Don’t make this Mistake

Delivered January 20, 2002 by Rev. George Antonakos.

Theme: Stewardship happens when we are sold on God’s values.

Sermon Text:
Luke 16:19-31
The Rich Man and Lazarus
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and
fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate
was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21
and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the
dogs came and licked his sores.
22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels
carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.
23 In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and
saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.
24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on
me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool
my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your
lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received
bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.
26 And besides all this, between us and you a great
chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to
you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus
to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers.
Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from
the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and
the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises
from the dead.'”

What do you value most in life? Not in theory, in practice. Jesus tells the story of wealth and poverty to point out that we should be very, very careful about what we value in this life, because as human beings we naturally gravitate and value wealth and comfort. In fact, if you look earlier in the context of this passage, the primary audience are the Pharisees and in Verse 14 of Chapter 16, after Jesus told them that a person cannot serve God and money, it says, “The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.” And he said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts.” What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight. When we are sold on God’s value, money becomes a servant, and we become stewards of all God’s resources. When we are not sold on God’s values, then money usually becomes a master and we become stewards of self-interest. I think the Enron scandal, which is always in the news, speaks to this very much in our world today. If you haven’t been following the details, the best that I understand it is that the executives at Enron knew that the company was in trouble. As many executives do, they own stock in that company and a few months ago it was valued at $90.00 a share. They knew that bankruptcy was around the corner, and so they sold off over time many of their shares. But then when the bankruptcy was announced, of course the stock plummeted to a $1.00 a share and everybody who worked there just about, not only lost their job but lost pensions, and security for the future. Greed was a problem no question about it, but its because they valued something more than the people who suffered from their actions. Much like the wealthy man in this text.

Now the gospel of Luke speaks more about God’s care for people than any other gospel. Luke has a concern for the common person and if you study it, you would see that the Greek word for people is mentioned fifty more times in the gospel of Luke than it is in the other gospels. Luke would have been a great labor organizer, I guess. He just cared about people. And so when we read this text and it says there was a rich man that was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day and a poor man that was laid at his steps, a beggar. You would hope that the next verse, and I am sure Luke would hope that the next verse says, and the rich man tended to the poor man’s needs, but it doesn’t say that. It says that Lazarus covered with sores longed to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. There was a practice back in those days, they didn’t have linen napkins per say, or what we have, they would take bread and they would wipe their hands with the bread to get them clean and then they would discard that. Lazarus was looking on this and wishing that he could even have the scraps that they wiped their hands with. But there was no help from the rich man. There is no help for Lazarus. Interestingly when it says that the dogs came and licked his sores I heard and I think this is true, perhaps someone can correct me later if its not, but I have heard that there is something helpful about a dog licking ones sores, that there is something of value. I thought to myself, the dogs cared more for this man than the rich man.

The name Lazarus means helped by God and that’s significant because no one else helped him and God all through scripture notices the helpless. Hagar in the wilderness, the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, Joseph in the pit, and on and on it goes and he notices this poor beggar. In fact, if you are hurting today, maybe nobody knows how much you are hurting today, God notices, especially notices, but nobody noticed Lazarus when he needed it the most. So the time came for their lives to end and the text goes on to say that the beggar died and was carried to Abraham’s side, into paradise and the rich man went into the torment of hell, the scripture says. He was finding out what was eternally of value. Now at this point someone might ask, are you saying that heaven is for the poor and hell is for the rich? Not at all, but Luke because of his care about people and what’s of importance to God talks many times about the rich and the poor in all of his writings. Actually in other writings, here in Luke, Chapter 8 he talked about wealthy women who supported Jesus and his disciples so we know that is not what it is all about. Luke is trying to get us to think about what is truly of value to God in this life. So that it guides our living.

In fact, the story is less about heaven and hell, although that’s a powerful image than it is about the here and now. And one of Luke’s favorite themes is called the great reversal. Remember the manificot when Mary prayed to God and said that God had brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly? God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. Here is a reversal in action in eternity. Lazarus, who people stepped over, who was basically invisible to the wealthy man, who basically had no value whatsoever, which is why he got no attention, was on the one hand and this rich man enjoying all there was to enjoy about life is on the other hand. When they die we see the reversal happen, just as Mary had prayed. And we are jolted to consider not what we should necessarily value in the bye and bye, but in the here and now because in the here and now makes all the difference. You know in the movie, “Trading Places” that I mentioned, those two guys really didn’t care about the people involved, they were just so self-indulgent. The twist of the movie is that the two guys that are pawns in this scheme twist around and they get the best of the guys who are trying to use them. And so it is with anybody, Luke says who doesn’t care about what goes on around them. Psalms 109, the psalmist aptly describes the rich man and what might be said of him. This stood out to me as I was reading this Psalm. Speaking of people who don’t care he says, “for he never thought of doing a kindness. It never even came into his mind to do a kindness.” And so Luke is trying to say people are of value no matter what their earthly condition. And when we walk out of our homes we don’t easily step over beggars, but there is plenty of need and we know it. And if we don’t primarily value helping those in need physically, in need spiritually, but spend out lives and our money and our time in the pursuit of our own entertainment and self-indulgence we make a grave mistake. I know that this congregation is very generous. It’s been proven in the results of the giving of this past year. But sometimes we can slip back and allow, there is always the danger of allowing what is highly valued in this life to grab our attention. If we do that Luke is trying to warn us, be careful the tables might be turned on you.

