“Which One: Lazarus or the Rich Man”

Sermon – 09-29-19 – Proper 21 – Cycle C
Scripture: Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31
Sermon Title: “Which One: Lazarus or the Rich Man”

The Insolent People and the Impoverished People. I typed “insolent” into my search engine and the first choice was “Insolent at Amazon!” How funny! Like I could buy “insolence” at Amazon. I guess it applies. But I was looking for the meaning of “insolent” to be sure I was on base. It means “proud, arrogant, haughty, lordly, overbearing, supercilious, disdainful, mean, showing scorn for inferiors.” What is an inferior? Who decides who is inferior?

Have you noticed recently that the newspapers and internet news is using the word “entitled” to refer to people who think they are entitled to step on other people. This can refer to wealth but people without wealth who wish they had wealth or are otherwise better than lowlier people can act “entitled.”

You may be saying, “What are you talking about?” An entitled mother lets her child take a toy or food from another child’s hand. An entitled person would break into a line of people waiting their turn. An entitled person would talk badly to a person of a different skin color or a disabled person which is bad enough but does it in front of children, especially his or her own children. An entitled person pays great sums of money to have their children accepted, without qualifying, into schools of high reputation. Those people are currently being punished.. I have not heard how the universities will be punished. Maybe I have missed that. Have you heard?

Moving on, or should I say backward, an entitled person would sit at a table laden with expensive food and deny the crumbs to a person who needs food and medical attention. Yes, the Rich Man and Lazarus! I foolishly love this story. It is so decisive. So right and wrong. I always take the side of Lazarus, the poor, pathetic person. Someone help him immediately! Well, God really turned the table on these characters. The Rich Man sitting on a chair at a table laden with sumptuous food while at the gate to his estate lay a man covered with sores. The only pity and mercy he received was from the dogs who licked his sores and probably aided in healing them.

How did God turn the table on these characters in his story? Eventually these two men died. One went to heaven and one went to hell. Surely, you can guess how the table was turned. The Rich Man is no longer sitting on a chair at a table full of food. He is under the table without a chair – way under. In hell. Flames all around, carelessly not caring where they crept, Rich Man or not. The Rich Man still thinks that he is better than Lazarus. He begs for Lazarus to come to him to give him water. Imagine!

Oh, yes. Where is Lazarus? Yes, he is sitting at heaven’s table next to Abraham who is the most important person at the table or so the religious people of the time thought. Lazarus is the honored guest beside Abraham. The table is turned but Rich Man is not resigned to this particular turn of events. When the Rich Man expects Lazarus to be sent to him in hell to comfort Rich Man, Abraham says in no uncertain terms that the chasm is too great. Abraham continues by saying that Rich Man had his chance. It is now too late!

To the Rich Man’s credit, he does seem to care for his own brothers. He begs Abraham to warn Rich Man’s brothers about this awful place so they don’t also end their lives licked by flames.

Does Abraham oblige Rich Man’s request? No, Abraham is being really resistant to these requests from the entitled Rich Man. Abraham says in no uncertain terms, “They can read it for themselves in the book of Moses and the prophets!” We know this book to be the Old Testament, the Hebrew scripture.

Did you hear me say that I sympathize with Lazarus, the poor soul? Well, it is right that I should do that. It is a righteous attitude. But, don’t let me walk away without admitting that I resemble the Rich Man more than I resemble Lazarus. I do. Not because I am rich and live elegantly and extravagantly but because I often ignore the Lazarus’s in my life. I think I am good about seeing the poor and needy. Well, seeing them and doing something for them are two separate matters.

Am I willing to share my meal at Red Lobster with a person I know is eating meagerly and alone? Oh, I do give money for other people to pass the food or a cooked meal to a Lazarus. I don’t even want to know how much money I have given for such purposes. But it is like throwing crumbs which may be better than not throwing any crumbs or money. But I have not let go of my entitlement; I have not let go of my insolence. I do not take Lazarus by the hand and bring him to the table in my house.

I am haunted by the words, “the poor will be lifted up and the rich will be sent empty away.” Who said those words? How do I know these words? Luke 1, Mary nurturing Jesus in her body, said these words when she visited her cousin Elizabeth. I picture Mary outdoors with the mountains as a background, proclaiming her song we have titled “The Magnificat.”

Imagine, Mary is still getting accustomed to the idea that she is carrying the Son of God in her body but she already knows him. She knows his character. She knows the way he will be our Savior and her Savior. She knows how her son will lift the lowly and put down the proud because he is the Son of God. This Son of God, this child of Mary, will be the Son person of God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God’s kingdom will be established on earth in the birth and personhood of Jesus, the Son. Mary is given these words by the Holy Spirit. She uses the past tense because this God always was and is and always will be. The child Mary is carrying will bring the Father’s values and methods to earth in human form to become the earthly Kingdom of God. Here are the specific words Mary sang about the rich and the poor:

And Mary sang, “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty . . . according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.”

We heard Paul’s instruction to young Timothy in our Epistle lesson: “As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.” May it be so with us!

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