Preached at Second Presbyterian Church, Albuquerque, Sept. 30, 2007.
‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.* The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.* 24He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” 25But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” 27He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” 29Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” 30He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” 31He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” ’
La palabra de Dios. Te escuchamos, O Dios.
Lazarus was homeless.
Ed Loring, who works with homeless writes:
"Homelessness is absurd. Homelessness is unnecessary. Homelessness is hell. Homelessness is negligence, frostbitten toes, crooked and lost fingers, burning, bleary eyes with bad vision and a pair of drugstore reading glasses to mask the shame and blindness.
Homelessness is Henry. Henry grew up [on the res] and 20 years ago came to [Albuquerque] in search of work and his shot at the American Dream. Dark skinned, strong, easygoing, Henry now finds himself a resident of nowhere, while a member of the human community that names itself[ Albuquerque.] Henry lost job after job as do all unskilled workers in our economy. Henry drinks alcohol to ease his pain and grasp once more at his dream. Henry sleeps under a bridge just off the interstate. Sleep comes only in bits and pieces, so he is exhausted when he gets up at 5 a.m. and stumbles toward the local private enterprise labor pool.
“Will I get work today? Do I want work today?”
If a job is offered, most homeless at the labor pool must make a choice: to eat or not to eat. To go out on a job means the worker misses the opportunity for the meals at the food pantry. Stomachs, already groaning from digestive juices sloshing against empty stomach walls, say “Go for the Food pantry.” But a labor pool job, that last glimmer of hope – “maybe today the break will come” – is hard to turn down. Torn between another day of hunger and $25 paycheck, Henry chooses food today. So, he will not work. At 6 a.m., sitting in a metal chair not far from the greasy hand-written sign “No Sleeping Allowed,” Henry falls asleep.
At 7:30 a.m. Henry pulls his aching body out of the chair and heads to the [Storehouse] for the food line. There he meets  others who stand in line until the door is opened. By 8:45 he has had a cup of coffee, some food to get him by for a while, and a vitamin C tablet.
Just as Henry is ready to hit the streets, his bowels yell out. He looks for a place to go to the bathroom, but the buildings around keep their doors shut, not wanting the poor and the dirty to use their facilities. So he quickly hides himself behind the dumpster outside. Henry hopes, with his pants below his knees, that no one will see him. When he’s finished, a flicker of desire passes through the broken man’s heart: “If only I had a few sheets of toilet paper, and maybe just a piece of soap and a little water.” But he does not. Now he stinks. Now, as daylight has filled the city streets, Henry is an enemy of the professional, a discarded person, a punk, wino, and bum. He can’t even keep himself clean!
Henry wanders toward [Presbyterian Hospital]. If the guard at the entrance is nice or sleepy, he can wash off there. If the guard is absent he can sit in the [air-conditioned] waiting room until discovered. He sits and looks at his filthy feet. “Damn, how I wish my left shoe had a sole,” he thinks silently to himself, for there is no one with whom to share this most human wish.
When one is poor and carries the terrible burden of homelessness – having nothing to do but wait – time moves so slowly.
Henry, now with nothing to do except shuffle his way uptown to a nearby park. Walking hurts; hunger hurts. Once in the park he can sit down and eat the crusty sandwich given to him earlier that morning. Others wait in the park idly, people mumble to themselves about love and lost children, young men without tender fathers search in a macho, violent-prone society for a way to test and prove their manhood. Henry eats his sandwich. It’s 11:30 a.m. Henry’s day that really never began is almost half over.
He now decides to go for the big $8 job which the medical board allows twice a week: selling his blood plasma. With $8 he can get cigarettes, a half-pint, and a chicken supper. So Henry, reduced to a man who can only muster the energy and hope for survival, heads off to the blood bank. After a two-hour wait, his name is called. Slowly he arises from the floor where he has watched a Perry Mason rerun interspersed with advertisements, which promise a good life if you will only buy some useless product. Henry walks to the hospital bed and lies down. Finally, for the first time in five days, he is comfortable. A nurse stands beside him and applies the needle. His blood begins to drip out of his body, and Henry sleeps. Sleep at the blood bank is unlike sleep anywhere else for the homeless. Here, bleeding, Henry is safe. The temperature is comfortable, and the noise of the television and the voices in the waiting room are muted by the closed door. Yes, the safest and most comfortable place for a homeless person in all of Albuquerque is on the blood bank bed. It’s a pity that one can only be there four hours a week.
