The Very Rev. Tom Callard – September 29, 2019
I once read a book where they described human awareness as being like the beam of a flashlight which is shining inside a huge warehouse. So you come into a warehouse in the middle of the night. You’re not breaking into the warehouse, mind you, you’re just going into it. And you’ve got your flashlight. And the beam of your flashlight is probably 5 or 6 inches in diameter and it focuses on one or two small parts of the warehouse, a little bit here and a little bit there, and it moves around in the big space. But you’re never able to focus on everything, because the warehouse is just too big.
There is just too much life for us to be able to pay attention to everything, and if we try, we become distracted. Our awareness has to filter out almost everything so we can go about our day and get things done and feed ourselves and just survive. Otherwise we would be overwhelmed all the time.
So think about your awareness right now. What is your flashlight focused on? Well, of course, I’m speaking, so you are kind of focused on me. And focused on me because my hair looks really good today. And maybe you’re aware of this place, as I call your attention to the big Cathedral around us. Or you’re aware of your feet or maybe some pain in your back or an itch on your head. Or maybe a firetruck will that will drive by, and suddenly you’re aware of that thing.
And then from there your awareness moves to the next thing. But we’re never aware of everything. And among the many things in our day, how aware are of we of God? I think the role of Jesus , of the roles he plays is to help us be more aware of God.
Among the vast number of things vying for our attention, Jesus is there, saying: look for God in your life. I sometimes picture Jesus like a coach yelling to us from somewhere out there, saying: don’t forget to find God in your neighbor. Don’t forget to find God in your breath. Don’t forget to find God in your money and in nature. And in the people around you. And don’t forget to find God in the poor and the outcast.
There are many things that want our attention and many things will take it, but Jesus is always bringing our attention back to see how we can find God.
Which is what we have in our parable today. Today Jesus invites us to see God in Lazarus., this man who has been sitting on the ground begging for scraps. And Lazarus is someone who is unique in the world of parables because Lazarus has a name. Lazarus is the one person in all of Jesus’s parables who is not just the vineyard owner or the widow or the dishonest steward, or any of these other things, but he has a name, Lazarus, which means Jesus really wants us to see him. Otherwise he wouldn’t have given him a name.
And in the parable, the rich man has passed by Lazarus day and night and in all that time of coming and going, the rich man has never seen him. He’s constantly passing by, but he is focused on his own concerns and his preoccupations as he is talking with his friends or thinking about his business, or thinking about his day, or worrying about his hair. Coming and going and with a million other things taking up his awareness, but never once, not once, does he shine his light on the outstretched hand of the beggar whose simply wants a couple scraps.
And so this is a parable about the failure to see. It is about the failure to see other people. And the about failure to see God. It is about the space that exists between the rich man and the beggar, and more generally speaking the space that exists all the time, between people because of our disagreements or prejudices or hatreds or simply because of our own self-preoccupation and the fact that in life so much of the time that we never really connect. Because our attention is focused elsewhere and not on God.
Here in the parable the rich man has never connected with Lazarus and you can imagine that for him Lazarus exists in a part of the warehouse that the rich man never visits. And yet in the parable we see the rich man has been told that that part of the warehouse exists.
Abraham tells him: listen, rich man, you’ve heard of Moses and the law and the prophets. You’ve been told by your faith and your tradition about the right thing to do. That you should give to everyone who asks of you, that you should attend to the needs of the poor, that you should not be greedy and or uncaring or unkind. And yet the rich man, despite knowing, has passed by Lazarus continuously, and the gulf in his life has widened until suddenly there he is in hell ,and it’s too late
If you think about it, it’s not that we don’t know how to act. It’s not that Jesus has not told us the right thing to do. I think we know what to do. It’s just that it’s hard. It’s hard to see God in Lazarus. It’s easier to pass Lazarus by.
