A sermon: The neighbor at our gate (Luke 16. 19–31)

I am delighted to report that it was the very most successful Fall Gift Market we’ve ever had! Thanks to all of you for your very, very hard work and your many, many prayers.  People always want to hear how successful we were, so I have the figures for you today.

1990 men, women, and children came to St. Mary’s yesterday and the day before. By my estimation, they had at least five words of welcome from the shuttle drivers, the parking lot attendants, and the greeters both inside and outside the doors of the Holy Family Center.

We offered every guest a handmade candle, and they couldn’t believed that we were giving something away.  Ask Cindy Angle to tell you about her experience handing out candles.

We invited people to join us for prayer at the beginning and ending of each day, and Katie+ and I visited with all sorts of folks, offering prayers, prayer blankets and prayer shawls.  I’m sure others of you did, too.  Please share your stories.
I was told again and again and again that this was like no other festival; we’re the only ones that give the vendors free lunch.  We feed our guests well. I was told that there was a sweetness, a peace to this place like no other festival.
That’s how successful it was.

I have no idea how much money we made, because as far as I’m concerned, any money is only a bonus. The true value of this Fall Gift Market is the relationships that we formed with one another and, most importantly, the strangers, that is the neighbors, at our gate.  2000 or so folks got a gift of being loved like a neighbor these past two days.  God was well pleased.

Which is what the parable we heard today

is about. It’s not so much a parable about money and how we spend, or don’t spend it.  It’s a parable about how we form relationships with one another. Especially the neighbor at our gate.

In the parable we heard Deacon Russ read, what was the name of the man covered in sores starving at the gate of the house of the man dressed in purple and linen?

And what was the name of the rich man who feasted sumptuously every day?
We’re not told. 

And that’s when Jesus’ listeners would have particularly picked up their ears. The man with power and wealth?  We’re never told his name. But the man without worldly value, who could be walked by without a second glance, he’s given a name. In fact, this is the only time that a character in a parable by Jesus is named.

And what does the name Lazarus mean?  God has helped.

There is another Lazarus, a friend of Jesus’ who he raises from the dead, but there’s no reason to make a connection. Only in John’s gospel is that Lazarus, Jesus’ friend, part of Jesus’ story. No doubt there were many Lazaruses in Jesus’ day as there are many Bills and Mikes and Bobs today.

Jesus’ listeners would have known that Jesus was especially saying something important when he named the man who most would think had no particular value, and the one who would have been highly regarded was nameless. Though one author I read did give him this name:

The Indifferent-Man-Who-Could-Have-Listened-to-Moses-and-the-Prophets-and-Followed-God’s-Way-of-Life-and-Been-Welcomed-Into-Paradise-by-Father-Abraham-But-Chose-Not-To.

What did the man who dressed in linen and purple do wrong? What was his sin? What the man did was that he ignored the man in need at his gate.  His neighbor.

He walked right past the man with a name, Lazarus  and it was if Lazarus, covered in sores, suffering terribly–Jesus uses hyperbole so that we’ll not miss how bad it was; how hard it would have been to ignore Lazarus’ wounds being licked by dogs– it was as if Lazarus was invisible to the man in linen and purple.

What the man in linen and purple did not do was do the very most essential thing Jesus said to do–he did not form a relationship with the man he passed daily. He did not love his neighbor.

Do we form relationships with those we pass each day? Or are they invisible to us?  That being the problem–they may be so invisible that we don’t even notice that we missed them. Do we pay attention to the people that God places at our gate everyday? Or are we too preoccupied to notice?
There’s a ministry that we’re praying about becoming a part. It’s called 249 and Hope.  Google it.

Deacon Russ, Celeste Booker, and John Albright have been taking part for a couple of Saturdays and I urge you to talk to them. 

249 and Hope is a ministry of two neighboring churches.  A small group of men and women go out every Saturday morning and take a fresh cooked meal to serve to the homeless who live in our area, particularly in the woods that are all along 249. They are the men we may not see at the intersections along 249 selling Houston Chronicles or holding up signs. But every Saturday morning, a group of eight or so lovers of Jesus, make seven or so stops off 249 between the Beltway and Spring Cypress and folks may gather, or not, for a meal.

I understand yesterday that our neighbors were served Jim’s beef stroganoff and John’s Mississippi mud cake. 

These missioners offer a genuine smile, a handshake, a prayer, good food, and an offer to help.  And they call the neighbors by name.

Kirk.  Jesse.  Jack.  Tom.  Troy.  Gerald. Calvin.  James.  Roy.  Malcolm.  Frank. Darnell.  Mark.  Cody. Ronald. Lester.  Chuck.  Ferrel.  Ronnie.  David.  Mike.  Mr. Cantu.

Apparently two of our neighbors were invited to worship with us at St. Mary’s. I was asked what we would do if they actually showed up.
I answered that I hoped that the greeters would welcome them in. That they would be offered a name tag and invited to fill out a card giving us more information about them.
That the ushers would give them a word of welcome along with their books and leaflets and that those in the pews would smile at them when they entered.
That when the Peace was exchanged, that those around them would offer them God’s peace with a hug or a handshake.
That if they got lost in the service, that a neighbor in a pew would help them find their way.
That after worship someone would invite them to stay for coffee and a treat.
That they would be invited to Adult Christian Formation.
That’s what I hope.
Because that’s what I hope that every stranger at our gate, every neighbor, on Sunday morning receives.

I would hope that if we saw them on a corner we’d smile at them and wave. That we’d remember to pray for them. That maybe we’d have a bag of grace in our car to offer.

Because here’s what I think. That when we form relationships with others, when we love whatever neighbor God gives us, that we can’t help but provide for them. That we give a little less to ourself and a lot more to someone that needs it more than we do.

What about other neighbors at our gate? I’m not only talking about physical needs.  
I’m talking about a listening ear. A cordial word. A smile.  Kindness.  Respect.
I’m talking about compassion.
I saw so many of you give hospitality and compassion freely yesterday and the day before.
The truth is, as far as I’m concerned, our Fall Gift Market can only be considered successful if that hospitality and compassion continues tomorrow and everyday.  AMEN

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