This text for this sermon is Luke 16:19-31 and was presented at Resurrection on September 30, 2007, by Pastor Jim Kniseley.
Dear Friends in Christ,
The focus of this sermon is money and lifestyle, and how we can balance them in a way that is pleasing to God. All three of our Bible lessons today zero in on some tenets that have always been a part of Judaism and Christianity:
· God’s people are expected to care for the poor and needy of this world
· God’s people are expected to align their priorities with God’s priorities and not the priorities of the world
· God’s people are expected to us their resources (both financial and non-financial) to further the work of God’s kingdom on earth
The prophet Amos and Jesus today both were addressing folks who have the means to help others and just were not doing so due to indifference – they didn’t care and didn’t wish to even think about how to care for others.
This message takes on added importance for us today because our confirmands are listening intently and taking notes. There is a change in the confirmation curriculum. The sermon now becomes the basis for what is discussed on Sunday afternoons in both the large group and small groups. The youth will share aloud what they heard and understood in the sermon. They will be looking up Bible verses that talk about the subject the sermon is addressing. Each small group will then come back and report to the large group what they have learned, especially what is useful for them in their lives now.
So, let’s get going with this sermon and see what all of can learn from Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. It might be useful today for you to open your bulletin to the gospel reading and have your pen or pencil ready to underline or make notes.
In verse 19 we meet the “rich man.” He is often given the name “Dives.” That is Latin for “rich man.” In the parable Jesus will be exaggerating his actions and lifestyle, perhaps to get our attention. Dives is self-indulgent. He would be the one who only eats at 4-star restaurants, drives the most expensive cars, and has the biggest house with all the latest gadgets. Vs. 19 tells us he was habitually dressed in purpose (in the ancient world this was the color of royalty and the most expensive dye). His undergarments were made of fine linen.
Vs. 20 gives us the other man, named Lazarus. Lazarus is homeless. Actually he is a neighbor to Dives, living at the gate of his estate, waiting for Dives to walk by and throw him the scraps from his table. Vs. 20 tells us Lazarus is a cripple. So, Lazarus is just a survivor, does not enjoy life as he might have.
One day, Jesus said, both men would die. Death is the great equalizer, isn’t it? Death does not care about your social standing, your color, or your standing in the community. Lazarus, said Jesus, was carried away by the angel of death to heaven and he occupied the seat of honor next to Abraham.
About Dives, the rich man, all Jesus said was that he was buried (vs.22). He must have had a lavish funeral, one that the community would remember for years. That didn’t seem to impress Jesus enough for him to include. Jesus simply says that his soul was sent to hell (Hades).
Then the parable becomes more poignant. We see Dives down there in torment, communicating with Father Abraham up there. “Help me! Send Lazarus down here to help relieve my suffering!”
The answer of Abraham is brutal. “During your life on earth you received your good things. You could have shared but chose not to. Lazarus’ life was harsh, but now God has chosen to bring him comfort. The chasm between heaven and hell is wide. There is no passing between the two, no more comfort for you ever…
More than a century ago, a man heard this parable of Jesus in church and felt convicted. “I am Dives,” he thought. Now this man was at the top of his game in life, according to worldly standards. He had three doctoral degrees (one in medicine, one in theology, one in philosophy). He made a decision to leave the life he knew and depart for the jungles of Africa to serve Christ and the needy. Folks around him were amazed, for he was one of the best concern organists in all of Europe and he was going to a place where there were no organs to play. He was giving up a teaching position in Vienna, Austria, to go and deal with people who were deprived and living in superstition. Then man, of course, is Dr. Albert Schweitzer, an inspiration to us all.
Jesus’ parable has been given a variety of titles, according to what you want to emphasize in the parable. Usually it’s called the Rich Man and Lazarus. It could also be called the Parable of the Six Brothers. In verse 27 Dives decides that someone needs to go and warn his 5 brothers to change their priorities and lifestyles so that they won’t have to suffer eternal punishment. The answer of Abraham is that a messenger won’t do any good because they have been warned by Moses and the prophets. And the last part of the parable is for us today on this side of Jesus’ resurrection. “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
This parable could also be called the Parable of Reversal. It teaches that the first will be last and the last will be first. It teaches that God’s priorities are different from the priorities of this world. It teaches that the treasure of heaven is evidenced in this life in the form of being a servant, of showing love, of acting as the hands and feet of God.
Some of us here today are extra-blessed financially. Some here today live in homes that are worth lots of money. Some here today have pensions and savings that are large. You too could be called Dives, especially if you are feeling ticked off because you think you are being judged because of the wealth you possess or you think that the message is that money is evil. Listen carefully.
Wealth does not prevent us from getting into heaven. In this parable, Abraham was designated to meet Lazarus and Abraham was a very wealthy man at the end of his earthly life. Dives did not end up in torment because he was rich, but because of his indifferent and uncaring attitude toward poor Lazarus.
So, dear friend, let’s make it personal. What absorbs most of your time, your attention, your heart? Yourself and your family? Is there room for thinking about helping others?
Dives treated Lazarus with contempt and indifference. Dives had everything he needed and he could have provided help for Lazarus and others in a major way.
This parable isn’t just about money. Dives lost sight of God and the treasure of heaven because he was preoccupied with seeking happiness in material things. He served wealth rather than God. In the end, this rich man became the beggar.
Let us pray: Lord, increase our hunger for you and your way of finding fulfillment. Make us rich in the things of heaven and give us generous hearts that we may freely share with others the treasure you have given us.
Thanks be to God! Amen.