The 16th chapter of Luke focuses on the dangers of wealth. Jesus tells
stories that warn believers of the corrupting allure of cash and property
and assets. Jesus teaches through His parables that unjust distribution
of wealth does not fit within His Gospel. Good News for one cannot mean harm for another.
Lazarus has the distinct privilege of being the only person ever named
in one of Jesus’ moral tales. Lazarus translates to mean, “God helps.”
Lazarus is dependent on God for survival. In his earthly life, he parks
himself at the gate into a rich man’s compound. This man’s wardrobe is
described to make a point. Purple dye in the ancient Mediterranean
world was a rare commodity. It got its color from a snail that was
indigenous to that part of the world. Purple clothing was a luxury
industry and his outfit would have been the envy of all. The rich man
enjoys the privacy afforded by an early gated community. He has assets
to protect so he pays slaves to build a wall around his house. Lazarus—
and perhaps other indigents—choose him as their best chance at
getting a beggar’s income. Daily Lazarus’ crippled body is heaped up against the entry gate. Stray dogs, despised mongrels in the scriptures, lick his wounds. This main character in Jesus’ story is destitute and demeaned.
As the rich man goes in and out each day, tending to his estate, he
seems not to even notice Lazarus.
The story abruptly shifts to the afterlife. The rich man, we read, suffers
in Hades, a place of eternal punishment. It conjures up such fearful images
that no one uses that word lightly. At first the man asks Lazarus to serve
him. He still thinks he can run his life as if he’s the King of his castle.
When told that Lazarus cannot cross the great chasm that separates
them, the rich man has a rare altruistic moment and begs that a
warning be sent to his brothers. “Shape up! Things are not as they
seem! What you do on earth matters so crack open that Bible open.
Throw the beggars some coins. Hark up before it’s too late!” The man
who had never even noticed Lazarus has a heart only for his brothers.
Lazarus, known as “God helps” to his loved ones, is finally in good
We all know Lazarus. He is our neighbor! We contribute money to
agencies that help the Lazarus’ of our world. In a few weeks our congregation will open our doors to families who are reliant upon our care. Through our acts of mercy, God helps homeless families, children who don’t know where they will sleep from one week to the next. Maybe some of us can remember times when our own finances were stretched thin. We
were ashamed, frightened, depressed. Then someone noticed us and,
out of a love for God, helped us.
We all know Lazarus. He is our neighbor. She is the one who is
overlooked, undervalued, abused and treated as a pariah. There are more people named “God helps” than I ever imagined. Jesus told stories about the Realm of God, where the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, the homeless given shelter and the wounded are healed. In this parable that emphasizes the distance between the rich and the poor, we are challenged to look deep within. We are invited to a new understanding of who is part of our family. They are the ones God helps—through us. They are the ones who are needed to complete the picture of who belongs in Christ’s Church!
This next year is important for our congregation. We have endured such upheaval in the past eighteen months with the siege of COVID. And it’s not over yet! The financial impact of this pandemic is disastrous and widespread. The toll of isolation has led to a dramatic increase in mental illnesses. We worry about the long-term impact on our children. College students sit in their dorm rooms, frightened or forbidden from socializing. School children have learned to avoid touching each other but rejoice that they can at least sit in a classroom together. A backdrop of death has not spared any of us significant loss. We have survived but are still figuring out how to trust that God will lead us out of this depression. We wonder if God will truly help us when so many of our plans had to be abandoned and our hopes have been dashed.
This next year is important for our church family. As I prepare for whatever next chapter God has in store for me, they will look toward the horizon to chart a new course. The good news is that this congregation is strong! When some of our leadership met with a denominational leader last month, she affirmed the many gifts that are so evident in this congregation. We are creative. We are Spirit-filled. We not only survive difficult times but thrive in them. We are multi-generational. We know how to have fun together! We love each other. We serve God together. Each of us adds uniquely to the beauty of the puzzle!
The greatest sadness for me since we left the building on March 15,
2020, is our separation from each other. COVID scattered us. We’re still
living in our homes. But we have greatly changed when we go out and
where. In the past eighteen months our daily rhythms have changed significantly. Getting back to in-person worship with new restrictions is
unappealing to some and feels unsafe to those who are at risk. On Sunday mornings we join together for worship in pews and from our homes. Some have drifted away and others have newly joined. We have been
scattered and we yearn to be together in His love once again.
Our Stewardship Committee has invited our membership to claim their important place in the life of the congregation. Whether they come through our doors now or still worship from home, all are part of the puzzle. Our budget has been reliant on PPP loans for the past two years and those will not be renewed. This is an important year for us as we engage in conversations about who we are and where we are going. It will be a time of claiming our identity as a congregation and finding the next
pastor who will feel as blessed as I have been to minister alongside of
this faithful congregation. I pray that each person will feel moved to continue their support of the ministry that happens out of this sacred space. There is such strength in this church family: strength to change, faith to invite God into that movement and courage to expect transformation.
Though distance still separates many of us, I have no doubt that we share
the conviction that we are called to reach out to the Lazarus’ of our
community. Ours is a generous congregation. They respond with
compassion when a need is presented. Many of us have been
helped in our time of need by members of our church family. I live in a
lovely home now that was, in significant ways, built by this my congregation members after a devastating housefire. I use items on a daily basis that were given to our family in a housewarming shower that replaced the basic necessities we lost. After my surgery for cancer, church friends cared for my family by bringing meals or driving my children places. We have helped each other because we know that God notices the Lazarus’ of this world! Thank God we are strengthened for every task that is set before us because we know that GOD’S STEADFAST LOVE ENDURES FOREVER!