It’s Not Too Late

Rev. Sarah Buteux
September 29, 2013
Luke 16:19-31


Note: This sermon was preached as part of our "Fifth Sunday Project."  Occasionally, when there are five Sundays in a month, we gather together for a brief worship service and then engage in acts of service for our church and community.

Anyone want to take a stab at guessing how long we’ve been doing this Fifth Sunday thing? It’s still relatively new by Hadley standards, but then again so is, like, electricity. 

Which is to say that the church is very old and the Fifth Sunday project is still fairly new, but, all that aside, what do you think? How long have we been doing this? Is this our third year? Our fourth?

It may surprise you to learn that we’ve been doing this now for six years. Yeah. Time flies when you’re having fun, huh?

I figured this out when I remembered that I’d preached once before about the Rich Man and Lazarus and it had been for a Fifth Sunday service. 

I went ahead and looked up the old sermon to see what I’d said, (cause it’s not like I remember) and realized that this was the parable we explored together the very first time we decided to spend a Sunday morning serving others as worship rather than spending Sunday morning attending a worship service.

Six years ago, while reflecting on these two men, I talked about how easy it was for all of us - myself included - to go about our days and our lives without really noticing the needs of those around us. Like the rich man, we too live in communities full of hungry, desperate, hurting people, but they are people we don’t know mostly because we don’t have to.

For instance, you might pass by the Survival Center on your way to Cowl’s lumber, but that doesn’t mean you have to go in. You might see someone panhandling at the light outside Wal-Mart, but that doesn’t mean you have to roll down your window. Our lives are so full and so busy and so easily segregated that we don’t have to get involved with the needs of others if we don’t want to. And even if we do - even if you do decide to engage a little by say dropping off some gently used items at the free store or passing a dollar to someone in need - it’s so very easy for that to be the end of it. You don’t have to stick around long enough to hear people’s stories. What with the light about to change and all, you’d be lucky to even learn a person’s name.

But God does.

At least that’s one of the things this parable is meant to teach us.  God knows the name of every last person, but especially the names of those who appear to have come in last down here on earth. God knows their story.

And I think part of what Jesus is trying to teach us today is that God wants us to get to know them too: get to know their names, get to know their stories.

One of the really striking features of this parable, actually, is that it’s about an anonymous rich man and a poor beggar with a name. Typically it would be the other way around.  Typically it would be the rich man who would be named and the poor guy who would just be labeled. But here, thanks to Jesus, the tables are turned. In fact, a little Bible trivia for you here, Lazarus is the only person with a name in any of Jesus’ parables. 

I think it’s so easy for us to think this parable is all about the rich man and the spiritual blindness that led him to hell; so easy to think that the true purpose of this tale is to scare us into changing our ways so we can go to heaven unlike him; so easy to think –honestly - that this is all about us.  But I don’t think that is Jesus’ main intent here. In naming Lazarus, in giving Lazarus a name, I think Jesus is trying to help us see, finally see, just how precious people like Lazarus are to God.

The rich man never saw him.  He was right on his doorstep, for all those years, and  - forget even giving him scraps from his table - the rich man never stooped down to say so much as “hello.”

The rich man never saw Lazarus but God did.

And God wants us to see Lazarus to - not just so we can go to heaven when we die! - but so we can bring a little heaven to him right now while he still lives: a little water to cool his tongue, enough bread to get him through the day.

That’s what the Fifth Sunday project is about and has been about since the very beginning.  And, thanks be to God, I can attest to the fact that names have been learned, stories have been shared, water has been carried, and bread has been broken with those who need it, and need it most. 

It’s been a good six years. I don’t have statistics to share with you this morning. I don’t know how many trays of lasagna we’ve sent to the Survival Center or how many cans of soup we’ve sent to the food pantry. I don’t know how many hands we’ve held or meals we’ve shared, or people we’ve met.  All I know is that it has been a lot and that it has meant a lot to those we have served.

But what I’m really hoping is that all we’ve done here has made a difference to us – to you and to me - as a church and as people of faith.

I hope our eyes are a little more open now than they were six years ago.

I hope that our hearts are a little softer; our hands a little more ready to be of use and service to those around us.

I hope that somewhere along the way we’ve come to realize that church isn’t all about us – what we want, what we need, what we prefer - but about what we can give and experience and accomplish when we put the needs of others before our own; needs we see a little more clearly and hold a little more dearly because of days like this.

For friends we don’t just have Moses and the prophets guiding us on this journey of faith.

Unlike the rich man and his brothers, we actually do have someone who rose from the dead. Jesus came to us and returned to us and remains with us in the hopes of drawing all of us ever deeper into the heart of God.

So let us go forth in his name, the better to know and serve those whom he loves the most.