Squirming With Our Riches In Hand

Text: Luke 16:19-31

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

Out of the many stories that Jesus told in the New Testament, I am pretty sure that today’s story from the Gospel of Luke makes us squirm the most.  You see, it is an uncomfortable story.  Not only do we hear about a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with terrible sores, but we also hear about death and the fires of hell. 

Without a doubt, this story is uncomfortable.  It is one of those stories that some churches will just skip over because it may upset sensitive church members.  It may also frighten little ones in the church, so it is avoided at all costs – especially the whole part on hell.     

Indeed, this story makes you and me squirm!  And that is exactly why Jesus told it.  He told it to make us squirm.  To wake us from the stupor in which we live our lives and to make us take a long/hard look at how we are doing at loving our neighbors. 

You see, the problem with the Rich Man in today’s Gospel reading was not that he was rich.  Contrary to what many Social Justice Warriors say, being rich is not a sin.  This story is not an attack on capitalism.  The reason why, possessions, products, and resources are things that God has placed in this world for us to enjoy – they are known as First Article gifts.  They are gifts of creation for you and me.  In other words, the problem with the Rich Man was not that he was rich.  The problem was that he lived his whole life so consumed with the riches of this life that he never realized why God put him here in the first place.  His lust for his wealth was so great that all he could see was his white fisted knuckles grasping the world’s riches.  For the Rich Man, everything was about maximizing his pleasure.  Everything was about feeding his desires and his appetites, so much that he failed to notice anything and anybody around him.  It was not the money that made him despicable; it was his love for the money that poisoned him.

Can you imagine anything sadder than this?  The Rich Man was so fixated on loving earthly riches that he never experienced the joy of being loved and loving a neighbor.  For this Rich Man, everything was about loving himself and worldly possessions.  He was turned inward on his own passions and lusts and desires.  He had love, but it was a love that turned black and dark – a self-love for the appetites of his sinful nature. 

And here is what is so tragic; God gave the Rich Man all those goodies to enjoy, but not to enjoy alone.  Those riches were always intended as a means to bless others.  In other words, whatever God gives to humanity, He gives so that it can be used for the benefit of others – to bless our families and neighbors.

Think of it.  Here is a man with a big house.  Here is a man with a full table.  Here is a man with plenty of clothes.  And God throws into this man’s life a beggar like Lazarus: a man who is homeless and hungry and naked.  God is giving to the Rich Man the opportunity of a lifetime!

That opportunity is to use the things God gave to love another human being, to enter into a relationship with a poor, needy beggar.  God gave the Rich Man the opportunity in that beggar the gift of love – love that the Lord creates and gives! 

But the Rich Man did not get this.  He turned inward on himself.  He had been poisoned by a dark love for himself.  So, he blew the opportunity.  He missed the joy that God was sending his way in this life.  And so the Rich Man lost the joy that God wanted to give him for all eternity. 

As we heard in the Gospel reading, the Rich Man dies just like everyone else and as he dies the strength leaves his hands and knuckles – death drains his power, and he is forced to let go of all his stuff.  He can not take his toys and possession to the grave.  Naked and empty-handed he came into this world; naked and empty-handed he leaves the world.  Indeed, he dies with many toys and possession, but as he is put into the grave, he is put there empty-handed where he then encounters the fires of hell. 

Now, what about you and me?  Jesus tells this story to open our eyes as well.  He tells this story to help us understand that life is not about how much stuff you and me pile together.  He says this story to help us reflect on our lives.  Have you and I turned inward on ourselves?  Are your knuckles white as you cling to the world’s riches?  Have you and I missed out on the opportunities to simply love those that the Lord has put before us?  Is your stuff more important than our neighbor? 

Dear friends, Jesus wants us to reflect on our lives and so see it with our eyes open, and so he tells a frightening story about a man who refused to see it, who would not listen to God’s words until it was too late. 

To make sense of this story of Lazarus and the Rich man, we must take a moment and think of today’s Epistle lesson from 1 John.  In 1 John we read, “We love because He first loved us.”  What is the point of this passage of scripture?  Well, when we read this story about Lazarus in Paradise and the Rich Man in Hell, we can’t forget who is telling the story.  It is Jesus telling us the story.  That is to say; unlike the Rich Man and so many of us, Jesus was not content to stay turned inward – not when He saw humanity needy and beggarly outside the door of the kingdom.  Indeed, even though Jesus was clothed in divine glory amongst the angels, He was compelled to dive into a dirty manger to come for poor miserable sinners.

My friends, as we know, Jesus stripped Himself of divine honor and made Himself nothing by entering into the sorrows of the human race.  Jesus became fully human as we are - knowing our tears and our sorrows - so that He might lift us up to where He is.  He could not rest in apathy but was compelled to come for humanity.

Yes, keep in mind that the Jesus who tells the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man is the one who traveled all the way from the richness of His Father’s house to the poverty of Calvary’s cross. On the cross, He died as an outcast, alone, and in poverty, so that we might be healed from the sores of sin and lifted out of the decay of death.  He was not like the Rich Man, but out of great love came for and died for the Lazaruses like me and like you. 

And Calvary was not the end.  He did what He did on the cross so that He might pick us up in His arms and bring us - beggars covered with the sores of sin - to His home. And on the way home He stopped at the waters of Baptism, washed us from our sins and then clothed us with His own garments of holiness. 

Along the way of life, as we grow hungry and as our faith becomes weak, He stops and feeds us with his Supper – His body and blood.  And at the last day, He carries us from this world and its sorrows into the everlasting joy of His home – just like He took poor beggarly Lazarus. 

Dear friends, you, who have ears, hear!  The Lord Jesus welcomes you to share in His feast that has no end.  He bids you to enter the full joy of heaven.  He gives you the gift of His body and blood. He does all of this for you because He is not like the Rich Man. 

Now if this does not wake us up and move us to love one another, what will?  That is to say; knowing about this great love, how can we just walk on by any fellow human being whom He has loved and redeemed?  We cannot.  We love because He first loved us. 

Baptized Saints, Jesus has gotten a hold of you.  Nothing will ever be the same.  He will not leave you.  He will not forsake you.  He will never stop loving and forgiving you.  You have been freed to love! You cannot rightly love until you have been loved…  and today you have been properly loved.  

That is the profound message of our Epistle lesson.  The Lord gives to you so that you become givers.  He opens your eyes to see Him so that you might see others through His eyes.

The squirming is good when we hear the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man.  It is uncomfortable, but it is good because it leads you and me to Jesus as our only help.  It prompts us to receive from Jesus, both His pardon and His love.  It leads us to see those He places squarely in our paths as people with whom we can share not just our goods, but our very selves. 

What a Savior!  What a life!  What great love!  

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

This sermon is an adapted and borrowed in parts from Rev. Will Weedon’s sermon on Luke 16:19-31.   

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