Luke 16: 19-31
I want to begin by sharing a song with you. This was one of my favorite songs in college. I Will Remember You by Sarah McLachlan.
Does it sound familiar? You don’t have to be 30 something to know this song. We hear it nearly every time we turn on the TV. It is the theme song for the ASPCA commercials.
No longer do I have memories of hanging out with friends, listening to it for hours… every time I hear that song I now think of poor, sick, starving puppies and kittens. I see that commercial so often and am so annoyed that, on multiple occasions I have almost suggested we quit giving to the ASPCA just because I am sick of the song.
The first time I saw the commercial, it tugged at my heart strings. It nearly brought me to tears but now that I have seen the commercial thousands of times, I seem to have grown immune to the sad eyes of those sweet animals that just want to be loved. Now when the commercial comes on I am more likely to think: Yeah, yeah, yeah, poor pitiful animals everywhere…. And move on with my day?
I have grown apathetic to the plight of these helpless of God’s creation.
But this doesn’t just happen with ASPCA commercials. It happens pretty much everywhere we go, every time we turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper. We are overwhelmed with images of protests and riots, shootings, bombings, terror attacks, politicians spewing hate filled words, drug deals and drug busts gone wrong, and children being abducted.
It was shocking the first time John Walsh came on TV with America’s Most Wanted. It was a shock at the beginning of the Gulf War as we watched for hours as bombs exploded over Iraq. It was a shock the first time Sally Struthers came on TV parading around poor, malnourished African children with distended bellies asking for donations of just $1/ day. It was a shock the first time an unarmed black man was shot and calls for justice filled the streets. It was a shock the first time a terrorist bomb exploded on the streets of the US.
But now, even this week, as it has happened in our own back yard, our state, 2 hours away, I feel the apathy creeping in. It could have happened 2 hours away, 2 states away or 2,000 miles away but I feel detached. It is too common, it has become normal and I unfortunately am beginning to feel apathetic. And, I don’t think I am alone in this struggle to care. It is hard to keep caring when it feels like every day your heart will be broken and torn apart by what you see and read. It is too painful. But apathy spreads, it isn’t just what we see on TV it bleeds into our personal lives as well.
The gospel story from Luke today tells us the story of a rich man and Lazarus, a poor, leper and beggar. At first glance it seems that the rich man is simply punished for being rich and Lazarus rewarded for being poor. Somehow at the cosmic level, God makes everything even and fair. Except it doesn’t seem like either did anything to deserve their place either in this life or the next.
As the story progresses we get more clues to the real problem for the rich man. It isn’t that he is inherently a bad person. He didn’t steal from Lazarus; abuse Lazarus nor did he ridicule or oppress Lazarus. It isn’t his fault he is rich and Lazarus is a poor leper.
But, from Hades, you see what matters; his attitude toward Lazarus. The rich man, knew who Lazarus was, remembered him from his presence outside his gate, but just never paid him any attention. He was self-centered. It wasn’t simply that he dressed in fine clothes, or that the feasted every day, it was that he was self-centered. Everything was all about him, his family and his friends.
Even in Hades it’s all about him. He never asks Lazarus for help, he asks Abraham to send Lazarus to serve him. And when that isn’t possible, he asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his family to save them. He never sees Lazarus as his equal, as someone worthy of being addressed, worthy of his time or attention. Lazarus is always beneath him, even as Lazarus reclines in the bosom of Abraham and the rich man is tormented. It never crosses his mind that Lazarus was worthy of more than his scraps, hand-me-downs and trash.
The rich man knew what Moses and the prophets taught about caring for others and sharing with the poor, widowed, and orphan. He may have even given alms every week at Temple but never so much that it interfered with his own comfort, and never as a way to elevate the lowest to his level of importance. He continued to look down on, and most of the time ignore, those in his midst who were in need; even as they lay at his own door step.
Maybe the first time he saw Lazarus, he was shocked. Maybe he gave him a coin or two, offered him a warm meal or blanket. But as time passed the sight of Lazarus at the gate became normal. It wasn’t shocking any more, he became apathetic and simply stopped caring.
That is a sin we are in danger of every day. We see our neighbors but we don’t always know their names or their needs. We see people lined up at the soup kitchen but never stop by to see what we can do to help. We know there is a homeless shelter in town but figure it is someone else’s ministry, some other church’s or person’s responsibility. We may know there are an estimated 465 homeless children in our county but either we don’t see them or don’t notice them.
We donate money to church, items for backpacks, take up collections for the Room at the Inn fund at Christmas, but never so much that we sacrifice our comfort and never to the point that we would ever get to know the names, faces or real needs of those who receive them. We have discovered how to feel good about ourselves without really caring. Because caring means we are vulnerable, putting ourselves at risk physically and emotionally and that is scary.
In “Breathing Under Water” Richard Rohr- suggests “that your heart needs to be broken and broken open, at least once to have a heart at all, or to have a heart for others.”
Every week I drive by a blue building in the fence by the junk yard. I know people live there, I see them on the porch every Sunday, I have seen kids get off the bus there and clothes drying on the fence. But I also see that it doesn’t have windows and doesn’t appear to have electricity. I was shocked the first time I saw it, but now sometimes I drive by and never look their way. And, I have never stopped to talk to them, learn their names, their stories, or what they need or how I might be able to help.
Last week at a clergy meeting we heard from a woman who is the head of the Congregations for Children initiative. As she spoke with tears in her eyes, she shared a story of how God called her to this work. As she worried about her declining church, as she wondered how the church could help people in her community, as she drove to church and saw children playing and toys in the yard, she heard God ask-
What are their names? What are their names? How can we help those we don’t know and how can we get to know those we refuse to see?
This is God’s calling and question to us. Who are the Lazarus in our community? How can we put ourselves out there in a way that allows us to actually get to know the people in our neighborhood, our community, our town and our county? What are their names? What do they need to flourish and know that they are children of God?
Apathy paralyzes because we are overwhelmed by the needs of the world- every week we hear of some new tragedy, some new natural disaster, some new systemic problem that seems too overwhelming and out of our ability to fix, so we cut ourselves off. Afraid that all our resources will be drained if we helped everyone. But what if we just helped one. What if we just stood up for our Lazarus who is afraid to leave home for fear of law enforcement. What if we just helped our Lazarus who was looking for steady work to support his family. What if we just helped our one Lazarus who was trying to flee an abusive home life. What if we just helped our one Lazarus who didn’t have an adult at home after school to help with homework.
Apathy paralyzes but following Christ calls us to leave our comfort zone, enter into the one relationship that is based on a love that fills our lives and over flows from Christ into the world through us. It is a love when accepted allows us to love freely because we are freely loved. Jesus is what heals us of Apathy- being in relationship with Jesus and our neighbors leads us out of apathy and into empathy. It frees us to allow our hearts to be broken open in love for others.
Fixing the world’s problems is out of our scope- it is a God size problem, with a God size solution but we can help one- who is your Lazarus? Who are the Lazarus’s this church is called to reach out an invite to share at our table?