16th Sunday after Pentecost
September 29, 2019
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The text that engages us today is the Holy Gospel lesson previously read from Luke chapter 16.
My dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Every day of our lives, God gifts us with an amazing and unique gift! Each day you live, you get time…24 wonderful hours to use however you want! It is given only once, so it is a valuable commodity. How valuable is an entire month? Ask a mother whose baby is born prematurely. How valuable is one week? Ask the editor of a weekly newspaper. How valuable is one night? Ask someone whose spouse has been unfaithful. How valuable is one hour? Ask someone rushed to the hospital in need of critical care; been there, done that. Have the scar to prove it.
Time is a valuable commodity. In Luke 16, Jesus speaks first how important it is to use our resources wisely. Now today, He are encouraged to wisely use the time we are given, to use our time wisely, because we never know when it will be too late.
In this parable today, we see two men whose time is “up,” as they say. In terms of this world, both Lazarus and the rich man are out of time; they are both dead. This parable is very unique. Normally parables are earthly stories with heavenly meanings; this is the only parable which does not limit its action to this world. It is also the only parable out of 55 different parables in which the characters have names (Lazarus, Abraham, Moses); all other parables use only titles and personal pronouns.
The rich man is very wealthy. He lives in a home with a gate; maybe not a big deal in Sarasota, but in ancient Near East it was! He also wears clothes made with purple die. For centuries, the purple dye trade was centered in the ancient Phoenician city of Tyre in modern day Lebanon. The Phoenicians’ purple dye came from the Murex sea snail, and it was so exceedingly rare that it literally became worth its weight in gold. Purple was reserved for royalty; only they could afford purple. Lazarus, a man with nothing in this world, lies at his gate begging and longing to get the crumbs from the rich man’s table. Dogs are licking his sores. A 1st century Jew would never allow an unclean dog to do this; it would have been a horrifying situation and Lazarus couldn’t stop it. Lazarus is destitute and his situation is dire. The rich man lives dignified and his situation is desirable.
But death is the great equalizer! The only thing that matters following death is the condition of the heart, the soul, the faith of the deceased. Possessions and wealth are all left behind; what God considers is not found in a checkbook register. Now that death has come, the positions have been reversed. Lazarus is in, with ABRAHAM no less; the rich man is out.
When death came, the rich man found that he was too late in a number of ways. The rich man found that it was too late to care for those around him. The rich man had an opportunity to care for the needy every day, but he chose otherwise. What he gave to Lazarus, if anything, was the scraps from his table. Giving scraps? That leftover giving is not done in love, but from guilt. True giving as motivated by faith is giving away what is precious not just the leftovers.
So often when Christians give our money, we also give the “leftovers.” First Fruits giving is hard; It’s easier to give the crumbs to the poor leaving the best for ourselves. Those with needs are all around us – sometimes even at our front door. Do you know how many times I’ve given needy people food from our All Faith’s food barrel? Sometimes the needs are obvious: people need food, clothing, or shelter. Sometimes the needs are not so obvious: people are hurting, lonely, scared, addicted, tired, or countless other emotions that diminish the quality of that person’s life. It was too late for the rich man to use his time wisely. It’s not too late for you. You still draw the breath of life; it’s not too late for you.
Additionally, for the rich man it was also too late to see the chasm, to see the difference between heaven and hell. These images are among some of the most tragic and serious warnings in the Bible. Our culture, though, avoids such ideas by denying their truth. People tend to sinfully down play the existence of an actual heaven and actual hell. In their minds, the existence of heaven and hell are good for Sunday School stories and sympathy cards and that’s about it. For many, if the idea of “heaven” or “hell” motivates you to live a better life, then that’s okay. For too many, since you can’t see either one, how can you believe it exists, right? That, my friends, is a dangerous gamble to make. Yes, God is a God of love, but He is also just and His wrath against sin is terrible. Hell is the ultimate manifestation of the consequences of the Law, and by the time one ends up there, it’s clearly too late!
For God’s people, it’s not too late! Lazarus must have had faith in God, for he ended up in heaven. The parable is NOT about if you’re “good” you go to heaven and if you’re “bad,” you go to hell. Let the Bible interpret the Bible and over and over the Bible teaches salvation by grace through FAITH alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). After a life of faithful suffering, Lazarus now enjoys the eternal glory of heaven.
For the rich man, it was too late to hear and heed the life-giving Word of God. It’s not too late for you. As children of God, our faith, our hope, lies in Jesus Christ revealed to us in the Word. Christ shed his innocent blood for us at Calvary to buy us back from sin; to lift us up like Lazarus and provide for our every need when we could not. Were it not for Christ Jesus and His sacrificial death, then we would ALL share the fate of the rich man. In the Parable, Jesus foreshadowed what He would do for us…rise again from the grave and what an eternal DIFFERENCE that makes! Because of God’s grace and His plan for salvation for humanity, because of our saving faith in Jesus, it is not too late for us. We are encouraged to be ready now…right now…before it does become too late.
Life moves pretty fast – we even say “time flies” – and the one burden you don’t want to carry is regret. Regret is like luggage; you clumsily carry it around, there’s never a convenient way to deal with it, and rarely do you get rid of it. Don’t let it be too late. Say what needs to be said. Do what needs to be done. Let your faith be evident as you take the time to serve your neighbor. Use your treasures wisely, especially your time. It’s been said that, in life, there are two pains: the pain of discipline and the pain of regret. Do the right thing today, even if it hurts, so you never carry the pain of regret…especially that you didn’t use your time wisely. Remember…you only get it once; don’t let “too late” become your regret.