Damariscotta Baptist Church
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

10/20/13 Sermon - Ed Wynne


Jeremiah 32: 1-3a, 6-15

1 Timothy 6:6-19

Luke 16:19-31


            Back in the 1970s, when the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company was still producing “the beer that made Milwaukee famous,” it launched an advertising campaign, complete with a revolving world globe, with the slogan: “You go around only once in life. So grab for all the gusto you can. Even in the beer you drink. Why settle for less? When you’re out of Schlitz, you’re out of beer.”  While Schlitz beer is sold these days by Pabst, the slogan soldiers on. We do go around only once in this world, as we may have noticed, or maybe not, and we should grab every opportunity to do good  we encounter.

            Why we should grab every opportunity to do good is fairly clear from this story about the rich man and Lazarus: If we don’t help in this world, then we know what’s going to happen to us.

            Now, this story of these two men could seem to have this meaning: Lazarus has it tough in this world, and the rich man rides the gravy train. In the next life, their positions are reversed.

Is that the message? If so, all of us with three square meals a day and a roof over our heads have hell to look forward to, while heaven is guaranteed to the homeless. But then we would have to forget about all the rest of the New Testament, and we are not about to do that here today!

            So we had better take a closer look at this story which is recorded only in the Gospel According to Luke. And we should take a look at some of what Jesus said before he told this story. It might surprise us to know Jesus spoke more about money than about any other topic, including sin or prayer. He talked about material possessions, about not being able to serve God and money, about not being responsible for the small amount God gives us, and so on. Do we remember the best one-verse commentary on stewardship, from 1 Chronicles 29 of all places:

“All things come from you, O Lord, and of your own have we given you”?  If God can’t trust us with that which we call our own (that’s all we have, including our life—and it is really all God’s) how will God reveal to us all the treasures of the Spirit?

            Then follows the story of the rich man and Lazarus—two men whom we might assume were members of the same synagogue. One was ruled by money, however, and the other remains totally silent throughout the story.

            Let’s look at how Jesus describes these two men. The rich man dresses in purple every day. Purple cloth was the most expensive of that day; the dye was scarce and therefore costly.

Every day he wore purple and fine linen. The Greek word for fine linen here means high quality Egyptian cotton of the kind used for expensive underwear. I know—right now we’re thinking about what kind of underwear we have on, but this man has a problem. Every day he has to dress to the nines. He must impress himself and the world every day.

            He had a banquet every day—not just on weekends, but every day. That meant his servants had to work every day. They could not even observe the Sabbath day, and they had to break the commandment about not working on that day as well. This man has the best of all possible worlds.

            Now Lazarus—whose name means “God is my help”—Lazarus is sick, and from what we are able to gather here, he didn’t have family to care for him. If he had had family he would not have been begging. But someone cares enough to set him at the gate of the rich man. Now Luke’s parable lacks the sort of data people like to have when deciding whether and how to help. It doesn’t say, for example, if Lazarus were deserving or lazy, drug-addicted, mentally ill, or just a good Joe down on his luck. We don’t know whether he cornered the rich man with pathetic spiels every time he left the house, or whether he just lay there, annoyingly mute, day after day. All we know is he was at the gate, sick and hungry. He would have welcomed any scrap of food from the rich man’s table. It seems the only creatures that cared for this wreck of a human being were the rich man’s guard dogs who licked Lazarus’ sores and provided a healing of some kind. But in that culture, dogs, like pigs, were considered unclean animals. They get to eat, while Lazarus goes hungry.

            Then like the proverbial bolt of lightning, the drama moves swiftly to what we know will happen to these two men, and to all of us—death comes sooner or later. Lazarus dies and is escorted by the angels to a place of honor at the table of Abraham—the patriarch of the entire people of God! Wow!

            The rich man dies and he is buried. He has a funeral; he certainly could afford one. I think those of us with white heads of hair, or less, have made provisions so that the cost of a funeral will not prove embarrassing to our kin. The rich man finds himself in the place of the dead—Hades, if we wish to be polite; hell, if we don’t—a place which is a far distance from Abraham and Lazarus.

            Well, now he recognizes Lazarus; he even knows his name! He knows Lazarus is now in a position of power, so he must make an abject apology to Lazarus, begging for forgiveness—right? Wrong! He ignores Lazarus and talks directly to Abraham. After all, we go to the top for what we want, don’t we?

