Luke 16:19-31 (Pentecost 16C)

St. John, Galveston 9/25/2022

Rev. Alan Taylor

 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

 

Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

The rich man lived his life in luxury, ignoring the suffering and the plight of the poor, while the poor man lived his life in poverty and squalor. In the life to come, the tables were turned. The rich man died and went to hell. The poor man, Lazarus by name, died and went to heaven. If you’re poor, it’s one of those happy ever after stories. If you’re rich, not so much. It’s a story that seems to suggest that there is some sort of cosmic justice in death, a righting, if you will, of the inequities of the universe. If you prosper in this life, you suffer in the one to come. If you suffer in this life, you prosper in the life to come. 

 

Or, perhaps the story isn’t about justice at all. Perhaps it’s a general indictment of riches. After all, elsewhere Jesus said “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” The apostles too, said, “the love of money is the root of all evil.” So, maybe the story is about yet another rich person who failed to enter the kingdom of God because, try as he may, he couldn’t squeeze a camel through the eye of a needle!  

 

It seems that there are several possibilities, morals to this story, doesn’t it? So, what are we to make of it? The ancients, I think, wouldn’t have taken these words of Jesus to be about justice at all, nor would they have understood them as an indictment of riches. In fact, they most likely would have been completely baffled by this story. You see, they were generally of the opinion that riches signified God’s favor in life, while poverty signified His disfavor. The rich were close to God, while the poor were not. Therefore, in death, the rich went to heaven and the poor suffered the indignities of hell. Everyone seemed to intuitively know that to be true. 

 

Job’s “friends,” for instance, thought it was what was behind his suffering. You may recall, they saw how Job suffered terribly in life and they were convinced that he had to have done something wrong for such horrendous things to have happened to him. Remember, he suffered the loss of his children, his livestock and his health. In the mind of his friends, something caused the universe to conspire against him. They reasoned that the only way Job could regain any semblance of order in his life was to make right what he had done.

 

And so, a rich man died and went to hell. A poor man, Lazarus by name, died and went to heaven. There are a number different assumptions about why the one went to heaven while the other went to hell. Fundamentally though, the story really isn’t even about riches. Nor is it about poverty. In fact, it’s not even about the unnamed rich man. Nor is it about Lazarus. It’s actually about Moses and the Prophets and the damning effect of the rich man’s refusal to hear what they said in regard to the coming kingdom of God.           

 

From his place of torment, the rich man begged father Abraham to send someone to warn his brothers about the terrible thing he had done and it’s consequences. “I beg you, father, to send (Lazarus) to my father’s house (he said)— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” The great chasm that exists between heaven and hell would prevent Abraham from doing such a thing. Besides, the rich man’s brothers had Moses and the Prophets. And, if they wouldn’t believe what Moses and the Prophets had written about the coming Kingdom, neither would they believe if someone returned to them from the dead.

 

So, the story is about Moses and the Prophets. But your’e in it too. Your’e the man or woman who is living out your life, perhaps in luxury, or, perhaps in struggle and suffering. You have repeatedly heard Jesus proclaimed, both from Moses and Prophets, as well as, from the Gospel’s and the other letters of the New Testament. Rich or poor, the message is the same. Repent, for in the person of Jesus, the Kingdom of God has come upon you. It’s true, you know? At one point, when crowds of people began to wonder if Jesus was the Christ, or if He worked miracles by the power of the devil, He said, “If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Did you get that? Where Jesus is, the kingdom of God has come upon you!

 

His is a kingdom of grace and mercy, of forgiveness, life and salvation. For sure, it all begins with Jesus, with His suffering and death, and with His resurrection from the dead, which assures you of your place hereafter when you close your eyes in death.

 

His is a kingdom of grace and mercy, and even in this broken, fallen world, with all of it’s inequities and injustices, there is good! Did you ever think about that? I mean, that there is good in this world of ours? We always ask, why is there evil? Why is there suffering and pain? But being what this world is, that is, a world that has been plunged into the darkness of sin and death, why is there any good?

 

Well, the hand of God is on this great, big creation of His, helping, consoling, forgiving, encouraging, even grieving for the sake of another, and the thing is, sometimes His hand looks remarkably like yours and mine. Whether your’e rich or poor, you have been put here for a purpose, a holy purpose. It’s often been said, God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does. And so, by God’s grace, we reach out and extend a hand. Not because we’re hopeful that God will reward us with a place in His kingdom, but because He already has.    

 

More powerful and salutary than the testimony of one who returns from the dead, God’s Word creates a living, vibrant faith within you, a faith that keeps you looking to Christ and His gifts for your life and salvation. A faith that keeps you reaching out with a hand of mercy toward those who need your help. As

 

Moses wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit of the greatest of all of God’s gifts. “The seed of the woman (that is, the Christ of God) has come into the world.” He has crushed the head of the serpent. As such, He has prepared a heavenly home for all those who, in Him, would believe. Young and old, rich and poor, the gifts of Christ are given freely and abundantly, both to you and to all those who would be blessed through you.    

    

O Christ, do Thou my soul prepare

For that bright home of love

That I may see Thee and adore

With all Thy saints above.

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

 

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

 

+ Soli Deo Gloria +