A Sermon Based on Luke 16:19-31.
Dickens’ A Christmas Carol holds the record for the most adaptations of a piece of literature into film, with at least 21 films being created since its publication in 1843, and another 15 or so TV versions (including Bugs Bunny, the Flintstones, and Barbie) never mind the numerous theatre adaptations as well. It seems that we never grow tired of watching the drama unfold around Ebenezer Scrooge on that Christmas Eve, seven years after the death of his business partner Jacob Marley. We know the tale cold, of course, Scrooge and his miserly ways confronted by Jacob’s ghost. Scrooge is stunned to see what has happened to Marley, who is there shaking the chains that bind him as he interacts with Scrooge. Finally, he can bear the sight of those shackles no longer and finally asks trembling, “You are fettered, tell me why?”
“‘I wear the chain I forged in life,’ replied the Ghost. ‘I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.’”
Jesus continues his teaching with his disciples and the religious leaders about how to live life in relation to finances in the portion of Luke 16 we read this morning. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve been noticing a pattern in Jesus’ message about money and its impact on our lives, and how we are to deal with our money. Jesus has proclaimed that where our treasure is there our hearts would be also. He told the story of the rich man who tore down his old barns because they weren’t big enough. And then Jesus warned us that we should store up treasure in heaven. A few weeks ago we heard Jesus say, “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all of your possessions.” Full-stop. No further explanations. (By the way, I’ve never heard it argued that we should take that tidbit from scripture literally). Last week, Jesus looked his disciples and the religious leaders square in the eyes and stated, “You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Clergy often get a hard time about always preaching about money. Given these words of Jesus, it’s pretty amazing that we’re not doing it more often. It’s obvious this was important to Jesus, and Luke doesn’t let up in the chapters following with stories like the rich young ruler, Zacchaeus the tax collector, the widow’s mite, questions about paying taxes and still more. This morning we get this vivid parable about a nameless rich man and a beggar called Lazarus. Even though they are merely feet apart from one another, the rich man is content to ignore Lazarus as he lies outside the other’s gate. Dogs are the only friends poor Lazarus has, it seems, and we get the horrifying image of them licking his seeping wounds. He’s so desperately hungry that even a few crumbs from the rich man’s dinner might satiate him. And then both die, and there’s a reversal of fortune.
Lazarus is carried off to Abraham and attended to, while the rich guy—“Dives” is the name traditionally given to him from the Latin for “rich”—finds his way to Hades. Dives is tormented, and he can see across a great chasm to where Lazarus and Abraham are. “Father Abraham,” he shouts, “have mercy and me and send Lazarus” — ah, it seems he does in fact know the beggar’s name — “send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames.” Abraham explains that the chasm can’t be crossed, that their respective fates were sealed while they were on earth. Fearing for his family, the rich man then begs that good ole Lazarus be sent back up to warn his five brothers. Again Abraham declines, reminding Dives that his brothers have Moses and the Prophets to warn them. Besides, they wouldn’t be convinced even if Lazarus rose from the dead.
I am struck by the difference small things make in this parable. All Lazarus wants as he’s out on the curb nursing his wounds is the few things that fell from Dives’ table. And all Dives wants is for a drop or two of water to come and cool his tongue. If I were in either position I might ask for more—a meal if I were Lazarus, a bucket if I were the rich guy. But those small things can make a huge difference.
Dives doesn’t give Lazarus the time of day, and, in fact, goes further and doesn’t even acknowledge him. Lazarus is invisible to him as he comes in and out of his house, running errands, and whatnot. What would it have cost him to notice? Maybe some time, a bit of food, some Neosporin and gauze. But look what it cost him not to notice, to plead ignorance and scoot out the gate quickly with his sights on his next destination.
But rather than imagining yourself in Dives’ position, I’d like you to do something else. I’d invite you to be his brother or sister. While in Jesus’ parable fates are settled for Lazarus and Dives—as they were for Jacob Marley—that’s not true for us. How will we respond to Jesus’ teaching? Will we see that our wealth—while able to help us achieve much (our story from last Sunday)—can also isolate us from the needs around us?
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that all of our money is stamped with that little phrase “In God we trust”? As one minister put it, “If we do actually trust God, then we will take to heart God’s injunction to have compassion on those around us, to be vulnerable to each other, to actually see God in the face of our neighbor’s need.”
Today, rather than asking for money for the church, I’m giving each of you a single dollar bill and inviting you to ask “whether how [you] spend that dollar — and all [your] dollars — this week reflects [your] trust in God…or not.” You are free to do whatever you’d like—you can share it, save it or spend it. And I think any of those options might faithfully reflect trust in God.
Maybe this dollar—while a drop in the bucket—can be shared. Remember that Dives only longed for a drop of water and Lazarus wanted a mere few crumbs. Many organizations like Living Water will tell you that $1 can provide a person in the third world with water for an entire year when it helps fund a well for an entire community. Or that little dollar would raise the daily allowance for someone on Food Stamps by 25%, raising the total they can spend to $5 from the allotted $4. There are many, many other ways you can share this as well.
Or perhaps you want to save it. If you’re a kid saving up for bike or a game $1 is something you’d be grateful for and a real gift from God. Or maybe this $1 can be the seed for you to save for a future dream. God gives us those dreams too.
Maybe you’ve been having a rough go of it lately and this crumpled dollar bill might help you see that you are cared for by God and this community. And so you can take it and grab a cup of coffee or some other small treat that you wouldn’t give yourself. Or you can take it as one more dollar to pay off a debt that has a stranglehold on you.
Whatever you do, and be it individually or with others, I just ask that you reflect on that deep truth that you can trust in God for your needs and that you’d be open to seeing the needs of others as well. And I also ask that you either email or tweet (#$1toTrust) or post on our Facebook page or call about what you do. Imagine throughout the week hearing of wonderful things that happen with this small collection of dollars. You’ll get an email today (if you are on our list) with how to respond, and you’ll also be given a chance next week to share this as well.
May we be among those siblings of Dives who recognize that someone has indeed come back from the dead and given us more than we could ever imagine if we only realize it. Our fates are not cast in chain links; each day we are given the chance to see the hand of God in this world and see the face of Jesus in the people we encounter every day. And we can truly place our trust in God. Amen.