16th Sunday after Pentecost

First Reading: Amos 6:1a, 4-7

1aAlas for those who are at ease in Zion,
  and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria,

4Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory,
  and lounge on their couches,
 and eat lambs from the flock,
  and calves from the stall;
5who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp,
  and like David improvise on instruments of music;
6who drink wine from bowls,
  and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
  but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
7Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile,
  and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.

Psalm: Psalm 146

1Hallelujah!  Praise the Lord, O my soul!
2I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
  I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
3Put not your trust in rulers,
  in mortals in whom there is no help.
4When they breathe their last, they return to earth,
  and in that day their thoughts perish. 
5Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help,
  whose hope is in the Lord their God;
6who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them;
  who keeps promises forever;
7who gives justice to those who are oppressed, and food to those who    hunger.  The Lord sets the captive free.
8The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous.
9The Lord cares for the stranger; the Lord sustains the orphan and  widow, but frustrates the way of the wicked.
10The Lord shall reign forever,
  your God, O Zion, throughout all generations. Hallelujah! 

Second Reading: 1 Timothy 6:6-19

6Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 7for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; 8but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

11But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. 16It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
17As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

Gospel: Luke 16:19-31

 [Jesus said:] 19“There 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.’ ”

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  We have an idiom that we use today, “I drew a line in the sand.”  What do you think it means?

         Historically in the States it goes back to Col. Travis at the Alamo after receiving a letter from Santa Anna leading the Mexican charge, demanding his surrender.  The Alamo was surrounded and outnumbered.  Travis drew a line in the sand with his sword and asked for people who were willing to fight to the death to cross the line and stand with him.  All, including Jim Bowie, Davie Crocket and Daniel Boone fought to the death.  Jesus draws some lines today that differentiate the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of heaven.

Let us pray.  Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Sermon

Life is Unfair

“There was a rich man.”  This opening to a parable is beginning to sound uncomfortably familiar.  Last week the rich man, was calling his manager to account for squandering the master’s wealth.  This week the rich man is enjoying life, eating, and dressed royally.  Perhaps none of us would say we are “rich” but likewise we are not in the war zones, neither struggling with the refugees at our border nor sitting in the hospital waiting for a bed to open or medicines to arrive.  Most of us lead a comfortable, perhaps even “blessed life.”  This man is unnamed.  I suspect he is “every man” for we are all better off that someone else

         Meanwhile Lazarus sits at the gate, on the other side of the line, covered with sores, begging, eating the scraps of life, visited by the dogs that licked his sores.  There seems to be a gate, a line in the sand that divides the haves from the have-nots in the kingdom of this world.  The parable does not give context that assigns blame or responsibility.  Rather it is a statement about the facts of life.  Some are born into wealth and talent while others are born into poverty and struggle.  Some battle with addictions that seem biologically based while others deal with challenges that are socially or geographically based.  Luke is just giving the facts, nothing but the facts.  Some have and some don’t.  In the kingdom of this world there are lines that divide and label people.

         Perhaps at this point we start to squirm.  We don’t want to leave today feeling guilty for our blessings.  The problems are so big and we are so small.  We hear on the news daily about the inequities of life.  But this parable does not teach that the haves are to change the lives of the have-nots.  Jesus did not praise the folks last week who had their debts lightened rather he praised the shrewdness of the manager.  These parables are teaching us about the kingdom of heaven and how different it is from the kingdom of this world.  The kingdoms of this world are made up of haves and have-nots.  There are many dividing lines we trip over all the time.  There are the rich and the poor.  There are gates that divide people.  Not everyone is invited to the banquet hall.  The rich do not go out to the highways and byways to invite anyone and everyone to their banquets.  On the other hand, a God who wants all to be saved and enter his kingdom characterizes the kingdom of God.  Christ died for all sin, not just the sins of the rich and chosen.

