19th Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 16: 19-31

Did I say that last week’s Gospel was a doozy? Well this week’s isn’t much easier and I’m so glad that I have to preach on it today. Seriously. The reason I say that is because in preparing for today’s sermon I had to do some reexamining and rethinking of my theology.

If I took today’s reading at face value this is what I’d come away with:
Those who have it good in this life will have it bad in the afterlife and those who have it bad in this life will get their reward in the next. Did anyone else hear it that way today?

OK, well here’s the problem with that—it implies that how we get into heaven depends on our works, on what we do. The Scriptures tell us that we are justified, that is saved, through faith in Christ. It also says that faith without works is dead. There is a balance here and it is a very big deal, as in The Reformation-big-deal.

Last week we came to understand that just because we take God’s word very seriously it doesn’t mean that there isn’t humor, irony, and sarcasm in the text. It’s there to help us along to the meaning of what is being said. In keeping with that I offer to you the fact that parables are not meant to be complete theological systematics nor are they there to answer ultimate questions of faith.  Parables give us glimpses into the values and logic of the Kingdom of God. So let’s see what we can learn about those things.

Let’s start with taking these two things off the table: this is not a parable about how to get into heaven, and it’s not about reversal of fortunes. Notice that it does not say that the rich man is in Hades and Lazarus is in Heaven because the rich man had his reward and now it’s Lazarus’ turn. It also does not say that the rich man is in Hades because he didn’t help Lazarus. He is there because he did not listen to or heed the words of Moses and the prophets. He had a hard heart.

It’s significant that in the parable Lazarus is lying at his gate. It would have been impossible for the rich man to ignore him lying at the entrance and exit of his house, and we see that he did actually know who Lazarus was because in the afterlife he refers to him by name. The rich man in the parable is not given a name, making him more a composite of a wealthy person, an example of ‘every man’ that we can relate to. He was someone that had more than he needed. He saw the need before him and it just didn’t register, so he missed the opportunity to intervene for good.

If he’d listened to Moses and the prophets he would have understood that the poor are to be cared for because there is inherent worth and dignity in every person. But even in the afterlife he doesn’t give Lazarus his due. He dismisses him as a servant and asks Abraham to command him to first give him a drop of water and then to take a message to his brothers.

Abraham tells him that neither is possible because there is a chasm that prevents an invasion of heaven. God’s compassion cannot cross over to him nor can it go and warn his brothers so that they will not face the same fate.

That might seem a little harsh, like God doesn’t give second chances but we all know that that’s not true. God in Jesus is always giving us 2nd, 3rd, and 957th chances to be better and to live more abundantly. Because of the blood of Jesus, heaven has invaded every corner of creation, so what are we to make of this?

Here’s what I’d like to suggest:
The rich man is in Hades because he didn’t pay attention to the need around him and didn’t listen to the Scriptures about the things of true value. He refused to heed the Scriptures and his life reflected that. He could have intervened for good but his heart was hard. Which is also the reason I believe Abraham says there’s no point in warning his brothers, because they wouldn’t have heard it anyway.

Last week we noted that one of Luke’s themes is the proper use of wealth and in these chapters he does talk a lot about wealth and money. He seems intent on clarifying the substance of true riches and examining what we do with our riches, both temporal and eternal and here’s the reason why.

There is a link between money and our spirituality.

As I noted last week, we are heading into a time of stewardship awareness. Most people think that that’s the Church’s buzzword for fund raising but it’s so much more than that. This is about our spirituality, about our hearts. What are they tied to? What are they rooted in? Where do those roots reach? What nourishes them? Are they too busy to see the suffering and intervene for good? Are they drawing from the spiritual well of God’s concern and compassion? Where is our treasure really?

We look at our attitudes around money and wealth because they show us what we may be enslaved to or where we are free to give a drop of water and bring a message of hope. I love the collect for today. It reminds us that God’s power is displayed chiefly through mercy and pity not through the usual suspects.

We pray that we may obtain God’s promises to that we can be partakers of God’s heavenly treasure. We are already recipients of that treasure because we have the love, hope, forgiveness, and grace of Jesus. Which is why we pray to be partakers—participants—in such wealth.
May we be those with the courage to see the suffering,
And those who have the hearts to intervene for good. Amen.