Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Rich Man and Lazarus Sermon

Luke 16: 19-31

5th Sabbatical Sunday

September 30, 2007

The Rich Man and Lazarus

The sermon police have issued me a citation. They noticed that at the end of last week’s scripture there was a pretty major point that I did not address in my sermon. The line was, “You cannot serve God and money.” I bet some of you noticed that as well- “Why didn’t she talk about that? That’s a pretty bold statement by Jesus.” Well, I cheated a little bit because I knew what was coming this week. In a great portion of the Gospel Jesus is talking about money. Issues of wealth and poverty and what to do about it all are a comfortable topic for Jesus- he never shies away from a stewardship sermon.

I think if we are listening to Jesus and all the disparaging things he has to say about wealth, we might get the impression that having money is wrong. This is a mistaken impression; Jesus doesn’t love the poor because of the amount of money in their pockets. He also doesn’t condemn the rich because of the amount of money in their pockets. Jesus wants us to understand that our behavior regarding money is important. He tells us not to serve money as a master. The Bible tells us that it is the love of money, not money itself that is the root of all evil.

Perhaps no where is the disparity between the rich and poor so noticeable and the call to action so evident as in our story this morning of the rich man and Lazarus. Even the name of the parable of tells us volumes. The rich man is not named- all we know of him is the status of his wealth. The poor man Jesus calls by name, Lazarus. We know Lazarus, Lazarus sounds familiar. We are not sure if it is the same Lazarus that Jesus brings back from the dead in the Gospel of John- we aren’t given enough detail. But the fact is, this poor man has a name, he is not a nameless nobody, he is Lazarus.

Lazarus is poor, we know that because he begs outside the rich man’s gate. He is pathetic, we know that because Jesus gives us the detail that the dogs would come by and lick his sores. Disgusting and desperate: Lazarus is already living in his time of torment. He does not even receive crumbs from the rich man’s table like the dogs do. The rich man feasts with his friends in peace- until the ultimate reversal of fortunate. Both men die and Lazarus is sent immediately to his consolation, in the bosom of Abraham. The rich man is sent to a place of torment- he is now the one who deserves our pity. We find out that just as he offered no comfort to Lazarus in life, the rich man will be given no comfort in death. To add a slap in the face, we find that he knew who Lazarus was all along- he calls to him by name now that he is in need. But Abraham insists that Lazarus will not be able to reach the rich man, and he will not be sent to warn his brothers either- they can read Moses and the prophets, just as he had a chance to.

If you don’t already know this about me this morning then I want to clue you in that I absolutely love words. I’m kind of a nerd- reading and writing are two of my favorite things in this world to do. I don’t read quickly either- I savor each word as I read because I know how carefully they were put together by the author. As I studied the parable of the rich man and Lazarus this week, three words bowled me over with their power. I think I can tell the important lessons of this parable by studying just three words; sumptuously, chasm, and mercy. The three magic words this morning are: sumptuously, chasm and mercy.

Sumptuously: The first word that jumped out of this story at me was sumptuously. This word describes how the rich man was feasting with his friends. He was dressed in purple and fine linen- and he feasted sumptuously each day. I’ve had some sumptuous food before- and some of it you all have cooked. For me, a whipped sweet potato with brown sugar and pecans on top is a sumptuous food. Another translation says that he was living in luxury. It is clear that there was abundance at the rich man’s table, because scraps fell from it and went to the dogs. This man did not have to want for anything in life. The rich man was comfortable. While we may not dress in the finest clothing all the time, and there are certain things we’d like to have in our homes (like a flat screen TV maybe?), I would venture to say that a great majority of us in this sanctuary this morning are like the rich man. We are comfortable. We don’t have to worry about where our next meal is coming from. We could easily call some friends to come over and throw a nice little get-together.

Jesus addresses this particular parable to the Pharisees. They were the keepers of religious tradition, and the managers of the congregation’s resources. They were comfortable, they had enough- they would have been considered very rich men next to a man like Lazarus.

