Lazarus and the rich man

You may listen to this sermon here.

SERMON. “Lessons From A Poor Man” Tom Williams

Let us pray.

I stand in awe of your purity, LORD. Your decisions are true. They are completely fair. They are more desirable than the finest gold. They are sweeter than honey that drips from a honeycomb.

As your servant I am warned by Your commands. There is a great reward in following them. May the words from my mouth and the thoughts from my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my defender. Amen.

The central message of the gosple reading makes me a little uncomfortable. I had already written this sermon when an acquaintance called and want us to drive to her house, get her, and take her to Wal-Mart to buy water.

She meets most of the criteria of being a Lazarus. Poor, frail health, unable to get around on her own.

I suggested that we buy the water and take it to her. She said she would make other arrangements and hung up. I missed an opportunity to be of service.

That is only part of why I’m uncomfortable with this message … which is clearly aimed at me.

However, I’m going to share it with you, And … in love I tell you, … I hope it makes you squirm a little in your seats also. So I also pray that the Lord makes this lesson sweeter than honey for us all.

Lazarus and the rich man is a parable of extremes. For this was not just a rich man this was a very rich man who lived a life of excess. Observe his clothing made of the finest cloth and colored purple, the most expensive dye to use. To make even a little purple dye, thousands upon thousand of snails were boiled in lead vats. So wearing purple as his daily clothing indicates a man of great wealth and also great vanity, such as those Scribes that Jesus condemned in Luke 20:46-47 where he said, “Beware of the scribes, which desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts; Which devour widows’ houses, and for a shew make long prayers: the same shall receive greater damnation.

This wealthy man ate each day like it was a feast day, which demonstrates that he had food in excess and yet he never once shared it with the man who lay dying at his gate. Yes, he had a gate to his residence which suggests that his property was walled around to protect those things that he had gathered to himself and to isolate himself. We also know that, though Lazarus begged at his gate every day, he never opened the gate to him.

On the other extreme, Lazarus was not only a poor man; this was a man who lived a painful, pitiful life every day. His body was covered in open seeping sores. He was lame or at least too weak to walk as evidenced by the fact that he was laid at the gate. This also suggests that, even in such a dreadful state, he had friends who cared enough to bring him daily to the rich man’s gate. He was so weak that he couldn’t even stop the dogs from licking his wounds. On top of this, he was starving to death. He was to the point of asking to eat the same crumbs that the dogs ate from the floor beneath the table.

I can’t imagine a greater gulf between the social standing of these two men. Can you?

One was respected, honored, envyed, and possibly feared, because of his great wealth. He would have had the best seats at banquets and the synagogue. His social calendar was undoubtedly full of invitations to attend functions by those hoping to raise their own status by association with him.

He would have had servants or slaves to do his every bidding. He was a powerful man.

Lazarus, on the other hand was shunned and shut out of society. Though he starved, he was not invited to anyones feast. Under the Law of Moses he would be considered unclean and untouchable. He was not only expelled from society but also physically expelled from the village. Remember that I said he had friends that would daily bring him to the rich man’s gate? Hear these words from Numbers 19:22. “Whatever the unclean person touches shall be unclean, and anyone who touches it shall be unclean until evening.” His helpers, by helping him would also become ritually unclean for that day. Even if they never touched him but only carried him on a mat or blanket … by touching what he touched, they made themselves also untouchable until sundown.

There is much more to this parabel. However I want to stop here and ask an important question (please, do not raise your hand), “With whom do you identify in this story?”

  • Are you Lazarus? Are you ill or infirm? Are you an outcast in society? Are you at the poverty level or below? Are you unable to supply your basic needs? If this is you please contact the pastor.

  • Are you the rich man? Do you have more than your basic needs met? Do you have a reliable income? Do you have discretionary income? If you have income beyond your basic needs, do you spend it on yourself or to assist those in need? Do you own your own home or property? Are you highly thought of in your community? If this is you, and this sermon causes you to rethink how your discretionary income is spent, contact the pastor.

  • Are you the friends of the beggar? Are you the primary caregiver of someone else? Do you provide physical or financial aid to those in need? Are you willing to give up your social standing to help someone in need? Are you willing to risk your own health to assist someone in need? If this is you, first of all, thank you. Now, if you would like to expand your outreach or missionary work,

… who do you contact? The pastor.

Take a moment to consider how you would answer Lord Jesus, were he to ask this question of you.

Let us continue studying the parable.

An exchange takes place where the rich man, not so much as asks, as commands Abraham to send Lazarus to ease his pain in Hades.

His self-importance and selfishness, it seems, extends even into hell itself. Doesn’t it?

I’m sure that there it’s a name for people like that … but it wouldn’t be right to use it in church. Right?

This … formerly … rich man hasn’t lost any of his arrogance even in hell. He believes that the worthless Lazarus should be sent to hell to serve his needs.

This might be a good time to let you know that I believe in Heaven.

Do you?

I know it to be a real place, though it may not be a physical place. I believe it is a place where we are completely in the fellowship with God as the Creator originally intended when he created mankind. And I believe that Jesus has secured our passage to heaven by his sacrificial death. That deserves a “hallelujah” or a “Thank you Jesus!”

Now, I know that a lot of modern churches don’t often speak about hell. So I will tell you that I believe that Hell is a real place, though it might not be a physical place. I believe that hell is being completely separated from God, cast into the outer darkness. And this is the afterlife that some choose by their … action … or …inaction … in this life.

What I do not believe is that there will be communication between Heaven and Hell. I believe this was just a device that Jesus was using in this parable.

In this parable Abraham tells the rich man that Lazarus cannot do as he demands. There is no passage between heaven and hell. A great exspance stands between them.

And I for one thank God for that.

What a reversal of fortune has taken place. Amen?

