19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' 25 But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.' 27 He said, 'Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' 29 Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' 30 He said, 'No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' 31 He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"
Holy Wisdom, Holy Word
Thanks be to God
Prayer: Oh Lord, uphold me, that I may uplift thee.
Sermon: God Sent a Prophet
As the rich man looks up to see Abraham and Lazarus at the pearly gates of Heaven, he suddenly realizes that he’s not getting in. All that stuff about it being harder for a rich person to get into Heaven than a camel to go through the eye of a needle…he sees now that it wasn’t a joke.
The rich man, who doesn’t have a name, has lost his chance.
BUT!! The conversation that ensues between him and Abraham is of particular significance because it highlights the way we all tend to think.
You know the story about the flood and the person who crawls out on the roof of their house to be rescued? A person in a boat comes by and says, “get in,” and the person on the roof says, “No thanks, God will save me.” The boat leaves. Another boat comes floating along and the person inside says, “The water is getting high, get in the boat.” The person on the roof says, “I’m good, God will rescue me.” A helicopter flies overhead and the pilot says, “Climb the ladder into the helicopter, I’ll save you.” The person on the roof says, “Move along, I’m waiting for God to save me.” The person on the roof drowns, and gets to meet God, saying, “God, why didn’t you save me??” God responds, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter! What more do you want??”
That person on the roof…is the rich man. Either unable or unwilling to recognize that God has spoken…and God wasn’t kidding. God sent rescue. God sent prophets, Moses and Abraham, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. They weren’t enough for the rich man in life, but in death he finally sees and says, basically, “oops, my bad.”
Abraham isn’t having it, though. Oops, my bad is not a valid response to him ignoring the poor and oppressed all his life, even though the prophets told him not to. They warned him against apathy and self-gain, but he didn’t listen. So no, Abraham isn’t amused.
Then the rich man does something really bold. He DEMANDS that Abraham send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his brothers. First of all, I don’t think the rich man is in a position to demand anything, but I get his desperation. He doesn’t want his brothers to suffer the same fate as him.
Unfortunately, that’s not really the most noble of goals. I’d be willing to bet if he had said to Abraham, “Will you please send Lazarus back from the dead to tell my brothers that they need to use their abundant means to help people out? Because it’s the right thing to do. Because God calls us to do it.”
If he had said that, maybe Abraham might have been a bit more willing to help him out. But instead, he demands that Lazarus, a man he stepped over or walked past in life, he demands that he be USED once again to save his family.
Nope, Abraham isn’t having it. He says, “If they won’t listen to the prophets sent by God, that’s just too bad for them.”
Friends, the prophets are indeed sent in a context, to a certain people, for a particular time in history. But their messages ring true for generations, millennia to come. We still, to this day, lean on the words of Moses and Abraham, Ezekiel and Jeremiah.
We still lean on the words of Nat Turner, of Frederick Douglas, of Martin Luther King, Jr., and of Rosa Parks.
Yesterday, in Washington D.C., a great celebration was held for the opening of a new Smithsonian Museum. It’s the Museum African-American History and Culture, which remembers the violent, oppressive history of the United States, and celebrates the human will to overcome and thrive. As President George W. Bush put it, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces it and corrects its flaws.”
It’s a noble proposition. If only it were true.
Sure, the museum itself is a testament to the virtue and determination of the black American. But I would argue that the number of times in the last four months that I and my preacher friends have felt compelled to preach on the way we treat our black citizens paints a different picture altogether.
Throughout the summer, we have been working from the Gospel of Luke. Which is significant because the Gospel of Luke is widely known in scholarly circles as the social gospel. Jesus spends a great deal of time talking about how we are to treat the poor, the widow, the orphan, the oppressed. He rails against money, and insists that he did not come for our comfort. They can be difficult words to bring, especially when we are so comfortable, but Jesus didn’t shy away from the tough conversations, and neither can we.
Jesus calls us to the tough conversations. He calls us to keep reminding the world of the words of the prophets.
Because we as a society aren’t listening to them…
We celebrate Harriett Tubman in museums. We venerate Nat Turner and Frederick Douglas as heroes. We have MLK Day and Black History Month to memorialize their contribution and their sacrifice.
But we aren’t listening.
This museum looks amazing and I really want to go. I need to remember the history. I need to see that my people have enslaved, tortured, and oppressed an entire continent of people for centuries. I need to be convicted by the brutality of Jim Crow. I need to feel the death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I need the prophets to speak to me.
I think we all need the prophets to speak to us.
A friend of mine, this week, took issue with me talking about the movement for black lives. He assured me that Michael Brown and Sandra Bland and Trayvon Martin were no Dr. King or Rosa Parks. He said the movement isn’t valid because look at who its leaders are.
But Michael Brown and Sandra Bland and Trayvon Martin aren’t the leaders of the movement. They’re the martyrs in the ongoing struggle for the same civil rights that Dr. King and Rosa Parks fought for in the 1950s and 60s.
And if we can look back and claim that what Dr. King and Rosa Parks did was a good thing, then we should be able, now, to see that the current movement is a good thing. If we can look back and say we would have been Freedom Riders or would have marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma or if we would have joined the Birmingham bus boycott, then we should be willing to join the protests across the country today.
We should be able to acknowledge that this movement is about lifting people, beloved children of God, out of oppression. And to deny that they are oppressed is to deny the prophets.
The rich man, in his life, denied the prophets. He gathered wealth and held onto it, stepping over Lazarus whenever he encountered him. Even though the prophets warned him against this kind of treatment of the poor, the rich man chose comfort in life. And Lazarus received comfort after death.
Do we choose comfort in life? Or do we choose to sacrifice our own riches, our own privilege, in order to lift the beloved children of God out of oppression?
I often wonder what I can do. What does it look like to sacrifice my riches in pursuit of racial justice?
Today, what I have is my voice. You have a voice, too.
There are people who call me un-American. They say I’m inciting violence by supporting the movement. You undoubtedly know these people, too.
But as people of God, as followers of our savior Jesus Christ, we are compelled to rise above, and to demand that, indeed, all of God’s beloved deserve to be treated as beloved by us…because Jesus commanded us to love one another. He loved us, set the example for us, and set us free to love one another as HE loved…as he loves… us.
|Quote: Letter from a Birmingham City Jail|
God expects the same of us in this era of civil rights.
Use your voice. Talk to your friends and family. Be loving, be gentle, be kind. Reread Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Read The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Listen to President Obama’s speech at the museum opening yesterday.
And listen to the prophets God has sent.
In the name of God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sustainer…Amen.