Homily: September 25, 2016
September 25, 2016, YEAR C; Rev. Phil Boelter
This gospel story of the rich man and Lazarus is unique to Luke’s gospel.
Luke has been on a roll for several weeks
about rich folk,
money and the Way of Jesus.
This story follows last week's parable about a rich man and Mammon
Or as we like to call it
And the story the week before was all about the rich man’s feast.
This entire chapter is a wake-up call,
pulling back a curtain to open our eyes to something
we urgently need to see before it is too late.
During his life the unnamed rich man in today’s parable
did not even see poor Lazarus
who was at his gate each day.
Now, in the afterlife,
The rich man sees -- but too late.
The parable portrays a permanent chasm
fixed between the rich man and poor Lazarus,
with no way to cross over the chasm.
The exaggerated contrasts are many:
the lavish meals of the rich man’s table in life,
as opposed to his unquenchable thirst after death;
the deathly poverty of Lazarus,
contrasting with his rest in the bosom of Abraham.
These contrasts underscore the parable's urgent warning.
The image of vindication in Abraham’s bosom is a wonderful one,
offering comfort for those in Luke’s audience
and those in the world today who are as poor as Lazarus.
The image of resting in the bosom of Abraham
inspired the African American spiritual
"Rock My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham."
But beautiful as this image is,
the primary message of this parable
is probably not comfort for the poor.
nor is it to afflict the rich.
There are plenty of other places
in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures
where the poor are comforted,
and the rich are criticized for not caring.
If we take this parable
Simply as a vindication of the poor,
Or as condemnation of rich people
we will have missed its point.
Is this parable designed to provide a guide map for the afterlife?
There are plenty of other places throughout the Bible
where we are told what to expect after we die.
Jesus did often speak elsewhere about heaven and hell-
but not often in such a graphic way as this,
nor so specifically about exactly who would be in which place.
If we try to make this parable into a proof text-
“See there really is a hell and eternal damnation,
And you better watch out”
Then once again we will have missed Jesus’ point.
With its exaggerated imagery
this story DOES offer us a wake-up call,
Where does Luke intend us to see ourselves in this parable?
The parable functions like the dream sequences of Ebenezer Scrooge
in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Luke is situating us not so much in the role of either Lazarus the saved
nor the condemned rich man,
but in the role of the five siblings who are still alive.
They still have time to see the poor people at their gates,
before the chasm becomes permanent.
There is still time for them to head all the other warnings
about the deadly witches brew of riches combined with greed
and not caring about others fate.
I worry about my own generation
And the younger ones who come after us-
It seems to me our primary question
We ask about every situation is
“what’s in it for me?”
As the Apostle Paul says
In our second reading today-
Not money itself,
But the love of money is the root of all evil.
Money can be good,
And wealth can be a source of great contentment-
But only if used rightly-
For ones needs
AND for the needs of others.
We urgently need to hear that message again
In our segmented,
Embattled society today.
Will we have ears to hear the cries of the poor
While we can still do something about them?
Will the noise of our political season
And the chatter on our airwaves
Drown out the voice of God.
I hear God pleading
Care for others,
Care for my poor,
Help them change their own lives!
Through the next few months,
We are being called to take serious stock of our ministries
Here at Gethsemane
To make sure we are doing all we can
,the best we can,
To help our all neighbors.
It would be easier in some ways
to turn our backs
the way Lazarus did-
to remain blind and unresponsive.
But it would not be God’s way,
Or the Way of Jesus in today’s parable.
“Send Lazarus to them, that he might warn them,"
cries the rich man on behalf of his brothers and sisters,
“so that they do not come to this place of torment."
You and I,
WE are those five siblings of Lazarus.
WE who are still alive have been warned this morning
about our urgent situation,
the parable makes clear.
We have Moses and the prophets;
we have the scriptures;
we have the manna lessons of God’s economy,
about God's care for the poor and hungry.
We even have Someone who has risen from the dead.
The question is:
Will we see?
Will we heed the warning, before it is too late?
Will we really see our brothers and sisters in need
Listen to their cries
and will we help them?