Luke 16:19-31 – Does God Know Your Name?

The Rich Man and Lazarus, from a French pictorial Bible, c.1200 C.E.

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

“The time came when the beggar died, and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So, he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, or I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

“‘No, Father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”  (New International Version)

Everyone looks for a miracle at some point in life, especially for family. Whenever we see relatives walking far from God or siblings living without much thought to the words and ways of Jesus, it can be disconcerting. We may reason that if they could just experience or see some great miracle, then they will surely believe and embrace Christ. 

Yet, Jesus’ parable to us of the rich man and Lazarus graphically depicts an important message: God has already revealed divinity to humanity through Moses and the Prophets (the Old Testament). If people are not convinced by what already exists and is, they will not respond when the miraculous slaps them in the face.

Maybe we too often look for the dramatic because the mundane typically rules the day. Perhaps what we are looking for is already present in God’s revelation to us. It could be that the greatest task we have is not to beg for a miracle (even though there is nothing wrong with that!) but first to be quiet and listen to the Spirit of God speak through the Word of God so that our prayers to God arise in God’s way and God’s time.

Today’s Gospel story gets at the heart of where we immediately and reflexively turn when in dire straits. There is nothing wrong with turning to others, consulting trusted resources, or even Google. Yet, Holy Scripture is timeless. It contains everything we need for life and godliness in this present age. And I believe it has the answers to life’s most pressing questions.

Everyone has their trusted sources, as well as sources we don’t trust. If a person has had a pattern of not consulting or trusting the source material of Scripture, then it doesn’t matter who encourages them, even if it is a trusted person who shows up from the grave, to look into the Bible’s contents and believe it’s message.

If we look closely at the story, we are told the poor man’s name: Lazarus. And we are not told the rich man’s name. You see, the poor man, Lazarus, had his name written in the Book of Life. The rich man’s name cannot be spoken because it is not found there.

There are two opposite choices in life. One is to choose pleasure and overlook the great needs of the earth. Like old Jacob Marley in the Christmas Carol, it is to forge a chain, link by link, day after day, which will eventually leave one in bondage and regret.

The other choice is hope. To look ahead by faith and see the eternal things which are coming, then shaping our existence to act in sync with permanent values, is to choose life. Although this may bring deprivation, even suffering, in this present existence, the decision to forego temporary pleasure for eternal glory shall be rewarded. It is to live for future prosperity through present affliction.

So, how shall we then live?

Will we anchor our souls in the good bosom of bettering our fellow humanity?

Is there an acknowledgment that the measure we give to others shall eventually be given to us?

Do we seek to hold faith with a neighbor in his poverty?

Are we trusting so much in our five senses – sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch – that we either cannot or will not trust in the sixth sense of the spirit which tells us to believe Moses and the prophets?

Christ has risen. Christ is coming again. If we align our lives with spiritual truth, we shall find our names written in the Book of Life. Let us actively look for Lazarus in our lives, so that we don’t carelessly step over him day after day while selfishly indulging in the good things of this life.

Mighty God, you have done miraculous things. Help me see what you have already done and teach me to listen so that your revelation becomes alive to me. Holy Spirit, impress the redemptive event of Christ’s resurrection on the hearts of all who do not know you so that they might know your amazing grace. Amen.

Luke 11:5-13 – Pray

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“So, I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (New International Version)

Jesus, in his teaching ministry on earth, often used the lesser-to-greater argument in getting his point across. And that is precisely what he was doing with his disciples in today’s Gospel lesson, instructing them about the nature and motivation of prayer.

The lesser-to-greater argument implies a comparison of values. It’s grounded on a common sense and logical convention that if this lesser thing is true, then, of course, how much more is this greater thing! If something less likely to happen is true, then something more likely to happen will probably be true as well. The technical phrase for this is the a fortiori argument. It is a Latin term meaning, “for a still stronger reason.”

So, then, Jesus wanted his followers to understand that prayer has value because God is a loving Father, not a begrudging friend. Whereas the friend in the story was badgered just so the person could get some real necessities, God needs no badgering to generously give good gifts that may or may not be considered as necessities by us.

Jesus desired to highlight that prayer has veracity because of whom those prayers are directed.

”Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.” 

Max Lucado

In the ancient world, it was common understanding you needed to get the local gods attention if you wanted something. Which is why, for example, in the prophet Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal, that Baal’s worshipers were yelling, gesticulating, and even cutting themselves for hours. They fully expected to put a lot of work into getting Baal’s attention, maybe even needing to convince him of intervening in their ancient version of a wild West shootout.

In contrast to four-hundred prophets of Baal, a single prophet of the Lord utters one simple prayer, then fire comes rushing down from heaven. Much like the person who badgered the friend for bread, the prophets pestered Baal for hours.

It all comes down to who really cares. The friend? Not enough to jump out of bed right away and meet a need. Baal? Not so much. God? Now we’re talking.

We typically don’t ask, seek, or knock, if we believe we will not get a response – or if it will take a lot of energy, time, and effort we don’t have. Yet, if we are confident of being heard and our requests taken seriously with care, then we are likely to have a habit of asking, seeking, and knocking.

