Sermon of the Week

“I just Didn’t See You” by Rev Ronee Christy

“I just didn’t see you”               September 25, 2022                             Luke 16: 19-31

            When I was 7 years old we got a TV.  That was a really big deal.  Not everyone had TV’s, but enough people had them that I really wanted our family to have one.  It was Christmas morning and of course I was REALLY excited. I woke up around 6:00am. and snuck out to the living room to look at the Christmas tree with all the gifts around it (of course I wasn’t allowed to do that) but I did NOT touch anything!

            I just sat there for an hour waiting for the rest of the family to wake up so we could open our gifts. Finally, after everyone got dressed and ATE breakfast and had a devotion about Jesus, it was time to open gifts.  I LOVE CHRISTMAS!

            We started in, opening one gift at at time and when we were done opening everything, my dad said we had one more gift to receive. And it was for the whole family!

            I was glad to hear that, but all of the gifts were unwrapped. Then he said to turn around and see the gift. There in the room sitting on the TV stand like it had been there forever, was the new ‘first time ever’ family TV.

            It had been there the WHOLE time right there in the room, since 6:00 in the morning when I was out there for an hour by myself (and the TV) and I had not seen it. I was not looking for a TV. I had no idea that my parents were cool enough to by a TV.  I had no idea that I could be that fortunate to have a 19” TV, it was one of the best Christmases EVER!

             How could I have missed the huge (for that time in history) TV sitting right there in the room? I missed it because I wasn’t looking for it. I did not have eyes to see what was right there beside me because I was distracted by the wrapped gifts.   //

            That is one of the lessons Jesus has for us in the scripture passage for today.

            Some background for today’s parable from Jesus is that this parable was not told to the disciples, it was directed to the Pharisees.  In the parable Jesus describes the rich man as having purple clothing and fine linen. That is the exact description of the robes of the high priests, and such robes were hugely expensive.  So right away the Pharisees knew Jesus was talking about them and they did not like it because the rich man in the story is not the hero.

            Another part of the parable that is made more meaningful if we know the cultural background, is the comment about this poor man Lazarus eating the crumbs that fell from the table.

            In the 1st century in the Middle East, people did not use knives and forks to eat.  They used their hands.  And in very wealthy houses people would CLEAN their hands by wiping them on hunks of bread which were then thrown away.  That was what Lazarus was waiting for, to get some scraps of bread that had been used to clean someone’s dirty hands and thrown on the floor.

            It is interesting to note that Lazarus is the only person in ANY of Jesus’ parables who has a name. The rich man is only referred to as ‘the rich man’.  But Lazarus has a name and the name Lazarus means ‘God is my help”.  Lazarus was a beggar and he was sick with something that caused him to have sores that were not healing… he was so sick that he could not even clean his wounds.

            Jesus story is told in light of ‘the Pharisees, who were lovers of money’ (verse 14) and we read that the Pharisees mocked Jesus for what he had said earlier about  people not being able to serve God and wealth at the same time (verse 13- LAST week).  Jesus once again was teaching something that had not been understood before this.

            From the OT book of Deuteronomy we have evidence that people interpreted the scriptures as saying that if your are rich – God loves you and you have done something right, in the same thought pattern, if you are poor you must have done something bad to displease God and that is why you are in the awful situation you are in. Jesus was saying that is not what the Deuteronomic passages were saying.  Jesus is teaching that the Pharisees were misinterpreting these passages.

            Today there are still churches who preach this attitude.. it is called the theology of  prosperity -“the Prosperity Gospel” –  saying that if you do good things God will reward you with fortune and wealth (at least you will have a great car.)  The Theology of prosperity says if you are rich you must have done something good and God rewarded you. Also when something bad happens in your life, you must have deserved that and God must be punishing you. Clearly that is NOT what Jesus taught, it is a wrong/misleading understanding of scripture.

            We do not subscribe to this theology  (this interpretation of scripture) because clearly Jesus is not teaching it but clearly what Jesus is teaching gets him in trouble. 

            Although it may look like it on the surface, this parable is not primarily a moral story about riches and poverty. Something more is going on here, since this is a story Jesus is telling and it is identified as a parable.  We should take it as a picture language about something that was going on in Jesus work.  Something Jesus has to teach us.

            The point Jesus was bringing out, was that the Pharisees (who were rich and loved being rich) were treating the people Jesus was including into the group of believers just like the rich man treated Lazarus.  Jesus is reprimanding the Pharisees and telling them that there is still time for them to change their arrogant ways.

            If they do not change, even someone with the good news who rises from the dead will NOT be able to get through to them.

            This parable is stating (right in the faces of the Pharisees) that Jesus came, not to honor the rich and powerful people of the world. They are invited, but probably [because they don’t think they need Jesus] will say no thank you to his offer of eternal life and freedom.

            Jesus picture in this story is that the message of hope is offered to everyone, and quite possibly the one with nothing is just low enough, and in need enough, that that person has ears to hear the good news of Christ.

