Commemorating and Naming

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Lazarus and the rich man – Luke 16:19-31 – September 28, 2019 – Pastor Goede

Did you know that we have a memorial in our building from Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church? Anybody know what it memorializes? For the last couple of weeks in adult forum, we’ve been talking about what it means to memorialize or commemorate, and one part of memorializing is to remember. Esther Menn and Bruce Tammen and Carolyn Lawrence talked about the long process in Germany and Poland to come to terms with the Holocaust. “Never forget” is a slogan we recognize, but as we can see from the plaque from Gustavus Adolphus in our own church, you can’t remember if you never knew in the first place. Why, you might ask, would we have that Lutheran Church’s plaque hanging in our building? Because Gustavus Adolphus used to be a congregation in Woodlawn, they were our neighbors to the south until they merged with us, about the time this building was built. Almost no one remembers that event from fifty years ago.

We remember there was a Second World War, but no one remembers any of the people named on the plaque in our hallway. No one remembers the people on the signs in the pews in front of us, those who were killed not far from here. They died one hundred years ago, so long ago. In this centennial year, there have been a couple of genealogy groups who have attempted to trace descendants from each victim, to reconnect those long ago people to their current descendants. That’s a very cool project. But it’s impossible for all of us to remember them all, to name them all, to know them all.

Jesus does remember. Jesus does know each of us by name. When we talk about faithfulness, we’re usually talking about ourselves or someone else we know, but God is the one who is truly faithful. I always think the most important part of the story that Jesus tells about Lazarus is that God knows Lazarus by name. This is a very poor man whom no one knows by name. Lazarus is alone, he’s without friends. He’s a homeless guy who is blocking the gate of the rich man, who has to step over him every day. Lazarus is an annoyance, but he never attracts the rich man’s true attention. But Lazarus has God’s attention. As promised over and over again in scripture, God claims him as his own.

We never learn the rich man’s name. He has never called on the name of the Lord. When he finally does, God does not call him by name or offer to claim him. To know God is a relationship for life that carries us into death. That kind of salvation is not just fire insurance that you buy.

In Christian life, we not only call on the name of the Lord, but we bring the name of the Lord to bear on situations of injustice and cruelty, like the non-relationship between the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man finds there really was something to all that talk about God loving the poor and the need to act justly and love your neighbor.

In this installation, we bring the name of Jesus to bear on a situation of great injustice. There’s no way to walk into this space and not realize that the whole installation is located in a church. The artists were interested in a resonant space that’s like a beautiful blank canvas. But as Christians, our interest is in crossing human life with the name of Jesus, and all that’s behind that. Our interest is in shining the light of Christ on a sinful situation, so that everyone knows about it and can do something about it.

“Blood Lines” is all about just one week in the life of our city. But the timeline names out loud what we know, that it didn’t just happen out of the blue. More than four hundred years of history led to that one week, that one summer, and that injustice continues. You’ve probably noticed that a couple of words run throughout the timeline, light lettered, hard to see but words with a lasting impact. We have not always named things in our national history like slavery and colonialism. Many people all along this timeline have put a lot of energy into stopping their fellow citizens from naming these things. We have not named them even though they have followed us into our own century and our own decade.

Part of the work of building justice and peace is naming everything, bringing everything into the open. The basis for the score of “Blood Lines” is a report of the investigation that the city conducted after the riots. That seems like such a small thing, knowing the names of every person who was killed, but in Elaine, Arkansas, the site of the last massacre of the Red Summer, no one even knows for sure how many people were killed, much less their names. What we’ll do on Thursday is commemorate those who were killed. We can trust that God knows their names. We’ll shine a light on what happened to them. We’ll remember them, because now we all know about them. We’ll be able to resolve, never again, because we know how to name our own past.

God knows Lazarus by name. We can trust that God knows us by name, knows our situation down to the last detail. We can trust that God is with us, shining a light of truth and peace in our lives.