starve to death while others throw out food.

Jesus names these stark truths, these chasms, for us as well by introducing Lazarus and the rich man. Graphic and explicit, Jesus calls attention to a starving man with open sores compared to a richly dressed man who stuffs himself every day.

Funny the way it is, the dogs notice Lazarus, but the rich man does not. This story is meant to make us cringe and not turn a blind eye.

This story makes me remember all of the Lazarus’s I have seen in my life-time. I have seen him in two scraggly-dressed children begging for food, hands outstretched through the gate of the home in which I was staying in Nicaragua. I have seen him in the streets of Haiti, literally starving to death among the trash heaps. I have seen him on the boundary of the US and Mexico, barely able to stand from the journey to freedom across the US border. I have seen him in the rural areas of Turkey through mothers’ begging for me to buy one of her crafts in order that she may feed her children. I have seen him in inner-city Denver, emerging in the morning out from under a tarp that is covered in snow. I have seen him in Bismarck too weary to even lift his eyes up to meet mine.

Where have you seen Lazarus? What happened in your gut when you saw him or her?

This week the marquis out front of Good Shepherd Lutheran in Bismarck read: God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does. There is a lot of truth to this.

As Lutherans we understand that the good things we do don’t earn us our salvation. That is taken care of in the death and resurrection of Jesus. But we do know our faith is not active in us unless we love God by caring for our neighbors, the Lazarus’s of the world. Jesus promises to meet us when we stoop down and look into the eyes of the ones who lay at the gate, on the street, and in our shelters.

This can play out in some of the most simple ways. There is a short clip being circulated around on facebook that I’ve seen recently. There is a homey who notices an older man sitting by himself on the subway. The man is weary and without a shirt. The homey walks over to him, takes off his plain white t-shirt and dresses the man. He then goes back to where he was sitting to retrieve his stocking hat, which he also fits on the man’s head. Feeling his new wardrobe, the man barely looks up, but says, “thank you.”

My guess is that the homey didn’t give the man his shirt and stocking hat just so he could go to heaven when he died. He did it because he saw the man and was moved with compassion, and because there was a need.

So easily, the story Jesus tells of the rich man and Lazarus can turn into who is going to heaven and who is going to hell. That’s not what this story is about, but it is a warning to us. Jesus is telling us to use the time we have on this earth to cross the chasms that separate people while we still can.

The rich man did not take the opportunity in his lifetime to care for Lazarus who laid at his gate day in and day out. Time and time again he had the chance to see Lazarus and share his wealth in order to alleviate his suffering. The rich man is not tormented after his death because he was wealthy; he is tormented because he did not care for his neighbor.

God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does.

Jesus makes it clear that one of his main purposes on earth was to bring good news to the poor. It is interesting that the parable says nothing of Lazarus’ faith. We are simply told that he suffered greatly and was poor. If I were poor and suffering, this parable would be good news to me.

This weekend I was talking with one of my Haitian friends. She said to me, “It’s different here in the United States about what people think being poor means. In Haiti, if you have a place to sleep, if you have something to eat, if you can go to school, you are not poor.”

So if you and I can go to school, have a place to sleep at night, and have something to eat today, how are we supposed to hear this parable? I’ll be honest, it’s tough for me to hear the good news in this passage. This story leaves me convicted and challenged. I think of all the times I have passed by the Lazarus’s of the world overwhelmed and not really knowing what to do.

Jesus calls us again and again to examine ourselves and how we live, but even more importantly, he beckons us to see….to open our eyes and recognize the chasms that separate people whom God calls into one family.

Jesus asks us to get in the boat and go to the other side. He leads us to uncomfortable places in order that we can serve and grow. Jesus gives us the means and the will to be generous. He grants us understanding in order that our own judgment not get in the way of caring for another. Jesus gives us mercy and grace to try again and again to get it right.

If we read only this parable and not the rest of Scripture, there is not much good news. To be moved and challenged is a good thing and that’s what this story does. Yet, it is important for us to hear Jesus’ words just a chapter later.

There is a rich man who cannot give away his possessions and follow Jesus. His love of money was too great. Jesus looks at him and says, ‘How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’

Those who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ He replied, ‘What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.’

Because of Jesus, the one who has filled all things, including Hades with his presence, we know that no chasm is too great that God’s love cannot cross it.

Always, we rest in the mercy of God, and yet also understand that our life here on earth and what we do with it matters. It matters to God and it matters to those around us who have been devoured by systems, injustice, war, and ill luck.

Jesus has risen from the dead and it’s supposed to mean something in our lives and in our world.

Mother Teresa, great servant of the Lazarus’ of this world, said, “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”