“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.

20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,

21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.

23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.

24 He 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.’

25 But 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.

26 Besides 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.’

27 He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house—

28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’

29 Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’

30 He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

31 He 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.'”

This passage from Luke 16 is tough for folks to read and even tougher for us to hear well. In the case of Albert Schweitzer – when he heard this parable – really heard it – the result was that he left the safety and ease of Germany and went to attend the medical needs of people living in the African plains. Others when they hear it – just assume that they are neither the Rich Man in the story or Lazarus. Because they are neither poor nor rich they just go on assuming that the story is about someone else and just go on with life as if it never happened. I would call that not hearing the story well.

To hear the story is to see where you fit into it and make a decision who we will be from now on. While I have never been in abject poverty like Lazarus, there were times when I needed the generosity and the care of others to have my basic necessities met. I have had to go to a food pantry. I have worn clothing that was donated to me by others. While thankfully that was only for a short period of time, I know what it is like to be helped.

And I also know what it’s like to help others. I have reached out to Lazarus when I have noticed him or her in my life. In many ways, the work that we do at the Council of Churches is an invitation to close the gap that exist between the Rich Man and Lazarus – for the Rich Man to see the needs of his neighbors and to allow compassion and generosity to grow in his heart and respond in loving ways. We empower people to build bridges between folks who care and the Lazarus who needs their help.

This summer we completed our 50th Wheelchair Ramp and our 100th House in flood recovery. While these are Ramps and Houses, I would say that they are bridges. They close the gap between the Rich Man and Lazarus.

We gleaned produce from our grow Broome Boxes and harvested produce from our CHOW Farm. We collected over 500 pounds of produce that was grown, tended and loved by volunteers. When we serve this to the Hungry at Community Food programs around our area, that gap between Lazarus and the Rich Man closes just a little bit more.

When we visit the sick or the imprisoned, when we bring cds of parents reading books that they know their children will hear, when we anoint people with oil and offer them healing words, the gap between Lazarus and the Rich Man closes even more.

But that gap between them is wafer thin anyway – it only appears large and cavernous. While we think that we go through a life of relative ease and safety – every once in a while the illusion of where we are slips away and we know that each one of us is only a hardship away from being Lazarus ourselves. What will we do when we need help and we have closed our hearts to the needs and the hardships of others – stepping over them on the street – avoiding the person who sleeps in his car – thinking that we are immune to life’s downturns and difficulties? What do you do when the unthinkable happens and you find yourself with Lazarus by the door, looking for some healing, some food, a visit, a bridge to be built?

In many ways this last summer I found myself with Lazarus. Sitting helplessly at the bedside of my nephew in an ICU ward waiting to find out if he was going to live or die. Living out of hotel rooms – getting kicked out of one because they were booked and I needed to stay an extra night beyond my father’s funeral to take care of my mother who owns and loves cats, but causes my eyes to swell shut and causes me to have asthma attacks. I know the frustration and the anger of needing a visit, wanting a shoulder to cry on, and feeling the gaping chasm that exists between us. Friends who wanted to help me, but me with the inability to tell them what I needed.

At moments like that I thank God that we are who we are. We exist as the Broome County Council of Churches to help neighbors reach out to other neighbors – to take the risk, to show love, to ask questions, to respond graciously. We lead others to serve even when they don’t know how – and we train them and equip them and move them to respond with compassion and care.

  • Anthony Sciolino author of The Holocaust, The Church, and the Law of Unintended Consequences will be speaking at the Library Lounge of the United Presbyterian Church on Oct. 7 at 7:00. This event is cosponsored by the Broome County Council of Churches and the Jewish Federation.
  • Tuesday, October 15 the Council of Churches and South Central New York Executive Director’s Group will be holding a mayoral candidate meet and greet at the Council of Churches at 8:00. It will include a continental breakfast and coffee. Meet Teri Rennia and Rich David and have an opportunity to question them concerning issues you feel are important.
  • The CHOW Hunger Walk is October 20
  • The Holidays will be upon us the next time we meet the week before Thanksgiving.
  • Trudeau Architects out of Latham, NY has been hired to help us develop a facilities plan that will help us plan for capital expenditures. The facilities committee under Chet Schultz recruited Larry Roma to serve on the committee. Larry is VP of facilities for Binghamton University. He approached the architects who they were working with to develop the campus and they agreed to cut their rate and give us a great deal on helping us to make a facilities plan that better incorporates the needs of our building as it ages. It will also help us to better budget for these expenditures.

In many ways we are working hard to bridge the gap between Lazarus and the Rich Man. Thank you for playing your part in making our community a little more closer.

Joe Sellepack

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