The Lazarus' of the World
Fr. William C. Mills
Sermon on Luke 16:19-31.
This past week I had the joy of visiting Chicago, the windy city. Chicago is very beautiful, full of sights and sounds, so very different from the southeast where I reside with my family. Chicago is the home of the famous Al Capone and the Chicago mafia, the Sears Tower, and of course the many sports teams, the Bulls, Bears, White Sox, and Red Sox.
However, Chicago also has another darker side to it. Among the hustle and bustle and wonderful art and architecture, Chicago has a lot of poverty. On every street corner one can find panhandlers begging for money. I vividly remember one woman sitting in a wheelchair------an amputee, she had no legs and couldn't walk. Others were lying on the ground and some were sleeping under the trees in the park. It was very warm in Chicago last week. However, I wondered what happens when winter comes and when the snow begins to form, and the cold rain and sleet fall. Then where do these people go?
It is easy to judge the poor. Some clearly are addicted to alcohol and others to drugs. Some were pregnant. It is easy to look at them with consternation and say that they caused their own problems. Why should I help them? We can also say heck, I pay enough tax money for public assistance, public housing, free butter and cheese, and the many shelters around the city. Yet these are our Lazarus' who roam the streets asking for a handout, asking for the crumbs from our table.
In many ways we are like the rich man in the gospel. We might not drive Bentley cars or have two homes, but we are certainly rich. We come every week and eat from the table of the Lord, we feast sumptuously at the table of the Lord. We feast on the Word of God which feeds and nourishes us. Can't we at least share our crumbs with those less fortunate, to those who come to us hungry, homeless, poor, naked, sick and suffering, and imprisoned with their own inner demons? If we can't even share the crumbs of our faith we are missing the point of today's lesson!
But there is another kind of poverty too. While walking the streets of Chicago I saw many panhandlers, but I also saw many tourists and business types who were going to see the sights or heading off to work or play. There is a saying that the "eyes don't lie" and that the "eyes are the window into a persons soul." While walking down the streets I noticed a lot of eyes that looked hollow and empty. These people were dressed in three piece suits and shiny leather shoes and pocketbooks, but some of them were empty inside. Perhaps they had a bad marriage or were hungry for compassion. Others might have been depressed or fallen into despair. Many people feel a deep sense of emptiness or loss, who are hungry for love and direction in life. These people come to us seeking the crumbs from our table.
It was also sad because the Church is supposed to be a refuge for the poor and hungry. While walking the streets of Chicago I happened to find several churches that I wanted to see. So I walked up the steps of the first Church and it was locked. This was strange because I was in the middle of a metropolitan area and certainly many people like to see Churches. So I walked down the block to the next Church, it too was locked. Then finally I found a third, very large Church with a grand hall next door, certainly this one must be open, so I tried that door, but alas, it too was locked.
Chicago is a city of Churches and I'm sure a few of them must have been opened, not just the ones that I tried to enter. However, this is a judgment against Christians, that in the middle of a city of several million people, the house of God, where we come to worship Him in Spirit and Truth, where we feast at the table of the Lord, and where we share faith and fellowship, the Lazarus' of the world cannot find comfort. I'm certain that we don't want to wind up like the rich man, we heard what happened to him in the gospel lesson today. If we want to avoid his predicament, perhaps we better listen again to what Luke tells, us, and share our bread, the bread of life, with our neighbor.
Fr. William C. Mills, Ph.D., is the rector of the Nativity of the Holy Virgin Orthodox Church in Charlotte, NC, as well as an adjunct professor of religious studies at Queens University in Charlotte, NC. He is married to Taisia Mills and has two daugthers, Hannah and Emma.