Thursday, October 04, 2007

September 30, 2007, Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 21), Luke.16.19-31

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“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers —so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ” (Luke 16:19-31, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord, and Savior Jesus Christ.

My name is Dives. I was very rich man. I guess you could say I was destined to be rich and everyone knew it. My parents even gave me a name that means ‘rich.’ Dives it means – ‘rich.’ But you probably know me as simply the ‘rich man’ from that story that Jesus told: “The rich man and Lazarus.” Yep, that’s me, ‘the rich man.’ Oh, how I wish that it wasn’t. But, everything is just as Jesus said. Notice the story, how Jesus told it. Lazarus is mentioned by name. I’m simply called ‘a certain rich man.’ You see, Lazarus’ name was written in the book of life, just like yours, but mine is not.

I was rich, living a life of luxury in my home. I had everything I wanted; fine purple linens and great feasts, every day. Oh, what a life it was! I rarely left home, I didn’t have to. I had everything I needed, right there. And besides, someone had laid that beggar at my gate. In order for me to leave I’d have walk by him and be reminded that he was there. Oh, I knew him well enough, I had seen him, and I even knew his name, “Lazarus.” Just to hear it turns my stomach. He was pathetic, lying there with sores all over his body… always asking for food. One of my servants even had the nerve to offer him the table scraps. I was infuriated, “What will my dogs eat! Let Lazarus feed himself.” I just wanted him gone. I asked the house steward to open the gate and let out the dogs. “Maybe,” I thought, “they’d scare him off.” It was the most pathetic thing I’ve ever seen. The dogs didn’t attack him. They just went up to him and licked his sores. Lazarus just lay there… In reality, looking back, those dogs had more compassion for Lazarus than I did.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m a pretty vile human being. To treat poor Lazarus that way… to not care about his pain and hunger… to care more about my dogs than him… and your right, all of that is true. But, don’t forget, you and I are cut from the same fabric. We come from the same source. I think more of myself than anyone else… but let’s face it; it’s the common human condition. When was the last time you saw someone you just wanted to avoid? Someone in dirty cloths? Someone whose skin was a little darker than your own? How did you feel about the person that sat down in the next booth at the restaurant? The person who ruined you meal, the one you could smell the minute they walked in the door? You know yourself, just like I know me. I just had the luxury of displaying my feelings in purple.

I couldn’t wait for Lazarus to die. Well finally, he was put out of my misery. One morning I heard that Lazarus was dead. I didn’t usually need any reasons to party but I held a feast in his honor, or rather a feast in his absence. I didn’t know that I would follow so closely after him. I didn’t know that death would come for me so soon.

Do you know what the name Lazarus means? It means: “The one whom God helps.” How ironic it is that even though I was rich, he was the one favored by God. I was sure that I was the one that God liked best. After all, I was given all those blessings, money, food, and clothing. And so much of it! Remember the story? Remember how Jesus describes Lazarus death. "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side.” What a picture, poor Lazarus carried off to Abraham’s side by the Holy Angels. It’s the kind of thing I expected for me. I was treated so well in life; I should be treated well in death. “The rich man also died and was buried.” Jesus said. That was it. All my life amounted to, was a hole in the earth.

Don’t get me wrong; my problems didn’t come because I was rich. My wealth was indeed a blessing from God. In fact there are many of God’s faithful people who are even wealthier than I was. My problem was that I trusted the gifts rather than the giver. I forgot that I didn’t deserve what I had been given. What I deserved was to be lying there with Lazarus, sores and all. If it weren’t for the promises of God, we’d all belong there with Lazarus. He trusted in the promises of God and I didn’t. He was carried away by the angels to be in fellowship with God. I was sent to torment.

I can’t begin to describe my suffering. When I looked up and saw Lazarus there with Abraham, all I wanted was some small portion of relief. If only I could have a single drop of water… If only Abraham would send Lazarus here with it… Surely Lazarus would have at least that much compassion. Surely he could serve me in that small way. “Father Abraham!” I cried out. “Sorry, my child.” He said. “It’s impossible. You had it good in life. Lazarus didn’t. He was lying on your doorstep; you could have helped him without even going out of your way. But, now it is impossible for him to help you, even if he wished to do so. God has fixed a great chasm between us. No one can cross it. That was all there was to be said. I knew I deserved my torment.

It was then, for the first time ever; I began to think of other people. I had five brothers. They too were as I was; selfish and not trusting in the promises of God. What of them? Was there a way to save them? “Father Abraham!” I called out again. “Send Lazarus to my brothers. They will listen to him. They knew of him, they saw him lying there by my door. If he is a witness they will know.

“They have already been told,” said Abraham. “They have God’s word through Moses and the Prophets, they can listen to that.”

“No,” I insisted. “It will take much more than that. They need someone to come back from the dead. That will be enough of a sign for them. They will then turn from their evil ways.”

“Hardly!” he replied. “If they don’t believe Moses and the prophets, even a resurrection will not be enough. If God’s word isn’t enough for them, nothing will be.”

That is how the story goes. I hadn’t believed God’s word. I thought I was blessed by God already. I hadn’t cared for the people God had placed before me to care for. God laid Lazarus at my doorstep. I simply stepped over him. God had given me brothers. I didn’t care for them until it was too late. My destination without God is this fiery place of torment.

I want you to think again about what Abraham said to me. 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' You see the point of this story isn’t about rich verses poor, or blessings verses curses. It isn’t about what heaven and hell are like. It’s about the word of God. You see what was true for my brothers, as also true for me. I knew that they didn’t believe what Moses and the prophets had to say. I didn’t believe it either. Jesus says that for those who don’t believe, even a resurrection from the dead won’t be enough. No sign is enough. Jesus walked around the country side providing proof after proof, sign after sign, miracle after miracle, but still some refuse to believe. Even when Jesus was raised from the dead, there were people who still didn’t believe in him. Jesus used my story to convict the Pharisees and drive them to repentance. But, they had no faith. Just like me they wouldn’t repent.

As for you, beloved children of God, you are blessed with faith, just like Lazarus. You hear God’s word regularly and believe it. You gather together to celebrate Jesus life, death and resurrection. The very same resurrection he talks about in my story. You have the gift of faith to believe that God sent Jesus to be your Savior, to suffer and die for you; to win for you forgiveness of your sins. Jesus Christ took all of them, even the sins that you do that remind you of me. Even those vile sins Jesus carries to death. On the cross he bears the sins of the whole world; my sins, and your sins; the selfishness, the lies, and the evil thoughts against people who are different; your ignoring those who God has placed right in your way to help. Yes, all those sin go with Jesus into the grave. In with His resurrection they are gone. You see, the resurrection of Jesus Christ isn’t just proof of who he is, it’s proof that what he did, he did for you and for me! Your joy is that your story is already different from mine. I didn’t believe in God’s Word about Jesus. I didn’t believe that my sins were forgiven, or even that they needed to be forgiven. I thought I was God’s favorite. As for you, because of Jesus Christ, because of your faith in what he has done for you, you will be carried off to Abraham’s side, just like Lazarus. Because of Jesus Christ you are blessed with gifts that I can only gaze at across a deep and wide chasm.

At least you can learn from my story. There are people that God lays at your doorstep, right in your way, just like He laid Lazarus at mine. There are people all around you who need the love of God, in Christ Jesus. You know and believe what God has done for you. You believe the word of Moses and the Prophets. You know that Jesus died and rose for them too. God has given you many gifts, talents, money, and time. Use them to reach out to them with his love. For you, God’s love in Jesus Christ means salvation. Share that Good News with those around you. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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