Luke 16:19-31; Jeremiah 32:6-15
Sometimes Jesus said the strangest things. In Luke 16:13, Jesus insisted, “You cannot serve God and wealth.” The implication is if you have money you must be evil. That is as ridiculous as suggesting if you are poor you are blessed. Well Jesus said that too but we know he was speaking allegorically. On hearing both statements the Pharisees reacted vigorously. They pointed out that without money the synagogue could not exist and what on earth would people would do without the church.
Instead of arguing, Jesus told a story. Once upon a time there was a rich man who loved to eat. Morning, noon, and evening he could be found surrounded by friends consuming the finest wines and the richest foods. Just outside the dining room was a beggar named Lazarus. The presence of the beggar never seemed to bother the rich man. As it turns out the only thing the beggar and the rich man had in common was they died on the same day. Here is where the story gets weird. The rich man faced eternal torment while Lazarus rested in the arms of Abraham. The rich man called out, “Father Abraham, send Lazarus down here that he might dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.” Abraham refused.
The rich man tried again, “Send Lazarus to my house to warn my brothers not to live like me. Please Father Abraham, they would see the truth if they could hear it from someone who came back from the dead.”
Abraham responded, “They have Moses and the prophets and they won’t listen to them. Why do you think they will listen to someone raised from the dead?”
There are a number of rabbit holes we could take in looking at this text. The obvious is the turn or burn message. You have the wrong preacher to go down that road.
We could spend time looking at the Jewish understanding of afterlife as it evolved from a strict Deuteronomic Code to a curiosity based on Persian Folklore. But that sounds best suited for a Sunday School lesson. Besides, if I am going down a rabbit hole, I would rather travel with Jesus.
Jesus lived in two worlds. When preaching in the countryside Jesus was overwhelmed by request from the poor and the sick. Often poverty led to poor health. Certainly sickness leads to poverty. That is just as true today as it was 2,000 years ago. On the other hand Jesus got invited to eat out quite often. He would dine with folks who worked hard and their labors were rewarded. It was these folks who were privy to many of the stories Jesus told. Usually he was not as much concerned about wealth as he was about how one’s wealth was being used. After all Jesus did say, “To those to whom much has been given, much is expected.” So maybe this story is more about the line, “If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they wouldn’t even listen to someone resurrected from the dead.”
The Pharisees were experts on Moses and the prophets. They knew the law they loved evolved from the exploits of Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. They knew these prophets were visionaries. The prophets saw the conditions of today as a springboard for the possibilities of tomorrow.
A prime example would be the story of Jeremiah. If you have never read the book of Jeremiah don’t attempt it without alcohol. If Jeremiah hadn’t been a prophet he would have been a country music song writer. I think Jeremiah was probably the inspiration for the line, “Help me make it through the night.” Yet even Jeremiah could recognize the flicker of light that exposes itself just before the sunrise.
Jeremiah lived in horrific times. Jerusalem was being besieged by the armies of Babylon and he didn’t have to be a prophet to know things were going to end badly. Most folks were writing their last will and testament. Jeremiah decided to go into the real estate business. Let me put this into a perspective we can all understand. This would be like buying property in the Bahamas the day before Hurricane Dorian made landfall. What Jeremiah was about to buy would soon be worthless. But Jeremiah did not live for the moment. This melancholy poet took the newly purchased bill of sell, placed it in an earthen pot, and planted it into the ground. He believed one day the Hebrew people would return to Jerusalem. When they did, the land purchased would be the place a new beginning would begin.
This is a dominate message that resonated through the Old Testament and into the stories of Jesus. God wants us to invest in the future of someone else. The Hebrews kept asking, “Am I my brother and sisters keeper?” God’s answer was always, “Yes.” The Pharisees endlessly asked Jesus, “How do I become a good neighbor?” Jesus always responded, “By showing mercy.”
The sin of the rich man was not his wealth, it was his eyesight. Day after day Lazarus came to his house. Day after day Lazarus was unseen. Then one day God, who has a remarkable sense of irony, turned the tables on the rich man and he miraculously developed 20/20 vision.
Thanks to the generosity of this church Deb and I spent our last two weeks immersed in a journey which covered 2,000 years. Part of our experience was exploring the most impressive cathedrals in the United Kingdom. I am not sure which was more inspiring, the end product or the stories of their construction.
Works of art like the cathedrals in Salisbury and Canterbury were not completed in a matter of years. In some cases the work took two or three generations. The men who began these projects knew their dream would never be completed in their lifetime. So they thought ahead. Massive trees were cut down to suspend the ceilings. Then seedlings were planted so the next generation could have an ample wood supply for the completion of the project. The future was planned by those who would never see a finished product. They invested in future of their grandchildren.
All of us have been blessed. Think of all the opportunities we have to invest in the future of our neighbors through simple acts of mercy. Many of you were teachers. Many of you worked in health care. You invested your talents on behalf of those around you. Today we continue to recognize the plight others and respond through our outreach ministries. Next month all those programs will be on display during worship and we will have the chance to further support them with our hands and hearts.
But over the last few weeks we have witnessed a younger Lazarus standing outside our door. Children, articulate children, have spoken to Congress, to the United Nations, to us, about rising seas, melting glaciers, fossil fuels, and plastic waste that is killing our oceans. These young voices are asking us to invest in their future.
You see, if we look, if we listen, if we remember Jesus and the prophets, we might discover opportunities for transformation just outside our doorsteps. Amen.