Summary: Genuine and joyful life cannot be found in the pursuit of wealth and possessions. It can only be found within the true source of life: God and the kingdom of eternal light.
September 29, 2019
Hope Lutheran Church
Rev. Mary Erickson
Lk. 16:19-31; I Tim. 6:6-19
The Life that Really Is Life
Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.
You can’t take it with you. There was a rich Texas oil man, and he wanted to prove that he could, indeed, take his fortune with him. In his will he had spelled out exactly what he had planned to take place in the event of his death. That day came for him, as it does for everyone. He had his Rolls Royce convertible gold plated. He was going to be buried in it. At his burial, a crane lifted the car and slowly moved it to the oversized grave in the ground. The remains of the oil man were freakishly propped up behind the wheel of the car. His hand was affixed to the top of the steering wheel. And as the car was being lowered into the ground, a voice in the crowd was heard to say, “Now, that’s living!”
Jesus tells a story about a rich man and a poor man. Oddly, we know the name of the poor man. He was named Lazarus. But we don’t know the name of the rich man! Lazarus is the only figure in all of Jesus’ parables who has a name.
Typically, in life it’s the rich of the world who are a household name. Who doesn’t know the names of Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey and Taylor Swift? The poor remain a nameless and forgotten statistic.
But in the Kingdom of God, the landscape and values are just opposite. The poor man, who was despised in this life: he’s the only one whose name is now remembered through the ages.
Now while he was alive, the rich man, knew exactly who Lazarus was! As Lazarus rests comfortably in the bosom of Abraham, the rich man recognizes him as the same wretched soul who had suffered at his gate. And he knows his name! Day after day he had passed in and out of his estate. He looked at the miserable state of his fellow man — to the point of knowing the man’s name. But he did nothing to help him.
Even now, he still doesn’t get it. Both he and Lazarus are dead now. And there’s been a dramatic reversal of status. Now Lazarus dwells in Paradise, but the rich man finds himself in torment. But he still doesn’t get it. The rich man addresses only Abraham. He speaks about Lazarus in the third person. He thinks Father Abraham is his peer! Lazarus is merely a water boy — a servant whose sole purpose is to meet his needs. He just can’t see Lazarus for who he really is, his brother, a fellow son of Abraham.
Abraham calls out to him, “Between you and us a great chasm has been fixed.” This chasm cannot be crossed by people on either side.
A similar chasm definitely exists here on earth as well, between the financially comfortable and the poor. But can anyone bridge this gap? There are people who find it possible to climb their way out of poverty. We hear stories about self-made men and women. They’re born in extreme poverty, but through their hard work, brains and some luck, they become extremely well off. They bridge the gap.
And there are also other people, people of wealth and financial security, who intentionally choose to bridge the gap. They cross the financial divide in order to alleviate the suffering and hardship of this world’s poor. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates famously do just this. They give away huge sums of their fortune in order to help the poorest of the poor. And they champion for other titans of fortune to be generous in philanthropy.
In the afterlife there is an inseparable gap. It can’t be breached. It isn’t possible for Lazarus to dip his finger in water to cool the rich man’s tongue. But the divide between rich and poor is not impassable in this world.
Our reading today from Timothy addresses this gap in our present age. Paul writes this as a personal letter to Timothy. Paul, as the elder evangelist, pens a letter to Timothy, his young colleague.
Paul thinks of Timothy as his son. At the beginning of the letter, he addresses it “To Timothy, my true child in the faith.” The words he writes in this letter are those of a loving father sending advice to his son.
In today’s passage he’s writing to Timothy about the desires of chasing after wealth. This is like a mom or dad writing to their child in college about the evils of credit cards! Paul even sounds like a parent. He says, “You brought nothing in this world, and you can’t take anything out.” That is a parent’s line if I ever heard one! It’s still popular among parents today.