Presbyterian pastor and author Rodger Nishioka told of stopping at a grocery store to buy milk after flying in one night from a speaking engagement. It was late, Rodger was tired, there was only one cashier, and the woman in line ahead of him was short of cash. She was sorting through her groceries trying to decide what she could afford.
“How much does she need?” Rodger asked the cashier, as he made up the difference.
As the woman started to leave, she turned to Rodger and said, “You didn’t even ask me my name.”
Bless Rodger for telling this story on himself.
Was he helping the woman, or was he solving a problem so he could get home to bed?
What if the answer has cosmic consequences?
The preaching text this week is Jesus’ parable of a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus from Luke 16. In all of Jesus’ parables, he’s the only character with a name.
It means “the one God helps.”
In the parable, the rich man lived in luxury while the poor man had nothing. Lazarus longed to eat the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table, but the man gave him nothing. Then the rich man died and went to hell and was in agony. Looking up to heaven, he saw Lazarus resting in comfort next to Abraham. He pleaded with Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his brothers that hell was real. Abraham said that people have had all the warning they were going to get. They wouldn’t believe “even if someone rises from the dead.”
So, what’s the lesson? Help the poor or you’re going to hell?
I don’t think so.
A better question might be, why help the poor?
Why do justice? Why fight racism?
In the midst of multiple crises today, it’s easy to feel helpless. In our desire to “just do something” it’s tempting to latch on to any cause, any movement, that might feel right.
But what do we accomplish when we abandon Christ and his ways?
Nothing that matters.
When we serve, we have a choice to serve in his name, with his heart and his ways, or not.
There is someone who rose from the dead. He’s bringing in a new kingdom; setting things right, and painfully few seem to believe it.