St. Matthew’s Sermon 09-25-2016

St. Matthew’s Sermon 09-25-2016

Upside-down and Backwards

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15, 1 Timothy 6:6-19, Luke 16:19-31

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

All the Parables Jesus told are rich with colors and patterns; tiny threads woven together in a way as to reveal a larger image. That is a simple metaphor for explaining the way he tells his stories; a metaphor that could have been understood 2,000 years ago in his time when tapestries already existed. But today, in our time, there might be an even better metaphor; that being a “Variable Laser Image” more commonly known as a hologram; like the keystone and the names of all the counties on your driver’s license that only appear when you change the angle you view it from.

Today’s Gospel reading just might be one of the richest tapestries of all, but is even richer if viewed from different angles. Example: That last line Jesus speaks, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead”.

 From the view of post-resurrection Christianity we may hear Jesus speaking of himself; his rising from the dead. We may even count this as a prediction of his death and resurrection as well as a warning about people who won’t believe in him even after he rises.

On the other hand, as people who have read the Gospel of John, we might think of Lazarus of Bethany, the brother of Mary and Martha, whom Jesus raised from death and how afterward the Chief Priest and the Pharisees said “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him…”

It’s the same story viewed from 2 different angles, each raising different thoughts and presenting a different message. Which is the right and which the wrong? Or, is there a right and wrong view? Or, OR, if we spend too much time discussing that one line, how much more of the story will we overlook?! How much of this beautiful tapestry will we not see for concentrating on that one thread?

Stepping way back and taking a broad view we see the story in three scenes” 1) in the upper part of the tapestry, we see poor Lazarus wasting away by the gate while the rich man feasts in his fine clothes. 2) In the middle of the tapestry is the scene of the death of both characters with Lazarus being carried off to Abraham and the rich man going into Hades. And 3) in the lower part of the tapestry, is the scene with Lazarus is standing comfortably beside Abraham and the rich man is tormented in flames with a great chasm between them.

From this point of view we see suffering: first for Lazarus, then for the rich man. We also see impressions of heaven and hell both in the earthly lives of the characters and in their afterlives.

Now, considering what we saw in our first, close-up, view of the last verse and our second, distant, view we might wonder what Jesus is addressing in the parable. Is it about listening to and being obedient to the word of Moses and the prophets? Or could it be about being rewarded in the afterlife for suffering in earthly life; with the other side of that coin being the suffering in the afterlife for having had rewards in this life? Or, OR, could it be both? And, again, if we spend too much time discussing that issue, how much more will we miss?

Let’s take one more look, this time from somewhere between the magnifying glass view and the view from across the room. Maybe we can even shift our angle from time to time and notice something changing.

In the beginning of the story there is no conversation between the rich man and Lazarus even though Lazarus was “at his gate”. Jesus doesn’t have the rich man chase Lazarus away; there’s no mention that Lazarus ever asked for anything, only that he “longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table”.  Yet the rich man ends up in Hades; what does this say about indifference and apathy verses refusal to help? Is one worse than the other?

And, about that gate; it must be attached to a fence or a wall designed to keep the riff-raff out; it’s certainly not built by Lazarus to keep himself away from the rich man.

When the rich man sees Abraham he calls out “Father Abraham”, “Father Abraham”. Addressing him as father indicates he is a Jew; Abraham is the historic father of Israel, and Abraham confirms this in his reply beginning with the familial address “Child”. We must ask ourselves, then, does being a child of a nation under God automatically save us in the afterlife? Adding emphasis to this point, notice that Lazarus isn’t called “child”, yet he is standing at Abraham’s side.

And, within this, the rich man makes a strange request saying, “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”. Why didn’t he ask Abraham to save him from the fire too? And why did he ask that Lazarus be sent to him? Could it be that he was still, even in the fire of Hades, so confident in his wealth and so arrogant in his status that he expected to be served by the likes of Lazarus?

At this point in the story, things suddenly change. Jesus, who is so often trying to get people to think differently, once again turns everything upside-down and backwards as he has Abraham speak the words “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”.

And the reversal continues with the words “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”. The wall of his own making around the rich man’s home that kept Lazarus out is now a “great chasm” of his own making that separates them; but with opposite effect.

Then, still locked in his arrogance, the rich man again asks that Lazarus serve him by going back to the living to warn them. The response is final; they already have the word of God delivered through Moses and the Prophets; like you, they weren’t listening before, they’re not listening now, they never will. But, then, we never heard that Lazarus had listened; are we to assume he did? Or does his previous status make him exempt? And why not give the brothers one more chance? After all, isn’t that what Christ is all about; one more chance?

By now you are well aware that I used a lot of question marks in this message. And I’ve given few absolute answers to any of the questions. In part, that’s because I don’t have all the answers. But Jesus does, yet he, too, doesn’t go into detailed explanation of the story. And it’s not that he thinks we should be smart enough “get it” right away, rather he is challenging us to figure it out; to hear the words and ask the questions of ourselves.

When we do we might ask ourselves, when and where do we meet suffering with indifference and apathy?

What walls are we building between us and our neighbors; and is our justification for them valid?

Does it make us better than anyone else when we call our God “Father” and he calls us “child”?

And in what form of wealth are we placing our confidence and what scale of status do we use to place ourselves above others?

And, finally, we must ask ourselves where this will leave us when everything is up-side down and backwards. Are we prepared to find that those we believe to be far lower than us are actually far above us?

We are called to ask these questions and to seek the answers. We have Moses, we have the prophets AND we have Christ. We have NO excuses.



Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
32:1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar.
32:2 At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah,
32:3a where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.
32:6 Jeremiah said, The word of the LORD came to me:
32:7 Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.”
32:8 Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the LORD, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD.
32:9 And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver.
32:10 I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales.
32:11 Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy;
32:12 and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard.
32:13 In their presence I charged Baruch, saying,
32:14 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time.
32:15 For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.


1 Timothy 6:6-19
6:6 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment;
6:7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it;
6:8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.
6:9 But 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.
6:10 For 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.
6:11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.
6:12 Fight 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.
6:13 In 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
6:14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
6:15 which he will bring about at the right time–he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
6:16 It 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.
6:17 As 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.
6:18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share,
6:19 thus 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.


Luke 16:19-31
16:19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.
16:20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
16:21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.
16:22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.
16:23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.
16:24 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.’
16:25 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.
16:26 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.’
16:27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house–
16:28 for I have five brothers–that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’
16:29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’
16:30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’
16:31 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.'”