Rich Man & Lazarus in the Shadow of September 11

Luke 16:19-31; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Amos 6:1a, 4-7

Proper 21, Year C

Sept 30, 2001

Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the Lord
Jesus Christ. Amen.

Lazarus, poor, sick, weak, waits at the gate of a rich
man. The rich man’s property, I can
imagine, has a tall, foreboding stone wall surrounding it. You cannot see over the wall, or around it,
because it is impenetrable. Yet
somewhere inside, beyond the walls, deep into the rich man’s property rests his
house. And inside that house the rich
man lives and thrives, dressed in purple and fine linen, sumptuously feasting
every day. Surely Lazarus has never been
inside those walls, has never feasted at the table with the rich man. And it is likely that he has never even seen
the luxury beyond the walls, except perhaps to catch a glimpse when the gate
opens for the rich man to enter or exit. No, it is probable that he does not see what lies beyond the walls, but
he does know. He knows that there are
riches on the other side of the wall, and so he waits by the gate, so that
crumbs of those riches might spill out.

Lazarus waits by the gate, “longing,” the Scripture says,
“to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table.” Lazarus waits at the gate, waiting for some
crumb, some morsel of food to fall or be tossed his way; waiting for some
crumb, some morsel of hope and of life. Lazarus waits at the gate, sick and wounded, aching for someone to raise
him up, to anoint him with a healing balm, to soothe the pain of his burning
sores. Lazarus waits at the gate, too
poor to sustain himself, too sick to work, too weak to even beg. He just waits at the gate, nothing more to
hope for than the possibility that he might feast on the scraps that the rich
man’s dogs reject. Lazarus waits at the
gate, for there is nowhere else for him to go.

Within hours after the tragedy of September 11, friends and
family of World Trade Center workers began to gather at Union Square, about a mile above the site of the
tragedy. They gathered almost
instinctively, nothing else they could do, nowhere else they could go.

Union Square was an appropriate place for them to gather, for it was the closest, large
gathering place not restricted by police and rescue activity. Yet it could have been far away, in one
sense, for in Union Square you are so surrounded by apartment and office
buildings that, even before the tragedy, the twin towers were not visible from

And so they came. Family and friends of World Trade Center workers came to Union Square
with pictures of their loved ones and flyers complete with photo, contact
information, and name, declaring that a husband, child, friend was
missing. They gathered with others
because they shared the same loss. Rather than be alone in misery and sadness they gathered to share their loneliness
and sadness with others. They gathered
in small groupings and sang songs of hope. They wept and they wailed. And
they waited. Especially during those
first few hours and days, they waited for a word of hope to be sent their
way. Like Lazarus they waited for
something they could not see, and increasingly without hope, they waited for
comfort, a soothing balm, a crumb to nourish their hungry and empty
hearts. They waited there at


, like at a gate, not seeing their loved
ones but knowing that they were there on the other side. Like Lazarus, they waited.


Soon people began to cry out, “Why did this happen? How could this happen?” People were angry – heck, many of us were
angry. “If I could have just been there
with him,” a woman who lost her husband in the tragedy said, “if I could have
just been there, to hold his hand, to somehow take away his suffering. I wish I could have been there to hold him
while he died.” The President declared
that this attack on American soil would not go unpunished, that we will respond
with unyielding determination and force.

Our nation’s anger took on many hues, many
manifestations. Within days a military
operation was named to seek out Osama Bin Laden and his terrorist network –
“Infinite Justice” it was called, for infinite justice we want to execute. Outside of Veteran’s Stadium, on that first
night of baseball after the attacks, venders sold t-shirts with Osama Bin
Laden’s picture on it, with the phrase “Wanted Dead or Alive” written in bold across
the top. The word “Alive” was crossed
out. And some people, filled with
uncontrolled anger, attacked arabs and muslims and anyone who had darker skin
than the average white person. Mosques
were vandalized. Taxi cab drivers
beat-up. All in the name of
retribution. All under the power of

And in our anger many asked, “How could God have let this
happen? Where is God in all of
this?” Amidst the dust and the smoke and
the rubble and broken bodies and broken spirits it can be hard to see God, to
understand God, to experience God. And
to make it harder to understand, this attack was apparently carried out in the
name of Allah, in the name of God, by extremists who distort the loving and
compassionate teachings of the great religion of Islam. On our continent, tele-evangelist Pat
Robertson, on his 700 Club television show, suggested that perhaps this attack
was God’s punishment on the US for abortion, gay rights and other sins (he later apologized and changed his
message). With all this anger, with all
this confusion, with all these distorted visions of God in the midst of great
chaos, what are we to think? How are we
to understand God, ourselves, the world?

