We’ve been studying the Gospel of Luke for the past several weeks, and a number of the scripture texts have been Jesus talking about money: How to use it, how not to use it, what it can lead us into…
Now I want to make one thing very clear: I’m not against money! I have enjoyed my paycheck very much for the past 45 years, and I am greatly looking forward to my pension in February! Life is much easier when we have enough to pay the mortgage, the car payments, utilities and groceries. I think everyone should have that pleasure, whether it means raising the minimum wage or some other creative way of helping people find a basic and sustainable level of income. Poverty is no blessing, and money can be very helpful!
Do I hear an Amen? Amen!
But then there’s this other side of money… when we have too much for our own good. Too much for the good of our souls. And that’s what Jesus teaches about a lot. Especially in Luke.
The Gospel of Luke starts out with Jesus’ mother praising God, saying, “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:52-53).
Then we go on to John the Baptist in chapter 3, where he’s preaching, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance!… Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none, and whoever has food must do the same.” (Luke 3:8, 11).
Then, in Luke 4, Jesus goes to the synagogue to preach His first sermon, and what out of his mouth is: “God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18)
He goes on preaching, healing and teaching:
- the parable of the Good Samaritan, where a man gives all the money he has on him to treat the wounds of a stranger (Luke 10:25-37;
- the parable of the rich fool, who is already wealthy, but wants to build bigger barns so he can accumulate more- and he dies that very night (Luke 12:13-21)
- the parable of the great dinner, where a rich man’s friends all brush off the banquet he’s hosting,
so instead he invites the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame in (Luke 14:15-24).
And then we come to today’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). An unnamed rich man dies and goes into the torment of Hades where he is writhing in unquenchable flames. He looks up to heaven, and there he sees Father Abraham, who is cradling at his breast someone who looks vaguely familiar… Lazarus- isn’t it? The filthy beggar who used to lay in front of his door? Lazarus was so sick and hungry he couldn’t move. He longed for crumbs from the rich man’s table- but the rich man never gave him anything. He’d had to step over Lazarus to get into his own house; it was disgusting.
Lazarus had open wounds that the dogs would lick, and had neither will nor energy to push them away. And he died a miserable, painful death, and his body was pushed to the side to be eaten by scavengers. But now, here Lazarus is reclining, clean, healed and fed, in the arms of Abraham- which is another way of saying, in heaven.
But this rich man is in hell; nevertheless he still acts as if he were the privileged one, the one who deserves special treatment. “Father Abraham,” the rich man says, “send Lazarus to get me some water to cool my tongue.” Treating Lazarus as if he were a servant, and not the blessed of God.
Abraham replies, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus got nothing but hunger, homelessness and sickness. But now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.”
You had your chance, rich man, but you never took it. You could have given him the crumbs off your table and kept him from starvation. Or –radical thought- you could have invited him to eat at the richness of your table. Bathe him, tend his wounds, let him sleep in a real bed. (Gee- this is starting to sound like the Parable of the Good Samaritan, isn’t it?) You could have shown Lazarus kindness and mercy, and treated him like a human being.
But you never noticed Lazarus’s hunger, his thirst, his wounds, his humanity. And so now you are written out of the book of life. You had your chance, but you chose not to use it.
“Then,” the rich man cried out, “Father Abraham, I beg you to send Lazarus to my father’s house, because I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.”
See, this rich man is not totally without heart. He cares for those who are like him, who are part of his tribe, who are his immediately family. But never for those who are not in his family, his circle of friends, or those who might be useful to him.
And so as the rich man had no mercy, Abraham shows no mercy on him. “Your brothers have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” But the rich man replies, “No, Father Abraham! But if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” And Abraham replies, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:27-31)
Throughout scripture, God hammers the message into us: Care for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger in your midst. In 65 of the 66 books of the Bible, (not including the Song of Solomon, which is a love story that never even mentions God), the demand is written: Care for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger in your midst. Feed the hungry. Shelter the homeless. Give drink to the thirsty. Over and over and over again.
What will it take for us to act? Does it take a miracle for us to repent of our self-centeredness? Will it take someone rising from the dead??? Oops. Someone already did.
And still we live in a society where the wealthiest 1% own half of the entire world’s wealth: some $140 trillion, and still growing. Who can use all that money? What’s the point of that kind of wealth? And with such gross income inequality, can we wonder if there will not be a judgement made?
But it’s not just the top 1% who are under scrutiny. I am. You are. Do we see the humiliating need of those farther from our circle of friends? Not just our family, or our friends, or our fellow church members- but people we don’t notice… maybe because we really don’t want to notice them?
One question we pastors are taught to ask is, “Who is this text written for? Who is supposed to hear this?”
Jesus teaches about heaven-bound Lazarus, and then now-tormented rich man. Both of these men are on either side of the great chasm. Neither one is coming back from the dead. So who is this scripture written for? It’s written for the people who are hearing this story. It’s written for the five brothers who still have time to repent. It’s written for you and me, who still have a chance to live the life God has told us to live.
And the question we must ask ourselves is, “Is God serious about this? Does the Gospel really even matter?”
Because if God really does mean what God has said throughout human history, and if the Gospel really does matter in how we live our lives, then it’s time to repent.
This is a sticky wicket! One pastor I read wrote, “I’ve struggled so often with this text. Is it really as simple as money = evil, or money = eternal damnation? I know it sounds simplistic to ask such a question, but I think the people in the pews ask it. Is all of middle class America at risk of damnation because we have so much more than many people in the world? How do we know how much to share? I think people really struggle with these questions, and I know I do.”
And so do I. When it comes time for me to divvy up my tithe… am I driven by a desire for my own security, or by a desire to work with God for the redemption of the world? It’s a stewardship question: How much is enough to share? How much wealth is it okay to have?
Tom Stelling was telling me last week that the reasons the Guatemalan refugees are flooding our borders is that they’ve had series of a crop- destroying drought, and they are literally starving to death. They have no choice but to flee. And we pick them up and send them back to their deaths.
Others flee because of death threats against their families. They have no choice but to flee. And we pick them up and send them back to their deaths.
And why? Because we want to keep our very comfortable way of life. How much security, how much wealth is it okay to have, when people at our borders are starving? How much is enough to share?
Wandering out of the Gospel of Luke in to the Gospel of Matthew, we hear the disciples asking Jesus, “‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty, or a stranger or naked, or sick or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then the Son of Man will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me. And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)
Maybe asking, “How much is enough to give” is the wrong question. Maybe the right question is, “Do I believe Jesus enough to follow Him? Does the Gospel really matter to me?” And when we ask this question, everything in our lives comes into question.
Are all of us- the rich, the poor, the middle class; the stricken refugee and the comfortable suburbanite- are all of us living the life God desires for us?
And if not, if we really believe that the Gospel matters, what does that mean for us. Not just for the far away 1% who will face their own judgment, but for you and me. Because we’re the five brothers Jesus was talking about. Will it take a miracle for us to repent? Will it take someone rising from the dead? But you know this: Someone already has. Now the ball is in our court.
In the Name of the One who loves us so much that He will never let us go; even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
SCRIPTURE FOR SEPT. 29, 2019 LUKE 16:19-31
Jesus taught: “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen, and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, the rich man looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. The rich man 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.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus received evil things. But now he is comforted here with me, and you are in agony. 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.’ The rich man replied, ‘Then father, I beg you to send Lazarus to my father’s house. I have five brothers; he can warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ The rich man said, ‘No, Father Abraham; but if someone comes from the dead to tell them, they will repent.’ Abraham said to the man, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.