These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.
So, a Sunday School teacher was telling the story of the Good Samaritan in which a man was beaten, robbed and left for dead. She described the situation in vivid detail so her students would catch the drama.Then she asked the class- “If you saw a person lying on the roadside all wounded and bleeding, what would you do?”A thoughtful little girl broke the hushed silence, “I think I’d throw up!’
I thought of that story as I read this story of the Rich man and Lazarus. You could retell it with the question: “If you saw a homeless man, lying outside by the garbage cans every day , eating the scraps from your garbage, what would you do?” You might throw up… you might call the police… you might stop even noticing that he was there. You may not even see him after a while.
Jesus re-tells a well known folk tale to make a point… to teach us a lesson. First, let me tell you what the point is not about.
The moral of the story is not that rich people are headed to hell simply for being rich. It is not a story about those who are part of the 1% of Americans who make over $360,000 a year… or the .01% of Americans make over a million a year… Or how the Kennedys, the Bill Gates, the Trumps or even people like Madoff will finally get their day.
In the story he uses Abraham as a example of someone in heaven… and Abraham was a wealthy person. He may have fit into the 1% of the wealthy of his time. Later, Luke will lift up wealthy businesswomen like Lydia, a dealer in purple, expensive cloth as an example of faith.
Riches are not the issue. But they are a challenge.
Jesus knows they are a problem for those who are rich – they can be an obstacle to a life of faith… you cannot read what Jesus teaches about wealth without coming to that conclusion.
But being rich is not in itself the sin. The sin was his failure to see what Jesus saw as Jesus looked around his world.
The Rich man looked around his world and saw Lazarus… even knew him by name… but he didn’t really SEE him, if you know what I mean. He was simply a part of society’s furniture.
Lazarus was like one of the many people who walk through the parking lot every day, walking from the Apartments behind the Kirk to McDonald’s or Wendys – trying to survive or feed a family on minimum wage- $8.25 per hour or $17,000 a year before taxes. Of course, maybe you haven’t seen them. They are there.
Likely the Rich man had been reading his scriptures from Deuteronomy that indicated that his wealth was a result of his faithfulness and obedience—much as the Pharisees had taught:
“If you will only obey the Lord your God… blessed shall you be in the city, blessed shall you be in the field, blessed shall be the fruit of yoiur womb, the fruit of your ground…”
The sin of the rich man was not his wealth, but his failure to see what Jesus saw: the chasm that existed not just in the world to come, but the world he was living in here and now. From the telling of this story and many other stories, it is clear that Jesus sees what we often fail to see – or do not choose to see—the chasm. Jesus began his ministry by quoting a text from Isaiah:
“The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.”
You don’t find as many Christians quoting that text as much as they do John 3:16. Why? You have to wonder.
Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke. Jesus is painfully blunt in Matthew as he tells the story of what criteria the Son of Man will use in separating the sheep from the goats: “When did I see you hungry or naked or in prison?…When you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.”
Jesus sees the chasm. Do you see what Jesus sees? Jesus is trying to open our eyes and hearts.
I have to confess that I have often not seen what Jesus sees. I have often not wanted to see what Jesus sees.
I grew up working for my Dad in the Landscaping business in the summers. It was hard work in Florida. My Dad always had 2-3 crews of men who were hard workers. We weren’t rich by any corporate standard – didn’t belong to the Yacht Club or Timiquana Country Club… we went to the Navy base… we were middle class… but Dad depended upon the wealthy for us to earn our living. My Dad used to say, “I don’t mind people being rich as long they spread it around.” (by the way, I say the same thing about people in the church too!).
What I never really saw – no, WHO I never really saw – however was Little Joe, or Albert or Carl. I worked next to them digging holes, spreading the sod, hauling trash. But I never saw them. They came from inner city Jacksonville and lived in what some would call tenement housing. I never saw the chasm that was between them and us. They’d bring their lunch and drink out of mason jars. I would sometimes as well. Other times, Dad and I would go to grab a bite to eat. I was with them quite a bit, but never really saw what Jesus saw: the chasm
It is so hard to see. I remember living in Robeson County—Red Springs. I saw the chasm there. It was hard to miss as an outsider moving into one of the poorest counties in NC. We all shopped at the same Food Lion where the poorer cuts of meat were prevalent: pigs feet and the like. Back in 1985, there were work teams (sort of like our ASP teams) coming to the county to build outhouses for people. Just an hour and a half from here. You go through there on the way to Disney.
I’ll never forget an elder in the church – a very nice man… a well respected man who had been a local business owner—telling me, that he had never met a poor person. I wanted to say, “Really? Sure you have. Every day you walk downtown you have met one. You have met them, you just never saw them.” You never saw what Jesus saw.
Do you see what Jesus sees? It is harder than you think. There is a huge chasm between us .
