Old Testament Lesson Amos 6:1-7
Second Lesson 1 Timothy 3:1-13
Gospel Lesson Luke 16:18-31
Grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this day is the gospel lesson just read. [Luke 16:19-31]
This story is one that sets our imaginations in motion. The descriptions of the rich man and Lazarus are so vivid, that our minds start picturing them almost immediately. The rich man wearing expensive purple with robes of flowing linen, probably with a long and finely trimmed beard and a wonderful headdress; servants wait on him and bow before him as he motions to them with his ring studded hands. Then there’s Lazarus, clad in nothing more than a loin cloth, his skin blackened with a combination of burns from the intense sunlight and the dirt that’s gotten so easily rubbed into his skin. He lays there in front of the house in a heap. His sore infected body making him hard to even look at.
It’s a startling picture, but one we become accustom to. The Bible is full of these scenes; scenes of poverty, scenes of the poor begging for alms and the rich often taking advantage of them. When you read it over and over, it can become easy to take it all for granted; and we start to think of it as ‘the way things were in those days’.
But could this scene fit into our century, into the 21st century? Could the rich man really be a 21st century man; a man whose global perspective requires him to discount poverty and oppression in order to keep the ‘big picture’; a man who’s politically correct and tolerant of just about everything; a man whose senses are inundated with suffering and poverty and war to the point that he’s begun to think that it’s ‘the way things are in these days’; a man who wishes he could do something to make things better, but gets so wrapped up in himself that he doesn’t do anything for anyone?
In our century, the 21st century, we’re inundated with pictures of poverty and disease, desperation and starvation. We can’t turn on the news without seeing pictures of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; pictures of orphans or soldiers whose lives are changed forever and who have little hope of returning to the lives they left before deployment.
And we’re clawing our way out of the greatest recession since the Great Depression; the numbers of homes up for foreclosure are mindboggling; many people’s savings have dried up as they see their jobs disappear or their hours cut. And at the same time there’re stories of those becoming more and more wealthy at the expense of others; Wells Fargo scheming, epi-pin price gouging, and more. Businesses are closing and others can’t even get started, because the money is being held so tightly; but the rich are still rich, and the poor keep getting poorer.
The story of Lazarus and the rich man could definitely be a 21st century story … and that’s why it’s so important to get the story straight. What is Jesus teaching us here? What are we supposed to see in this teaching? Some see the rich called evil and the poor called good. Some see this as a warning to the rich to get their houses in order and to help the poor; to redistribute the wealth of the rich and to raise the quality of life of the poor. They focus in on verse 25 and ignore the rest. They hear: ‘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 they see poverty saving Lazarus and wealth condemning the rich man.
But poverty or wealth in itself doesn’t condemn. Of course there’s a social message here. Of course we should care for the poor, showing the love of Jesus to them not only through his Words, but in action; but even if the rich man had helped Lazarus, even if he’d given him a job and paid him a salary, even if he’d given him a healthcare plan and social security for a pension, the story wouldn’t have changed.
Even if the rich man had established a benevolence fund and built children’s hospitals and donated millions to the Cancer Research Fund and the Heart Association, and the AIDs Foundation … the story wouldn’t have changed. Our salvation doesn’t depend on anything we do or don’t do, and this isn’t a story about social ministry or the lack of it.
This is a story about faith. Listen again to the words of verses 27-31: 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.’
The difference between Lazarus and the rich man didn’t have to do with who has or has not in the world. It had to do with who heard and believed and who did not. Both Lazarus and the rich man were Jews, sons of the covenant; but although Lazarus had heard and believed God’s holy Word, the rich man hadn’t.
I’m sure the rich man had attended synagogue on a regular basis, maybe even more often than Lazarus; but for the rich man, worship was all show and no substance. He didn’t repent of his sins and he had no faith; no faith in God’s love for him that was so lavishly poured out upon him each and every day; no faith in God’s promise to send a Savior to him, to rescue him from sin, death, and the devil; no faith in God’s promise of everlasting life as his child.
He was a 21st century man; blind to the suffering and poverty around him, wishing he could do something about it, but in the end doing nothing. He had faith in himself, even though the world he lived in was filled with examples of his own failure. He failed to love his neighbor. He failed to use the gifts God had given him to the glory of God. He failed to take the time to help his neighbors in need, because he was too busy taking care of himself. He was definitely a 21st century man.
We’re all 21st century men and women. We all get so busy doing self improvement jobs that we can’t stop for rest. We fail to rest, and failing to rest, we’ve failed to worship, to pray, to repentantly come to God for forgiveness; forgiveness he gives us for the sake of his Son, forgiveness he gives us freely, because he’s already paid the price for our sins through his own precious body and blood.
And so, we’re a lot like that rich man in the story today. We live in the 21st century, but the way we live our lives is timeless. The things we do, or chose not to do are no different than him; no different than our parents, Adam and Eve. But there is one important difference between our lives and the life of the rich man; we believe in Christ Jesus, and for his sake, all our sins are forgiven.
Like Lazarus, we believe despite difficult times filled with poverty, war and worldly disappointments. We believe because God’s Spirit showed us our salvation in his holy Word. He’s shown us Moses and the Prophets. He’s shown us Jesus and his Apostles; and we heard them in his holy Word; and we believe.
The Holy Spirit has called us and enlightened us through his holy Word, and we believe. We believe just as surely as Lazarus believed; and we’ve received the gift of eternal life just as surely as him. Amen.
In Christ’s Service,