The Rev. Larry Koger
First Lutheran Church-San Diego
September 25, 2016
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
“Looking Up and Out”
Let’s get straight to the parable today. We have a story of two men – one wealthy, who lives in luxury and has everything he could need. The other poor, who is reduced to begging, who suffers hunger every day of his life. Which of the two would you rather be? I suppose it depends on how long you want to suffer. For when the rich man, who’s lived a life of ease, dies, he ends up in eternal torment in hell. And the poor man, who suffered hunger and deprivation in his earthly life, goes to heaven and lives in ease in paradise. So, on the surface of it, this parable seems to be teaching us that it is a good thing to be poor, and bad to be rich. The rich go to hell, while the poor end up in heaven.
But there’s a problem with that interpretation of this parable, for there are not just two people in this story, but three. Who’s the third? Abraham, of course. Abraham, one of the patriarchs, husband of Sarah, father of Isaac, grandfather of Jacob, ancestor of the people of God. Abraham is in heaven. And when he was alive, was Abraham poor, or rich? He was rich. He owned livestock, money – he even owned slaves. In fact, a couple of stories in the Bible are about how Abraham became rich with the help of God. So, it can’t be that wealth in and of itself is the problem in this parable. Something else must be going on.
I think the key to that something else comes in the conversation that takes place between Abraham and the unnamed rich man. He begs Abraham to send Lazarus down to him, to dip his finger into water to soothe the rich man who is burning up in the flames. Do you know what I think is interesting about this? The rich man knows Lazarus by name. Lazarus was not some nameless beggar whom the rich man occasionally saw. Instead, the rich man knew Lazarus, knew who he was, yet did not share his wealth with him in his lifetime. He kept his eyes on himself, and on his own wants and desires, and failed to look up, notice the suffering of the man on his doorstep, and do something to help him. Perhaps he felt that feeding Lazarus was not his job. His job was to care for his family, maybe the brothers he mentions toward the end of the parable. They were his concern, not this man whose name he knew but whose suffering he did nothing to alleviate.
The rich man thought that taking care of Lazarus was nothing he needed to do. In fact, even in death, the rich man is more interested in Lazarus taking care of him than of thinking in terms of what is good for Lazarus. Note how he wants Lazarus to serve him. First, he asks that Lazarus be sent to serve him by dipping his finger in cool water. Then he asks that Lazarus serve him by going to warn his brothers of their eternal fate if they did not change their ways. But Abraham is clear that this is not Lazarus’s job. We have the law and the prophets. They tell us over and over again to care for people in need. They tell us to look up, away from our own concerns, and help others in their need.
Thank God we have one who did that for us. One who looked up and saw every human being, and realized that we needed be saved. One who saw that without help, we would be subject to misery and death, and would never know that we had a God who loves us. That one came to earth for us. Jesus came to us because he looked beyond himself and saw us in our need. He went to the cross, taking on our sins, and especially tonight we remember he took on our sin of self-absorption, and put to death its power over us. And when he rose from the dead, he rose to pour his Holy Spirit into us. With the Spirit’s help, we can do what the rich man could not do. We can look up and notice the Lazaruses in our world. We can look up and see people who are hungry, and do what we can to feed them. We can look up and see people who live in despair, and do what we can to give them hope. We can look up and see that all the human race is our brother and sister, not just those who are biologically related to us. We can look up and give of ourselves to help others in their need. Through such acts, God continues to unite the world, asking people to care for others.
Last Monday night, I witnessed a group of folks preparing for such care. The folks gathering together were medical doctors, dentists, an acupuncturist, first-year, second-year and fourth-year medical students. Preparing to provide care, in our facility upstairs, here at First Lutheran, through the UCSD student run free medical clinic. A second-year medical student spoke with passion and enthusiasm as she reminded the folks gathered together about their four core tenets.
Empowerment means to create an environment where the other (individual, family, community) takes charge of their lives and achieves joy and well-being. Helping people to identify, address, and overcome obstacles to achieve health and wellbeing. Often this means addressing the social challenges such as transportation, employment, and housing.
Transdisciplinary–I know it is shocking that a medical student would use a big word. A transdisciplinary model is one in which all health disciplines are working together, side by side, with mutual respect, with the patient at the center, with the patient in the lead.
Community as Teacher: The community, the patients, will teach us how to be good physicians to them, and will teach us the solutions. They also teach us about how to face and overcome the challenges of life with wisdom and strength.
Humanistic means to fill each action with empathy, and positive regard. To become self-aware as a health professional and to have that self-awareness help guide your interactions. Positive regard means to show respect to all; one does not have to respect someone’s behavior, but you can respect the other as a human being and show them respect. This core tenet really touched my heart. The second-year medical student leading this time of gathering and preparation before meeting with patients explained, “Your first job is not to diagnose an illness, although you may diagnose an illness. Your first job is to build a relationship with your patient and build trust. As you build trust, you will be able to better provide care, including diagnosing illness and health challenges. You see the other person as a human.” As I reflected on this core tenet, I wondered how people of faith might describe this tenet. One way to describe might be to say, that we see the whole human race as our brothers and sisters. Through acts of care for the brother and sister God is at work, to put God’s broken world back together. God invites us to a part of what God is up to in the world.
And so this day, we gave thanks to God. He looked up, saw us in our need, and reached out to help us. More than that, God sends us out to help others, calling us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, heal the sick. As we look up from our own concerns and strive to share God’s love, let us give thanks to our Lord that our salvation is assured, and that we are God’s forever. And let us share the good news of that salvation with all we meet. Amen.