26th OT C ~ "Waiting at the Gate" ~ Susan McGurgan
He was almost invisible…
The rich man,
snug inside his home,
simply couldn’t be bothered
with every bum or beggar who lounged beside the gate.
busy with many things,
no longer even noticed the cripples
who crowded around the door,
or the children holding empty bowls.
not even the guests arriving for the feast
ever really “saw” him.
But as they passed by,
they turned their heads and clutched their robes a little tighter,
to stay clean and undefiled.
Some muttered a prayer of thanksgiving
that they had been spared such a fate.
a man like that must have done something to lose God’s blessing.
Some great offense.
We don’t really know what brought him to the rich man’s gate,
and in desperate need.
Maybe he was betrayed by a friend,
or ruined by an ugly scandal.
Maybe the taxes that threatened to crush his land
finally crushed him, too.
Maybe he became sick,
or possessed by a demon.
Or maybe he had always been lost.
Maybe he was the kind of man who lived his entire life
among the brambles and weeds,
crying out for relief.
No one knows how he came to be waiting at the gate,
no one really cared, either.
Because you see,
he was almost invisible.
Of all the people
in all the parables,
he alone is given a name…
Lazarus, which means,
“God has helped.”
And Lazarus is waiting at the gate.
Almost every day,
she sits in the empty doorway next to the big stone church,
a plastic bag filled with trash and treasures
keeping vigil beside her.
If you stop
and take the time to look,
you will see that she,
and the church,
have both seen better days.
Now and then,
the few people who pass by in the morning
on their way to work,
or in the evening
as they leave the bars,
can hear her sing a tuneless song in a trembling voice.
when she isn’t looking,
jagged fragments of her life
and stab her into a clarity that makes her gasp.
And for a moment--
just that one moment--
she feels as if she could wrap her arms
around something sweet.
as the fog lifts, she wonders how she got there
and why she doesn’t just go home.
But most of the time,
the days pass in a haze of booze and dementia
and aching hunger no food can ease.
And most of the time,
she is invisible.
Inside the gray stone church,
the struggling community
works hard just to stay alive.
The parish council debates an agenda item
and the head of finance pores over the bills
while the long range planning team
wrestles with a shrinking future.
If only we could attract more people…
If only we could raise enough money; reduce the debt…
If only the neighborhood hadn’t changed…
Lazarus is waiting at the gate.
He was the kind of kid who never quite fit in.
In the eyes of his classmates,
he always looked a little different--
a little awkward--
a little strange.
It was as if he was pieced together
from parts that never really matched.
He was all elbows
and sticking out hair.
His clothes somehow managed to look tired and used,
even when they were new.
His smile was a shade too desperate;
his voice a bit too shrill.
His answers were often wrong,
or even worse--
He was the kind of boy
who dies a little bit at recess
each and every day.
While the others swarmed over the field
and bragged about who was fastest and best
and who would win
and which captain would get first choose,
he stood alone,
just beyond the field,
because being chosen was not an option.
Oh, people were never openly cruel.
They didn’t really care enough to be mean.
the playground moms who gossiped
and tied shoelaces
and patrolled the blacktop with band-aids
were too vigilant for that.
No, he was never bullied.
It’s just that most of the time,
he was completely invisible.
And in the narrow and complicated world of recess,
that could be the deepest cut of all--
far too deep to be helped by any band-aid.
And so, on that sunny suburban playground,
Lazarus was waiting at the gate.
Some parables are comforting.
The Lost Sheep.
The Lost Coin.
The Lost Son.
These are stories that invite us
to marvel at God’s care and concern.
These parables remind us that we are God’s beloved--
no matter how lost we become;
no matter how far we stray.
Other parables are not quite so soothing.
Well, some of them are downright disturbing.
like this one about Lazarus and Dives,
remind us that God loves reversals.
They remind us that what we see
is not always what God sees.
They paint a picture of discipleship
that is not exactly painless,
or even very safe.
They teach us
that some of the most serious offenses against God
are not the sins we commit,
the acts we omit.
The rich man never actively hurt Lazarus.
He didn’t hate him,
or betray him,
or abuse him.
He did not cause Lazarus to fail
or force him to beg at the gate.
He simply ignored him.
And God says,
is enough to create a chasm between us.
We desperately want this parable to be about “them.”
The Rich Athlete.
The Corporate Executive.
The Politician With Power.
The Priest. The Social Worker. The Licensed Therapist.
we don’t feast in luxury every night.
Most of us can barely cover
a little bit of fun.
Some of us struggle
just to make the edges of one day
meet the borders of the next.
But maybe God is trying to remind us
that the world of rich and poor;
the world of have and have not;
the world of noticed and overlooked
is not God’s creation,
but our own.
Maybe God is trying to remind us
our ability to earn
the food on our table
the shelter over our heads
the acceptance of a group...
even our faith
is pure gift.
And because of that gift,
the way we deal with Lazarus
matters to God.
The way we view poverty and wealth
matters to God.
What we see and what we ignore
matters to God.
Through these stories God invites us to become,
not just disciples and followers,
partners in God’s own creative act.
we hold this earth;
it’s beauty, resources, food and wealth
as a trust.
As partners in God’s actions,
we cherish the lives of his people as our own.
The beggar outside the gate.
The old woman lost in disease and despair.
The child standing alone just beyond the playground.
The man struggling with addiction.
The betrayed lover, learning about forgiveness.
The church community, facing an uncertain future.
These are people beloved by God.
He knows each name,
each secret sorrow and joy
even when the world seems blind.
Maybe through this parable, God is reminding us
that no matter who we are,
no matter where we live,
Lazarus is there, waiting for us at the gate.
Christ is there waiting for us, too.