[Jesus said:] 19“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He 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.’ 25But 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. 26Besides 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.’ 27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house—28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He 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.’ ”
It’s been one of those weeks. One of those weeks when I wish that I hadn’t checked the news, hadn’t logged onto Facebook, hadn’t felt the urge to stay informed. It’s one of those weeks where two black men, one named Terence Crutcher and one named Keith Lamont Scott, were killed by police with little provocation. It’s one of those weeks where riots have enveloped another American city, causing unrest and violence as a backlash against violence. And, closer to home, it’s one of those weeks when we in our corner of the world lost a young man named Alex Boelk and a member of our family of faith, Carol Swearengin. Four deaths among many. Four names added to the lists of tragic deaths that happened too soon. And then, in the midst of this, we hear our gospel for today.
This lectionary was put together years ago. The Revised Common Lectionary, which we use each week for our readings, is a three-year cycle of readings that circulate through most of the Bible in that 3-year period. It was put together in 1992, but sometimes it seems like they were chosen especially for the situation we are in this week. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is probably a familiar reading to many of you. It illustrates so many things – Jesus’ care for the poor, the ability of wealth and social status to corrupt our view of people who are different than us, the justice and mercy of God, the idea of the afterlife, and so much more. While Jesus doesn’t talk about heaven and hell, we have certainly interpreted it to mean that over the years.
But what strikes me, in the midst of all the despair we see in the story and all the despair we see in our communities and on the news, is something else. It’s not the idea of justice in the afterlife. It’s the presence and use of names. Of course, we all know the quote from Shakespeare, “What is in a name? Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?” Well yes, there is a point. Names are not as important as the relationships they build. Names are not as important as the relationships they build.
In our culture, we all come into life with a name. But that name is really just a way to differentiate yourself. It works pretty well. I, for example, am the only person I can find named Bryan Thomas Odeen in the world. There are many Bryans (spelled the right way, with a Y). There are a few Odeens around. But I am the only Bryan Thomas Odeen. I have a name. But do you know what? I don’t like the name I claim nearly as much as the names I’m given. The names we are given signify our relationships – instead of separating us, the names we are given unite us. I don’t like Bryan nearly as much as I like being Daddy. Even when the names are weird, the names we are given mean we are in relationship. For instance, I didn’t really think I was accepted in my high school until I had a nickname. The nickname was unfortunate in the fact that it was my first and last initial, B.O., but I trusted the people who used it and it became part of who I was.
Back to the gospel, we notice something. The rich man doesn’t have a name, Lazarus does. While the rich man feasts every day and dresses in the finest clothes and owns a huge mansion and estate, Lazarus has hunger, isolation, sickness, and (most importantly) a name. He has a name and he has a relationship – he has a relationship with Abraham and, as Jesus is telling the story, he has a relationship with Christ. I want to say that I don’t believe Jesus is anti-rich person – the money is not what put the rich man on the other side of the chasm – but that Jesus places himself on the side of the oppressed, the sick, the lonely, the broken, the poor, the marginalized, and the grieving.
In our times, this may be the best news I can offer. That you have a name. That Carol Swearengin has a name. That Terrence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott have a name. That Alex Boelk has a name. They are named and loved. They were built up in relationships with that name and they will be remembered with those names. And you. You have a name. In fact, the name you have been given by God is the same as Carol, Terrence, Keith, and Alex. That name signifies your relationship with Christ. The same Christ who was killed in order to give you that name. The same Christ who rose from the dead to give you that name.
You have been given a name, and that name is “Child”. You have been given a name, and that name is “Beloved.” You have been given names, beautiful names, names like “Forgiven”, “Beautiful”, “Important”, and “Welcomed”. You have a name and you have been named.
And this is an invitation to see how we name others. To use their names, names like Keith and Terrence and Carol and Alex, and to give them names. Names like “Loved”. Names like “Welcomed”. We are called to use their names and use their memories to work for the Kingdom right here and right now. Maybe the biggest tragedy in our gospel for the day is that Lazarus was not named by the rich man until it was too late. Name people today. Name people as children of God, name people as beloved and cared for. Name people as belonging because you, yourself, belong. We name people are sisters and brothers in Christ because you are a sister and brother in Christ.
We are called children of God and so we are called to name others, to tell the good news, to sit with people who mourn, to care for those who are sick, to feed those who are hungry, and to stand for those who cannot stand for themselves. You are given a name – beloved child of God. Amen.