The Rich Man and Lazarus

Title: War, Money, Rich Man and Lazarus
Scripture: Luke 16:9-31
Delivered: Calvary Moravian Church, Allentown, PA; September 29, 2014

War is Hell.

When our spiritual and emotional selves are at war with our physical selves, at war with our identity as a Children of God, then we experience Hell.

For example, a person dealing with post traumatic stress disorder, or what is colloquially called shell shock, may be experiencing Hell as she or he reconciles the reality of being a beloved child of God with they have experienced God forbidden, senseless violence.

I think that our scripture today is difficult. It’s talking about Hell. And its talking about money. [Same difference] Last week, sister Blair preached from the first part of Luke chapter 16: the parable of the dishonest manager. This week, I am preaching from the third part of the chapter about a Rich Man and Lazarus. We’ve conveniently skipped over a middle part, which I’ll read to you now:

14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this [about the parable of the dishonest manager] and they ridiculed him. 15So he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.
16 ‘The law and the prophets were in effect until John [the Baptist] came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone tries to enter it by force. 17But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped.
So, the author of Luke is doing something interesting here. He is contrasting two of Jesus’ parables about money – the first, where a servant intentionally mismanages money in order to secure his own livelihood, and now this second, where a Rich Man finds himself in Hell because he didn’t care for the poor. And I think these two parables are contrasted in order to draw out the fact that we dance very complicated dances when we talk about spirituality and money.

Because we try to enter Heaven by force, through our secular means: money. Many of us, myself included, often have a difficult time transcending the currency of a secular world, for the currency that God intends us to use.

And I started our sermon today, by talking about “War is Hell” because I want us to believe, to know, that very often, we are at war with ourselves.

Jesus’ lesson for today is not a prediction, it is a parable. Jesus is not condemning rich people to hell. He is offering an example of Hell. And in our contemporary way of listening, when I hear discussions of rich people, several images immediately come to mind: discussions about a supposed class war, desperate poverty around the world, and lavish opulence for some that would make even Caesar blush.

In the parable, a few things are going on:
In the first place, a beloved child of God, named Lazarus, is so desperately poor that he begs for his food every day. I think its worth pointing out that the “dogs”, who in Jesus’ time were considered mangy pests, have more compassion on dear Lazarus than the Rich Man. When he died, he was carried to the afterlife by angels.

Now, another beloved child of God, the Rich Man, does not have a name. Perhaps we are supposed to imagine ourselves here? Or at least the Pharisees were supposed to imagine themselves? Every day, the Rich Man sees poor Lazarus begging, and does not even offer him the scraps off his table. When he dies, and is buried, he finds himself in Hell. I don’t think the Rich Man is in Hell because he’s Rich. I think the Rich Man is in Hell, because he wasn’t generous with his wealth; because he didn’t follow the law.

In the Old Testament, there are quite a number of laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy that instruct how wealthy people are required to share their wealth with those who have been less fortunate.

Take, for example, Leviticus 23:22: “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the LORD your God.'”

Or, take Leviticus 25:9-10: Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family.

In other words, every fifty years, all property returns to the tribe from whence it came, and all slaves return to their families. Is that the conversation that is being had in Congress today?

And these laws exist for a purpose. It is an ultimate reminder that our wealth, our property, these things are not eternal. In fact, they are not even ours. Wealth and property must be used to achieve balance – to care for one another. We all need to eat, we all need safe places to live, and we all need to contribute, to create – and there is absolutely, positively no reason why every person on this planet doesn’t deserve this.

But I have pity on this poor Rich Man. When he finds himself in Hell, he discovers what has occurred (as often happens when one is in Hell). He discovers the great injustice that he has allowed to perpetuate. And he asks Father Abraham if Lazarus can go and warn his brothers about his fate. Abrahams response is that they already have Moses and the Prophets – in other words, an entire history of law and warning. But I have pity on this poor Rich Man because he has been duped, he has been tricked: it is very easy and comfortable to be twisted into thinking that our wealth, our property, our things, are even ours. He may think, “I worked so hard for all of this”, and that may be very true. But the Parable teaches us, that because he continued his sentence, “I worked so hard for all of this, why should I share?” that is why he found himself in Hell.
And, dear sisters and brothers, I believe this line of thinking even transcends money. How many of us, how many of our co-workers, neighbors, friends, and family find themselves in a Hell because they have been tricked by thinking that has tied their spiritual selves into knots.

Our theme for worship today is reconciliation. We must find the balance in our lives, sharing, not hordeing, the abundance we may not realize we have. I do not know the ways in which each of us need care. That is between you and God. But I do believe that each of us always has room to grow, and ampleness to share. Please consider joining a small group, a trustworthy place where you can rely upon others when your own insight with God seems dim.

It is important to be good stewards of our money, but we will not let money dehumanize others. We will not let money dehumanize ourselves. And not just money, but time, relationships, and health. Why do we do battle with ourselves? God has already conquered death, and so we should live.