July 30, 2017: There’s more fruit in a rich man’s shampoo…

Posted on : Jul 27th, 2017 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

… than on a poor man’s plate.

Almost every night there is at least one homeless person who sleeps on the concrete entryway that leads into the courtyard.  There are also numerous persons who sleep in the church gardens, especially behind the large tubular structure that supports the signboard above the sanctuary.  The growing homeless population has become a fact of life in Los Angeles.

Abilio, our custodian and gardener, as well as Laurie and I, have to clean up the mess that is left behind many mornings.  Not only is there litter and clothes, there is human waste.  At least twice a week, Abilio has to clean up piles of human waste from the front and side gardens.  It is not glamorous work!

As I drive around Los Angeles and meet with pastors and religious leaders throughout our city, I see and hear the same stories.  Churches are becoming refuges for the growing homeless population. They usually have nice wide walkways and many churches have lots of stairs leading up to the entry doors.  For some reason, even people of no faith have a sense that you don’t harass the homeless when they are sleeping on church property.

The situation today is becoming extremely reminiscent of our past.  In the Middle Ages, when 99% of the population was poor, many of the great Cathedrals throughout Europe literally opened their doors and allowed to the poor and homeless to sleep in the cathedrals.  At that time in history most of the cathedrals did not have chairs or pews.  Worshippers stood during Mass.  So, after the last Mass of the day, the poor were allowed to sleep on the cathedral floor.  Once a week they would wash the floors of the sanctuary.

Urban 21st century churches are becoming like medieval churches.  They are repositories and sanctuaries for the poor and homeless.

This Sunday, our “Be the Church” focus is on “caring for the poor.”  Our scripture text is quite interesting.  It is only found in Luke’s Gospel, and it clearly is written by someone who was poor.  It’s the story about a very rich person (who is unnamed – talk about the ultimate insult!) and a very poor person who is named (how’s that for a change!).  The poor person’s name is Lazarus.  The story was used in the early Christian Church as a moral teaching.  The rich man couldn’t be bothered with the poor-man, Lazarus.  Like so many of us today, he walked right by poor Lazarus and didn’t even see him.  But then both Lazarus and the rich man die and their stations in life are reversed.  Poor-man Lazarus is with Father Abraham.   The unnamed rich man is burning in hell.

The rich man begs Father Abraham to let Lazarus serve him (bring him cool water to quench his burning thirst).  But Abraham replies using the same language and images the rich man had toward Lazarus.  “Can’t do that.  There is a huge divide between us, and even if I wanted to, I can’t cross it.”

The rich man is deeply depressed and begs Father Abraham then to go to his father’s house and warn his brothers to change their ways.  The response he receives is not what he wanted.

Whether we are the first century followers of Jesus or the 21st century followers, we have the same calling:  to care for the poor.  Anne Frank, the young German-born Jewish girl who was hidden from the Nazi’s during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II, knew a lot about caring. She and her family were hidden by a family who risked their lives to save Anne and her family.  Anne and her sister Margot were eventually arrested and sent to the concentration camp in Auschwitz and later transferred to Bergen-Belsen, where she died.  Before her death she wrote in her now famous diary: “No one has ever become poor by giving.”

Those are profound words for all of us, loaded with meaning and truth.  More on Sunday.



~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Luke 16:19-31

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’

The rich man said, ‘Then, father Abraham, I beg you to send Lazarus to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’

Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ Abraham said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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