Lectionary 26C
Sunday, September 29, 2019
Texts: Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 146; Luke 16:19-31

Watch Here (Minute 25:40)

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

If last week’s parable of the dishonest manager left us scratching our heads, then today’s gospel reading is like a punch in the gut.

It’s a punch in the gut based on who we identify with in this story. Do we identify with Lazarus … the starving man lying at the gate, covered in sores the dogs are licking, longing to eat even just the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table?

Or, do we identify with the rich man … clean clothes to wear, enough food to eat, stepping over or around the annoying Lazarus’s at our doorsteps, and in our way, as we go about our business?

This gospel punches in the gut, because if we’re honest, I suspect the great majority of us would relate to the rich man, and this story is harsh and final in its judgment against the rich man.

In death, the rich man experienced the judgement of the Prophet Amos, we heard in our First Reading this morning … those who are at ease … who lie on beds of ivory and lounge on couches … who sing idle songs and drink wine … … BUT who are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph shall be the first to go into exile.

Scholars points out, this reversal is an example of Jesus’s teaching in Luke 6, Luke’s telling of the Beatitudes … Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation …Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry …Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep …

 But even as the rich man is brought low, Lazarus is brought up! In death, Lazarus experienced the reward promised in Psalm 146, the psalm we sung this morning. It is the Lord … who gives justice the oppressed … lifts up those bowed down … feeds the hungry, cares for the stranger, and sustains the orphan and widow

Scholars point out, this reversal is also an example of Jesus’s teaching in Luke 6, Luke’s telling of the Beatitudes … blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God … blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled … blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

But the most disturbing aspect of this text, isn’t so much the initial judgment, but the totality and finality of the judgement. Especially for those of us who find our hope in the mercy and compassion of Christ.  In his telling of this story, Jesus offers no mercy for the rich man.

“Abraham have mercy on me,” the rich man begged from the fires of Hades. “Send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” And yet, in this story there is no mercy.

According to Jesus, Abraham replied, remember how Lazarus called out to you from his agony? Remember how Lazarus called out to you for help from the agony of starvation … from the agony of illness …  from the agony of rejection?  And remember how you did nothing, absolutely nothing, to help him then? He will do nothing to help you now! The chasm is fixed. It is too late.

And then, when it finally seemed as if a crack was emerging in the rich man’s selfish nature, when he begged on behalf of his five brothers, that they be warned so that at least they would avoid his fate, there was no mercy even for his brothers.  “Your brothers have Moses and the prophets,” Abraham responded, “They should listen to them.”

So, what do we do with this story?

This story that seems contrary to our understanding of a savior who we preach and teach forgives sin and welcomes sinners home with unconditional grace and love. What is its message for us, rich men and women that we are?

First, this story is NOT one that teaches us what we must do to get to heaven.  While it might seem like that, especially given the focus on what the rich man DID not do, the story does not tell us about Lazarus did do to get to heaven. There is no mention of anything Lazarus doing anything, to earn his place in Abraham’s bosom.

Instead of this story focusing us up to heaven, I think this story directs our focus outward, and perhaps downward, to our neigbors in need around us.

This story is a teaching on God’s unequivocal judgment against the rich man for having NO human relationship whatsoever with Lazarus. The rich man didn’t see Lazarus as a human, he saw him as an object, an object to be avoided in life, and an object that could serve him in death. Send Lazarus to help me, he ordered from the fires of Hades, send Lazarus to my brothers, he audaciously commanded. Even in death, he could recognize no dignity, no worth, no humanity in Lazarus.

This story works on us as Law exposes just how often we fail to live in relationship with those around us.  Exposing the truth that we are rich men and women who fail to remember those in need.

This week Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg captured the world stage as she gave voice to those crying out from the future who will experience the full effects of a warming, changing world.  She said: “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.  We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.”

Her point, was that our communal policies and practices do not reflect a relationship with future generations. Instead, our policies reflect that of the rich man, failing to live in relationship with those who come after us, concerned only about our own comforts and conveniences.

As we receive this story, it begs the question: who are you called to live in relationship with today?  Who have you avoided in your life?  As this text words as Law in your life – who are you summoned into relationship with?

There is Good News today. 

There is hope, and promise, and a liberating word.

Life … life that really is life, is not found in living for self, it is NOT found in accumulating self-serving wealth, possessions, and comfort, those things lead to death. Life that really is life, life proclaimed by the prophets, life proclaimed in the death and resurrection of Christ, is live lived in community focused on relationships.

Scholars remind us that the same author, or same community of believers,wrote the Gospel of Luke most likely also wrote the Book of Acts. Today’s teaching of judgment against failing to live in relationship, of a bad example, is also set alongside vision for relationship, a vision of God’s will.  That vision is found in Acts:

  • Acts 2:44-45 …“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”
  • Acts 4:32 & 24 … “No one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common … and there was not a needy person among them.”

These were communities of sharing where the needy were remembered, in fact, because of sharing, there was no needy among them. These were communities alive in worshiping God and serving one another, Spirit-filled, Christ-centered, dynamic communities. These were attractive communities, people wanted to be part of them, they wanted to be there.  “Day-by-day,” records Acts 2:47, “the Lord added to their number.”

The Good News, is that in Jesus Christ stands at the center of community drawing all people together. The Gospel, is that Jesus knows Lazarus, Jesus knows those among us abandoned/ignored/oppressed, Jesus knows all who rejected and cut off by others.  And here in water, word, bread and cup, Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, draws all people together into one community!

There is no way around it, in today’s parable, God’s word speaks a harsh, powerful and total word of judgment against complacency, ignorance, and attitudes that destroy relationships. But, God speaks this word of judgment because God loves all the Lazarus’s of the world … and it is on their behalf, that God calls us, rich men and women we are, into relationship with others.

And so friends, may this story of judgment drive us to Christ. Driven to Christ who raises up the lowly, who feeds the hungry, cares of the stranger, and sustains the orphan and widow, may we rise as CHURCH today.  May we live in powerful new relationships with those crying out to us from our doorsteps.

Indeed may it be so.