            Basically, what he tells Abraham is this: Look, Father Abraham, I am suffering; I am not used to this stuff. When beggars hurt, well, it doesn’t matter. They usually end up begging or being homeless through their own fault. After all, like me—he—all beggars—should have been able to pull himself up by his own bootstraps. He never contributed any good to this world when he was in it. So send him to help me, right now. He’s on his feet now; put him to work, finally, doing something good.

            We might expect Lazarus to get as purple in the face as the rich man’s robes, and tell that wretch in hell to fry his ego there until he’s as crisp as an overcooked McDonald’s French fry. But—silence again.

            Now Father Abraham does see this rich man as his son, and calls him “Child.” But the chasm between the rich man and himself cannot be crossed; it cannot be violated. No help is coming, and Abraham reminds him he had all the good, while Lazarus had all the bad. Now glorious comfort for one; torment and agony for the other.

            It would appear the rich man keeps his pride, his self-centered ego, his assumption of still being able to give orders, even to Father Abraham and indirectly to Lazarus—all signs of  his indifference to any suffering but his own. His desire to “save” his brothers rings with all the hollowness of those only interested in themselves.

            “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them” is Abraham’s reply. In them is found the presence of God with us in grace and forgiveness, in rescue from all evil, in the giving of faith in our gracious God who counts it all for righteousness. That’s what Abraham did—way back when he was an idolatrous moon-worshiper in Iraq. He believed God, before resurrection was even a part of the whole story of humankind, and God counted Abraham’s faith as that which glued them together in an eternal embrace of love, mercy, kindness and empowerment to move and act in love to others.

            Even one raised from the dead would not cause these people to believe, if God’s love for humankind, shown in a long history of almost unbelievable loving kindness to God’s people, is not believed and not acted upon.

            We do have someone risen from the dead, Jesus the Christ. Does that mean we don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, that somehow the resurrection is going to make all things right? No, just the opposite. If we do not possess hearts open to see the needs of people, then even the resurrection of our Lord will be meaningless, as well.

            Some of our Christian sisters and brothers, in reciting the Apostles’ Creed, include the phrase: “He descended into hell,” while others translate it: “He descended to the dead.” Yes, Jesus comes into the hell and death that describe our lives today. The only way for us to escape the result of our indifference, our pride, our self-righteous attitudes toward God and others, is for the Messiah to come into this world, is for God to make the bridge over that great chasm separating us from being with God. That bridge is the Messiah, God’s anointed One.

            We are all Lazarus—beggars, poor, dependent on God. As we confess, we cannot, by our own reason and strength, believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord, or come to him. We cannot please God by ourselves. Our culture, our society, every aspect of life, tell us God doesn’t matter. It tells us to enjoy life, have fun, party, and fill our homes with so many goods until we need public storage facilities to take care of our excess.

            We are all the rich man. Content with our life style, indulgent, wanting to move up to the better job which really means more money, so we can spend more on ourselves, as we believe is befitting. Our underwear, by God, may not be Egyptian cotton, but our closets are full of clothes we collect, while others have little or none. The words of Paul to Timothy haunt us:

            Actually, godliness is a great source of profit when it is combined with being

            happy with what you already have. We didn’t bring anything into the world

            and so we can’t take anything out of it: we’ll be happy with food and clothing.

            But people who are trying to get rich fall into temptation. They are trapped by

            many stupid and harmful passions that plunge people into ruin and destruction.

            The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some have wandered away

            from the faith and have impaled themselves with a lot of pain because they made

            money their goal. (1 Timothy 6:6-10 CEB)

            Our dependence upon God for life, for making some kind of sense out of the chaotic world that ours is, or has become, for the blessed assurance that our follies, mistakes, errors, and self-indulgences will not keep us from crossing the chasm—and all this through Jesus our Lord—should have a humbling effect on us, and move us to a lifestyle that sees all people as children of Abraham.

            So we  go around only once, and we need to catch all the opportunities for serving others before it is all fixed forever.

            Grabbing every opportunity to serve will not save us, because we can become puffed up like a frog because of our good deeds. But it can just perhaps give us a wonderful start on the day the chasm is fixed, and we hear the words: “Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I was hungry and you gave me food to est. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:34-36 CEB).

            Yes, we go around only once, and we are going around right now!