Feb 5, 2005

Sermon Title: Living in Dichotomy - The Rich Man and Lazarus

Linda E. Webster
M.Div. Student, Luther Seminary
First Place Feburary 2005 Round
The scriptures read today could appear to be a trap for many of us in various ways. We live within the society of the United States, which is affluent for many people – but not for all. This is difficult because those who are affluent do not want to see themselves in the position of the rich man that was read about today in Luke 16.

Honestly – if you are honest with yourself – you almost cannot help but see yourself as being part of the affluent. The rich man spent a lot of money on himself. He wore purple-colored cloth, a sign of wealth, and fine linen.

Please – just take a moment to look at what you are wearing today. You are probably dressed fairly nicely – even – by some of the world’s standards – richly. Out of curiosity, think about how much the outfit you are wearing cost.

The rich man ate sumptuously. What was your breakfast like this morning? Think about what you ate before you came here. You most likely had wonderful, filling, and fairly nutritious food – while many in the world live with hunger on a daily basis and would gladly take a small part of what you had for their entire, daily intake.

Though the verses in gospel according to Luke do not say exactly what it was that Lazarus was wearing for clothes, it is unlikely he was wearing the latest in fashion, even for the “street people” of the time. From the description, we can tell he was not completely covered as his sores were visible and the dogs could lick them. Luke’s story seems to imply that Lazarus would have loved to have been satisfied by the crumbs from the rich man’s table, but he could not be. Was the rich man so tight with even his leftovers that Lazarus constantly went away hungry? This story makes you wonder.

The readings from Luke’s gospel and the first letter to Timothy convict you and make you want to do something – anything – to alleviate your conscience. Write a check. Give food to the local food bank. Go through your closet and get rid of all those clothes you are not wearing anyway. Work in at a soup kitchen giving out breakfast, lunch, or dinner to the needy. Give money to Lutheran World Relief.

You want to DO something! You feel the need to do ANYTHING! You want to give your conscience some relief from the guilt it is feeling! That is our response to the law. It is the natural response – the normal human response. We hear the story of this rich man and we understand our own failure to live up to what it is we think God is asking of us. We are convicted of our sin before God.

The rich man in this story still does not appear to be completely aware of the problem. There is no repentance for his past actions. He does not acknowledge that he lived his life unconscious of his neighbor’s need. He does not seem aware that he lived his life in his own self-sufficiency.

The rich man does not acknowledge that he lived his life without awareness of God or his neighbor until he was long dead and in torment in Hades. Even at that point, he acts out of self-preservation. He wants help! But, that help is not forthcoming. When that plea fails, he asks that special messengers be sent to his relatives to “save” them. But, he is told there is a gulf between himself and God and there is a gulf between his relatives and Christ’s saving work.

There is no fear of God, only fear for self. There is no acknowledgement of sin as there is no repentance or asking for forgiveness. Pray that at the Last Day you do not find yourself in the same position this rich man was in.

This story of the rich man and Lazarus is a good illustration of the following words spoken by Jesus earlier in chapter 6 of the gospel of Luke in the “Sermon on the Plain.”
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. …

Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now for you will mourn and weep. (NRSV)
Are you receiving all the consolation that is yours now in this life? Or, will you receive consolation in the next life?

If we read a little further in chapter 6 of the book of 1 Timothy we come to understand what the Christian attitude towards riches should be. Please read with me again, starting at verse 6 and reading through verse 10.
Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into this world – it is certain that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (NRSV)

I would like to tell you a story of a very small town located in northwestern Nebraska named White Clay. It is an unincorporated town of about 20 people. It has the highest per capita number of millionaires of any town in the entire United States. White Clay is located two miles south of the largest town on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which is also named Pine Ridge. The major business in White Clay is selling alcohol. It has been estimated the 11,000 cans of beer are sold there everyday. Who buys this alcohol? It is the Native Americans who drive, walk, and hitchhike those two miles everyday who are the clientele of these establishments.
Those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. (NRSV)

Sadly, this is not a made-up story, but a true story. It is a story of people who in their desire to be rich have brought about the destruction of many others. When faced with an eternity such as that of the “rich man” in Luke 16, is the desire to be rich and the blatant ignoring of your neighbors and their well-being worth the pain of eternity without God’s presence – or as the rich man experienced – being separated from God by a wide, uncrossable chasm?

Is giving up all of our possessions the correct and proper response either? From 1 Corinthians 13 it says –
If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body to be burned, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (NRSV)
Each of us is in a predicament! If you have many things, you could be in serious trouble. BUT, if you give away everything you could still be in big trouble. How are we as Christians suppose to handle this daily tug-of-war, this daily push-pull dichotomy in our lives of faith?

Continuing to read from chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians –
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (NRSV)

And from Galatians 3 –
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. (NRSV)

And, from Galatians 2 –
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (NRSV)

We have been crucified with Christ. This is where each of us must come and hide – hide in the shadow of the cross – abide in the work that has already been done on the cross for you and for me.

Psalm 91 says –
You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” (NRSV)

You cannot find deliverance from yourself in yourself. Your deliverance is only found in God and the work already accomplished for you on the cross of Calvary by the Son of God, Jesus the Christ. Your salvation is not dependent on what you do to deliver yourself or how you may change yourself. God has already done all the work. You are only asked to come and live in what God has already accomplished for you. From living in God’s presence, through the Word and in the fellowship of the Church, you will be changed.

Love and generosity are fruits of the Spirit. Fruit is something that grows from being in the proper environment. Fruit grows when a branch of the vine is getting the right food and enough water. Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. I am the Living Water. I am the Vine – you are the branches.” Jesus is the Word of Life.
Fruit grows without any knowledge of the branch and it will continue to grow as long as the branch stays connected to the vine and receives all the nourishment it needs. Just as the fruit is unaware of the branch, the branch is unaware of the fruit. Listen to how this is illustrated so well in the 25th chapter of the gospel according to Matthew.
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (NRSV)
God’s work of salvation was completed on the cross. We can do nothing to make that work more complete. The only thing we need to do is hold onto the promises that God has made.

In Psalm 91 God has promised to deliver those who love God, to protect those who know God’s name, to answer when God’s name is called, to be with those in trouble and rescue and honor them. There is the promise of satisfaction with long life and salvation.

The Christian life is one that is described as being a life of stewardship and generosity. Does that come from within us – from our humanity? No. It can only come from “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” as Colossians 1:27 says.

If we depend on ourselves we will only fail. If we depend on Christ we cannot help but live a “fruit-ful” life, no matter what it seems to look like on the outside. Did Lazarus look successful? Not by the world’s standards. But, he certainly was by God’s standards. Did the rich man look successful? Yes, by the world’s standards he did. But, by God’s he failed miserably.

Today, no matter where you think you are, trust in God’s work in and through you. The work of salvation is complete. The fruits of the Spirit are growing in you. Stay nourished – a branch connected to the Vine – watered and fed – through the washing of water by the word, as Ephesians 5:26 says, and through the renewing of your mind, as Romans 12:2 says – and you will grow in grace unto life eternal.