Date: September 29, 2019 (Proper 21, 16th Sunday after Pentecost)
Text: Luke 16:19-31
Preaching Occasion: St. Paul Lutheran Church, Union, MO
Exegetical Statement: In this parable, Jesus tells a fictional story of a rich man and his servant Lazarus. The rich man was wealthy and took pleasure in his wealth excessively while ignoring the desperate need of his servant, Lazarus. As the gate between the rich man and Lazarus separated them in life, so the great chasm separates them in death, only they’ve switched sides. As the rich man was on the side where there was feasting and Lazarus on the side of starvation and thirst, now in death the rich man is on the side of starvation and thirst and Lazarus on the side of eschatological feasting with Father Abraham. Eventually, the rich man realises the crucialness to repentance and pleads with Abraham to send resurrected Lazarus to his family as a testimony to the punishment for such sinful living as his. The rich man does not get his wish. Abraham tells him that his family has Moses and the Prophets, which is amply filled with the warning of punishment and testimony to resurrection, so they have every reason to believe already. If they do not believe the Word, then a sign of the resurrection from the dead will not persuade them either. Ultimately, Jesus is alluding to His own resurrection.
Focus Statement: Jesus bridges the chasm between eternal death and eternal life.
Function Statement: That my hearers will not trust in money but trust in Christ’s resurrection.
Sermon Hymn: #848 Lord, Whose Love through Humble Service
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Can you think of a time when you’ve been separated from someone? This could be physical separation or figurative separation. A physical separation could be like a long-distance relationship, whether this person is the love of your life or a child. For a lot of people my age, online dating is popular, so maybe you’ve experienced a long-distance relationship.
Or maybe you have a child or parent who serves or has served in the Armed Forces and you spend a lot of time separated from each other. Maybe you go 6 months without seeing them. Maybe even 2 years! Or maybe you’re even like me where you face the struggle of separation in your own family through divorce.
Then there’s figurative separation, like the obvious separation in our gospel text today between the rich and the poor. There’s also the separation between levels of talent. My former career might have been a professional performer on the saxophone, but I am nowhere near the level of Sonny Rollins, Marcel Mule, or John Coltrane. These guys are saxophone gods! No matter how hard or how long I practise, I just can’t seem to cross the threshold and get to these guys’ level.
There’s also separation in personality types, like that between extroverts and introverts. If you haven’t already been able to tell, I’m very introverted, although I know how to turn up the burner a little bit when I need to. Yet for introverts like me, I have no idea how extroverts like Pastor Mat manage to keep talking so much! For me, I need time time analyse and contemplate everything before I can give the proper response—usually. I’ve tried being extroverted in my adult life, but I just can’t seem to do it! It’s just too weird!
In these and various other things, there seems to be a chasm of difference we cannot seem to cross. Much to the rich man’s dismay in the parable for today, he would find the same to be true for him, only with eternal consequences.
Deciphering the Parable
Let’s analyse this rich man. His wealth is made obvious in the fine purple linen he dressed in. In ancient Rome, purple linen was expensive. It was coloured clothing only the nobility would wear. The text also says he “feasted sumptuously every day.” Sumptuously? What in the world does that mean? I did you all a favour and looked it up. It means “entailing great expense.”
So, these feasts he had were extremely expensive, and he did this every day. He used his wealth excessively, especially considering the nature of feasts during this time period. Feasts were reserved for special occasions at this time, like weddings. It is much of the same today, actually. We also reserve feasts for special occasions, like weddings and holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, birthdays, and anniversaries. Imagine having feasts like Thanksgiving every day. This would be excessive, right? So, the fact that this rich man feasted every day indicates how excessively he used his wealth.
This is in stark contrast to his servant, Lazarus. In this fiction Jesus tells, Lazarus is a poor man suffering from sores. He’s not a leper because if he was, he wouldn’t have been able to even come near the rich man’s house. Yet he suffers with sores while extremely poor. He is absolutely disgusting and miserable. He was so miserable and pitiful that he desired the scraps of food from the rich man’s table, which was left for dogs.
Today, we find dogs to be precious animals, but in these times, dogs were not precious pets. They were despicable creatures. Lazarus, then, was at their despicable level. Actually, he was even lower than them because the only help he received was from the dogs licking his wounds! Who knows if he even got any scraps? This is equivalent to the homeless person in our day waiting for the scraps of food a restaurant tosses in their dumpsters.
The rich man and Lazarus were utterly separated from each other in more ways than one. They were not only entirely separated in their social status, but also physically separated. Lazarus might have been the rich man’s servant, but unlike most servants he did not live inside his lord’s home. Instead, he laid outside the gate, begging for his lord’s scraps of food.
Then a Great Reversal happens. Both the rich man and the poor man die. Whether you are rich or poor, then, death will meet us all. Yet the Great Reversal that happens is that the rich man and Lazarus switch sides. There is a great chasm between the two of them. As the rich man was on the side where there was feasting and life and Lazarus was on the side of thirst and death, now in death the rich man is on the side of eternal thirst and death and Lazarus is on the side of eternal life and feasting.
The rich man realises this Great Reversal, yet it does not humble him. Rather, he remains in his arrogance because he asks Abraham to send Lazarus to give him water to drink since he is in flaming torment. Even in Hell, he expects Lazarus to serve him.
