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Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 25, 2016

Today we are going to learn something from the Gospel story of the rich man and Lazarus

I'm going to tell you about the mistakes made by the rich man and how you can avoid them.

I pray you leave here today feeling blessed and willing to share those blessings.

To help you understand this story, I'll present three parts that I'm calling The Gulf, The Trap, and The Truth Too Late.

 A. First, The Gulf

1) We all have gulfs in our lives. For example, I have one between my intentions and my behavior. My family room is cluttered and I don't like it. I've tried to fix it. People have tried to help. Someone gave me a bookshelf. That helped because I put some things in place. Unfortunately, I only have two usable seats in my room – the chair I sit in and one end of the sofa. Other seats are either filled with clutter or broken. That means that when someone comes over, I have to scramble to find seats. I have to admit that most of the time, this all looks normal to me. I either don’t notice or don't notice enough to clean it up. I'm comfortable so even though I want an organized comfortable room, I do nothing.

2) There is a huge social gulf between the rich man and Lazarus. The gospel tells us that the rich man was dressed in the purple color and fine linen material of royalty. He feasted sumptuously daily. He probably ate more than he should and had more than he needed. He saw his friends whom he invited to dine at his table. He might have noticed poor, hungry, sick Lazarus but did he really see him? There is a difference between seeing and noticing. Seeing a stark reality may prompt some action, but just noticing produces nothing. The rich man may have walked right by Lazarus but he did nothing. He is comfortable in his own financial-based security but is indifferent to the plight of the poor, even someone so obviously in need as Lazarus. Lazarus longed for the crumbs from the rich man’s table.

B. Now let's talk about "The Trap"

The rich man is trapped by placing his security in riches. The letter to Timothy says that those who want to be rich fall into temptation. They are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. The love of money is the root of much evil and some have walked away from faith because of it. It is pretty evident that the rich man doesn't make faithfulness a regular part of his life. He has ignored the copious advice from the Hebrew Scriptures about taking care of the poor. He either let this knowledge slip away gradually or actively decided he didn't need to do anything because his security was in money. He doesn't want to think about the poor and the oppressed because that would interrupt his feeling of well-being and security, which he wants to retain at all costs. He doesn't think much about the afterlife because he is so used to having money and because he subscribes to the popular notion of the day that people were rich because they had been blessed by God.

It followed that Lazarus was poor because he had done something he shouldn’t or hadn't done something he should. At any rate, he probably believed that whatever happened to Lazarus was what he deserved (Leah D. Schade). Lazarus must have done really bad things because he is so weak and sick that he cannot even beg. Maybe he is naked because the dogs lick his wounds. We know he is hungry because no one has given him anything to eat. Lazarus’ condition is pitiful, even to the most hard-hearted, but the rich man doesn’t help, even though Lazarus is right outside his gates, someone he could easily assist without even having to see him. A slave could bring Lazarus the crumbs from the table. The gulf is wide and the rich man never even thinks about crossing it.

C. Now let's talk about The Truth Too Late

Bob men die. Again we see a great gulf, but the positions are reversed. Lazarus died and angels carried him to Father Abraham. He was important to Father Abraham because he nestled in his bosom right next to him, a sign that he was significant. The rich man is in Hades, the place that the dead go before the final judgment. The Rich Man is tormented by fire. The gulf is wide, but he can look up and see where Lazarus ended up – with Father Abraham. But still the rich man doesn't get it. He who now has no power is still trying to order people around and still doesn't really see Lazarus. He orders Abraham to order Lazarus to bring a drop of water to cool his tongue. But Lazarus can't. It is too late. Though the gulf between the two men could have been crossed by the rich man in life, the boundaries are now absolute and cannot not be crossed. Abraham calls the rich man his child as if he is saddened that this is the case (Helen Montgomery Debevoise) because God wants everyone to be saved.

Next, the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus on another errand: this time to go to his five brothers and warn them. This the first sign of care and concern for someone else that the rich man shows. But Abraham says that they have the law and the prophets and that should be enough. Those caught up in riches and what they can provide will not listen even if Lazarus – or anyone – came back from the dead.

The rich man did not see Lazarus in his lifetime – or anyone else who was needy – and is now in torment because he hadn't been a righteous man. But he has not been an evil man either (Charles B. Cousar). He has just been a self-absorbed man, caught up in things of this world and saying to himself I am well-fixed for life, which is all he concentrates on. Death would be another uncomfortable subject he would not want to remind himself of.

We don’t know anything about Lazarus’ character either. The poor are not automatically good and the rich are not automatically bad (Robert M. McClelland). Lazarus is with Abraham because of what he suffered on earth; he had no pleasures of life and now he has the benefits of a life of happiness and comfort.

3. Conclusion: I'll conclude this morning by asking you are question. Who are you in this parable?

Are you the rich man or Lazarus? It's hard to imagine ourselves being the rich man. Certainly, none of us is as wealthy as he was. We don't feel like Lazarus either. None of us is as abjectly poor as Lazarus. However, most of us probably feel one side or the other - the “haves” and not “have nots”.

Here's the truth that's not too late. We are blessed with many resources. People all around us are without the food, clothing, housing or other essentials. They are at our gates and we see them in the news media all over the world.

Do we set our hopes on financial independence instead of on dependence on God? I know there are areas of my life where that is the case. I confess to sometimes thinking God will help me with certain things but not with other things, even though I have evidence to the contrary to look back on.

I think that if we are anyone in the parable, we are the five brothers who still have the chance to amend our ways and store up for ourselves the treasures of a good foundation for the future. We can still take hold of the life that is really life. We don’t really have to go very far to act. AFAC is only a couple of miles away and people come to this door often to be helped. A little from us will go so far. All Lazarus wanted was the crumbs from the rich man’s table. Even that small gift would have counted for something.

It is our job to open the gates of our hearts and let those who are needy and suffering in. It's our job to bridge the gulf that separates us from the rest of the world. It's is our job to do good, be rich in good works, generous and ready to share. Let's study and apply this letter that Timothy wrote. There is more than enough to go around. Yes, it's sometimes hard to get our minds around the rich abundance that God has provided and will continue to provide for us. Let's all share that abundance. When we share, we get so much back and can live in godliness with contentment.

Even though Abraham said the rich would not change their ways even if someone was raised from the dead, God raised Jesus from the dead to show how much God loves us and wants the best for us – rich and poor alike. What we don’t find in the parable – forgiveness – we are now assured of by Jesus’ resurrection. But that reality is no reason not to share prayerfully and carefully from our treasure – perhaps more than we think we can because God provides.

We are the rich ones. We can open the gates, bridge the huge gulf and help the poor ones. God grant that we may have the faith to do our part to help pull us all together as one family under God.

Amen

     -- Rev. Ann Barker

Works Cited:Leah D. Schade, Feasting on the Gospels, Luke, Theological Perspective (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), p. 108
Helen Montgomery Debevoise, Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 4, Pastoral Perspective (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), p. 118
Charles B. Cousar, Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 4, Exegetical Perspective (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), p. 117
Robert M. McClellan, Feasting on the Gospels, Luke, Pastoral Perspective (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 2014), p. 106