A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., on September 26, 2010.

Luke 16:19-31

The Blind Side is a movie which depicts the life of Michael Oher, a homeless and traumatized teenager who, with the help of a caring and courageous woman and her family, became an All American football player and first round draft pick by the Baltimore Ravens in 2009.

One icy winter night, as Michael was walking down the road to the school gym where he slept most of the time, Leigh Anne Tuohy and her husband, Sean, and their children, Jae and Collins, stopped and picked him up. Instead of taking him to the gym, however, they took him home for the night. This began a special relationship between this wealthy white family and a very gifted, yet poor, oversized and under-educated African-American, which captured the hearts of not only the sports world, but all Americans.

One reason I liked this movie so much was because it showed the difference one family can make in the life of an individual who desperately needed somebody to notice his condition and help him. The Tuohy family could have passed Michael that cold, dark, dreary night just like countless others had done, but they didn’t. Because they refused to ignore him, their lives and Michael’s were forever changed.

As a matter of fact, one of my favorite lines in the movie was spoken by Leigh Anne as she was having lunch with her friends and one of them asked, “Leigh Anne, are you trying to change Michael?” Softly, she replied, “No, he’s changing me.”

I wonder how this poor beggar could have changed the rich man’s life in our parable. We’ll never know because he never stopped to help him.

Why didn’t the rich man stop and help Lazarus? It’s not like he didn’t see him. Everyday, he sat at the rich man’s gate hoping he would receive just the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Why didn’t he at least give him something to eat and drink? Ponder this for a few minutes while I share the rest of the story with you.

A poor, sick beggar by the name of Lazarus sat outside a rich man’s house each day, hoping to be noticed so he could receive some assistance. By the way, this is the only parable where Jesus gives a character a name. Why do you think he did this? Was it his way of showing that this beggar was a real person with needs and feelings common to all people? Perhaps. I have discovered when you put a face and a name with issues and decisions, it changes everything. Maybe Jesus felt the same way. So, Jesus called him Lazarus, the Greek form of the ancient name, Eleazar, which means, “God helps.” How interesting.

In spite of the fact that Lazarus sat at the gate outside the rich man’s home, only passing dogs noticed him. I’m not sure if they comforted or humiliated Lazarus by licking his sores. What I am sure of is Lazarus’ disappointment over his neighbor’s insensitivity.

Both men eventually died and poor Lazarus was escorted to the bosom of Abraham, where it appeared he was the honored guest at a messianic banquet. In contrast, the rich man ended up suffering in the fires of Hades, the folkloric dwelling place of the dead. What a startling reversal of fortune, a theme commonly found in Luke’s writings.

In his anguish, the rich man cried out to Father Abraham for relief, but his request was denied. To make matters worse, he was told that the chasm between him and Lazarus was too deep and wide to be breached. His condition was unalterably final.

Sensing it was too late for him, the rich man pleaded for Father Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers, lest they follow him. Again, his request was denied as he was reminded that his brothers had the Law of Moses and the prophets, just as he did. If they would listen to them, they would know how to be spared their brother’s fate.

Did they listen or did they go down the same road as their unfortunate brother? Hold that thought; I’ll address it at the end of the sermon. Let’s go back to my original question, though.

Why didn’t the rich man help Lazarus? It was not because he lacked the resources or opportunity. The clothes he wore, home he lived in and food he ate every day indicate that he was a man of great wealth. He could have made a big difference in Lazarus’ life, just as the Tuohys made a difference in Michael’s. He just chose not to do so. Why?

My friend James Brewer-Calvert surmises that he lost his heart. He had grown callous and indifferent. He did not see a neighbor with a name, feelings and needs, but a worthless beggar that probably deserved his fate. Besides, if he helped Lazarus, how many more would be sitting at his gate the next day?

I’m sure you are familiar with the comic strip, Garfield. It is the most widely syndicated comic strip in the world. It was created by Jim Davis in 1978, and chronicles the life of the title character, a cat known by the name of Davis’ grandfather, Garfield. The other characters in the strip are Jon Arbuckle, Garfield’s owner, and a dog named Odie.

One cold winter night, Garfield looks out the window and sees Odie peering through the window. Garfield thinks to himself, “This is horrible. Here I am in the comfort of a warm house, well fed and taken care of, and there is Odie outside begging to come in from the cold so he can get warm and have something to eat. I can’t stand it anymore. I just can’t stand it.”

So, what does Garfield do? He goes over to the window and closes the curtains! I wonder how many times the rich man closed his curtains.

I get the impression from reading the opening scene of the drama that the rich man was the center of his universe. He certainly spared no expense dressing, feeding and taking care of himself. He wore designer clothes, ate gourmet meals and lived in a spacious palace. It was apparent that life was all about him. There was no room for anyone else, unless the relationship could benefit him, and Lazarus could do nothing for him.

If he had it to do over, do you think the rich man would make some changes? Based upon his concern for his brothers and genuine desire to see them avoid his fate, I certainly think so.

What kind of changes would he have made? I think he would have made the decision to be a better neighbor.

I believe he would have changed his attitude toward the poor to reflect the advice of Moses and the prophets.

I believe he would have changed his mind about helping others. Even if he could not help everybody, he would do what he could to help those around him.

I believe he would have changed his values and priorities. Helping others would have ranked higher than feeding his selfish appetite.

I believe he would have changed his lifestyle, living with less so he could be more generous.

I believe he would have had a conversation with his brothers and anyone else he loved about their values and priorities, too.

What do you think the rich man would say to us today? Above all else, be a good neighbor because this is the least God expects of us.

Don’t ignore the poor and the sick. They have a special place in God’s heart and should ours, too.

Ask people their names and listen to their stories.

Listen to your heart, too. It could be God tugging at it.

Be more spontaneous. Love the person that crosses your path like Jesus would.

Don’t pursue the wrong things.

Don’t become so self-absorbed that you cannot see those who are hurting and hear their cries for help.

Don’t do anything that would contribute to someone else’s misery.

Make hope visible. Be the answer to someone’s prayer by being compassionate and generous.

Before it is too late, talk to those you love who don’t understand these things. Time runs out sooner than you think. Regrets are hard to live with.

Speaking of running out of time, I want to return to an earlier question. Did the rich man’s brothers change and avoid his fate? We don’t know. The parable doesn’t tell us.

Perhaps this is because we are to write the ending based upon our lives. Each of us is one of the brothers in this story.

Based upon this, how would you answer the question?

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