Now in eternity the scripture goes on, the rich man finally sees Lazarus. He finally notices. But notice this, he still thinks that he should be served. He says, “Father Abraham go and ask Lazarus to just put his finger in water to come and put it on my tongue.” Even in his torment he believes that his wants and needs are foremost. That’s hellish living. Always thinking about my wants, my needs being served. It’s not to say that we shouldn’t be hopefully getting our needs met, but hellish living is focused constantly on my wants being served. Luke is driving home the point about how what we do affects others so much. Sacrificial stewardship is what he is calling for. Helping people who would have no help if it weren’t for God. Those are the people who should get our attention. This is about being a Christian, about being the hands of Christ in a hurting world. Can we be wealthy and go to heaven? Sure. But remember what Jesus said, it’s a pretty difficult thing, because wealth blinds us.

In another context, I can’t even remember, but I just remember hearing it, at the end of the news or some sort of context I can’t remember, but the line stands out to me. The more that they made, the less that they gave. Studies show that wealthier people on average give less proportionally than those who are not extremely wealthy. Can we be wealthy and get to heaven? Of course, but it depends not upon what we have or what we don’t have, it depends on whether we believe in what the scripture teaches. That’s what Abraham said to the rich man, because the rich man said, “go and tell my brothers if somebody comes from the dead they will repent.” He said, “oh no. Even if somebody talked to them from beyond they wouldn’t repent.” Even if somebody was raised from the dead they wouldn’t repent, if they don’t listen to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Going to heaven is not about what we have or don’t have; it’s about whether or not we receive the good news of Jesus Christ in our own lives.

Christ died for you. Christ died for me. And it’s ignoring or accepting that reality that makes all the difference. It’s not about what we have or what we don’t have; it’s about what value we place on what God gives us. No one wants a world of poverty. No one wants to just scrape by in this life and I am not suggesting that that’s what we should do, but we who say we believe in Christ cannot simply be islands of wealth in the sea of poverty. We are warned by the scripture today not to judge people by the condition, by the worldly condition that they are in or their station in life, but on the basis of God’s love for them. Last week I said, “I want you to know that God loves the whole world, but he loves you.” Today I am saying he loves you, but he loves the whole world. And we ought not judge those in this world who don’t have the benefit of what we have. You know often we look at people who are not making it and they say, “Well what’s wrong with them?” They must not be hard workers. And so we excuse ourselves from helping. The scripture today warns, don’t do that. God loves all people. Whether or not they are experiencing the good or bad things of this life, our task is to follow Christ and use the good things that come our way to help them. You know it’s like giving them a taste of heaven even before we get there. It’s like showing people, yes there is a God in heaven and through me He’s going to touch you as I give and as I care and as I share for others. When that day comes we will be glad that we gave generously or we will be sad that we were self-indulgent.

A man died and went to heaven. He was told that not only would he see heaven, but he would also see hell. An angel escorted him past a room. The door opened and there he saw a huge banquettable. The food on the table was beyond description. It would satisfy anybody’s needs, but he saw the people at the table seated across from one another in agony, weeping, wailing, crying and as he looked closer he noticed on the table long forks and they were weeping and wailing because they couldn’t get the food into their mouths, the forks were too long. He was taken to another room and there it said over the doorway, heaven. He opens the door and he sees the exact same scene. Same table, same banquet, same satisfying food but now he notices that the people are in harmony, they’re in love, they are rejoicing because he notices that the people at that table, take their food and feed the ones on the other side.

Let us pray. Lord Jesus, we pray that you would help us to be reminded of the dangers of focusing our trust and our possessions to the exclusion of that which you value. Lord, we ask you to touch our hearts, soften us so that we might be cheerful givers. Help us to understand what it means to live our life according to your values. We know we can’t do this apart from your Spirit’s help and we ask again that your Spirit would guide us and lead us and help us reorient our lives so that people might be lifted up in this life and in the one to come. For we ask it in Jesus name. Amen.