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Dignity, a parable

The following sermon was preached by Daniel Kerr, LSTC student, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Monday, September 27, 2010.


Luke 16:19-31

Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus, the Christ.

Ok, this is a rough parable from Jesus so hold on to your seats – here we go.

Today, I want to tell you about two very different people. Each of these people are very close to my heart. They impact me even to this day even though one of them has long since died. The two people I’ll be speaking about are my Grandmother, Mamma and my Father-In-Law, Bob.

Now each of these people were born and lived during approximately the same time frame. Each came from a family that believed religion was very important. Each of them worked hard all their lives. But they differ in very different sorts. They’re a reflection of what this passage and that of Amos means when living out the true, deeper meaning of what Jesus was speaking of in Luke 16. You see, I think most people look at this passage, at the man who has no name who is wealthy beyond compare and automatically think rich, bad. They look on the surface of these messages and believe that Jesus told this passage to elevate unfortunate Lazarus because he was poor. Destitute. I think and believe that most look at this passage as a reflection of the evils of the haves and the angelicness of the have nots. But I think it goes deeper. I don’t think Jesus is ever talking about earthly riches. I believe that this passage is not about the economic station of either the rich man with no name or that of Lazarus. I believe the underlying message of this passage is that of dignity. Dignity that one shows another. Dignity that we’re called to see in another. Dignity that we ignore when we so easily walk past a person on the streets or one that comes up to us in our cars as we wait for the light to turn green. Dignity. But back to my two people.

My Mamma came from a culture of simplicity. Her mother was from an Indian tribe in southern Oklahoma. Mamma never went past the 6th grade. She was a teenage mail order bride to my Grandfather who also didn’t go past the 5th grade. He was a migrate farmer. A dirt farmer. A sharecropper. Moving from state to state following the growth season. In-between, he rode the fence line like you see in the old western movies with his six guns on his side and my grandmother driving the chuck wagon. They ended up in the border town of Harlingen Texas where he would tend the family farm. They raised two boys on that farm and the packing shed that all of them had to work in from sun up to sun down. They were extreme Southern Baptist who really believed the old saying that “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.” It was taken literally and very seriously. And believe you me, I know, I lived with them for quite awhile. So they worked and worked and worked. They didn’t know any better and the results of the Great Depression had a profound effect on their values. They moved to Houston and in their later years and became very well off simply because they just didn’t spend anything. But they just couldn’t move past their days of being poor. So much so that they only had 2 or 3 pairs of clothes and they were always garage sale clothes.

The point of Mamma’s story is that she was walking home from the grocery store one day and she fell. Right there on the sidewalk. People walked right by her. She was in a serious state and people walked right by her without even looking to see what the matter was. How she was. They assumed that she was a homeless person. Without merit. Without worth. They refused to see her dignity. They saw her as Lazarus even though she had the wealth of the nameless rich man. They only saw what they were conditioned to see. What they wanted to see. They didn’t want to get involved with another’s life. They didn’t want to take a moment of their precious time to recognize that she too was a child of God. A child of Jesus. All on the basis of what she wore and how she looked – on the outside.

Then there’s my father in law, Bob. Bob also came from simple roots. From what I know of him and his background, he was a farmer at heart. In fact, he’s back there in Michigan now on that very same family farm that was handed down to him from his father. But Bob went off to college. He got a degree. He eventually worked for the Lindy division of Union Carbide as an engineer. His background was firmly rooted in the scripture. He sees the worth of another and, I would bet, that if he had seen my grandmother, lying there in the streets, asking for help, he would have offered her his hand. That’s just the kind of guy he is. ’m sure that the days living during the depression had its effect on him and his value system too. The difference is what he did with those lessons. The difference is that he believes that each of us has an innate dignity only given to us by Jesus. When Bob was going through his cancer, when he would sit in a chair with a plastic sheath around him because he had a hole in his back the size of a quarter, when he couldn’t lift his head up because the chemotherapy and radiation all but took what was left of his vitality, his humanity, he never lost his belief in the Jesus Christ that suffered for us, hung on the criminal’s cross for us, had holes put in his hands for us. He never lost the sense that all of God’s children are worth something. Are worth something to God. So he endures. He greets those he meets with the grace that only comes from Christ.

These two people have met their later lives so differently. My grandmother became suspicious of all that she came into contact with. She withdrew into her world of her childhood that must have been something out of a Stephen King novel. She withdrew from her faith, her neighbor, her fellow human being. Mamma lived out of fear. Fear of those around her. Fear of a world that has left her in a state of unmanageable change. Fear of even the motives of her Baptist pastor when he would come to visit. Her world became closed and without love of neighbor. She became in many ways what the unnamed rich man was even though she was not at her core.

Bob continues to welcome the stranger. Sees the dignity of others as Christ commands us to do. Bob embraces change. He has a sense that God is truly with him in his life. He sees other people for what they are, children of the one true God. He sees the dignity in all that’s around him. He is what the unnamed rich man was not. And his faith is such that he lives in the grace given to him by God.

But do we? Do we drive by or walk by a homeless person and look the other way? Do we see the news or read about the events going on right here on the south side and just shake our heads or do we walk in the neighborhood? Do we speak out when someone standing in line in front of us is obnoxious to the clerk who’s just doing her job or are we afraid to get involved? Do we go to church to “do” church or ARE we the church? What do we do? What do we do with this passage?

Brothers and sisters, I must confess that I’m afraid that I’m not one of the people who’d look over at Lazarus with the same eyes that I’m called to do. I must confess that I drive past the homeless and do nothing to help. I walk past the people on the streets and do nothing to help. I hear the news of what’s happening right here on the south side and do nothing to help. Most times, I even take my collar off when at a stop light because the panhandlers always zoom in on the person who’s wearing one. Are you like me? Can you relate to a little of what I’m saying? Are we at ease in Zion?

Are we, as a community of believers, more concerned with what’s happening across the seas, down on the border, in the political arena than the lives of the very people who live and work in this area? Are we? It’s a question that I must wrestle with on a daily basis because to do otherwise, to expend the energy and the time, IT IS exhausting.

After all, I have a more than full class schedule. I’ve gotta read two books, 3 social statements, and at least a dozen chapters by people who’ve been dead for over 1500 years. I’ve gotta relearn a language that’s so foreign to me that I might as well be speaking Martian. I have enough trouble with the English language. I don’t have time to be concerned with anything not on my schedule. I don’t have time to be concerned with others that stand next to me. I don’t have time. Are you like me? Can you relate to a little of what I’m saying? Are we not grieved over the ruin of Joseph?

Brothers and sisters, the unnamed rich man didn’t end up in hell because he was rich. He didn’t even end up in Hell because his family came from the right side of the railroad tracks. The scripture says that he ended up in Hell because he refused to see the dignity of his brother who was sitting right there next to him. The brother he had to step over to get where he was going. The brother he didn’t see as a person but as a social outcast. A burden on society. A parasite in the way of his progress.

Brothers and sisters, the unnamed rich man ended up in Hell not because he was human but because he remained human despite the suffering he had on his own doorstep. He had no regrets. No second thoughts. Unconcerned with the law that Jesus spoke of when he said, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The end of Luke states, “Neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” I am convinced in Jesus’ story of the importance to observe the dignity of all. I am convinced because Jesus was the one who rose from the dead. So my challenge is to stop. Stop and see all those around me. Talk with those all around me. Get to know those all around me. Things I have to get done will still be there when I take them up again. People are more important than things. Can you relate to a little of what I’m saying? Can this be all of our challenges? Can we walk together on this?

Amen!

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