The Rich Man and Lazarus
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 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. ’ 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. 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. ’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment. ’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them. ’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent. ’ 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. ’”
A few years ago, on Good Friday, I felt called to take Communion onto the streets of the Parish in which I served at the time.
It seemed to me that, on Good Friday, most folk were enjoying a Public Holiday, the reason for which was the death of Jesus Christ and there was very little acknowledgement of that.
And more - Jesus had said: "This is my body broken for you. Do this to remember me."
For me, the place and the time to remember Jesus sacrifice was on the streets on Good Friday.
So, we set up stall, outside a chip shop in the parish - the juxtaposition of fast food and soul food appealed to me! - and we offered all who passed by the bread and wine of Communion.
Some folk looked at us with suspicion.
Some folk passed us by quickly, avoiding eye contact.
Some folk took bread and wine - because they could, not lingering, but moving on again quickly.
Others, were overwhelmed by the idea that they should meet Christ on the street and not locked up in our church buildings as they had come to expect.
But aren't we who gather in church buildings, called to join Christ - who is already out there on our streets- and serve alongside him?
So, we took Jesus onto the streets on Good Friday in bread and wine.
In subsequent years and, as word got around, I was involved in some interesting discussions with colleagues about what constituted communion, how it should be consecrated and whether folk who had not heard the word preached or examined their motives before they took the bread and wine could really be deemed to have shared in the sacrament.
But none of those theological discussions diminished the humility I experienced when folk, with tears in their eyes said: "Thanks for bringing Christ to us" - or "I'd never have found my way to church- thanks for bringing church out here."
Folk are often surprised when the church as a body reaches out to people.
And that's a damning indictment.
Folk don't expect us as Christians to be of much earthly use.
There is a great chasm between the church and the world.
Like the chasm we read of in our gospel reading today - between the rich man and poor Lazarus.
The rich man was blissfully unaware of Lazarus during his lifetime.
And even, in his eternal torture, he failed to pay him heed except as someone who could serve him by bringing him relief in his torment - a drop of cold water.
But, before we judge the rich man harshly, as we are tempted to do,lets consider his status and the culture he was a part of that shaped and formed him:
The popular religious instruction of his day encouraged folk to see the blessings of God manifest in material wealth and prosperity.
The rich man was a prime example of someone blessed by God.
Whereas Lazarus was a wonderful example of one cursed by God - right down to the sores covering his body.
Such graphic descriptions of those cursed or blessed by God punctuate the Scriptures taught by religious leaders of the day.
But also in those Scriptures are exhortations to care for the needy and the poor.
It seems that one message was being taken seriously while another was being conveniently overlooked.
And so, in this parable, Jesus draws attention to this huge gap in folks understanding and practice.
This is NOT a parable about wealth.
It is NOT a parable told to scare us about the after life.
It is a parable told to encourage folk to live differently, to look out for each other THIS SIDE OF HEAVEN.
To bridge the chasm that exists, more than ever today, between the majority of us and the poor.
Why do we have a huge collection of food in the vestibule this morning?
Because we are collecting for the South Ayrshire Foodbank - our Harvest Appeal that we will dedicate next week.
Why do we need to do that?
Because on our own doorsteps people are struggling with poverty.
People need help to feed themselves and their family.
Some of those folk we can see, others we won't see.
And those are the folk here in our locality.
Still there are countless others in our world who will die today because they do not have even crumbs from our table.
Such is the chasm that still exists between the rich and the poor.
Unfortunately when Jesus pointed out the absurdity of this huge gap, he omitted to tell us how to close the gap.
And so the challenge remains - and the gap gets bigger.
What could have changed the rich man, helped him see the poor around him?
What would change us?
Enough to make a difference.
One of the most sobering experiences of taking bread and wine onto the streets was the gratitude of folk knowing themselves included in the sacrifice of Christ, knowing that - it was for them... that Christ died, knowing themselves fed by the bread of life.
Every time we gather around this table, whether we celebrate the sacrament or not, Christ is present - as he is present on the streets.
We cannot gather here, we cannot be fed - and then go out and ignore those Christ calls us to serve.
It is for us to find whatever ways we can to bridge that chasm that grows today.
Abraham 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. ’”
Is that our plight today?
Will nothing change us - not the word of God, not the bread and the wine, not the awful statistics that speak of poverty in our world today, that tell of those who starve when this world has more than enough food to share?
Jesus Christ gave his life for us.
HE was raised from the dead.
And now he calls us to feed the poor.
As I stood in the street offering bread and wine, as well as those folk who were touched and possibly changed by meeting Christ on the street, there were many more who simply walked by.
And I was reminded of those words of Scripture: Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow...
Can we leave this place today and be as those who turn our backs on the Christ who is already on our streets.
Or will we take the crumbs from the table and share them freely.
Not because we are afraid of how we will fare in the afterlife.
But because we care about those with whom we share life today.
May we offer more than crumbs from the table.
For the glory of God.
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