Year C, Proper 21, The Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
September 25, 2022
Year C: Jeremiah 32:1-3a; Psalm 91:1-6; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31
Honestly, the sermon for today would be complete in the epistle in the First Letter of Paul to Timothy. Paul, himself, tells us that it is not money that is the root of all evil, but the love of money that is the root of all evil.
The parable or story that Jesus tells us in today’s gospel reading is a challenging passage for most of us. But, along with the epistle lesson this morning, it speaks to us of the difficulty some people have with wealth – with money – with accumulating stuff.
Do you notice how I said some people, not all?
And notice that I have not condemned wealth itself.
But I do hope the Spirit moves among us today and for us to think about what true riches are and the great chasm that divides people from others.
Taylor Mills is a United Methodist pastor. Here is what he has to say about today’s parable:
“The rich man crosses paths with poor Lazarus every day. He sees Lazarus waiting at the gate of the house – the dogs licking his sores. Lazarus sees the rich man go in and go out. And he waits for the servant to bring out the rich man’s breadcrumbs for him to eat. Indeed Lazarus longs for those crumbs, even though – as was the custom in some places where water was scarce and food abundant, the crumbs were used, instead of water, to clean one’s hands with when the meal was done.”
It’s clear that the rich man knew about Lazarus. He refers to Lazarus by name, even after they both have died. But notice something else: the rich man never speaks directly to Lazarus. Not even from Hell, where he is under torment.
And when he is in Hell, he still expects Lazarus to serve him:
“Father Abraham,” he calls out, “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.” And then again, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.”
Even after the rich man undergoes the divine reversal of fates, he still hasn’t changed how he treats Lazarus. It’s as if the chasm that separated them after they died also existed when they lived.
The rich man kept Lazarus at a distance. And now that he’s in trouble, he expects Lazarus to cross that distance to help him.
That’s quite the attitude – and quite the chasm.
I don’t think we have a poor person at the end of our driveway waiting for the dirty crumbs from our tables. But, if we allow ourselves to believe that this story has little to say to us, we have taken the first step toward becoming like the rich man.
I said at the very beginning that today’s gospel reading is a challenging passage for most of us. And it is so precisely because it causes us to ask questions like:
– how am I like the rich man?
– who is it I ignore – or treat as less than fully human?
– who is our Lazarus? The one whom I regard as less than I am?
We know there is a lot of need in our world. But we also know that we have only so much time, only so much money, and only so much compassion.
Our congregation and the Episcopal Church generally do not regard people who live on the streets as inferior or treat those on welfare as our servants.
We care about those in our community and those in the world in need.
On top of all the things you do in the community, you give generously to the church – knowing that what you give to God through the church will indeed be blessed and used not only to operate our church – but to do many good works in God’s name.
But the parable still is difficult for most of us.
Believe me – it is not having money that is the problem – it is allowing that money and concern about money to dominate us to a point where we do not care about others outside our sphere of interest.
If you’re having difficulty with today’s gospel reading, I assure you that’s a good sign.
It means you care –you listen to Jesus Christ and believe in treating others as you want to be treated. You are here to worship God by listening to God’s word and then by going and doing it.
You are here today to be shaped by the word of God so that you may seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.
I think that we all need to struggle with this stuff. And that it is one of the most challenging things to struggle with since it comes down to examining how we live – and how we care for one another.
So I encourage you to feel uncomfortable but not to feel guilty unless you need to feel guilty. Most importantly, I urge you to trust in God’s mercy daily, hour by hour, and minute by minute.
And think back to the parable with me for another minute or so.
After the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his five brothers to warn them about the torment that may await them for not caring for the poor and afflicted, Abraham tells him that if his brothers have not heeded the message of Moses and the Prophets – that they will not be convinced even by one who has been resurrected from the dead, referring of course to Jesus.
So, let us heed the message.
Let us not be part of that chasm between those who love money and those who seek true riches. Let’s not be part of the chasm between those who seek out the newest toys that our society is so desperate to sell us all and those who pursue righteousness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Or part of the chasm between those who always need to get ahead and those who have sought out God with contentment.
Remember how the rich man – even in Hell – where he knows the truth of his lack of caring – still does not address Lazarus personally – how he still regards him as one who others can send – as a servant to help him – rather than as one who has received his just reward from God?
Those who love money will not get the picture because they’re in a chasm of blindness and indifference. A chasm of blindness and indifference that leads to all kinds of evil and which plunges people into ruin and destruction. A chasm that we see in the world around us.
To those who seek true riches – continue pursuing righteousness and faith and love, feel uncomfortable, struggle with the question of what you are doing and not doing, how well you love your neighbors – and how well you love God. Again, feel uncomfortable – but also feel assured – that Jesus has promised to help and forgive. Jesus does expect you to do everything for everyone – only to do everything you can – trust him to do the rest.
Perhaps this is a fitting end for today:
If the love of money is the root of all evil – then the love of God – the love of our neighbors – ALL our neighbors – is the root of all goodness.