If a friend begrudgingly gives to you because of persistent knocking, how much more will God graciously, generously, and with gaiety give you goodness when you ask? Because God is good, God gives. The largess of the Lord is willing and ready to dispense grace from an infinite storehouse of mercy.

This is why Jesus encouraged people to not pray like those who don’t know God, babbling on because they think they’ll be heard because of the sheer volume of words. (Matthew 6:7-8)

Two misconceptions of prayer which existed in Christ’s day, and even today, come from non-Christian sources:

  1. There must be a lot of prayer before prayer “works.” Although I believe repetition is important for forming good habits, praying the same prayers over and over again so as to be heard betrays an ignorance of God, not to mention an actual lack of faith. Many ancient religions were based in learning how to manipulate the spiritual forces out there to get what we need. It’s kind of like a divine version of hustling for love in all the wrong places. Christians need to know they don’t need to have thousands of people praying in order to get God’s attention to answer prayer.
  2. I must convince God of the need to answer my prayer. God is not a reluctant listener. The reason the Lord already knows what we need before we ask is because God has been paying close attention to us well before we got around to asking, seeking, and knocking on the divine door. God’s ear is already inclined to hear us – expectantly and anxiously awaiting our petitions. This is a tremendously freeing idea, that I can come to God openly and honestly, without drudgery, and without wondering if I am heard, or not.

May we be encouraged to pray, to truly connect with God, because the Lord is available without appointment, and is waiting for us to ask with bended ear.

Eternal God, by whose power we are created and by whose love we are redeemed: Guide and strengthen us by your Spirit so that we may give ourselves to your service and live today and every day in love to one another and to you, through Jesus Christ our Lord, in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Luke 15:1-7 – Lost and Found

Tax collectors and sinners were all crowding around to listen to Jesus. So, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law of Moses started grumbling, “This man is friendly with sinners. He even eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this story:

If any of you has a hundred sheep, and one of them gets lost, what will you do? Won’t you leave the ninety-nine in the field and go look for the lost sheep until you find it? And when you find it, you will be so glad that you will put it on your shoulder and carry it home. Then you will call in your friends and neighbors and say, “Let’s celebrate! I’ve found my lost sheep.”

Jesus said, “In the same way there is more happiness in heaven because of one sinner who turns to God than over ninety-nine good people who don’t need to.” (Contemporary English Version)

Lost people matter to God… a lot!

From God’s perspective, it really doesn’t matter why a sheep has strayed from the flock. That stuff only matters to us. It seems many folks only believe a person is worth going out and looking for after we have properly deemed them worthy of pursuing.

“They made their bed; now they need to sleep in it,” “You reap what you sow,” and “They don’t want to be found,” are all human contrived justifications for letting a strayed sheep remain in the wilderness, vulnerable to the wolves.

The mercy of God makes no distinctions between a person who purposely leaves and squanders their resources, and one who accidentally wanders off because of hardship which wasn’t their fault. Lost is lost. Mercy is mercy, period.

Lost people matter so much to God that one lost soul is worth sending out the hounds of heaven to find them. And, once found, becomes the ground for a big celestial party! 

Please note this simple observation of today’s Gospel reading: If there is rejoicing in the presence of angels in heaven over one sinner who repents, then who is doing the rejoicing?  God!  God is crazy giddy with joy over one lost person being found. 

Celebration is a spiritual discipline.

Yes, indeed, it is. Celebration is an important activity for the Church and for believers everywhere. Just as pursuing lost people is a spiritual practice and a skill to be developed, so celebration is a spiritual discipline which needs time, attention, and resources.

But the religious insider might doth protest, why care about this, especially the celebration? Aren’t we being faithful already, and properly focusing on Scripture, sacrament, worship, and prayer? Isn’t this just all a waste of our limited time, energy, and assets?

Short answer: We celebrate because God celebrates.

God throws the best parties, filled with plenty of joy and recognition of persons restored to fellowship.

As people created in the image and likeness of God, we are hardwired for celebration. If God can go uncorked with joy and celebration, I’m going to say with confidence that open unabashed blowouts rejoicing over people’s transformation and new life is welcome and expected.

Folks baptized in pickle juice can join the grumbling of all the high mucky-muck dudes who smugly look down on the marginal persons among us. Hopefully, the party-poopers won’t be heard because of all the noise at God’s party.

This parable of Jesus is meant to give us a glimpse of God’s own heart. 

God would do anything to find a lost person, to restore and reconcile a person to relational connection. God would go dumpster diving and wade through the stinky nasty garbage to find that one lost valuable person.

Why should reaching out to marginal people with the grace and love of Jesus Christ be a high priority? 

Because restoring lost people is a high priority for God. 

God has placed the highest of priorities on recovering those who are spiritually lost and wandering around life without a purpose or a place to call home. Such people matter so much that God sent the Son, Jesus, to this earth. 

