Saturday, September 24, 2016

Luke 16: 19-31

(Originally preached in 2007)
I have to be completely honest with you all this morning. This scripture has been eating me alive all week long. Seriously! I could not figure out what to say about it, what God wanted to be heard. In fact I almost gave up and sought out another scripture. This passage from Luke just seemed so hard. And to a congregation that has been through so much it didn’t seem to fit. But, I read the scripture and my notes again and realized there was a message for all of us after all. I just didn’t see it at first.
This parable is about an unnamed rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. It follows Jesus’ many teachings in Luke to the Pharisees, the elite of his day. Jesus tells of a rich man who lives a good life, with good things. The Pharisees would have identified with this man, after all the common held belief was if you were rich it was because of God’s favor or blessings. Outside of his gate, Jesus says, lived a poor man, ill, hungry, and in need, with only the neighborhood dogs for company. To the Pharisees this would not have evoked sympathy for Lazarus, they would have felt disdain for him for daring to sit in front of the gate of a wealthy man, begging for food, what a disgrace. If they thought God had blessed the rich then it stood to reason God has cursed the poor.
Jesus tells the crowds that both men died, reminding them and us that rich or poor we are all mortal. It’s the next line and the following that would have shocked the hearers of Jesus’ words. Jesus tells them that the rich man looked up from Hades and saw Lazarus with father Abraham. What? If wealth was a sign of God’s favor or blessing then why is the rich man in Hades, and why is that filthy beggar with Abraham? The rich man calls out begging Abraham to send Lazarus to cool his tongue with some water. Abraham replies with words that would have made the Pharisees shake in their boots. “You received good things on earth and Lazarus evil, now he is comforted and you are afflicted.” The rich man then begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his living family members that they might not suffer the same fate. And again his request is deigned. Even from Hades, the rich man cannot imagine that Lazarus isn't there to serve him and his purposes. Though the rich man is in agony in the flames, he is still completely focused on himself—his thirst, his family, what others can do for him. Regardless, Abraham will no longer allow Lazarus to be exploited. The tables are turned.
“If they did not believe Moses and the prophets they will not believe when someone rises from the dead.”
I can only imagine the looks on the faces of the crowd as Jesus had once again scored a major point for the oppressed and downtrodden. But what does this parable really mean to us this morning? Is it a description of the afterlife? Is it a God’s gonna get ya so watch out text? No, not really. Parables were not told about a specific place, person, or time. Rather they were teachings about how to live, NOW not in the afterlife, but in our lives here today!
You see, the rich man could be anyone of us. We live, as we know, in the wealthiest nation on the planet. Not all of us are millionaires, some of us even struggle to pay our day to day bills, but we are still wealth in the terms of the world. And so there is a certain kinship with the rich man. But I think the true kinship is in our inability or unwillingness to see, really see. The rich man lived in his home in comfort and bliss while a man sat dieing a slow death outside of his gate. While Lazarus dreamed of edible garbage and kept company with dogs, the rich man lived a life of comfortable pleasure. He might have seen the vagrant that loitered outside of his home. But did he ever truly see Lazarus, the human being, the son of God, who just needed some food?
No, he didn’t really see Lazarus. Even in Hades, he never speaks to Lazarus, just about him and around him. What happened to the rich man should
be a life-changing experience--a destitute at his
door, his own death, but nothing is his demeanor or
attitude is different--it is still all about him.
Isn’t that often the case, it is about us? I was reminded of a story about St. Francis of Assisi by a friend recently. There are many legends about the amazing power Francis had with animals. One of them tells us that in the city of Gubbio, where Francis lived for some time, there was a wolf “terrifying and ferocious, who devoured men as well as animals.” Francis had compassion upon the townsfolk, and went up into the hills to find the wolf. Soon fear of the animal had caused all his companions to flee, but the saint pressed on and when he found the wolf he made the sign of the cross and commanded the wolf to come to him and hurt no one. Miraculously the wolf closed his jaws and lay down at the feet of St. Francis. “Brother Wolf, you do much harm in these parts and you have done great evil…” said Francis. “All these people accuse you and curse you…But brother wolf, I would like to make peace between you and the people.” (Here I picture Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, come to rehabilitate the wolf and the town into a pack that can get along). So, Francis led the wolf into the town, and surrounded by startled citizens he made a pact between them and the wolf. Because the wolf had “done evil out of hunger” the townsfolk were to feed the wolf regularly, and in return, the wolf would no longer prey upon them or their flocks.
The town’s folk had never questioned why the wolf was attacking; they only saw him as dangerous and a threat to their own survival. They were, as a result, blind to his need for food.
Too often we live a life that is blind by choice. We chose to not see the hurting in our community. We chose to not hear when our neighbors yell and fight. We chose to not see the men gathered near a store front hoping to get hired on as a day laborer. We chose not to see the group of homeless men and women who have taken up residence under the interstate on ramp. We chose not to see those in our own congregation that are in need of financial, emotional, and spiritual assistance. Why do we do this?
Because to see means we must do something, or come to grips with our own selfishness. We cannot be confronted by true need and not be changed. And so it is easier for us to live lives that are quite, peaceable, and unaffected then to seek out relationships with persons in need. Throughout the Gospels we are taught to care for one another, even in manners as small as the sharing of loves and fish. We are told that the kingdom of God is unlike the kingdoms of this world that devour widows and orphans, that attack the alien, that abuse the poor. And yet, for some reason we do not see!
Do we live our lives hearing and talking about the gospel, but never letting it in? Are we constantly divided by a chasm we cannot not cross because of our sinful selfishness? On our own we would not even notice this chasm let alone have a thought to cross. Unfortunately, that is how we often try to live our life; on our own. But the chasm can be crossed, thanks be to God, Jesus crossed it for us. If nothing reaches us, touches us in this life, than we cannot rejoice and celebrate in the freedom Jesus gives. It is out of grateful hearts that we use our hands for the work of God. It is with thankfulness that we fill boxes for Operation Christmas Child. It is with humble hearts that we give to Habitat for Humanity, to the Heifer Project, to missionaries both here and abroad.
What we can learn from this parable is a better way to live, in the here and now. A better way to show the Love of God and our love for God, through being instruments of his peace. St. Francis wrote a prayer to that effect once and it was turned into a lovely hymn that I would like to share with you as we reflect on this passage and it’s meaning in our lives.


Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred let me bring your
love.
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord
And where there's doubt, true faith in
you.

Chorus:
Oh, Master grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console
To be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love with all my soul.

Make me a channel of your peace
Where there's despair in life, let me bring
hope
Where there is darkness, only light
And where there's sadness, ever joy.

Chorus:
Make me a channel of your peace
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
In giving to all men that we receive
And in dying that we're born to eternal
life.

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