            Jesus is saying that the law and the prophets will all come true in a new way. As Jesus himself rises again, opening the door to God’s new plan, in which all wrongs will be put right.

            This passage/parable is a warning to the wealthy, and offers a word of comfort and hope to the poor.  Jesus’ identity as a prophet who was anointed to ‘preach the good news to the poor’ is lived out in this parable.  Jesus is specifically  telling us to have our eyes open to the inequities of the day. Jesus tells us that we NEED to share our fortune with those who do not have means to continue.  We have been studying this Matthew 25 message in Sunday school with Jen. We are looking into the Mathew 25 and talking about how to care for those who are invisible.

            Sharing might take the form of helping someone to find housing when they have no place to live (refugees from Congo).  It might mean that you drive someone to an appointment when they are not able to get there on their own. It may mean that you offer childcare so that the young couple is able to have a night out together, or make soup for Bellevue Community or the Men’s shelter. It may mean noticing when someone needs help in a store, or noticing that someone needs a note of encouragement.

            The rich man is not pictured as being inherently wicked.  He does not remove Lazarus from being in front of the gate, he just does not care about his suffering. He is blind to the needs of this person who has nothing.

            There is a quote that says – ‘One of the prime dangers of wealth is that it causes blindness.”

            This story from Jesus calls us to notice and question how we handle our money today and raises the question of whether we “SEE” the poor at our gates.

            When I was in seminary I focused on urban ministries and did a lot of hands on connecting with people who were in need, people who were homeless and living on the street.  One thing that came up several times was the fact that people on the street felt that they were invisible to those walking past them every day.  The overriding comment was that it would have been helpful for people walking by to at least recognize them as human beings, just a good morning or recognition that they were part of society and valid as human beings.  Sometimes that is hard to know HOW to do this. Sometimes people look scary and sometimes they ARE scary, but we can still work to have eyes to see those around us who are suffering.  See them as children of God,  as people who Jesus died for because they were worth it. If we learn to think of ALL people as children of God, it will be easier for us to actually SEE them where ever we go.

            Even if we are constantly struggling to make ends meet, we are far more wealthy – far better off that most of the world, we are blessed in SO many ways AND Jesus is telling us that we are to use our blessings to further God’s kingdom here on earth.

            We have to train our eyes to see those in need because they do not all look alike. They may look perfectly healthy and well off but inside they are crying out for a kind word or a word of encouragement.  We have to have eyes to see.

            I have had a lot of experience with HS kids on mission trips.  On those trips our motto is to leave a place where we have stayed overnight, in better condition that when we came. On these trips, we had jobs for everyone to help in the clean up after we had stayed in a church on our days of travel. As one of the leaders, I was the inspector of the sinks. My job was to check the kitchen and the bathrooms to make sure they looked good.

            One reoccurring situation was the drain in the kitchens. Kids would do a great job of cleaning the whole kitchen, putting things away, sweeping the floors, cleaning the counters and they were done. I would go in and check the room and there in the drain (catchy thing) was about enough food to feed someone for a day. They NEVER seemed to even SEE that. They were not trained yet on these trips to have eyes to see. After a few mornings of this their eyes were opened and they learned to check the drains before they finished this chore.  

            Sometimes we have to learn and train our eyes to see things that we just can’t see without help. We think that we have finished the job but we haven’t finished yet and in this case our help is from Jesus telling us to notice – to open our eyes to those who are right in front of us and hurting.

            Whatever your life situation you are called to do this.  If you are in middle school you have opportunity to serve in this way. Have eyes to notice the person who is made fun of – the person who is outside the acceptable group standard and speak to that person. Acknowledge that that this person is someone who God loves.

            This is the Fall and that means we are starting our stewardship campaign. That means we need to think about how we respond to the gifts we have received in this life. It is actually the time of year that we focus on reaching out – on giving back – on supporting prayerfully and physically, the needs of this community – this church family – and the larger world.

            This passage is not saying that being successful is a bad thing. It is not saying that having financial advantage is evil. It is saying that money usually makes us self focused and we need to guard against that because it is not good for us to be SO controlled by our money.

The sin of the rich man (without a name) was that he never noticed Lazarus, that he accepted the condition that Lazarus was in, with no concern or compassion. Actually he did not even notice that he was there.

            This week the message we are studying is straight from Jesus. We are to look around – notice — ‘care for the poor and hurting.’

             Don’t be so connected to your money and wealth that you do not respond to the needs around you and in the world. Needs that you are ignoring or not even seeing.

            Jesus cares so deeply about you that he died and rose from the dead.  Jesus came with this Good NEWS.   We need to be able to have ears to hear this message and eyes to see how we can respond to this love from Christ by the way we live our lives and how we treat God’s children.

            Blessings, as you move out into the hallway to share the love of Christ by your words and actions… AMEN