Sunday, October 2, 2022
The first time I read this gospel passage, I’d like you to focus on a word or phrase that sticks out to you as we read. As you feel comfortable, I’d like you to be ready to share that word or phrase out loud. No explanation; just the word or phrase. (Read passage) I’m going to read this gospel one more time, and this time, I would like you to close your eyes and try to think about all of your senses as you visualize what is happening in the story Jesus tells. What do you smell? Taste? See? Touch? This time, can you turn to someone not in your family and share what you saw, felt, smelled, heard, and so on as you heard this passage one more time?
This morning, I hear the rich man and Jesus calling us to listen. Listen to Moses and the prophets. Listen to the poor, like Lazarus, whom we regularly walk by and try not to see, smell, touch, or hear. Listen to the one who has risen from the dead, who by the way, is Jesus; you got that, right?! So I wanted to start my sermon out differently by having us listen more closely to God’s word rather than have you listen to me, because this is such a vividly descriptive story. We can come to different conclusions about what Jesus is trying to tell us through this story, because each of us may have heard Jesus emphasize something different in this passage; something that God wants us personally, individually to hear. There’s so much we can take from this story Jesus tells us about the rich man and Lazarus.
As we begin October, I want us to approach our gospels this month through the lens of prayer, because Jesus will teach us more explicitly about prayer in the coming weeks. Today, Jesus doesn’t talk directly about prayer, but he does encourage us to listen. This is an important reminder: prayer is not just talking to God, but also listening to God. Prayer is meant to be a two-way, not a one-way, conversation with God. And this parable is about Jesus pointing us to the other, to remember others in our prayers, especially those who are poor and suffering.
Praying for others is probably something many of us already do well. When we know of someone who is in need of healing, who is hurting or struggling, we put them on our prayer list at church. You know how long that list can be sometimes, and that’s OK! I hear from people often who so appreciate knowing that they or their loved one is prayed for, out loud, regularly, in a faith community. We may commit personally to praying for people on our own prayer lists daily. We give one another strength and hope when we let others know we are praying for them, that our church is praying for them.
Of course, Jesus stretches us a bit here in this story of the rich man and Lazarus. Just a few weeks ago, when Queen Elizabeth II died, everyone knew about it. We got the play-by-play of every day of the mourning period including what members of the royal family were wearing, and her funeral was watched by millions. There are plenty of people like Lazarus who die alone and nameless – no funeral, no obituary, no next of kin. Notice how Jesus doesn’t tell us what the rich man’s name is, but tells us Lazarus’, the poor man’s name. Notice how Jesus’ way of telling this story draws us into empathy for someone who was honestly probably difficult to be around, hard to look at, because his suffering was so great. You know, a lot of people are able to keep their poverty a secret. If they can at least dress cleanly and find a place to take a shower, we may not know that they are living in their car or homeless shelter. Lazarus is so desperate he is reduced to begging out in the open for mercy: smelly, dirty, difficult to look at, touch, and probably even listen to. And notice how we also have empathy for the rich man, who didn’t realize until it was too late that money isn’t everything, who failed to share generously from his wealth to alleviate Lazarus’s pain while he was living. For those of us who worry because we are more like the rich man than Lazarus, the good news is that we still have time, if we listen to Jesus’ words, to change and respond to those in need. Praying for others is a great place to start, because we challenge ourselves to not only name and lift up people in prayer who are close to us, but also those we forget about or neglect to think of :
- When we go out to eat, we can pray not only for our meal and the hands that prepared it, but for our servers and even the dishwashers and cleaners.
- When we go to work, we can pray for our boss, our coworkers, and also for the maintenance workers and those who clean the facilities.
- When we are at home, we can pray for the postal workers, landscapers, garbage collectors as well as for our local government leaders, police, fire and rescue officers who keep us safe.
- When our kids and grandkids go to school, we can pray for their teachers, assistants, school nurses, administrators, security guards and bus drivers.
- When we go shopping, we can pray for the farmers who grew our food, the clothing manufacturers and factory workers who made our clothes and other products, the delivery truck drivers and technology specialists who make it possible to order things online.
Praying for others is easy, but it’s also easy to get into a rut of praying for the same people without expanding our circle of prayer. And let’s remember to listen – listen to what Jesus might be calling us to do as we pray for others…to give financially to support organizations that help others get back on their feet or bring healing; to donate food, clothing, or simply our time in helping others, to speak up for or advocate on behalf of a particular group of people who might be oppressed or vulnerable to abuse.
Praying for others opens us up beyond focusing just on ourselves and helps us follow Jesus’ greatest commandment to love God with our heart soul and mind and our neighbors as ourselves. What Jesus calls us to do as relatively rich people for Lazarus is challenging. We can start with prayer; and may the Holy Spirit inspire us to deeper empathy and compassion so that we, unlike the rich man, listen to the One who has risen from the dead! Amen.