So often we don’t want to see what Jesus sees. And do you know how we make sure we don’t? We make Jesus into a personal savior. We tell ourselves that all Jesus really cares about is our personal salvation. We pick and choose the passages from the Bible we want to read and ignore all the rest… all those prophets… Moses… Just like the Richman in Jesus’ stories.
Did you know some good Bible believing… Bible reading Christians will tell you to your face that Jesus doesn’t care about the poor or justice. They just don’t see what Jesus sees.
I’ll never forget the time my friend Mike told the story when his eyes were opened. After years of watching others in the church in Newton go on mission trips, Mike finally decided to go for himself.
He went to Reynosa, Mexico to work in the Colonia. On the border. Where people literally live in shacks made of scraps. Where they live next to dumps, hoping like Lazarus to feed on the scraps of others. Talk about your chasm… just ride from McAllen, Texas to Reynosa… and you’ll see a huge chasm across the border.
It was a life changing experience for Mike. I think it was life changing because he finally saw what Jesus saw. When he returned, he gave one of the meditations for the sermon that Sunday. This is what he told his fellow wealthy Presbyterians:
“First, let me thank our congregation, session and missions committee for making this trip possible. Thank you also to the anonymous donor who came up with the financing to enable us to build two houses. Special thanks to my wonderful wife Ellie for holding down the home fort while we were gone.
Two questions I wrestled with prior to the trip – “why do we go to Mexico?” “Why should I go?”
I know we were going to help the poor but we have plenty of those right here in our local area (Mike later became an active Habitat volunteer). One need not go far to find the homeless or the poor right here in Catawba County, so why do we have to jump on a plane (30+ years of corporate travel has sure soured my taste for flying) and go to a foreign country to help the poor? It wasn’t until the week was finished and I reflected on everything that the answer to both questions became clear.
Almost 60 years ago, two males were brought into this world. One was myself, born in the richest country in the world to middle class parents interested in making things better for their two sons. At the same time a man named Hernando entered a different world. His was a world of deep poverty in a country with no government help or social system to care for the downcast. Our lives would be gigantic contrasts. I would complete my education and get a degree in engineering, marry a wonderful woman, lead a comfortable life, raise a family and enjoy two grandchildren. I would always have access to excellent medical care and reach these years strong and in very good health.
Hernando would live his entire life in a house no bigger than the kitchen of the home we currently occupy. No chance of an education he would raise 8 children and 15 grandchildren using whatever resources he could to get them fed. Lacking any kind of medical attention he would reach these later years crippled from diabetes and blind. It is only through God’s grace that I was given so much and Hernando so little.
As his health began to fail, Hernando prayed in earnest. Still living with his wife, his daughter and her husband, and three of the grandchildren, Hernando asked God to provide the family with a house. It didn’t have to be much—one room with a roof and a floor and 288 square feet would be perfect. That way he could spend the rest of his life in a dry place whenever it rained and he would not have to worry about the scorpions coming into the house and biting children as they slept. The house did not need to have either a kitchen or a bathroom He planned to hang pictures so he would even be satisfied with a few imperfections in the walls.
Hernando prayed long and hard. Finally, the great prayer answerer directed his request to Deantine Guerra at Faith ministries. Deantine knew of a church in Newton, North Carolina that would donate money and workers to help build Hernando’s house. So the call went out and the church responded by saying we will be there the first week in May.
The call went out for volunteers to go to Mexico. It included a special request:
Hernando wanted a tall person who could lift many buckets of cement. Proving there must be lawyers in heaven, the call came with a disclaimer: we would be required to live in primitive conditions, not able to drink the water and it would be hot, humid, dusty and dirty. Behind the disclaimer I heard Hernando’s voice saying, “Michael, you have so much and I have so little; please come and help build my new house.” The request matched my (height) and talents and I decided to go to Mexico.
I could have refused the call. We always have that option. A very capable substitute would have volunteered. But had I not answered the call, I would have missed spending the week with 16 of the neatest people I know, or met the happy wonderful Mexican people who shared our work chores and lunch with us each day. Most importantly, I would have missed seeing the faces of Hernando, his wife, their daughter, son-in-law, and three grandchildren as the house was dedicated.”
“Now as I reflect back on that week, I see another face in Mexico. As I visualize our team, Hernando’s family, and the Mexican workers all gathered together, I see a plainly dressed carpenter with a face radiant with love and hope. He is holding out his arms and saying, “help me take care of the poor.” And now I realize why I went to Mexico – It was in Mexico I saw the face of the one who called me…”
I can only add… it was there Mike’s eyes were opened to see what Jesus saw.
People like Hernando… and Lazarus… His eyes opened by Christ… his soul fed by his faith, and his heart, full of compassion ready to respond. You know there are so many ways to respond – just look in our bulletin – there is the Yam Jam, WIHN, the CROP walk just to name a few…May Christ so open our eyes, our souls and our hearts to see what Jesus and Mike see in the world where we live. And then to respond… then to respond. Amen
The Story of Hernando and Michael—reflections on Mike Induni’s FPC Newton, 1998 Mission trip