Henry’s day is over. His life, according to many who understand human existence as rooted in a structure of meaning and purposefulness, has been over for years. Homelessness is death. Homelessness is absurd. Homelessness is unnecessary. Homelessness is hell."1
Lazarus was homeless. He has very little in common with his neighbor, described simply as the rich man. The poor man, Lazuras, knows of that rich man, boy does he know of him, he sleeps outside that rich man’s mansion every night. He dreams of eating the crumbs from his table—something dogs do, but instead dogs lick the poor man’s sores; Lazarus dreams of maybe sleeping, just in the closest of one of the rich man’s many rooms, instead he sleeps outside his gate; he dreams of wearing maybe one of his clean bath robes; instead he has on the same rotting rags that have covered his body for years.
Lazarus probably knows the rich man’s name, even though we don’t; the rich man most likely has no idea what Lazarus’ name is; he’s given him other names--nuisance, disgusting, unclean, get lost. The rich man knows of the poor man, Lazarus is probably the thorn in his side; the poor man’s sores all over his body cause the rich man’s ulcers; the poor man is rich man’s greatest fear—so he has no other choice but to build walls; security systems. Both are the bane of the other’s existence.
One thing Lazarus and the rich man have in common: the date of death. One morning Lazarus is found frozen to death; hidden underneath the patched blanket draped over him. He’s carried off by angels to be with Father Abraham. That same morning the rich man was discovered; died in his sleep; buried underneath fine satin sheets and a silk comforter. He wakes up hot, hot like Las Cruces in the middle of summer. What the …? what’s going on? His mouth is dry, his clothes stick to his body, he looks up and sees Lazarus with Father Abraham. But this time he really sees him, sees his peaceful face, his comfort. “This isn’t fair,” the rich man calls out. "Señor Abraham, and Señora Sara, no se acuerden de mi? I’m a good Presbyterian. Went to church, tithed, helped out with the stewardship campaign.
Look at Lazarus, why he never did anything but beg and look for food in my garbage cans; what’s he doing up there? Well, at least now he’s good for something…can he bring me a glass of water? Please?!"
“Woah!” replies Señora Sarah, “things have really changed. Don’t you remember how long you enjoyed everything you wanted? You had everything while Lazarus was lucky to get into your garbage.”
"Besides,” says Señor Abraham,” “it’s a shame, but Lazarus can’t get to where you are and you can’t get here either. Someone put up a tall wall with broken glass on the top; there’s a security fence with long spikes on top—actually, it was you. You put up the fence so that Lazarus, and people like him couldn’t get to you, and now, even though you want him to come to you they can’t. No one can cross.” (Adapted From: Murphy Davis, A Work of Hospitality 1982-2002, p. 305.)
Ouch…that’s harsh Abraham.
The crazy thing about this passage, is that the thrust of it’s message depends completely on where your sitting as you hear the story.
For some, maybe your sitting with Lazarus: Think about your own suffering, suffering that has come at the hands of others, suffering that has come from artificial divisions that have led to oppression. This could be a passage of incredible comfort and hope. Why, the thought of sitting in comfort and in the bosom of the father of our Faith is occasion for great joy. For others, if we take it seriously it is a cause of slight panic. What if I’m like the rich man? what if I’m the one who excludes? Who build walls of separation? who steps over Lazarus as I make my way toward comfort Inn? What if it’s me, a person of privilege who will suffer in the end? Señor Abraham, no se acuerda de mi? I’m a good Presbyterian, even a minister.
This is not an easy passage to preach on really. Especially when I am just getting to know this congregation a little better. It’s difficult to talk about class differences, and Jesus seems to come down very hard on those who are wealthy and have privilege. It’s also difficult to talk about Heaven and Hell, and this is one of the most clear passages found in scripture depicting this kind of duality. This parable opens up a whole lot of cans of worms…and I don’t have much time to preach, but be sure to write down any questions or thoughts that you may have. I’m sure Jaime will be willing to talk about things with you later this afternoon, and of course you can corner Rob later this week or next Sunday! Rob what is all this about?
