[Jesus said:] 19 “There was a rich man who dressed himself in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at the rich man’s 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 Lazarus’ sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where the rich man was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 The rich man called out, ‘Abba! 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 bad things; but now Lazarus 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 The rich man said, ‘Then, Abba, I beg you to send Lazarus to my father’s house—28 for I have five brothers—that Lazarus may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; your brothers should listen to them.’ 30 The rich man said, ‘No, Father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 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.’”
Please pray with me this morning, church:
God who helps,
We don’t always notice who’s at our door.
Less often do we know their names or their stories.
Help us to be people of invitation and inclusion.
Show us the way of radical hospitality.
Mould us into the people you are calling us to be.
A few years ago, after we bought our house, we read up on and bought a few cameras to put up around the exterior of our house. Kind of a…home security measure, right? Just kind of a way to be able to see what’s going on around the outside of your house.
Interestingly, we haven’t yet replaced our doorbell with one of those video doorbells. I say “interesting” because the old one actually only rings inside the house like 50% of the time but when it does, the entire house knows that someone is at the door, and if that thing rings during nap time…I mean…hell hath no fury like a mom whose kid was just woken up from nap time by an errant doorbell ring, am I right?
At any rate, we like the cameras. They’re useful. We can check to see if one of us forget to put the garage door down…we can see when the Amazon delivery person arrives and leaves a package on our doorstep…we’ll also get the occasional false alarm from a wasp or bird that sets off the motion sensor, but in general we know when someone’s at our door.
Church, we don’t always see who’s at our door.
A few months back I mentioned that having a 3-year old makes for a convenient excuse to spend more time in our front yard which, in turn, makes it easier to strike up conversations with our neighbors. And I’ve tried to make it a point to meet more of our neighbors and learn their names and get to know a little bit about them. Just being friendly, trying to do what I can to keep fostering this strong sense of community on our street. Many of you have similar stories of getting to know your neighbors…but not all of us know our neighbors…or know all of our neighbors.
We don’t always see who’s at our door, but even less often do we actually know their names.
Or something about them. Or what’s going on in their lives. Or how we might hold them in prayer. Or how we might be able to help or serve them.
Lazarus gets a name in this parable Jesus tells from the Gospel according to Luke. The hearers of Jesus’ parable know it, and even the rich man in the parable knows Lazarus’ name. The rich man may ignore Lazarus and not lift a finger to help Lazarus, but he knows Lazarus is at his door and he knows Lazarus’ name. Lazarus…a name that means “God helps.” This is a different Lazarus than the brother of Mary and Martha, the Lazarus who died, whose death caused Jesus to weep, who was raised to live again by Jesus…a different Lazarus…but still…”God helps.”
This parable of the rich man and Lazarus often gets lifted up, and rightly, as being about the call of discipleship to not only pay attention to and be mindful of those who are in need at our literal gates, but to do something about it—see, our verses from Amos, “Alas for those who are at ease and feel secure…alas for those who lounge on their couches and eat sumptuous feasts and drink choice wines and bathe in the finest oils…but are not concerned with the coming destruction of Israel…for they shall be the first to be exiled…and then their revelry will cease.” We ought not to forget that, right? The Christian call to discipleship has always been about a particular care and concern for the poor, the outcast, the vulnerable, and the marginalized.
But if they only remain “the poor, the outcast, the vulnerable, and the marginalized”—that is, if they only remain this faceless, nameless “other”—then we’ve missed an extraordinary opportunity. So often we contribute, even if unintentionally, to fixing this great chasm between them and us.
We don’t always see who’s at our door, but even less often do we actually get to know their names.
New Hope does a pretty good job at engaging our community, particularly the poor and the disenfranchised in our community. I said it multiple times during our New Hope 101 sessions over the summer, this call to love and serve our neighbor, particularly our neighbor who is vulnerable and marginalized, this is a value that is very much inherent to New Hope’s DNA…it is, quite simply, who we are. But I wonder, how often you take the time to get to know the names of the folks you’re serving, church? And how often do you take a few moments to ask and get to know their stories?
This is kind of that next level in relationship building. Step 1: Find the need, step in, and help fill that need. Step 2: Get to know those you’re serving. Ask them their name. Ask and see if they’d share a little bit about themselves and their life. Start to understand why the need exists. Step 3: Start to engage and advocate and organize around the structures and the systems in place that contribute to these needs.
When we start to take vested interest in the people and the needs of our community, the community will start to notice. It’ll go from, “Oh yeah, New Hope…I’ve seen them sometimes packaging fresh fruits and veggies at Armstrong, or serving meals to the Family Promise families…” to “Oh yeah, New Hope…they’re the ones who helped get funding for affordable after-school care in my city, or they’re the ones who were able help us petition the city to get more street lighting along 1092 to try and make it safer at night…”
Do you see these two differences? When we start to learn the names and stories of those that are at our doors, when we start to share our lives with them and they with us, we start to become a more integral part of the community and the community takes notice.
And the community starts to show up for you, too.
The community will show up to help you do service projects. The community will show up to have a German Oktoberfest party with you. Heck, some members of the community may eventually start worshiping and become members of New Hope. But that’s not our goal, we don’t do what we do with an expectation that folks will join in and become members, we do what we do because that’s what we have been called by God to do. The community will show up because they want to be part of what life-giving thing you’ve got going on here.
How many of you have noticed that we’re about to get some new neighbors just across 1092? How many of you know what housing is actually going in over there? I didn’t. But thanks to Joan Keahey reaching out to her Missouri City Councilmember, I’m excited for the commercial development going in facing 1092, the senior and assisted living going in behind that, the handful of single-family residences going in to the south, and the multi-family housing going in along Lexington. Church, we are about to have another extraordinary opportunity to meet and welcome new neighbors to our community. Who’s excited to get out and do that welcoming?
You have an opportunity, church, to warmly welcome new folks to the neighborhood and invite them to join you in the life-giving mission and ministry you’ve got going on here.
And it’s not just the relationships with the community and those that aren’t here yet that are important to foster, right, church? As you’ll hear me talk about at our Congregational Meeting after worship, as we reset and try and figure out who we are and who we’re called to be in this post-pandemic time, learning each other’s names and each other’s stories is equally vital. I’m excited to finally have almost all of our Faith Formation activities happening all under one roof over in our Community Center, from Sunday morning Faith Formation to bible studies, we’re trying to be less siloed, less separated out by age and grade. Some age-appropriate learning is still happening, but we’re working on some cross-generational faith formation, as well. Because when young people have at least 3 other adults who aren’t their parents invest deeply and consequentially in getting to know them and taking an active role in their faith development, they’re more than 75% more likely to continue on worshiping and being part of a faith community in their adult years. 75%! That’s astounding. And you have the ability to affect that change.
Next week, we’ve got our Pet Blessing for St. Francis’ Feast Day at 4pm our at our Lakeside Chapel. The next Sunday, October 9, after worship, we’ll gather together in our Community Center to talk about Communion and what Lutherans believe about Communion, and hear what you think about Communion, and we’ll bake Communion bread. October 14-16 a group of us are headed to Lutherhill in LaGrange for their Fall Family Retreat. All these events are opportunities for wonderful and meaningful relationship building across generational lines.
It matters. Deeply.
Certainly to our young people, but also to our church.
Your involvement has a direct impact on our future.
I invite you, church, to notice and see who’s at your door.
To learn their names and hear their stories.
Open yourself up to being changed and transformed by them.
And with God’s help, we can transform this place into a place of warm welcome, radical inclusion, and exceptional hospitality. Where all are truly valued. Regardless of age…race…or who they love.