Sermon 26th September 2019 – 16th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 16:19-31 – reversal of fortunes
Earlier this year I was sitting in Swan Street Richmond waiting for a friend on our way to watch the football.
While I was waiting a young man came up to me with a collection tin and asked if I would like to donate some money.
There was no organisation on the tin – he had no identification on him – and I literally had no cash on me – I rarely do these days with tap and go on my credit cards.
So I apologised and said I was sorry but I didn’t have any cash on me – just a credit card.
With that he pulls out of his pocket an EFTPOS machine and said he would take credit.
That really caught me off guard and I was not about to trust an unknown person in the streets of Richmond with my credit card details.
But as he left I wondered about today’s Gospel reading.
Was I ignoring the plight of the poor?
Was I in danger of the end time separation of sheep and goats where Jesus condemns those who neglected “I was hungry and you did not give me something to eat” – for as much as you did not do it for one of the least of these you did not do it unto me.
Maybe I did – and so the first thing I did was not justify why I didn’t give him my credit card was to confess to God and seek his forgiveness.
We are all put into situations sometimes where an on the spot decision is needed and sometimes we choose wrongly – not because of evil intentions.
The correct response to that is not to dig up reasons as to why or why not – but to admit your short falling and seek God’s mercy.
That’s not what is happening in our Gospel reading.
What’s happening in our Gospel reading is a total disregard for the needy right at his doorstep where he had ample opportunity to support someone that God had placed right before him every day.
The rich unnamed man was not judged because he was rich – it doesn’t say that.
He was judged in that the extra that he had was used to make his life even more comfortable while a person in need sleeping at his doorstep was totally ignored.
The parable does not say that the rich man was evil, or that he obtained his wealth by dishonest means.
He simply ignored the desperate man at his doorstep.
How many times did he come and go from his house and all the while ignore the miserable condition of Lazarus at his doorstep?
And that was what caused his final torment that put him on the other side of the great chasm separating him from Abraham and Lazarus.
We don’t know much about Lazarus either:
How did Lazarus get so poor?
Was he a leper – hence the sores on his body?
Was he born blind,
We don’t know – but the story doesn’t say that Lazarus was a particularly good, “saintly,” person who earned his place by Abraham’s side because he was a good person.
We cannot read that into the story, that his goodness earned him his reward.
Because the parable does not say that Lazarus was good or evil;
I’m not sure this parable is about good and evil and punishment but about God being the one who sets things right at the end.
It’s very much like the beatitudes in Matthew’s gospel.
Blessed are the poor for they shall inherit the earth – it’s a reversal of fortunes
Lazarus is just the poor man at the door, passed by and unnoticed --one of the invisible poor to the rich man, who had more pressing matters to tend to in his life.
In today’s context, Lazarus is part of the daily scenery we get used to seeing and soon don’t notice anymore -- like the people sleeping on the streets – we don’t hear about them on the news anymore – have they all found homes or is it just old news.
It’s much easier to sign online petitions about or click like or share a post about on social media as we wish them well.
As James says: Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
So in our story there is a message to wake up from our complacency.
A message of hope for those who suffer and a message of warning for those who ignore thesuffering of others.
The story shows Lazarus and the rich man in the next life.
Lazarus is now in the comfort and security of the “bosom of Abraham”.
The rich man is in torment – a reversal of fortunes.
Jesus reminds us in the story that God notices the unnoticed;
He holds the unimportant as important;
He will comfort those the world ignores in their misery.
God knows the name of the poor and cherishes them (notice that the poor man has a name, Lazarus, and the rich man doesn’t).
Angels carried Lazarus away to the bosom of Abraham while he was someone who was counted as nothing in the eyes of the world.
The rich man also died and was buried.
That’s all it says about his death – there is no glory in it.
The parable serves as a wake up call.
The poor are right at our doorstep.
We don’t have to look far to see and respond to those in need, who require our time and attention.
But sometimes it’s not our eyes that are the issue but our hearts.
It is easy to become like the rich man and be blinded to the need as we complain about their disruption to our lives.
While national borders must be respected, so must the needs of those in desperate conditions that are at our doorstep seeking refuge
While the homeless disrupt our passage to work or our trip to the shops our complaints don’t provide them with food or shelter.
The rich man wasn’t evil and that comes through when he becomes concerned about the future of his brothers and doesn’t want them to experience the same torment.
He would rather spend his time in torment alone than have his family there also in torment so his heart is not inherently evil and selfish.
So this story is not a call to repentance so much but a call to wake up from complacency where it is easy to become complacent and ignore the needs of those around us as we get caught up in our own worlds.
We are called to be like God who makes the sun shine on the good and the bad, who sends the rain on the just and unjust.
It is that kind of unconditional love that we are often not able to grasp.
When Jesus went about his ministry he reached out to all.
He went in to eat in the houses of tax collectors and sinners and he went in to eat in the houses of the prominent religious leaders, prepared to share God’s love with them all.
The only words of rebuke we ever hear from the lips of Jesus are directed against those who tried to shut others out from the grace and love of God.
Who do we see and who don’t we see as children of God?
Who do we have compassion for and who are we willing to believe that they are just getting what they deserve when they have bad things happen to them?
The question I always ask myself when reading a parable by Jesus is – where am I in this parable?
Am I the rich man who is ignoring the plight of the poor at my doorstep – thereby challenging me to look around and make sure I’m not focusing on me only.
Or am I Lazarus and God is wanting to comfort me to not worry about the future and that if I don’t always receive what others do that God is going to restore me at the final judgement as Jesus taught in the beatitudes.
The reality it is that it is both of these.
Lazarus is at the front door and we can help him.
Or maybe you are at the front door and despite the world passing you by God will not.
It is a frightening parable in that the afterlife is different to the current life.
In the current life the rich man could have chosen better to ease the suffering of Lazarus.
In the afterlife Lazarus is unable to ease the suffering of the rich man.
This is a call to look around us NOW.
And on top of that the rich man is unable to warn his family of their impending situation if they don’t’ change their ways.
We are so thankful to God that Jesus has forgiven us for those times we could have done better in helping the poor.
But that is not an excuse to ignore the poor as Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with ALL your heart and to love your neighbour as yourself.
And that’s what the rich man did not do.
He feasted to satisfy his hunger while he did not provide at all for his neighbour starving at his doorstep.
And that’s not how we show our love to God, let alone our neighbour – for as much as you did not do it to the least of these you did not do it unto God.
So let us pray that God will open our hearts and our eyes to see Lazarus at our doorstep and provide the love and care that God has shown to us.