         In this world, we convince ourselves that if we work hard enough, amass enough of the stuff of life; we can ooch our way to the “good side” of the gate, the good side of the line.  We believe our works will somehow change reality.  We believe the gates will open and close and are somehow moveable.  I heard news interviews this week lamenting.  People in the United States have the right to clean water and there is a crisis to provide mothers with pampers.  If only we can get to the others side of the gate, life will be like the rich man.  But the reality is that life is unfair. The parable continues. We all face another reality.

We all Die

         Both men die.  Death is not picky.  Wealth does not save the rich man from death.  Now there is no longer a negotiable line.  There is a chasm.  I do note that angels to the bosom of Abraham carry Lazarus.  After death there is not a gate between our two men but a chasm.  The rich man is in Hades seemingly without someone to appeal to and Lazarus is in the Bosom of Abraham.  No explanation is given. The parable does not say the rich man is being punished for his meanness or that Lazarus dies because of his poverty. This fact of death faces all of us and once we pass, the chasm between the two kingdoms cannot not be bridged.  It is “a line in the sand.” We no longer have a swinging gate but a chasm that cannot be crossed.

          The rich man calls to Abraham, even calls him “father.”  Perhaps he thinks his ethnicity, his church membership, his status in society has made him privileged.  He still sees that he is deserving of God’s blessings.  He is not humble.  He does not cry about the injustice of his situation.  He does not object to Lazarus being with Abraham but wants Lazarus to leave his blessing to comfort him.  He wants Abraham to treat Lazarus like a slave.

Abraham refuses.

         In the beloved Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, the hero George Bailey played by Jimmy Stewart misplaces money and is about to commit suicide when an angel second class, Clarence Odbody, is offered the opportunity to earn his wings if he can stop the suicide.  A darling movie, beloved by many, but Biblical truth does not support it.  We are humans and we do not become angels.  God does not send us back to earth to earn our wings, to earn our place in eternity.  Abraham does not see Lazarus as a servant to do tasks.

The Ripple Affect

Many would say not all parts of a parable have a message for us but I find it interesting that our rich man now thinks of his brothers who are still alive and asks Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth to witness to his brothers.  He somehow thinks the line between life and death can be crossed. He somehow knows that his life has touched others.  He reasons that surely if someone rises from the dead then his brothers will believe.  This prefigures the resurrection of Christ.  Christ does not rise to die again but rises to eternal life.  The chasm is a divide for eternity that is not crossable.   The parable now points to us today.  We have the testimony of Christ’s death and resurrection and yet many still work to get through the worldly gates to the better life even as we realize that all die.

         So why does the parable mention Moses and the prophets? We today have the Old Testament, in fact the whole Bible.  We have those testimonies. Yet many sing the song, “I have married a wife, I have bought me a cow, I have fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum, please hold me excused, I cannot come.”  I think we have come to the crux of the parable worth a thought.

         When we think of Moses, we think of the “law,” the Ten Commandments.  We say the law drives us to the Gospel for we cannot keep the law perfectly and work ourselves to God.  We can’t be good enough to get to the other side of the line.  We hope our goodness is enough because after all, we don’t kill, steal or cheat.  We hope in ourselves.  Many cannot humble themselves and admit they need God’s gift, Jesus.  We need grace.  We must accept God’s grace or we will keep trying to get through a gate that keeps moving away from us.  The cross breaches the gap between God and his creation.   We are saved hot because we are good and share our wealth but because he is good and shares his mercy. No amount of stories about ghosts or people risen from the dead will touch our hearts if we have not come to the point of wanting to do it God’s way.  The kingdom of this world is different from the kingdom of heaven.

         Let us close our sermon today with the last part of the Psalm for today:

3Put not your trust in rulers,
  in mortals in whom there is no help.
4When they breathe their last, they return to earth,
  and in that day their thoughts perish. 
5Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help,
  whose hope is in the Lord their God;
6who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them;
  who keeps promises forever;
7who gives justice to those who are oppressed, and food to those who    hunger.  The Lord sets the captive free.
8The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous.
9The Lord cares for the stranger; the Lord sustains the orphan and  widow, but frustrates the way of the wicked.
10The Lord shall reign forever,
  your God, O Zion, throughout all generations. Hallelujah! 

Let the people of God say, “AMEN!”

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