“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his 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 his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, “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 evil things; but now he 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 He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He 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.’ “
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
In this parable, Jesus tells about a poor man named Lazarus and a rich man. There was a barrier that kept them separated into different categories as well as different lives while they were alive: the gate at the edge of the rich man’s property. It was this gate that separated them. Lazarus lay on one side of that gate day after day, hungry, bleeding, and broken. And day after day, the rich man stayed on his side of the gate where it was easy to ignore Lazarus. It was the gate that separated one from the other.
Lazarus was powerless to do anything in that situation, but the rich man could do something. He’s the one who could have opened the gate to offer Lazarus some help. If he had opened the gate, the rich man would have seen Lazarus. If he had opened the gate, the rich man would have seen someone God loves, a real life human being, someone with a story, with a history. If he had opened the gate, the rich man would have seen someone worthy of respect and who is truly valued by God as part of God’s creation. But he kept the gate closed. And the parable goes on to follow both these men after they die where everything is reversed. The point Jesus is making is that in the vision of God, that gate separating these two people should be open.
I’m ashamed to say that no matter how hard I try, I still put people into categories and label them accordingly. When I do that, I close a gate on people.
I see someone wearing a cowboy hat, boots, and a giant belt buckle and I automatically label them as heading to a bar with straw one the floor to line dance to music about a horse dying in the back of a pickup. So I close the gate on them.
I get on the light rail and see a teenage boy with pants hanging too low and a baseball cap worn off center and I label them as having nothing in common with me. So I close the gate on them.
I see a white person carrying a Bible and I don’t walk to talk to them because label them as thinking about Jesus differently than I do. So I close the gate on them.
As long as I continue to make these quick judgments and stereotype people, I feel justified in separating myself, closing a gate on them. I’m the one putting up barriers between me and them. I’m closing the gate.
And since I’m the one closing the gate, I can be the one to open it. I can recognize that all the people on the other side of my gates are real human beings. They are loved by God. They are valuable. They are gifted. They have real stories and real lives. They are worth opening the gate for.
We all categorize people. We all close gates. Who do you close the gate on? Who do you put under one label and see as separate from you? People here who aren’t US citizens are labeled “illegals”? People of Islamic faith labeled as “terrorists”? People who hold cardboard signs on corners labeled as “lazy” or “bums”? Any time we label people, we are shutting a gate on them.
What would be different if we saw those on the other side of that closed gate, not as others, separated from us with labels, but as valuable human beings with a story and a life. What if we saw them first as people God loves? Because here’s the deal: Jesus says, not just here, but over and over again, that to see the face of God, we have to see the faces of those on the other side of the gate we’ve closed.
In this parable, the rich man could easily have opened his gate and gotten to know Lazarus. He could have used some of his wealth to benefit Lazarus.
We have that same opportunity. Together as a congregation, we open gates right and left. A bunch of our ministries are all about opening these gates: HEART Ministry, GMES Refugee Ministry, Molholm Ministry, Samaritan Ministry, Blanket Outreach Ministry, weekly donations to The Action Center, the list goes on and on. When we use our finances to open a gate to show love and care to anyone who we are separated from, we are also opening the gate to God.
Lazarus needed the rich man. But the rich man also needed Lazarus. He needed to open his gate to Lazarus so that he could see God.
We need to open the gate to those who are different: in their looks, speech, orientation, expression, background, and income to recognize God. We need to open the gate to them in order see God.
Our finances are one important way we open that gate that keeps us separated from those others God loves. We have a perfect opportunity next week which is our “Commitment Sunday.” We get to show up. We get to open the gate a little wider. We get to give some of our wealth to Lazarus and those like him. We get to make their lives better. When we fill out both parts of our Estimate of Giving card next week—both for the general fund and Building to Share—we open the gate a little more for those in our neighborhood who we are still separated from. We get to see God a little more clearly.
Yeah, Jesus has something to say about all this. So we will continue to pray for Lazarus and those like him, and we will come together next week and make our financial commitments. We will open the gate a little wider. Because there’s room in the reign of God for all of us. Especially those who need us to open the gate for them. Amen.