Proper 21: Know the Name
I once took a class on church-planting. The students were asked what our ideal church might look like. Many of us confidently agreed that an Acts 2 church was the ideal. Acts 2:42-47 reads:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved (NRSV).
The ideal church: where everyone practices daily, shares in communion and prayers, grows, and holds everything in common, with joy and sincerity. There is no class. There is no status. Everyone is on equal footing.
This abolition of status began with Jesus, and worked through Paul, who articulated in Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (NRSV).
The only status that seems to matter from here on out is our collective status in Jesus Christ. In Christ there is no competition, no economic need or gap. There is simply one playing field, one status, one class, in Christ Jesus.
The writer of Luke-Acts makes this a major point throughout his narrative. Jesus is the ultimate destroyer of status, and he levels the playing field. When John the Baptist baptizes in the wilderness, Luke declares that John does so as, “A voice crying in the wilderness—Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low” (NRSV).
What happens when you fill in a valley, and you lower a mountain? The ground becomes even. There is no longer a high place. There is no longer a low place. It is level.
As Jesus preaches this radical undoing of status throughout Luke, leveling mountains and filling in valleys, he tells a story of a rich man and a poor man.
The rich man wears the fanciest clothes, feasts every day, enjoying the finest foods, and lives in a nice, gated community. He has it all.
The poor man has nothing. He survives night and day at the rich man’s gate. His name—Lazarus—means “God helps,” but he receives no help. Every day, the rich man walks around Lazarus. Lazarus is sick, covered in sores, and continuously begs for any food, even the crumbs from the rich man’s table, but he receives nothing.
Both men die. Lazarus is carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham, regarded in Judaism as the place of highest bliss. The rich man is buried, and falls to Hades, where during torment, he looks up and sees the poor man, reclining with Abraham.
The rich may cries out for assistance. Abraham declares that there can be no assistance given. During life the rich man received good and comfortable things, while Lazarus received the bad things. Now, Lazarus is in comfort, and the rich man is in torment.
The rich man begs Abraham twice to warn his brothers of this horrible fate. And twice Abraham declares that if they do not listen to the Torah now, they will not be convinced by anything else.
Now, in most societies, the following has historically been true—It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And typically, the WHO you know has been the wealthy, the powerful, the intelligent, the well-to-do. But Jesus turns this notion upside down, illustrating that if you are to know anyone, it should be the poor!
How does Jesus do this? He tells a story that demonstrates the unimportance of the current cultural status symbols dictating who is great and who is not, who is blessed and who is cursed. Riches no longer matter (in fact, they may actually hurt you in the long run).
Jesus also gives us a practical step concerning how to begin our status-less journey. He does so very simply in that only one of the two main characters—the rich man and the poor man—is actually named. We know the poor man’s name: Lazarus.
Why is that important?
The leveling of status begins with knowing the name. Think about it. When you know someone’s name, you begin a relationship. There is an attachment that happens. There is a responsibility that occurs (that’s why pet adoption agencies give you the name of the puppy you’re holding—once you know the name, there is a responsibility attached and you may be taking that dog home.)
At Yad Vashem—the Israeli Holocaust Museum and Memorial, there is a separate memorial to the children who were killed in the holocaust. The memorial is simple. The room is filled with darkness and lights that look like stars on a clear night. And every few seconds, a voice comes through hidden speakers for a few seconds and then disappears, and then reappears and disappears again. Over and over, every few seconds. All the voice says are the names of the children killed in the holocaust. One at a time. Again and again.
There is power in a name.
When you know the name, the 6 million+ killed in the holocaust becomes tangible.
When you know the name, you have a responsibility.
When you know the name, there is no status, just humanity.
And in Luke, Jesus tells a story, and beckons us, “Know the name.”
Know the name of the person next to you.
Know the name of the person you pass on the street.
Know the name of the person who asks you for food, or money.
Know the name of the person who waits on your table.
Know the names of those that serve you.
Know the names of these children that left here today, to go make a mess.
Know the names of their families.
You want to be an ideal church? You want to undo status, level the playing field, fill in the valleys and bring low the mountains?
Begin by knowing the name.
The Rev. Andrew Chappell has been in ministry since 2008 and currently serves as the Associate Pastor of Northbrook United Methodist Church in Roswell, Georgia. Andrew has degrees in Religious Studies and Telecommunications from the University of Georgia, and an M.Div. from Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Andrew loves listening to records, watching Seinfeld, and beignets from Roux on Canton.