It was hard for the rich man, even in death, to see Lazarus as a human being and not just an extension of his needs. Did you notice how the rich man asks Father Abraham to just send Lazarus to help him one last time by dipping his finger in water and giving him a drink. Even there it’s clear that the rich man still only sees Lazarus as a servant to be ordered around. Make him get my water, Father Abraham. He’s still not seeing God. And so the chasm between them continues.
And yet, despite the tone of the parable, despite the fact that he’s in hell, despite the implicit warning, I think there’s hope. Which is why Jesus tells us this parable in the first place. He wouldn’t describe this inescapable hell were the rich man suffers, if he didn’t also give the means to go avoid it.
For just as you and I every day find ourselves in our own chasm, separate from other people with our attention focused on so many things that are not God, don’t we also, every day, have the opportunity to see Lazarus?
Aren’t there right now Lazaruses whom we pass by every day in our lives, Lazaruses to whom we can give our attention and awareness right now where we can see God, maybe even here at church or after the service, or at least some time this week? There is someone or some place or some situation to which Jesus, standing there off to the side is calling us and saying: Don’t forget to find God there. Don’t forget to look for God.
There is an old rabbinical saying that darkness does not end when the sun rises or when someone lights a candle; instead, darkness ends when you can look into a person’s eyes and see God. Out there is God. In here is God. We just have to look.
This week one of our parishioners shared a story and I didn’t ask his permission to share it so I’ll ask his pardon instead, because it is a contemporary Lazarus story. Our parishioner was downtown here on Main Street and he came upon a young couple, a man and a woman who were probably twenty. And the man asked him if he had a couple of dollars to buy some food. And the parishioner reached into his pocket and pulled out three dollars, all he had. and so he gave the man three dollars. And they chatted and the parishioner went on his way.
He realized he had no money for his own lunch, so the parishioner went to an ATM and withdrew money. Then he went over here to the food court at the hotel. And when he got there he saw the young couple to whom he had given the three dollars. The woman was seated at a table and the young man was at the counter of one of the restaurants.
And our parishioner heard the young man talking to the man at the counter. And he said – Sir, I only have three dollars, but I would be happy to wash dishes or wash your floors if I could just buy a hamburger, which cost more than three dollars. And the man at the counter, our parishioner said, had this look on his face as he stared at this young man in front of him. And it wasn’t a look of anger. He wasn’t angry at the man. But it was a look of dismissal and disdain. A look that simply glared at him as if he couldn’t believe that the other had the nerve to ask him for a little bit of help so he could buy food.
And so our parishioner went up to him and asked the young man for his name which was something like Doug. And he said to the man at the counter, Hey this is Doug. I want you to get Doug whatever he wants from your menu. And I’ll pay for it. And Doug said- I can get whatever I want? And our parishioner said yes. And the man at the counter said, you’re going to pay for his meal? And our parishioner said, for whose meal? You mean Doug. Yes, I’m going to pay for Doug’s meal. And he did.
It’s foolish to think that all of our problems and all of the problems of the world will go away if we do one nice thing like this for someone else. But it’s true that if we do one nice thing like this for someone else, that we will probably then do another. Because we have shifted our awareness away from all the other things in the warehouse to look directly at the presence of God in the eyes of another human being. We have seen the darkness end and helped to erase that gulf that exists all the time. And this leads to more, and then to more and then to more. Because we love it.
And from there someone else will hear word of it and their attention, too, may shift to the eyes of another where there is a gulf.
This parable is not important because we fear that we will be sent across the chasm to hell, but it is important because so many of us are already living with that chasm. So many of us are aware of the chasm in our lives. And how we are cut off and separated from others, and we fear that the divide seems to be growing each day. Especially as our country heads forward toward whatever we face next.
But can you hear Jesus there among the things of your life, yelling like a good coach, reminding us to find God? Look for God, he’s saying. And he’s pointing to new places. Places for us to go, with forgotten people to see, and outcasts to visit, and those who are overlooked to be recognized. With an eye on unity and a reminder that it’s never too late to save Lazarus or to be saved ourselves.