19th Sunday after Pentecost
September 25, 2016
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 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 precious item indeed. Is time important to everyone? You’d better believe it! How important is a year? Ask a student who just failed a grade. How important is a month? Ask a mother whose baby is born prematurely. How important is one week? Ask the editor of a weekly newspaper. How important is one day? Ask someone who called in sick from their job at the World Trade Center on 9-11. How important is one hour? Ask someone waiting for a critical test result to come back. Time is a valuable commodity. In Luke 16, Jesus speaks to us reminding us to redeem the time we are given, to use our time wisely, because we never know when it will be too late.
In this parable, 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 in which the characters have names; 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 – which was an indicator of luxury. 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. Lazarus’ situation is as tragic as the rich man’s is elegant; Lazarus’ situation is dire while the rich man lives dignified.
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. This act of giving is not done in love, but from guilt. True giving as motivated by faith is giving away what is precious not just the left-overs.
So often when Christians give our money, we also give the “leftovers.” First Fruits giving is hard; the sinful nature drags us back to the playground mentality of “mine!” 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 (that homeless man left with resources for food). 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 redeem his time. It’s not too late for us. We still have a chance to redeem our time; to use the treasures that God gives us to better the lives of His people. Maybe you’ve noticed that this is the 2nd week in a row that our Gospel lesson (last week = “Dishonest Manager”) deals with the idea of wealth and how to USE it wisely as good and faithful stewards, which hopefully is causing us to reflect on our own stewardship.
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. You can’t see either one so 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.
Also, for the rich man, it was too late for him to redeem his time to heed God’s Word. Now that it’s too late, the rich man wants some kind of miracle to save him from his torment, but Abraham tells him that he had heard the word of Moses and the prophets – what we would refer to as the Law – but he chose not to comply with it. Much could have been done by the rich man is his life to avoid his fate, but as an unrepentant sinner he is receiving his due punishment; punished for his lack of faith, not poor stewardship. Damnation is the fate that awaits all who do not repent of their sins and believe in Christ Jesus; contrary to popular belief, there is no way for sinful humanity to “buy” itself out of hell or into heaven; it doesn’t work like that.
It works like this. For God’s people, it’s never too late! Lazarus must have had faith in God, for he ended up in heaven. The parable is NOT about works/wealth that determines our eternity. 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 suffering, Lazarus now enjoys the eternal glory of heaven. This parable from our Lord helps us to understand that our attention should be on Him and His Word, and not on the possessions he gives us. 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 a DIFFERENCE that makes! Out of God’s grace and His plan for salvation for humanity, because of our saving faith in Jesus it truly is never too late for us.
True richness, true wealth, lies in the faith that we have been called to in and through Christ. Your earthly resources are going to come and go. Don’t allow them to define who you are. Live your life in faithfulness and let your actions prompted by faith define who you are. You are a blood-bought child of God…it’s never too late for you! Use your resources to meet the needs of those around you. Let your faith be evident as you help your neighbor. Use your treasures wisely, including your time. Recognize that true wealth is found in your faith in Christ and the promise of heaven for all who fear, love, and trust in the Giver of all gifts and not the gifts themselves. Amen.