In their earthly lives, the rich man consumed all the best things of the earth while Lazarus was afflicted with unbearable pain, suffering, and humiliation.

However now see how Lazarus is healed and comforted by Father Abraham himself, while the rich man is suffering in a place of eternal torment.

It is amazing how God’s justice and mercy … work hand in hand. Right?

The rich man then begs Abraham. Did you hear that? He begged. On earth, day after day Lazarus begged for food at his gate. Now the formerly rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his still living brothers. Though he shows concern for his family, even in his begging he had so little esteem for Lazarus that he would order him about as he would a slave.

Are you still following me?

Pay attention here … this is an important point that Jesus is making.

Abraham bluntly said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’

Remember that Jesus is telling this to the temple rulers, the Scribes and the Pharisees. These two different Jewish sects had different religious philosophies. The Scribes based their beliefs strictly only on the five books of Moses and disregarded the books of the prophets and others. The Pharisees philosophy was based more on the oral tradition of the elders rather than scriptures. Jesus quotes Isaiah in Matthew 15:9 where Good said, “in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’”

So Jesus having Abraham say, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; … they should listen to them.’ it was pointed directly at both the scribes and Pharisees. I’m sure that it wasn’t lost on them.

Don’t let that slide past you. WE ALSO HAVE MOSES AND THE PROPHETS. What have they to say to us? Paul wrote to Timothy,

Paul wrote to Timothy, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2Tim.3 Verses 16 & 17) He, of course, was speaking of the Jewish scrolls that were read in the temple and synagogues. Those were the text we refer to as the Old Testament.

There is a lot more to the bible than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I encourage you to read it. That mini sermon was thrown in at no extra charge.

The story continues, ‘Father Abraham; if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

A little bit of messianic prophesy thrown in here at the last, for we know that many were not convinced even when Jesus returned from the dead.

Now, I warned you that this would probably make you uncomfortable. So, here is the pointed end of the stick. It is painfully obvious that our comfort in our eternal life – our forever life – is dependent on our – short time – in this Earthly life.

Now I’m a good person (Ella don’t you say a word) and y’all are good people, as the world judges people.

The problem is God doesn’t give two Hoots or a holler for how the world judges us.

As I said earlier I think the rich man was probably respected and deferred to in his community and people probably thought he was a good man. But on the day of judgement he was found lacking.

I just can’t get past Jesus in Matthew 25:34-36 saying, “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.’”

I long to hear him say those words to me. And you do too. Right?

But listen to the rest of the story.

“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; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 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.’”

And those on his left will start spitting and sputtering, “But I was one of the good ones, just ask my neighbors.”

Luke, in particular, stresses the way the status of the rich and the poor is reversed in the kingdom of God.

Remember that in the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus tells the poor that God favors them and that the kingdom of God belongs to them, but he warns the rich of what is to come since they have already received their consolation in this life (6:20-25).

In his very first sermon, Jesus announced, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news … to the poor.”

Twice in Luke chapter 14 Jesus said to invite, “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” to your home, to your party.

I don’t know about you, but I’m quickly revising my party invitations.

It appears to me that the author of James got the point that Jesus made over and over, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.”

True faith has to have legs and hands and to be a servant of Lord Jesus. And let’s not forget the bank account. That is, after all what is the basis of this parable. You can accumulate stuff on Earth or earn your reward in heaven.

And let’s not forget the bank account. That is, after all what is the basis of this parable. You can accumulate stuff on Earth or earn your reward in heaven.

Frankly, this story of the rich man and Lazarus can be hard to swallow for many Americans.

Let’s be real our lifestyle stands in sharp contrast with a most of the world. For instance had this to say, The 12 percent of the world’s population that lives in North America and Western Europe accounts for 60 percent of private consumption spending,

Wait. Hear that again.

12 percent of the world’s population consumes 60 percent of the resources.

And the rest of the world?

Well 33% of the world, living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, consume only 3.2 percent.” 1/3 of the world consume 3.2 of the resources

Folks, … we … are …the rich man!

Certainly, some percentage of that rampant consumerism could be used to lift some poor naked, imprisoned, sick, hungry, thirsty, stranger. Right?

Just so I know you haven’t clenched your checkbook to your chest and slid down in the pew, I really need an amen here,

Again, I’m saying this in love. And this is not an appeal to increase your tithe and offering. (sorry, Finance Committee)

This is an appeal for us to take a long look at all of our resources and see how we may be used to help those people who have fallen through the cracks in society. I strongly believe that when our cup of blessing overflows, we are not to drink deeper, we are to pass the blessing along.

As I said earlier, It is painfully obvious to me that our comfort in our eternal life – our forever life – is dependent on our short time in this Earthly life. “we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it.” So, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matt. 6:19-20)

I know our temptation is to explain away a story like this and to remove its blatant depiction of how God will ultimately vindicate the cause of the poor. But the message has been clearly stated. Like the rich man’s five brothers, we have been given all the warning we need by Moses, the prophets, PLUS a man risen from the dead, Jesus himself.

Like the rich man’s five brothers, we have been given all the warning we need by Moses, the prophets, PLUS a man risen from the dead, Jesus himself.

I will end with this qoute from Rev. Dr. Sam Persons Parkes, pastor of Cloverdale UMC in Dothan, Alabama

“Privilege is blinding culturally, ecologically, theologically, sexually, and racially. But a lot of people, the dominants, just don’t care! Many of them have their own version of “Moses and the prophets” (worst band name ever, by the way). Many of us had parents who taught us to care for others, to be kind and compassionate. And we believe these things, yet often fail to act on them.”

I pray I’ve left you with something to think about and to pray about.

God bless

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All content (except quotations) ©2019 Thomas E Williams

Originally posted Sunday, September 29, 2019

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