Reversal of Fortune

Luke 16:10-15,19-31                                                         All Saints & Souls

Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                          2 November 2014


There’s no getting around it.   Jesus talks a lot about money.  More about money than anything, except the Kingdom of God.   Eleven of 39 parables talk about money.   One of every 7 verses in the Gospel of Luke is about money.   But we don’t like to talk about money, unless it is about how to get more of it or how much we saved in some fabulous deal.   Jesus said things like: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal"   and "You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."   He said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God…but woe to you who are rich, for your have received your consolation.”


What was true in his day is still true today – loving money is dangerous, because it becomes nearly impossible to put God first if money runs our lives.  Further, if money leads us to ignore the poor, then we are to be pitied, because as Rev. Dr. James Forbes once said, “Nobody gets into heaven without a letter of recommendation from the poor.” 


As you hear the opening section of our reading today, it will help to know that when Jesus refers to dishonest wealth, he is talking about money and referring to the previous parable, in which a manager who is being fired, works his way out of disaster by being generous toward others, even those who owe his boss, which then earns him his job back.   This is a key to understanding the parable we are reading, because as I see it, the real sin of the rich man is not his riches but how his riches lead him to be inhumane toward a neighbor, Lazarus.   This relates to our last two weeks in worship.   Taylor Hill preached on the loving God and neighbor and how we have to broaden our circle of love.   The week before that we read from 1 Timothy that the root of evil is not money but the love of money. 


Hear God’s word of truth, and allow your soul to be touched by it:

Luke 16:10-15, 19-31

"Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." 14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. 15 So he said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.


19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He 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.' 25 But 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. 26 Besides 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.' 27 He said, 'Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house-- 28 for I have five brothers-- that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' 29 Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' 30 He said, 'No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' 31 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.'"

In twenty-four years of ordained ministry, I have always in preaching avoided this parable.   Wonder why.   God knows our hearts.   God knows who we are and what we value.   The rich man (also known as Dives) feasts sumptuously every day.  He dresses in linen and purple, which in Bible times means the finest of luxurious apparel.   Lazarus is essentially on his doorstep starving (imagine a mansion with a gate) hoping that someone will bring the leftovers his way.   He’s covered in sores.   The dogs, by licking his wounds, are being more compassionate than Dives.   Lazarus dies and is carried away by angels to be with Abraham, while Dives dies, is buried, and is sent to Hades, the place of torment.


Now notice just how little respect Dives has for Lazarus, a human being.  First of all, we see in the parable that he knows his name.  He’s probably known his name a long time, while he ignored him.   Hear the words of verse 23 in the literal order of the Greek:  “and in the hades (that’s the underworld) having lifted up his eyes (or come to an understanding – having seen), being in torments, he sees Abraham far off, and Lazarus in his bosom.”  But here’s what even worse:  Even after this reversal, even after seeing what has happened, he is still looking down on Lazarus and wants him to serve him.   He should be asking Father Abraham to tell Lazarus how sorry he is for his cruel indifference.  He should be begging for forgiveness from Lazarus, but he still wants Lazarus to be his lackey.   He’s still wants Lazarus to serve his family.   “Abraham, get Lazarus to go tell my brothers…”    Why does he think his brothers would listen to Lazarus?   People like Dives’ family never paid any attention to people like Lazarus.   They have the teaching of Moses and the prophets about caring for the poor.   Why have they not listened?


And the most dramatic line, full of double meaning: they would not be changed even if a man was raised from the dead.   Not if Lazarus was raised from the dead to go tell them.   Not even if Jesus, was raised from the dead.   The point is that some people still ignore the Gospel, even when it is offered generously to them.   Yet when they go to this place of torment, they finally do see what is true and good and holy, and begin then to want it for themselves and for their families.   So Dives is in his painful learning stage.   Too bad he waited so long and got so far from God. 

With Lazarus on his doorstep he had the chance to learn to love those who were different from him.   He could have grown in his appreciation of Lazarus’ humanity, even learned something from Lazarus about the kingdom of God.   He could have shared generously all the blessings he had been given.   But Dives ignored all the opportunities for growth in his lifetime, and God was forced to teach the tough love in Hades.  Remember that in Matthew, Jesus says that whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven.   We can say then that Dives participated in creating the great chasm that exists between him and Lazarus.   But what he did not seem to see was that the fortunes would be reversed.   Even from Hades, Dives still is unable to see the dignity of Lazarus, and until he does, I suppose, his torment will continue.  Revelation 20 gives us a vision of last days when “Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.” 


Friends, I pray that none of us are so wealthy and arrogant and caught up in our luxurious lifestyle that we are dehumanizing the person who mows our lawns or picks our tomatoes or lives on the wrong side of the tracks, or river so to speak.  We should beware that we are never so comfortable that we cannot sympathize with someone who lacks food, shelter, education, or healthcare.  There is nothing so expensive as being on the edge of poverty.  We are so well-off that nobody lies in our driveways, waiting for leftovers.  But do we notice the people who serve us?   Do we care about those who struggle to make it?  Are we sensitive to the  increasing gap between wealthy and poor, no matter that we might have different political perspectives on how to solve that problem?  We must care about the poor who stand in lines at the day job center.  We do care about those who go to collect bags of food at Beth-el Farmworker ministry.  And about the homeless who sleep under bridges, and in their cars.   They sometimes show up at the church asking for help, because a few still believe they might get help from the church.   We care, but are we willing to give up a portion of luxury to make a real difference?   Will we do what we can to make our governmental and community structures strong, such that those persons in greatest need are humanized, not degraded?  

It’s a complicated problem, but the answer begins with loving the neighbor.   If we open our eyes, we can see that God wants us to be concerned with more than our own luxuries and our own families.   All the rich man could see was his own luxurious lifestyle and later, and his desire to spare his brothers.   But we are called to look beyond our own to notice those who suffer, and to suffer with them and lift them up.   By drawing near to those who are poor and suffering, we draw near to God.   The Mission Team of Peace gives us many opportunities to give to people in need, like today’s Halloween offering for the Manatee Food Bank.   It is not too late to write a check.   In the next two weeks, the Gratitude Team at Peace will encourage everyone to respond to God’s gracious gifts by making a grateful promise to God to give toward the ministries and mission of Peace in 2015.  


And let me remind you of one more thing you can consider.  Why not make a plan right now to give to God generously in your death.  Could you set up a charitable annuity that would take care of you now and benefit the work of God later?   Do your descendants really need 100% of your estate?   Richard and I have four children, who will certainly be fine with 80% of our estate when we go, rather than 100%.   Think of Dana Beck Fancher, who gave when she died to the First Presbyterian Church of Dunedin.   She had no idea she would be blessing a new mission in Lakewood Ranch, a Presbyterian church named Peace with $25,000 to purchase a property.   Think of the good that can happen when people let go, and allow God to multiply their gifts.  


Mother Teresa said, “Never worry about numbers.   Help one person at a time and start with the one closest to you.”  She said, “Only in heaven will we see how much we owe the poor for helping us to love God better because of them.” God wills that all of us be saved.   God does not want to punish anyone, only to bring all of us to the place of love and healing and renewal – to know what really matters.   Sometimes to be healed, we have to have the cancer of selfishness burned away.  If we continue to ignore the least of these, who are beloved by God, then we have ignored Christ himself, Matthew 25 teaches.   We will live in torment, until we begin to love.  

James 5 says, “Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you.”  “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.” 

1 John says, “How does God’s love dwell in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?”  With that question I will leave us hanging.