The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor George Pejakovich
Luke 16:19-31

YEARS AGO, AS I WAS DRIVING THROUGH DOWNTOWN SEATTLE TO THE EXHIBITION HALL WHERE THE TREASURES OF THE CZARS WERE ON DISPLAY, I HAD TO STOP AT A RED LIGHT. WHILE WAITING FOR THE LIGHT TO CHANGE, I SUDDENLY NOTICED THE FILTHIEST MAN I HAD EVER SEEN MOVING THROUGH THE CROSSWALK. HIS CLOTHES WERE RAGS AND TATTERS, HIS FACE AND HANDS WERE COVERED IN DIRT, AND HIS HAIR WAS A MASS OF GREASY KNOTS. HE WAS OBVIOUSLY DRUNK OR STONED, AS HE WAS WEAVING BACK AND FORTH AS HE STUMBLED ACROSS THE STREET. LOOKING AT HIM, I PRAYED. I AM ASHAMED TO CONFESS THAT MY PRAYER WAS, “LORD, PLEASE DON’T LET HIM TOUCH MY CAR.” THERE I SAT, IN MY CAR WHICH I HAD GONE TO SWEDEN TO COLLECT, ON MY WAY TO LOOK AT ARGUABLY THE MOST FABULOUS DISPLAY OF OSTENTATIOUS WEALTH KNOWN TO MAN, AND COULD LOOK UPON ANOTHER HUMAN ONLY AS A POTENTIAL SMEAR OF DIRT ON MY PRIZED POSSESSION.

SINCE I AM IN A CONFESSIONAL MOOD, I WILL CONFESS THAT I HAD NEVER SEEN THE MOVIE, “MARY POPPINS,” UNTIL LAST WEEKEND. IT CAME OUT WHEN I WAS IN VIETNAM, AND BY THE TIME VCRS WERE COMMON, MY CHILDREN WERE TOO OLD TO CARE TO SEE IT. WATCHING IT AFTER HAVING READ THE GOSPEL FOR TODAY, I WAS STRUCK BY A SCENE FROM THE MOVIE WHICH, I AM SURE, MOST PEOPLE SEE AS A PLEASANT LITTLE DIVERSION, BUT MAY BE THE MOST IMPORTANT MESSAGE OF THIS FANTASY. AS DICK VAN DYKE SINGS, “CHIM CHIMMENY CHIM CHIM CHAREE, SHAKE HANDS WITH A SWEEP AND LUCKLY YOU’LL BE,” THE WELL DRESSED AND PROSPEROUS GO OUT OF THEIR WAY TO CROSS THE ROAD TO SHAKE THE HAND OF A SOOT COVERED MAN WHO MAKES HIS LIVING IN OTHER PEOPLE’S ASHES. IT WAS THE SAME WHEN I FIRST LIVED IN GERMANY; TO SEE A CHIMNEY SWEEP WAS CONSIDERED LUCKY, AND TO SHAKE HANDS WITH ONE EVEN MORE SO. THIS SIMPLE, INNOCENT, SUPERSTITION ACTUALLY IMBUES THE LOWEST OF THE LOW WITH A WORTH BEYOND THE DIRT THAT COVERS HIM, AND FORCES US TO SEE, AND GREET HIM, AS A PERSON OF VALUE.

AT THE DOOR OF A RICH MAN, WHO DRESSED IN THE RICHEST OF CLOTHING, AND FEASTED WELL BEYOND WHAT HE NEEDED TO EAT EACH DAY, LAY A POOR MAN NAMED LAZARUS; WHICH MEANS, “GOD IS MY HELP.” IT WAS A COMMON NAME, AND WE WILL COME ACROSS IT AGAIN, BUT IT WAS WELL THAT HIS NAME WAS LAZARUS, BECAUSE HE WOULD GET NO HELP FROM THE RICH MAN, WHOSE GARBAGE HE WOULD HAVE BEEN GLAD TO EAT, NOR HELP FROM ANY OTHERS IN THIS WORLD. THE UNNAMED RICH MAN HAD TO PASS LAZARUS WHENEVER HE WENT IN OUR OUT OF HIS FINE HOUSE, BUT PROBABLY, IF HE EVEN NOTICED HIM, SAW HIM AS AN IMPEDIMENT TO STEP PAST, OR A MERE PILE OF LIVING TRASH HE HAD TO ENDURE ON HIS DAILY ROUNDS. UPON HIS DEATH, THE ANGELS CARRIED LAZARUS TO THE BOSOM OF ABRAHAM – NOT, AS THE TEXT IS TRANSLATED “TO BE WITH ABRAHAM,” BUT TO BE HELD CLOSE AND PROTECTED LIKE A GOOD FATHER HOLDS HIS SON. THE RICH MAN DIES, AND ENDS UP IN HADES, AND SUFFERS THE PAINS OF THE DAMNED. MARTIN LUTHER READ THIS PARABLE AS A REFUTATION OF THE DOCTRINE OF PURGATORY, CONCERNED AS HE WAS WITH THE FALSE TEACHINGS OF THE CHURCH, BUT, AGAIN I HAVE TO CONFESS, IF I CAN EVEN DARE TO SAY THIS, HE MISSED THE POINT COMPLETELY.

