Do you believe that God treats everyone equally? Does God create us to be equal, the same? I’m quite sure, our God does not. Look at the emerging California homeless crisis. I heard, homeless population in Los Angeles is reaching sixty thousand this year, mainly because of skyrocketing rent and lack of affordable housings. In Los Angeles, in this city of stars, the city famous for its rich towns and gated communities, this crisis is happening. How about New York City? Annual American Community Survey shows, among the 30 most populous US cities, New York tops in the inequality between the superrich and the extreme poor. And we don’t have to go too far. Look at the children in our church, Amelia, Avery, Jayden, Benjamin, Noah…and think about the children in refugee camps, detention centers, children’s hospitals, and orphanages. Do you still believe that our God is equal to everyone? Well, it’s hard to believe that.
Since the beginning of the world, although in varying degrees, social inequality and economic discrepancy have been unchanging reality of the world. There have been always people like the rich man and people like Lazarus in today’s Gospel story. Yes, Jesus somehow reveals us this unquestionable reality of the world in his story. And what’s more interesting is that he shows us, there’s inequality even in the afterlife between the saved and the condemned.
Let’s look into the story. It goes like a play with three acts. The first act: The Gate. The rich man lives inside the gate of his house, dresses himself in purple and fine linen, and feasts sumptuously every day. In contrast, poor Lazarus lives outside the gate. His famished body is nothing but skin and bones and covered with sores. He fills his hunger with what falls from the rich man’s table. The second act: The Chasm. This act portrays the reversal of their situation in the afterlife. Between the chasm, Lazarus is happily on the saved side with Abraham and the rich man is on the condemned side in flames of agony. The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus and give him a drop of water but it’s impossible because of the chasm that no one can cross over. Now, the third act: The Rich Man’s Request. The rich man requests Abraham to send a warning to those still living so that they can avoid torment. But the request is denied.
So here, what’s the point? What is Jesus trying to teach us? At least, we get this: equality is not his main concern. In this world and after, everyone doesn’t get the same things anyway—same wealth or same redemption. There’s always unavoidable disparity. There’s the gate of inequality in reality. There’s the chasm of judgment in the afterlife. So what? Does Jesus ask us to turn the world upside down and build the revolutionary world of complete equality? Then, does Jesus ask us to support some kind of communist or socialist ideals? I don’t think so. But from the story, I believe, there’s one thing that Jesus wants us to learn as clearly as possible. That is, God, whom we believe and the Bible testifies, may not be the God of equality, but this God surely is the God of Justice.
Yes, God is just. Therefore, to God’s just eyes, to be rich is not an issue, but it is evil to be careless of other people’ needs and to be indifferent to their suffering and pain. To God’s just eyes, the rich man doesn’t have to be equal to Lazarus. He doesn’t have to eat and sleep next to Lazarus outside the gate of his house. However, it is sinful not to open the gate to Lazarus, not to invite him over to his table, not to share a little bit of his wealth with him. Then, what about us? To God’s just eyes, how would we look like? How would our church look like? And what about our society? To God’s just eyes, wouldn’t it be wrong if our social system hardly opens the gate of privileges and wealth to the disenfranchised? To God’s just eyes, wouldn’t it be wicked if our economic system widens the chasm between the rich and the poor and makes the rich richer and the poor poorer?
The Hebrew Bible tells us, our God of justice has a dream for a just world—the world of jubilee. To make this dream a reality, God gives God’s people the commandment of the year of jubilee, the every seventh year when debts are canceled and slaves are freed. And God asks them to make their land a place where the powerful lift up the week, where the rich share things with the poor. God says, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land’” (Deut. 15:11).
The New Testament tells us, our God of justice still has a dream for a just world—the world of liberation, the world free from sin and death. To make this dream a reality, God sent the Son Jesus Christ. And Jesus reveals us, God’s justifying grace is greater than our sins; God’s steadfast love is more powerful than death. And finally, with his cross of sacrifice, Jesus built a bridge over the chasm of judgment, and with his power of resurrection, Jesus opened the gate of salvation for all who believe in him.
And today, our God of justice calls us to dream God’s dream together, calls us to join God’s mission to make this dream for a just world come true. God calls us to open our doors so that we may someday tear down the gate of inequality in our society. And God calls us to share with others the good news of Jesus Christ, the good news of justification and freedom, so that all of them may also find the new life across the bridge over the chasm of judgement.
Last Sunday, because of the Rally Day outdoor event, the church door was wide open until the afternoon. And I met two different persons in need who just walked inside the church and found me. I heard their stories of struggles and prayed for them. And because there were no Shop Rites gift cards left at the moment, I had to ask them to come and see me again on Tuesday. One of them came back and took bags of food and gift cards. Anyway, as I sent both of them from the church last Sunday, I realized, by just opening the door, our church had opportunities to serve them, to share something with them. That something may not be significant materially and spiritually. But that service, that sharing, is the reason why we are here… here to make this world a little bit closer to a just world, the world that God dreams of.
The Bible tells us clearly. Our God is the God of Justice, and this God commands us to act justly against social evils like poverty. So let us keep our doors open and share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. Let us participate in the missions of our church, missions of United Methodist Women, Souper Saturday, Irvington Feeding, Thanksgiving Feeding, food drive, cookie drive. And let us join the work of inviting people to our worship service, Bible study, small groups, and to the table of fellowship. Again, faithful friends in Jesus Christ, let us keep our doors open and share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. This is the reason why we are here. Let us make this world more just together. Let us dream God’s dream together… the dream for the world of jubilee and liberation, the dream for the kingdom of God where justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amen.