Christ went to the greatest lengths possible through enduring a cruel death on a cross in order to reconcile a broken lost relationship between people and God.

I still remember what it felt like to be separated from God and estranged from the church – it was lonely and sad, like being in a deep black hole with no way of getting out and no one around to help. 

But God, with immense mercy, sent spiritual commandos to extract me from my captivity of the soul. So, my greatest desire is to live my life basking in the grace shown to me, grateful for new mercies which come every day, and giving that same grace to others – especially those considered as the lost, the least, and the lonely in society.

In leaving the ninety-nine and going after the one sheep, God gave preferential attention to the lost. So, because of this, I ask a sincere and probing question which I believe needs to be asked: Can you live with that? 

My own answer is: “I sure can, because I was once that lone lost sheep!”

Jesus, you are the Good Shepherd. Thank you for going after me when I was lost. Help me remember that you will often leave my pasture to go after others. I’ll be willing and happy to go with you when you do. Let’s also take the Spirit with us.  Amen.

Luke 18:35-43 – Lord, Have Mercy

Coptic Church icon of Christ healing the blind man

As Jesus was coming near Jericho, there was a blind man sitting by the road, begging. When he heard the crowd passing by, he asked, “What is this?”

“Jesus of Nazareth is passing by,” they told him.

He cried out, “Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me!”

The people in front scolded him and told him to be quiet. But he shouted even more loudly, “Son of David! Have mercy on me!”

So, Jesus stopped and ordered the blind man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Sir,” he answered, “I want to see again.”

Jesus said to him, “Then see! Your faith has made you well.”

At once he was able to see, and he followed Jesus, giving thanks to God. When the crowd saw it, they all praised God. (Good News Translation)

This is one of my very favorite stories in the entirety of Holy Scripture. And I will tell you why….

Because Jesus listens with ears of mercy.

Jesus was headed to Jerusalem and had a lot on his mind and his heart. He knew what was coming, that his passion and death awaited him. No one would fault Jesus for not hearing a blind man shouting. But Jesus was listening so that he might hear someone just like the needy blind man. Rather than being distracted and lost in his head, Jesus was just the opposite – being attentive and aware of the humble folk right in front of him.

Because Jesus speaks with words of mercy.

Once Jesus listened, he responded by asking a question. I am impressed with Jesus throughout the Gospels. Christ gave people the gift of choice. He acknowledged people and respected them by not simply and indiscriminately healing, as if he were some fix-it guy. Jesus Christ bestowed on the lowliest of people the human dignity of choice by empowering them to answer a question.

Because Jesus pays attention with divine appointments of mercy.

Our Lord took the time to heal the blind man. Jesus could have simply healed him without even stopping his journey. He could have just waved his hand and the man would be healed. What’s more, Jesus could have even started a healing factory where everyone with a need got healed: bring ‘em in, move ‘em out, and keep the line moving. Jesus was doing more than giving sight; he was giving a man the blessing of time and personal attention. The Gospel is never impersonal, which is why we ought to resist being non-relational in ministry to others.  It isn’t simply about meeting a need but about blessing other people with the gift of relationship.

Ethiopian Orthodox Church depiction of Jesus healing the blind man

Because Jesus reaches out with the touch of mercy.

Jesus touched the man’s eyes (Matthew 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-54). He didn’t have to do that. The Lord of all most certainly could have healed without touching. In fact, it most likely may have been downright gross. A lot of people had eye diseases with runny pussy eyes in the ancient world.

Because the blind man didn’t listen to the crowd.

I really love that! Maybe it’s the rebel in me. I just believe it is such a beautiful thing whenever someone refuses to be shamed by another and embraces their need. That is exactly what the blind man did. He not only refused to give-in to peer pressure, but he also responded to them by shouting all the louder. May his tribe increase!

Because the blind man could actually see.

The man already had sight – not physical sight but spiritual eyes which could see better than anyone else in the crowd. One of the great ironies throughout the Gospels is that the sighted crowd seems to never see who Jesus really is, while blind folk see Christ clearly for who he is: the Son of David, the rightful king, the Savior of all. It matters not how much faith one possesses but in whom that faith is placed. A thimble-full of faith is enough to move mountains, while a water tower full of faith misplaced in someone else cannot even provide a single glass of refreshment.

Because the blind man followed Jesus.

Once healed by Jesus, there were plenty of persons who simply walked away and went about their lives. Yet, this man, who was given the gift of physical sight, started following Jesus and giving thanks to him. It feels a lot like my own testimony of experiencing the love of God in Christ and not ever wanting to leave it, so I’ve been following Jesus for over forty years, still having gratitude in my heart.

Because one lowly non-descript blind man made a difference.

I don’t think the man ever set out to change the world. Yet, he did. Here we are reading his testimony all these millennia later. At the time, please take note that one man becoming a disciple of Jesus and living a life of gratitude changed the entire crowd from being a group of shushing church ladies to a robust throng of worshipers. One individual makes a difference. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of David, heal me, a broken person.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of Man, help me, a lost and lonely individual.

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on my love-starved soul. Amen.