Again let me state clearly, it is not a sin to be rich. But I think Jesus is suggesting that it is sinful to have money and not to use it to alleviate the suffering of others. To literally walk over someone in need to get to the gate of your home and not to have compassion- that is the sin of the rich man. Great theologian John Wesley said it this way, “And it is no more sinful to be rich than to be poor. But it is dangerous beyond expression.” Wesley’s quote here speaks to the power and responsibility that comes with wealth. Jesus makes it clear that whatever resources we have (even if it is two coins like the old widow woman) we must be willing to care for the poor whom God so dearly loves.

Chasm: The next word that tells the story of this parable is chasm. What an amazing word- when you say it, it almost sounds like a great space too broad to cross. It’s a distance like the Grand Canyon, or the expansive moat surrounding a castle. A chasm is a great distance. For the rich man, it describes the distance between he and Lazarus in death. While the rich man is tormented, he sees Lazarus comfortably resting by Abraham’s side. When he longs for comfort, Abraham reminds him that, “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.” We as the readers cannot know what that chasm would look like- but I picture a very dark void of space, that no light can permeate.

Of course you know that in life there was also a chasm between Lazarus and the rich man. It was the chasm of social class, that makes those of us who are comfortable so distant from those who are in need. The poor are so distant from us that when they are in our midst we notice, and we still feel separate. There is a chasm between “us” and “them”- a chasm that might include the language we use, the way we dress, even the way we smell. This is a chasm that many of us will never even make an effort to cross. It is easier for us to label them as strange, or scary, or lazy, or just too different than us.

The chasm between the comfortable and the poor is a deep one- maybe wider than the Grand Canyon. And yet if we are following the call of Jesus we must find a way to bridge the chasm. We must read the writings of Moses, and the prophets, including Jesus and realize that God has a special place for the poor and the powerless. If we do not act with compassion, then there is a special place for us too, a time when we will come to be tormented by images of how uncompassionate we were.

There are many chasms that separate us from the love of God. There is the chasm of time that can separate us from God. This week I had an opportunity to be on retreat with the Bethany Fellows, a group of other young pastors. As part of our week we took 36 hours of silence to be intentionally with God in prayer. One of our mentors said, “You have to carve out a space in your heart for God to dwell.” Silence is one of the ways we can carve out that space. I ask you to think about what chasm it is that is separating you from God this morning, and then work to overcome the deep space.

Mercy: The final word, the most important word in this parable is mercy. Mercy is what the rich man could have shown to Lazarus in life. Mercy is what Jesus showed for the poor and the outcast throughout his life. Mercy is what happened to poor, old Lazarus, as soon as he died and was brought to Abraham’s bosom to dwell. Mercy is what God gives freely to all of us, and mercy is also part of what is required of us by God. Remember Micah 6:8, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to show mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Mercy is the name of the game for God’s people.

One of my favorite books of all time is called. The Secret Life of Bees. The main character is a young girl who has been through many hardships including the death of her mother and the harshness of her own father. She and her nanny get in some trouble and escape their home to travel to Tiburon, South Carolina- on a pilgrimage to a place she feels is connected to her mother. Three sisters take them in and Lily begins to feel at home. She uses a boxing analogy to talk about mercy. She says something like, “every once in a while, the bell rings, and you go to your corner, and the universe dabs a little mercy on your beat-up life.” A little mercy on our beat-up lives, that’s all that most of us are looking for from God. A little mercy was all that Lazarus was looking for from the rich man.

The good news is that God’s mercy is abundant. While it appeared to be too late for the rich man, it is not too late for us to change our approach to dealing with the poor, those whom God so dearly loves. It is not too late for us to receive God’s mercy, or for us to show God’s mercy to others. I hope that God would strengthen all of us to go out and dab some mercy on someone else’s beat-up life. May mercy be a way of life for us, as we receive mercy from God Almighty.

Amen and amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the sermon Sunny! It helped me! - Dawn Weaks