Sermon for 26th September 2010. The Revd. J. Michael Povey at St. David’s Episcopal Church, Englewood, FL
Luke 16:19-31 19“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He 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.’ 25But 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. 26Besides 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.’ 27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He 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.’”
Abraham: the biblical Abraham. He who was the father of many nations. He who is the spiritual ancestor of Jews, Christians and Muslims. That Abraham had a servant whose name was Eliezer. (Genesis 15:2)
“There are some tales from the old Rabbis which feature Eliezer walking in disguise on earth, and reporting back to Abraham on how his children are observing the Torah’s prescriptions regarding the treatment of the widow, the orphan and the poor.
In Greek, the name Lazorus has the same root consonant as the Hebrew name Eliezer” (Alyce McKenzie from the website “Faith Forward”)
The parable is rooted in those rabbinical stories. It is NOT a story about heaven and hell. It is not a story to be interpreted literally. But it has its telling moments.
*The poor man is named, the rich man is nameless.
*The poor man is carried away by angels to be with Abraham, the rich man is simply buried.
*The rich man is imperious even in Hades. He gives instructions viz“send Lazarus to me”, “send Lazarus to my brothers”.
There is a great chasm between Abraham’s bosom and Hades. The chasm is this. It's about woulds and coulds.
The rich man in his lifetime would not provide even a modicum of comfort for the poor man.
Now that the rich man is dead Lazarus could not provide him with a modicum of comfort for him, because even in his torment he shows no sign of remorse or repentance that his lavish lifestyle had been on the backs of the poor.
The story is Jesus’ version of the old rabbinical tale. In Jesus’ story, Eliezer is disguised as the poor beggar, and given the name Lazarus. In effect he reports back to Abraham about the conduct of the very rich man.
Jesus teaches a great deal about wealth and money.
1. There is the story of the farmer whose land brought forth plentifully. That farmer decided to build bigger barns to store his excess crops and thereby conserve his wealth. In the story it does not say that the farmer worked harder to get a richer crop. It simply says that his land brought forth plentifully. His wealth was a sheer gift. Jesus condemns the farmer. The implication is that he should have shared thus gift of better crops with the poor, and not hoarded it for himself.
2. Last week we heard the story of the debt collector who was wasting his master’s goods, and is about to be fired. When he is called to account he thinks quickly.
He summoned his master’s debtors one by one (a smart move since he was going to deal with each one differently), and reduces their debts.
He wasn’t cheating his master for as a debt collector he had the right to inflate the amount owed - that’s how he earned his keep.
So in reducing the bills, he is simply wiping out what would have been his own cut. It’s a smart move, for now he has made friends who will be good to him when he is cast out of his job.
Jesus comments on this tale, but his comments are strange. “Make friends” he says “with dishonest wealth”.
Wealth is dishonest for it teaches us that our happiness and security is rooted in our money and possessions. But we know, as the people of Jesus’ day knew, that all we own and have can be wiped out overnight.
(Where then will be our security and happiness?)
To “make friends” with this dishonest wealth is simply this: it is to share our wealth in such a way that it leads to lasting and faithful relationships with other people, especially with the poor.
If only the rich man had used his wealth to create a friendship with Lazarus!
Here I make a confession. I spend a lot of time worrying about money.
I have enough, but I’d like to have more.
I fantasize about how generous I would be were I to inherit a great sum (but I’d keep most of it for myself!).
I envy those who are more prosperous than I.
I resent it when my homeless friends at Resurrection House panhandle me for a buck or two.
I sometimes awake during the night, and worry that our entire economic system could collapse. And the list goes on.
The sad fact is this: I spend more time worrying about money than I spend in caring for my soul.
That’s why money is dishonest and deceitful.
It asserts that it is more important than prayer,
than building character,
than enjoying sound friendships,
than creating beauty,
than practising forgiveness.
Money tells us that it is more important than feeding the hungry or clothing the naked. It lies!
I suspect that most of us believe that because Jesus lived, died and rose again for us, and that we have confessed him as Lord, we are bound for heaven. We are being saved by grace, through faith.
But many of us have forgotten that we also face the judgment of God. This is not judgment in the sense of “you are in and you are out".
It is judgment in the sense of a critique, or evaluation of our lives.
The loving God will call us to account for the stewardship of all the gifts we have been give.
The loving God will call us to account for the ways in which we have cared for the poor.
In the face of this coming judgment we are called to put ourselves into today’s parable.
The hellish possibility is that we are the rich man who feasted sumptuously, but ignored the poor man at our gates.