Posted on Sun, Sep 29, 2013
September 29, 2013
19th Sunday after Pentecost
Gospel Text: Luke 16:19-31 “An Ivory bed is very Uncomfortable”
The Rich Man and Lazarus
19 ‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” 25 But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” 27 He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” 29 Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” 30 He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” 31 He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” ’
For those of you who have gone through my “new members class” or confirmation, you have surely been given a copy of a simple book (it almost looks like a coloring book) called, “Baptized, We Live” by Pastor Daniel Erlander. It is a wonderful book that simply helps us understand the new ways in which we see, hear and experience the world as baptized, Children of God.
As many of you know, there are only two sacraments in the Lutheran Church, Baptism and Communion (Eucharist, Lords Supper, etc.) They are “sacraments,” because they are physical ways in which we are able to bestow the grace of God. There are two elements, something physical (water, bread and wine) and something Spiritual, the Gospel.
Through the Gospel wine and the bread, are made “sacred” and when we remember Jesus and eat of this meal, “we are forgiven.” Through the Gospel, water becomes a sacred physical element that becomes a means in which God chooses us and we become “Children of God.” Through grace, God makes something physical into something sacred.
Through both of these sacred actions, God forgives us and makes us God’s Children. Pastor Erlander reminds us that through these sacraments, God does something amazing to and for us, and through these sacraments we become a redeemed people who now look at the world, our neighbors and even ourselves in a new way! We have a new identity, a new purpose, a new future and a new present! When we listen to someone who is hurting, the Gospel reminds us to listen with intention and compassion. This is what Jesus did when he stopped to listen to the woman at the well. By listening to her story with intention and compassion, though painful as it was, she was freed from her painful past and became a new person with a new message and identity. When Jesus listened to the blind beggar with intention and compassion, he was healed and his eyes were opened! And even Nicodemus when he came to Jesus perplexed and with some basic questions about faith, Jesus listened with intention and compassion and Nicodemus became a great follower of Jesus even if it cost him his job, status and possibly his own life. Through God’s work we are redeemed to also look at the world and creation with a new purpose and responsibility, in Genesis Adam is told he has ‘dominion’ over creation. This doesn’t mean use, abuse or use God’s Creation for our personal profit; it means we are to be stewards over the Garden that God has planted. The land, sea, air and all that lives on the earth are now our responsibility as it all belongs to God. By looking at the way things are going, I don’t think humankind has done a good job at being stewards of God’s beautiful garden.
Through Baptism we are given a new identity as “Children of God,” therefore we are also given a new way to look at our neighbors as well as a new way of looking at ourselves. This also means the stranger next to you is also a Child of God, and until we take some time to say hello and introduce ourselves they will remain an estranged member of your very own faith family! Yes, through Baptism you have been chosen, but so have many other people you just haven’t met yet. That goes for you as well. Who is our worst critic? Oftentimes it is us! We rag on ourselves, not even giving ourselves a break and admitting we are human… all the while God is saying, don’t you remember? Through the Cross of Jesus, you have been recreated as my forgiven beloved. Through forgiveness God doesn’t see our sins anymore, why do we need to focus on them and continue to bring others and ourselves down?
Through Baptism, the Water and the Word, you are a new person with new eyes to see and ears to hear…
And when Jesus taught with a parable, what did he often say? “For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear!” Do we have those eyes and ears that are keen to see the world as God’s Garden, and all people as children God was worth sacrificing his very own son for?
What is the sin of the rich man in today’s Gospel text? What is one thing (among many) that Jesus trying to teach us?
Notice, aside from Abraham, the Father of Israel, there is only one person who has a name, it is the poor man named “Lazarus.” “Lazarus” is a common name in Jesus’ day: some Bible scholars say “Lazarus” meant, “One ‘helped by God.’” in this context could the name Lazarus be related to Jesus’ proclamation, “blessed are the poor?” … I wonder…
One thing I sense is that as God promises to hear the prayers of the poor, maybe the poor man’s name is made known to us is because Jesus is letting us know that God has heard his prayers… especially at difficult times.
The rich man remains nameless, even though he apparently thinks he is someone very special. Even though he is not royalty, he likes to ‘appear’ like royalty. He may be rich, but only royalty would have the nerve to wear purple in public…
He is so aware of himself, that he is blind to Lazarus suffering at the rich man’s gate. The rich man, and all his family including his five nameless brothers and their families, whenever they went out, or came home, had to step over the suffering Lazarus. Yet, nobody ever seems to notice poor Lazarus.
After it was too late and both the rich man and Lazarus were in the “afterlife” and the rich man pleaded with Abraham just for a few Lazarus to drop a few drops of water on his tongue, Abraham replied, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.
The rich man received ‘good things,’ and these are obvious, but what were the ‘evil things’ that Lazarus received?
Did Lazarus do anything to deserve these “evil things?” What were these “evil things?”
The “evil things” that Lazarus ‘received’ were to be ignored, neglected and left to die by those who could do something to relieve his misery. The “evil things” that he received was the suffering he incurred because those around him did not have “eyes that could see, or ears that could hear,” as Jesus would say.
The problem wasn't that the man was rich, but the fact that even though he had access to all the teachings of the grace and mercy of God given to him through the prophets and scriptures, his eyes and ears, heart and soul, were only focused on himself to the extent he couldn't even see the hurting poor that were suffering at his gate.
In the end, Jesus gives us a hint of prophesy to the culmination of his ministry… was he relating to the fact that he himself would one day return from the dead to proclaim “New Life. The rich man begs Abraham to resurrect Lazarus and send him to warn his nameless brothers, 30 ‘“but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” But Abraham tells the truth by saying, 31 “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” ’
As we all know, the situation we see Jesus describing in today’s Gospel is still very real today. The poor and powerless are still very much a part of our society… but the definition of “poor,” is as slippery as the words, “Blessed is the Poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 5:3).
I remember traveling to the Philippines and visiting churches and homes of a parishioners in a very poor neighborhood near the city of Davao in Mindanao and during a quiet moment, a local pastor looked at me in the eyes as I sat with my fancy Canon Camera, fancy backpack and deluxe hat and he said so sincerely, “I want you to know that our church prays for you and all the churches in America everyday.” I responded, “thank you for your prayers, what do you pray for?” He replied, “You are so very rich in America with material things, yet you seem so poor in Spirit and Heart, our people have very little to eat, wear or even to live in, but we are rich in spirit… so we feel we must pray for you.”
Jesus gave his life so that we could Life Anew! New eyes to see, new ears to hear, new hands to serve and a new heart and a soul intertwined with the God of all Life, Mercy, Love and Joy, let our eyes and ears be made open and our bodies ready to serve, dance and praise.
By the way, an ivory bed is very uncomfortable, but to share a cup with your neighbor can bring you joy. Amen.
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