The 19th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 21C (09/25/2016)

Lessons:Amos 6:1a, 4-7 Psalm 146 (7) 1st Timothy 6:6-19 St. Luke 16:19-31

Semicontinuous Series: Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 (2)

Prayer of the Day: O God, rich in mercy, you look with compassion on this troubled world. Feed us with your grace, and grant us the treasure that comes only from you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

16.19 [Jesus said,] “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.’ ”

St. Luke 16:19-31. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

On Wealth and Faith

Pastors tend to love the fact that this text rolls around in the Fall. After all, the annual stewardship emphasis is about to begin. In the next two months many congregations will ask their members to think about how God has blessed them, and to respond in thanksgiving by making a financial commitment to support next year’s ministries. (We’ll do this here at Saint Peter during October.) What a gift it is to have a text like this. Can’t you just imagine this weekend’s sermons?

Look at the rich man. He held on to his goods, and ended up tortured in Hades, while Lazarus (a good but poor man, who was unencumbered by the wealth that you and I have…) went on to Paradise. So, friends, if you want to escape that kind of torture, give lots of money to the church (we’ll give some of it to the poor, and get you off the hook) and you’ll be in good shape once you’re dead.

What a perfect text! A little guilt. A little fear. And countless congregations will be financially solvent for at least another year…

But unfortunately (or, perhaps, fortunately), the text doesn’t exactly move us in this direction. Two subtle clues let us in on that. First of all, where does this poor man end up? He ends up in the bosom of Abraham. He ends up gathered into the heart of one of the wealthiest men in the book of Genesis. Elsewhere, Abraham is humbly described as a Wandering Aramean (Deuteronomy 26:5), but the writer of Genesis describes him as a man who has in his possession “sheep, oxen, male and female slaves, female donkeys, and camels.” Not a man who has given everything he owns away to support the poor. Not a man who, like Lazarus, has nothing to his name. Clearly the possession of wealth isn’t what rules out salvation in Jesus’ view.

The second clue is the name given to the poor man. Lazarus is the Latin form of Eleazar, and means: God is my help. What is unique about this individual is not his poverty or his poor health; not even that he spends most of his time lying in the front entrance to the rich man’s home. What matters is that he is a man who looks to God for help. He doesn’t depend on his own resources, or his own ability. But he knows that his only help is in God’s grace and in God’s power.

This, of course, is the struggle for the rich man. He has come to depend on his own ability to protect and preserve himself and his family and his possessions. As he turns in on himself, he consequently turns away from God, who has promised to watch over him, and accompany him. In turning away from God, he looses the only hope that can survive the end of this life.

Is it wrong to be rich? Certainly not. But it comes with its own set of complexities. Wealth (and the longing for wealth) can capture our attention like few other things are able to.Wealth can create the illusion that we are able to provide for our own security. Wealth can distract us from the sort of careful attentiveness to God’s presence in our lives that the faith demands of us.

The Rich Man and Lazarus remind us that no matter how rich (or how poor) we are, what is most important is this: the grace of God which embraces us, and assures us of our future with God. May we never be so rich (or so poor) that we lose sight of this truth.

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What does Jesus tell us about the Rich Man?
  2. What does Jesus tell us about Lazarus?
  3. How might Jesus’ listeners (the Scribes and Pharisees: described earlier as “lovers of money”) have responded to this story?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. In what ways is my life like that of the Rich Man?
  2. In what ways is my life like that of Lazarus?
  3. How can I turn away from an unhealthy dependence on my own wealth, and towards a healthy dependence on God’s grace?