But I would like to leave you with at least one ray of light. One message of hope. I don’t think that we, as people who seek to follow after Jesus find ourselves as just the rich man or as Lazarus…but we can find ourselves in either position at various times in our lives. Some days any one of us may be the one who is on the opposite of walls of discrimination and oppression, a barrier that would cause us to suffer. And other days we may be the ones who have put up the wall of division that harms someone else; Division that would create hell on earth for some, so that we might live in comfort.
But, what Jesus wanted above all else was for the Pharisees to remember! Remember the law:
“The harvest is to be shared with the poor and the transient (Lev. 19:9-10);
“you shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land” (Deut. 15:7-11).
Jesus banged the Pharisees over the head and say remember the noisy prophets who screamed:
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin? (Isaiah 58:6-7)
As followers of Jesus we are to remember these things! And when we remember, we are to act. Why we are following Jesus in the first place? Jesus’ ministry is about breaking down barriers, about turning walls into bridges, it’s about reconciling ourselves with one another and with any whom we may have harmed or have harmed us. It’s about living in an alternative community in which all are welcomed; none who come to the doors are left out on the street to suffer for any reason at all!
Rob woodruff and I have quickly become good friends since I moved to Santa Fe back in January of this year. It’s been great to meet someone in a similar situation as me, fairly new to ministry still, both in our early thirties, both Anglo males, both educated at small Liberal Arts Colleges, and later at Presbyterian Seminaries. We’ve both lived in Latin America. We’re both married to incredible women; And now we both serve as the “head honchos” in smaller Presbyterian Churches; churches that also have similar histories. Both churches grew out of a ministries of First Churches. Both churches have a history of Spanish: Las dos iglesias requieren que sus ministros hablen ingles y español. It’s kind of scary all we have in common. Already people have mistaken the two of us; Maybe the only way you can tell us apart is that Rob usually has a pair of sunglasses on top of his head—Does he wear them on Sunday Mornings too? I only wear mine when I’m biking. With so much in common, it’s no wonder Rob and I have quickly become good friends.
But this mornings passage is about a relationship of extreme differences; about people who don’t get along at all, who seem to have nothing in common; besides the day of their death. Both Lazarus and the rich man are children of Father Abraham. In other words. They are of the same family. And when we consider ourselves children of God, and others who are also part of God’s creation, Children, from the same family, we may begin to act differently toward those we may have otherwise excluded.
Have you noticed that much of this morning’s focus has been on the hell part of life and the life here-after? Ahh but wait, don’t we remember that there was another part of the story What about heaven? “’Do you want to see heaven?” asks Jesus. “Do you want a picture of life abundant? I invite you into the kingdom of God, the full life, the Reign of God’s power and amazing grace.’”
“Come on, I’ll show you what it looks like. I’ll draw you a picture. Again and again, Jesus, the prophets, and the psalmists show us a feast, a party, a celebration, a banquet where the blind the crippled, and the lame come from the highways and the byways; they come from the north and south, from east and west, to sit at the overflowing table of the Kingdom of God. They are the misfits and the prodigals, the foreigners and the friendless. The come, perhaps uncertain at first, but soon drawn into the joy of the celebration. They sit together, enjoying newfound sisters and brothers and the abundance of everything they need and more, which is what our Creator wants and intends for every child of God." 2
In that place, there is nothing that would separate, there is nothing that would divide. Yes this is the reality Jesus dreams of, and this is the reality that you and I can work toward as we seek to break down walls that would divide. As we open the doors of our churches, as we open the doors of our hearts. Not just to those who are so much like us in looks, ideology, socioeconomic status: boy, it’s easy to get along with Rob, But also, but even more so with those who may be so very different from us. Especially open our doors and our hearts to those who are experiencing a living hell on this earth, just as Lazarus did.
And what I would love to see, as we get to know each other better, and as you get to know Westminster better, and Westminster gets to know Rob better, is that we could encourage one another in a common mission. In a mission of reconciliation. A ministry of peace. And hope for all in both this world and the next.
1 Adapted from Ed Lorings Article, “Homelessness is Hell,” A Work of Hospitality 1982-2002, pp 50-??.
2 Murphy Davis, A Work of Hospitality 1982-2002,305.