A PARABLE IS NOT THE BASIS FOR SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY, SO LUTHER’S INTERPRETATION, AS WELL AS THOSE WHO READ IT AS A DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION BY WORKS, IN HOW WE WILL BE REWARDED BY OUR TREATMENT OF OTHERS, MISS THE POINT. NOR CAN WE READ IT AS ONLY THE POOR WILL GET INTO HEAVEN, BECAUSE WE HEARD LAST WEEK HOW THE TAX COLLECTORS WERE FLOCKING TO JESUS, AND MANY OF THEM WERE WEALTHY. THE CONFUSING PARABLE OF THE DISHONEST MANAGER IS FOLLOWED BY THIS PARABLE OF THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS. THE ISSUE IS NOT THAT THE MAN IS RICH, BUT IN HOW HIS RICHES PREVENT HIM FROM SEEING THE BEGGAR AT HIS DOOR AS A FELLOW CHILD OF GOD. EVEN AS HE SUFFERS IN HADES, WHICH CAN BE INTERPRETED AS ETERNAL EXISTENCE SEPARATED FROM GOD, HE STILL THINKS THAT LAZARUS SHOULD DO HIS BIDDING; BRING ME A DROP OF WATER, OR GO AND WARN MY BROTHERS. OF COURSE ABRAHAM TELLS HIM THAT THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE, BECAUSE THEY HAVE MOSES AND THE PROPHETS, AND IF THEY WON’T LISTEN TO THEM, WHY DO YOU THINK THEY WOULD LISTEN TO EVEN SOMEONE WHO CAME BACK FROM THE DEAD. AN ORTHODOX SAINT ONCE WROTE, “IF YOU CAN NOT SEE GOD IN THE BEGGAR AT THE CHURCH DOOR, YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO SEE HIM AT THE ALTAR.”

LACK OF COMPASSION FOR OTHERS IS PROBABLY THE SUREST SIGN OF BEING LOST. THE PARABLE OF THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS IS A CONTINUATION OF THE GOSPEL OF LAST WEEK, AND STEVE’S SERMON; “YOU CANNOT LOVE BOTH GOD AND WEALTH.” TO LOVE GOD IS TO LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR, THE ONE WHO IS IN NEED. WITHOUT LOVE FOR THE ONE WHO IS IN NEED, WITHOUT EVEN BEING ABLE TO SEE THE NEEDS OF ANOTHER, ONE CANNOT LOVE GOD. THE GREAT CHASM THAT SEPARATES THE RICH MAN FROM LAZARUS IN DEATH IS AN ECHO OF THE GREAT CHASM WHICH SEPARATED THEM IN LIFE; A CHASM CREATED BY THE LOVE OF WEALTH OVER THE LOVE FOR A FELLOW CHILD OF GOD. IT IS NOT WEALTH, OR THE LACK THEREOF, WHICH IS THE ISSUE; FOR THE POOREST OF THE POOR CAN ALSO LIVE FOR THEIR SELVES AND THEIR OWN NEEDS AS WELL AS THE RICH. THE COMPASSIONATE HEART IS THE HEART TURNED TO AND TUNED INTO THE COMPASSION OF GOD; WHICH IS THE LOVE THAT GOD HAS FOR EACH AND EVERY PERSON. IT IS NOT WHAT WE HAVE, BUT HOW THE LOVE OF GOD IN US PROMPTS US TO USE WHAT WE HAVE IN THE LOVE OF GOD.

I SERVE ON A DIOCESAN COMMITTEE THAT APPROVES REQUESTS FOR MATCHING FUNDS BY CONGREGATIONS SEEKING TO SHOW THE LOVE AND COMPASSION OF GOD TO OTHERS. YES, THE BISHOP WANTS THIS LUTHERAN ON THE COMMITTEE, BECAUSE, AS THEY SAY IN THE SOUTH, “I AIN’T GOT NO DOG IN THAT HUNT.” AS I REVIEWED THE REQUESTS THIS PAST WEEK, I WAS INSPIRED BY THE LOVE SOME LITTLE CONGREGATIONS IN THE DIOCESE HAVE FOR THOSE IN NEED. ONE CONGREGATION WITH THE AVERAGE ATTENDANCE OF 40, WITH MOST MEMBERS OVER THE AGE OF 60, PROVIDES 80 WEEKEND LUNCHES FOR THE POOR CHILDREN OF THE COMMUNITY, AS WELL AS 10,000 LBS OF FREE FOOD IN A MOBILE PANTRY SERVING 650 PEOPLE A MONTH, AS WELL AS MONTHLY FOOD BOXES FOR 55 LOW INCOME FAMILIES, PLUS A SUMMER LUNCH IN THE PARK FOR 120 POOR SCHOOL CHILDREN 5 DAYS A WEEK. ANOTHER SMALL CONGREGATION HAS A MINISTRY IN COORDINATION WITH A LOCAL LAUNDROMAT TO WASH THE CLOTHES OF THE HOMELESS AND DESTITUTE. ALL THIS TAKES TIME, MONEY, GREAT EFFORT, AND COMMITMENT IN ORDER TO SHOW THE LOVE OF GOD TO THOSE WHO MOST NEED TO FEEL THAT LOVE; AND THE WAY THEY CAN KNOW THAT GOD LOVES THEM IS BY THE LOVE AND COMPASSION WE, THE CHURCH OF CHRIST, HAVE FOR THE LAZARUS AT OUR DOOR.

WE DO WHAT WE CAN, BE IT SATURDAY PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICHES, BACK PACK LUNCHES, VISITING THE SHUT-INS, WHATEVER MINISTRY WE ARE LEAD BY THE SPIRIT TO DO, AND WHAT WE DO IS NOT FOR OURSELVES, BUT ALWAYS FOR THE SAKE OF THE OTHER. GOD SPARED NOT HIS SON TO REACH OUT TO US AND SHOW US HIS LOVE FOR US. HOW CAN WE THEN NOT USE WHAT WE HAVE, GREAT OR LITTLE, TO REACH OUT AND SERVE THOSE WHOM GOD LOVES AS MUCH AS HE LOVES US?
AMEN

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