Instead, Abraham calls the rich man to remember his actions in his life. He exhorts him to see the good things he received and the bad things Lazarus received on account of him—on account of his inaction to love his neighbour. Now, in death, their roles are utterly reversed. Just as Lazarus could not cross the threshold of the gate to join the feast, now the rich man cannot cross the great chasm into the eternal feast because he had squandered his own life in his excessive living.
Then there’s a twist. We don’t expect it, but the rich man actually realises his error! He knows it’s too late for him, so as Jew he begs his father Abraham to send the resurrected Lazarus to his family so they might realise their own sinful living and come to repentance. Sadly, though, the man does not get his wish. Abraham tells him his family already has Moses and the Prophets—they already have the Word of God that is amply filled with warnings of punishment and testimonies to resurrection. If they will not believe and repent when they already have the Word that testifies to these things, then they will not believe when they see somebody risen from the dead…
We must see Jesus’ own resurrection here, which He was certainly alluding to. The Pharisees, to whom Jesus was speaking here, had previously asked for a sign that He is the Son of God. Yet He responds, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of John” [11:29]. Here, also, Jesus was alluding to His resurrection, for as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for 3 days, so Jesus would be in the belly of the earth for 3 days before He would rise from death.
And indeed, many of the Jews did not believe Jesus had resurrected. They thought the disciple stole Jesus’ body and sought to prove it, but they could not. Not even Jesus’ resurrection—the Miracle of all miracles—was enough proof for many of the Jews to bring them to repentance, and it is still not enough for many people today.
In the first sermon I preached here, I preached on the Parable of the Rich fool, which even here the resurrection was not enough. In the sermon, I preached on the man’s foolishness of trusting in his wealth and even his own excess use of it, and I used that to challenge you if you place your trust in money. You would think that after 2,000 plus years, this false thinking that wealth is a sign of God’s favour would no longer exist. O, but it is heavily present today!
You might also remember that I condemned the heresy of the prosperity gospel in my first sermon, which Joel Osteen is famous for preaching. If you don’t remember, the heresy of the prosperity gospel is that it deceives Christians into thinking they have God’s favour when they have wealth and good health rather than looking to what the Word actually says about who they are as God’s children, which is granted to them by grace through faith in Christ alone and guaranteed in Baptism.
I know, there has been a lot of talk on our use of money in our sermons these past couple months. You’re probably sick of it. I hear you, but Jesus wouldn’t warn against the danger of wealth if it wasn’t so important to talk about. The gospel text for next week is on Luke 17, which ends Jesus’ parables on wealth. So, let’s talk about money just one last time. I’ll keep it short.
Think about the relationship you have with your money. How do you use it? Do you use it in excess? That is, do you spend more on yourself than you do on others? Sure, we need to spend more money on ourselves in order to live because bills, houses, and kids pile up a lot of money, and that’s fine. But where are we sacrificing for the sake of others and the sake of the Gospel?
No matter what your salary is, do you budget appropriately that you are able to give some back for the ministry of the Gospel and the sake of the poor? If you don’t know how to budget, that’s okay. Don’t feel so bad. We will be offering the Dave Ramsey course here in a few months to teach you how to budget and to live financially secure. Either way, you are always encouraged to give however much you’re able. Why are you encouraged to give? Because your neighbour needs it. The ministry of the Gospel needs it.
Now think about how much money you have. Is how much—or how little—you have the basis of your trust? Do you believe the lies of Joel Osteen and other supposed Christians like him who say you need a lot of money, or your “best life now”—whatever that means—to be righteous and to have God’s favour? If you believe these lies, you are like the rich man in this parable and are in danger of wealth becoming a curse to Hell rather than a blessing for others. Yet I am here to tell you today that money is not the basis of God’s favour for you.
The resurrection is.
Christ in the Parable
It’s obvious we’re not supposed to be like the rich man in the parable—trusting in our wealth and living in excess of it. We might live like the rich man, but like the rich man there is an irony to our situation. Like the rich man, we find ourselves becoming the poor man Lazarus—miserable and disgusting before God in our poor, sinful condition. Our pride is shattered. In this parable He speaks to us, Jesus has broken our trust in money, ourselves, and other things of this world.
Yet Jesus is totally unlike the rich man. Jesus does not do what the rich man does, or rather what the rich man doesn’t do. The rich man laid back and grew fat in his pleasure.
Jesus did not do this. Jesus did not remain on His heavenly throne to feast on His heavenly riches. Instead, Jesus left His house. Jesus came to us in our muck and grime of greed and He opened the gate and brought us in. Jesus tore down the gate of sinful separation and made Himself the door, and He says, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” [John 10:9]. Thus, like Lazarus, we find Jesus’ Great Reversal come to our separated condition and brings us into His eternal pastures of eternal feasting.
To continue with Jesus’ “I Am” statements, He also says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” [John 11:25].
Jesus is the resurrection and the life. I this parable, Lazarus finds this to be true as the great chasm between Heaven and Hell separated him from the rich man.
Jesus has made Himself the bridge between the great chasm of eternal death and eternal life. Do you believe this?
If your answer is yes, then the Holy Spirit is working in you, and you shall expect to find yourself on the same side as Lazarus, no chasm too wide—no sin or guilt too great—to ever separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
Now may this peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.