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Open Our Eyes, Lord…

September 24, 2016

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The past couple of weeks have been incredibly busy to say the least. Labor Day weekend we were in Charlotte, North Carolina for a wedding. It breaks my heart what happened this past week in that community. September 15-18 we participated as staff members for Colorado Presbyterian Pilgrimage at Highlands Presbyterian Camp and Conference Center and on the 20th we traveled to Florence, Alabama for Denise and her Dad’s shared birthday. We returned, exhausted, on the 23rd and worked the evening of the 24th at our Sunrise Rotary Club of Estes Park’s fundraiser, Autumn Gold. In addition, we have been taking part in an on-line course on “The Confessions of Saint Augustine” through Columbia Theological Seminary’s Certificate in Christian Spiritual Formation.

Yet, in the midst of all the travel and busyness, we managed to take a few moments to go into the Rocky Mountain National Park to see some of the fall colors and simply relax and take some photos. I guess relax is a relative word when Rocky is full of tourists. Yet in the midst of the sea of cars and humanity (and a tour bus or two) we did find some peace and calm. This young doe was peeking around the corner of the rock as we stopped to take some pictures and simply enjoy a group of bucks and does. She almost seemed to be telling me, open your eyes, Michael, God is all around!

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These two fellows also seemed to be saying, slow down Michael… open your eyes and your heart… be still and know… a lesson I need to be reminded of. Especially in light of tomorrow’s Scripture readings for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost!

I remember preaching years ago during my first assignment with the Air Force on 1 Timothy 6:6-19. I got in trouble with a Colonel when I focused on verse 10: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” He was uncomfortable with my comments around the love of money being a root of all kinds of evil. I had said, money is the root of all evil which was not an accurate reflection of the passage. He challenged me after worship and we had a very good discussion. I learned a lot from that discussion and he appreciated the fact that while I didn’t  back down or acquiesce, we were able to discuss and learn from each other.

Money and power… I have worked around both for years… and they can be very troublesome to say the least! While I came to see that this particular Colonel was not impressed by money or power, I also came to realize that he had a true servants heart. Running into him years later (he was a Lieutenant General and I was a Major, soon to be a Lieutenant Colonel) we recalled our conversation long before and how we not only learned from each other, but also grew as people of faith through the time since then. I came to see this particular humble servant fulfilling verse 19: “As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”

Which brings me to the Gospel reading for this Sunday. The unnamed rich man in Jesus’ parable was a far cry from the Lieutenant General I knew long ago. The rich man sat at his  banquet table and lived each day in the lap of luxury in his purple robes and fine linen! I can almost hear him barking out orders to the “help” and demanding that they meet his every need! Each day he stepped over Lazarus at his gate who was covered with sores. The rich man’s dogs used to lick the sores and torment poor Lazarus. This poor beggar would have loved to eaten the scraps from the rich man’s table like the dogs did. But alas, he was ignored and he died.

The rich man also died but unlike Lazarus (who was taken to be with Abraham), he was taken to the place of the dead (Hades). Now, all of a sudden, the rich man saw Lazarus! After all the years of ignoring him, he finally recognized him. Did he recognize Lazarus as an equal? As a child of God? Nope! The rich man still saw Lazarus as a servant who could work for him! Even when the eyes of the rich man were opened, he still didn’t see Lazarus. All he saw was someone who could bring him water to quench his thirst.

“Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames.” (Luke 16:24 NLT) Even in the depths of Hades the rich man still didn’t get it. He still saw Lazarus as his servant, someone beneath him! Isn’t it interesting that the one with all of the power and the wealth is unnamed in this parable and the poor one is named? It reminds me of Matthew 20:16 where Jesus teaches that the last shall be first and the first shall be last.

However, I believe that there is another lesson to be learned from this parable. In the ensuing dialogue (or argument) between Abraham and the rich man, the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers that they might be spared his fate. Abraham, in what could be seen as a heartless response says, in essence: Dude, if they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, why would they listen to someone who returned from the dead?

You have to admit, that is rather harsh on the part of Abraham. Really? They don’t have a chance? You are going to give up on them? Where is the grace? Ah, and there is the rub. Where is the grace! Abraham shows absolutely zero grace. The unknown rich man’s fate is cast. Lazarus rests in the bosom of Abraham and the rich man is in Hades. End of story.

Yet as we know from the life of Jesus, that is not the end of the story. Peter is our prime example of reconciliation and forgiveness. Someone came back from the dead and asked Peter, “do you love me?” Someone came back from the dead and gave Peter another chance. Someone came back from the dead and offered new life and ministry to those who tucked tail and ran when he was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane!

You and I, dear reader, are given a chance that Abraham did not give the rich man in the parable. You and I are given a chance to open our eyes and see the Lord in front of us. Do you see the Lord in the rags of the beggar on the street? Do you see the Lord in the face of the patient dying of AIDS? Do you see the Lord in the face of the LGBTQ person who is being condemned by the self-righteous pharisees of today? Do you see the face of Christ in the refugee or the alien residing in the land who some would kick out or imprison? Do you see Christ in the face of the one who’s skin is a different color?

The rich man did not see the Lord in the beggar at his door. He didn’t even know his name until he was in Hades. Yet we are told that the poor man, covered in sores, was named Lazarus. Open your eyes, dear reader, and see Christ! He is standing right in front of you… he is calling you… he is saying, follow me… he is saying love EACH neighbor as I have loved you!

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