Indeed, we feel helpless in the shadow of the World Trade Center disaster. On September 11 in the late
afternoon a firefighter, exhausted and overwhelmed by the events of the
previous few hours, broke down and cried. “I don’t know what to do,” he told a radio news reporter as he burst
into tears. He had lost several
companions when the towers collapsed. And we here in Philadelphia,
we too feel helpless. Our schools were
closed on the day after the attack, our baseball parks closed for a week, our
daily routines were altered, our travel plans halted. Yet beyond logistics, we have entered a new
way of life, an uncertain one, it seems. Feeling helpless we are not sure what the future holds for us.

The rich man in our Gospel passage feels helpless at the end
of the parable. Suffering in the
torments of Hades, he begs Abraham to let Lazarus, who is in paradise, warn his
brothers about the fate that will soon befall them. “I beg you to send him 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 responds, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen
to them.” The rich man says, “No, father
Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Abraham replies to the rich man, “If they do
not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if
someone rises from the dead.”

Dear friends, we gather here to listen to Moses and the
prophets, yet we do not hear their good news. We gather here to experience Jesus, the living Word, who rose from the
dead, and yet we do not hear his good news. Indeed, in the last few lines of this parable Jesus is telling us the
truth – that we are limited in our ability to understand God. We don’t get it. It’s there in the books of Moses, Jesus tells
us. It’s there in the prophets, Jesus
tells us. Indeed, it is there in the
crucified and risen Christ, but not even that seems to be enough. “Neither will they be convinced even if
someone rises from the dead.” A tough
dose of reality. We cannot understand,
we cannot conceive of this God.

Yet like the mourners who gathered at Union Square in New York City,
we gather here, almost instinctively, not sure where else to go. We gather here to give praise to a God who is
greater than ourselves. Indeed, we are
gathered here by the Word of God alone – not by our power or our will or our
determination, but by the power and will and determination of God. We gather here and we experience, we
participate in something beyond us, something greater than us.

Yes, dear friends, on our own we are limited in our power,
as Paul reminds us in his letter to Timothy – “We brought nothing into the
world – it is certain that we can take nothing out of it.” There is little we can do, and this leads to
our helplessness. Yes, we are in bondage
to sin, wrapped up in sin, manipulated by sin, and even directed by sin. Yet in spite of our sin, God sent a son to
us, who claims us, makes us his, and gives us his life, his victory on the
cross, so that his life and victory might be ours as well.

And so dear friends, as we stand in the shadow of the World Trade Center disaster, we ask where God is in all of this. We stand, our gazes fixed upon disaster, destruction, pain, suffering,
and death. We stand, mourning that
buildings and lives have fallen. Dear
friends, we are standing not only at the foot of the World Trade Center disaster, but we are standing at the foot of the cross, gazing up at unjust
pain and suffering.

When we look at that cross we see that it is God on that
cross. We see the Galilean, the man who
walked with the poor and the needy; the man who healed the sick and made the
broken whole. We see the man who turned
water into wine and who served five loaves of bread to five thousand people hungry
for food and the Word. We see the man
who preached good news to the poor, freedom to the oppressed, and love to the
hated. We see the man who reached across
ethnic and religious lines to gather all into his Kingdom. It is this Jesus, the Jesus of love, grace,
mercy and miracles, the Son of God, suffering on that cross, who suffered on
September 11. God suffered on that
cross. God died on that cross.

Our sufferings are not alien to God. God knows our sufferings, our loss. God knows the sufferings of those who
perished on nine-eleven.  God knows the
pain, the anguish and the deep sadness felt by the family and friends of the
tragedy’s victims. This is our comfort,
this is our balm: that God is with us and with all who suffer. The promise of God’s love and comfort, of
God’s everlasting life which reaches beyond our human understanding, endures;
God’s promise endures, even in our sorrow.

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

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