a message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church, UCC
September 25, 2022
Luke 16: 19-31 NRSV
19“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He 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.’ 25But 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. 26Besides 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.’ 27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He 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.’”
Do you consider yourself a good listener? Most of us think we are. The best check on that might be to ask your spouse if you have one, or your best friend. Your spouse might tell you the truth. Your friend? Well, depends, doesn’t it? Today’s reading sounds like it is about money. At one level it is. But at another level it is about listening.
That brings us to Lazarus, the star of our morning reading. Interestingly he is a silent star. No word from his mouth is reported. One assumes his presence spoke of his need, even if we don’t have his words on record. On the other hand, the nameless “rich man” has a lot to say. We are told he lives the good life. Fine clothes, expensive, gourmet meals, best chariots and horses [ one assumes ], etc. He lives in a gated community and as he drives out each day he passes Lazarus, a disgusting, smelly, foul wretch of a human being, being tongue – washed by dogs. Ew. He begs for food but not even a scrap from the rich man’s table falls to him, let alone a chicken wing or such. Lazarus dies, [ so what? Who cares? ], and goes to the bosom of Abraham. Well, there’s an unexpected twist, huh? The anonymous rich man kicks the bucket shortly thereafter and shockingly, is wasting away in Hades, suffering and thirsting like you would not believe. He begs [ I know, ironic, right? ] for Abraham to send Lazarus with a drop of water to cool his tongue. No such luck, nameless rich guy.
He then thinks of someone besides himself, for a change, but only his own kin, no concern for anyone else. One might allude to Dickens and say he asks for the “Ghost of Lazarus Past” to go warn his brothers. Alas, the response is, “if they didn’t listen to the prophets who warned everyone about caring for the poor, the widow, the orphan and the immigrant among you, they aren’t likely to listen even if someone comes back from the dead. I almost think every time the church tells this story we should wink, wink when we get to that point, don’t you? I mean, who could Jesus possibly be referring to – someone rising from the dead? Do you get it? Wink, wink?
We certainly live in an age where “helping others” has become as controversial as ever. While we are also living in an age of incredible wealth, we also live in an age of excruciating poverty and difficulties. As always, we often would rather debate the reasons for this – and whether it is a problem or not – more than we would like to actually do anything about it.
“Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winner and former chief economist for the World Bank, comes to similar conclusions in a book he wrote almost ten years ago. [ The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future, 2013]. He writes, ‘The top 1 percent of Americans gained 93 percent of the additional income created in the country in 2010, as compared with 2009.’
“Problems are worse in the rest of the world. According to the World Bank, in 2010, 2.40 billion people lived on less than $1.50 a day. These people could live for two days on one of our Starbucks lattes. They suffer the catastrophic consequences of poverty as measured by a broad everything from access to safe and dependable water, life expectancy, infant and maternal mortality, literacy, and so on.
Many voices want our money – advertising is a gazillion dollar business trying to get me to buy the latest deodorant, phone, or car. I get at least a dozen requests from political candidates for my money every day. And while I would love to win the lottery and have plenty of money, the experts caution me that there will be an overwhelming number of requests for money from many long-lost relatives I never knew I had, and from persons in need who are neither related to me or ever met me. I have to admit I am still willing to take that risk! I think it comes down to the voices I listen to.
As we celebrate this church’s 60th anniversary I am sure many memories come back to many of you depending on how long you have been around. Being new, what came to my mind was all the lives this church has helped. All the people in need that this church has given to so that they could survive another day, or week, or month. I would bet the number is in the thousands, easily. You listened to those in need, you heard them, and you answered their need. You didn’t ignore or drive by or shut your ears to them.
I expressed my dismay last week at the story of innocent immigrants being flown from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard by the Governor of Florida. I wonder if you heard the story of how the residents of that small island heard the call for help and answered. The pastor of the Episcopal Church there, Rev. Chip Seadale, got the call from a counselor at the Island Community Center where the Venezuelan immigrants had been sent. He began making calls to others to help. Other churches jumped in, individuals heard and answered the call. They didn’t turn their backs or ignore the need.
I don’t know what will come of this saga, but I listened carefully to the words Rev. Seadale shared with someone about all this. He said, “the church’s job is not to take sides in political drama or invest in divisions. ‘Good theology wins,’ he said. ‘If you have a theology of hate, you don’t have a future. We have to show people the way of Love. That is what the younger generation wants from us. That is what God calls us to do. We need each other.”
I think places like Martha’s Vineyard and the Florida Keys understand the need to listen to one another and respond with love when people are in need. Through hurricanes and fires and other disasters this church has heard the call and answered. You have worked with people who are poor and people who are rich to help others in need. That is the story of love. That is the story of God working through us to transform disaster and difficulty into hope and new life. That’s the resurrection. People come back to life because they have been helped by the love of God that we show them. I think it comes down to being able to listen and hear when someone cries out in need. As long as we keep doing that, we will keep celebrating anniversaries for another 60 years and more.
One of the churches I served had a children’s choir that did a song once titled, “Hey, Hey, Anybody Listening?” If I was listening well… [smile] and if my memory serves it went: “Hey, hey, anybody listening, hey, hey, anybody listening, hey, hey anybody listening… anybody there? Hey, hey, anybody listening, hey, hey, anybody listening, hey, hey anybody listening… anybody care?” Hey, hey, anybody listening… anybody care? AMEN.
 Rev. Cameron Trimble, convergenceus.org, Sept 22, 2022.