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Sermon for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost

    Sep 29, 2019

    Passage: Luke 16:19-31

    Preacher: Rob Donehue


    Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (2019)
    September 29th, 2019
    St. Anne’s, Conway SC (Lackey Chapel)

    Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 1 Timothy 6:6-19 Luke 16:19-31




    What’s in a name? 


    There’s an interesting detail about the parable of the rich man and Lazarus from this morning’s Gospel reading that I think it might be easy for us to miss. If you are familiar with the Gospel of Luke - and particularly the parables contained in it - then you can probably list quite a few of the parables that come before the one we heard this morning. Last week, we heard the parable of the dishonest manager. Before that we had the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. Mixed in there are the parables of the prodigal son, the guests invited to the banquet, and the king planning for battle. The interesting thing to note about all of the parables that have come before is that in all of those parables, Jesus does not give a name to any of the characters. In fact, if you search through all of the parables in all of the Gospels, there’s only one where Jesus gives a name to one of the characters. And it’s the one we heard this morning.


    And I think that there’s a lesson for us in the fact that there’s a named character in this particular parable. Because if Jesus had merely told a story about a poor, pitiful man being ignored by a rich man, it would be easy to think that the parable was only about the general dangers of greed. But by giving the poor man a name, I think Jesus is making a point that the poor man, Lazarus, is a particular person; a human being made in the image and likeness of God. 


    In the church, we often hear that our duty is to do things like feed the hungry, visit the sick, and help the poor. And even though it’s good for us to hear that message - repeatedly - I sometimes wonder whether by using the terms “the poor, the sick, and the hungry,” we run the risk of thinking that the “poor, the sick, and the hungry” are just faceless and nameless others who are “out there somewhere” and not individuals with names, who live very close to us. And that notion might lead us to think that we’re only supposed to help the poor, the sick, and the hungry only in a general sort of way.


    I know that in a church gathering like this, it would not be appropriate for me to say that we need to pay special attention to helping Joe, Nancy, and Henry. But when you get right down to it, if we are serious about helping the poor, the sick, and the hungry, we have to be serious about helping Joe and Nancy, and Henry. In other words, part of helping a person is caring about the fact that they have a name; that they are a person just like us, made in the image and likeness of God. Otherwise, they remain just pitiful “others.” So one of the small lessons I take from the parable is that if we want to help people, one of the seemingly small things we can do is take the time to learn their name.  


    A good friend of mine named Nate recently recounted his experience of moving to a new town and attending a church youth group for the first time. He felt dreadfully insecure and out of place with the other youth until the youth minister came in and energized the room, rallying everyone together and doing his best to make sure everyone was involved. At the end of the evening, as everyone was leaving, my friend recalls that his feelings of insecurity and isolation began to return, but then the youth minister called out and said, “See you next week, Nate!” And as my friend put it, the fact that the youth minister had called out to him by name helped him to know that he was not alone; that someone considered him a part of the community. Just that small gesture of knowing his name ended up making a huge difference. 


    Of course, just getting to know a person’s name does not mean we’ll automatically view them as beloved children of God. In the parable, note that even though the rich man seems to have ignored Lazarus’ plight, the rich man knew his name all along. In other words, the rich man knew that the poor man at his door had a name. And by implication, the rich man should have known that Lazarus was a fellow human being who deserved his attention and mercy. That’s what makes the rich man’s neglect and disdain for Lazarus all the more deplorable. 


    Because note further how, even while knowing Lazarus’ name, the rich man continues to think of Lazarus in the same way he did before they both died. In life, the rich man considered Lazarus to be beneath him. And in death, the rich man carries on thinking the same way, telling Abraham to order Lazarus to bring him some water and go talk to his rich relatives. Even in death, the rich man can only see Lazarus as a lackey, and not as Lazarus, a beloved child of God who has been his equal all along. So another lesson I take from the parable is that if we make a habit of thinking of ourselves as better than others, we may wind up creating an unbridgeable chasm that we’ll wish we hadn’t.  


    The good news for us in what Jesus has to say in this parable is that we have right in front of us all the tools we need to avoid the fate of the rich man in the parable. We have the lessons in scripture that teach us to view our fellow human beings as equally beloved children of God, no matter how different from us they may appear. We have the examples of those who shaped their lives around the notion that God cares for the poor and downtrodden and that we should do so as well. And we have the opportunity, every day, to get to know our fellow human beings by name and discover how we can help them to the best of our ability. And all of these things are given to us because God loves us and wants us grow into a fuller understanding of what it means to be his beloved children. 


    Ultimately, I believe that God loves us in more than just a general way. God’s love for us is far more specific than we can imagine. We Christians believe that God’s love for us became specifically incarnate in Jesus, and everything that Jesus taught and did are examples of God caring enough about the human race to get involved in it. But even more than this, God’s love knows you and call you each by name. 

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