Sermon for 9/29/2013 from Pr. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA.
Gospel: Luke 16:19–31
19There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' 25But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.' 27He said, 'Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house — 28for I have five brothers — that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' 29Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' 30He said, 'No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' 31He 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.'"
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
Stewardship. A word that you may have heard spoken in these parts over the past few months, perhaps years, maybe even decades. It’s a word that’s been getting a lot of buzz in the church world recently, but it’s not simply a buzzword. Stewardship is not just a creative term for fundraising, a way to get you to part with your cash and sustain the church.
Stewardship, is much more important than that. Stewardship, when it comes down to it, is what we are called to do as Christians, so that we don’t end up like the rich man, in Jesus’ parable from the Gospel of Luke.
In saying this, I want to make it clear that this parable isn’t about heaven and hell, or the afterlife at all. I have full faith that whatever happens to us when we die, happens just the same to all people. No, this parable and our faith isn’t about what happens to us when we die. Rather, this word is given to us so that we may experience God’s eternal and renewing life right here, right now. And being stewards is God’s tool to help us do just that.
Picture for a moment, the great chasm which exists between the Rich Man, who is in torment; and Abraham and Lazarus. Because of our human sin, this chasm exists today, a great expanse between the rich and poor, between those who are seemingly self-sufficient, and those who are vulnerable. As you’re picturing this chasm, try to imagine a very wealthy person, interacting with the very poor, it is tough to imagine. As I picture this interaction, the image that comes to my mind is of a big, black, limousine that splashes a poor person on the sidewalk, the wealthy person then getting out of the limo, and acting indignant, as if the poor person got in the way of his splash.
There is truly a chasm between these groups that’s pretty easy for us to imagine when we think about the extremes, the caricatures of what it means to be rich and poor. But where did this chasm come from? Was it always such? I would guess that if these imaginary people had children and you put them in a room together, they’d pretty quickly learn how to play together, so I don’t think this divide is something we are born with.
So how did it come about? Picture another scenario for a moment, picture if you will something different. Picture two seemingly “middle class” type folks, at least from outward appearances. Maybe they are at their church, and one of these people makes an off-handed comment, denigrating those “lazy people” who are on welfare. Maybe, the other person, the person whose been struggling with finances because of this, that, or whatever reason, overhears. And then, you have one person, seemingly proud of her self-sufficiency, the other embarrassed, ashamed, and certainly not about to seek help from anyone, for fear of being thought of in such a negative way. And now between them, we have a little trench. A trench that grows deeper and deeper, with every missed payment, or unlucky break. A trench that could have easily been filled with a helping hand, a kind word, and some empathy, but which has now become something deeper. It has becomes a chasm, that separates people, until one disappears from the community, from the church, from the public view even, becoming one of those people who we know are there, but pretend we don’t see. Kind of like how the Rich Man was seemingly blind to the existence of Lazarus.
It is into this sinful world, full of chasms between broken, and imperfect people, that our God, Jesus Christ has come, to restore with grace and justice what sin has tried to destroy. And, in order to do restore us, Jesus doesn’t just say nice things, Jesus actually does something. Jesus, the Holy One, the Prince of Peace, Almighty, Immortal, all those things, goes, with his abundant life, to the Lazarus side of the chasm. And when he is there, when Jesus is touching lepers, dining with prostitutes, feeding the thousands, and all those things Jesus does, he is lifting them up, not as a charity case, but as friends, neighbors, sisters, and brothers, and as a result, all are enriched in love.
Yet, the chasm remains. If we remember right, the leaders, didn’t exactly want this chasm filled in, and eventually, the rest of the people, joined with them, rebelling against Jesus, and crucifying him. But it was this death, this ultimate act of stewardship, this ultimate act of Jesus giving the life which had been given to him to us; that turned everything upside down. It was this death that showed us that God does not create life by taking, but by giving. It was this death that ultimately filled that great chasm, between each of us, and us and God. It was this death that freed us from our own, sinful, selfishness, our own navel gazing, and lifted our heads, and opened our eyes, to see the great value in the life surrounds us, and the joy found in loving and caring for all people.
It is then, Good News that we are given the call to be Stewards, because it is in even naming this calling that we can perceive that our lives are from God, and belong to God. And it is through this perception, this vision, that we can see the abundant value and life in the world around us. This is Good News, because it’s not at all obvious, in fact, it is an upside down, reversal of fortunes type scenario that is Jesus’ life and salvation for us. And if it weren’t for God’s grace, if it weren’t for God opening our eyes, we would be stuck in the sin that causes us to see the world in the way of the Rich Man. But God has opened our eyes, God has shown us what life is all about, and God feeds us with that life today, the life of Jesus Christ. May this life empower us to go and be stewards of that life, to be chasm fillers, uniting ourselves and the world in Christ’s unending love.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,