St. Matthew’s Sermon 09-29-2019


St. Matthew’s Sermon 09-29-2019

The Great Chasm

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15, Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16, 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

Earlier in Luke’s Gospel is the story of a man with a tree that didn’t bear fruit. He told his gardener to cut it down but the gardener asked him to give it one more chance; let him fertilize it give it another year, then, as chapter 13 verse 9 reads, “If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”

When preaching on that text a few years ago I mentioned the importance of paying attention to every word when reading bible stories. There is great risk of missing deeper meaning if even one little thing is missed. In that case it was the word “you”. The gardener was told to cut it down but in his reasoned response he says “you can cut it down”.

In other sermons I have reminded you to be careful about not reading things into a story that aren’t there even though we may assume they are implied. One example I’ve used to highlight this is in the numerous places where we read that we need to love God above all else, it doesn’t tell us to love God and nothing or no one else.

Learning these basics of biblical interpretation helps us to understand the messages presented more clearly and more thoroughly. Doing the work of understanding gives us the reward of understanding.

Yet we can also be too cautious of not reading into the text what isn’t there and come up short. Sometimes what isn’t said is as important as what is.

Example here; right from today’s Gospel reading. In it, the poor man has a name, Lazarus; Jesus knows the poor man by name and so does Abraham! Lazarus matters to both! The rich man, however, is not named; he is just another rich man. In spite of his walled-in home with a gate, regardless of his fine clothes and good eating, he’s unknown.

Also left untold is how the rich man got to be rich. Did he inherit his wealth? Was he lucky enough to at least have a good start in life, to get a good education that allowed him upward mobility? Or, did he have to work hard for what he got; working his way out of poverty, climbing the ladder, as we say, until he got to the top? Does it matter?

Nor do we hear why Lazarus is poor. Had he been injured and unable to work? Was he born with a disability? Or was he just lazy, finding it more pleasant to sit on his backside at the rich man’s gate and beg than to get up every morning to look for gainful employment? Does it matter?

Now throw into this mess of attempting to fully understand what we read, what is said in one point of a story is sometimes implied elsewhere in the story.

Yes, it can be confusing. That, too, is often a part of the story. God and Christ, through the writings of the bible call us to the reality that life on earth and life in faith are confusing and, thereby call us to wrestle with our faith withinthe context of life on earth; to figure out, case by case, what is and what is not the proper, faithful response to each and every situation life subjects us to. And oh what wrestling is required of us in dealing with the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

Right here in our world today we see the very same scenario Jesus was addressing so many years ago. Look around you, listen to the news, see the people suffering in poverty, hear their mourning. Then look at the rich, individuals and nations, and hear their responses.

How many times do we hear talk about how everyone who tries hard enough can lift themselves up; words coming from those who are already ‘up’ and, not only do not, but will not lift a finger to help them? How many times do we hear that the reason the poor are poor is because their lazy, unwilling to get off their backside and work, and therefore don’t deserve our help? These judgments being made without even knowing the name of the people they’re talking about much less knowing, or caring to know, the life circumstances that placed the poor in their plight and hold them there.

Have you been paying attention to the cuts to public education and how the limited funds are distributed; leaving poor communities with less funding and wealthier communities with more? Have you heard the recent talk about the rapidly increasing cost of higher education that does not guarantee a job with enough pay to cover the investment? I’m sure you must have heard about the recent cases of wealthy families buying their children’s way into universities and, in so doing, filled an available slot that someone less fortunate could not have?

In our American economy of today, how often do we see and hear about businesses and their owners making billions of dollars a year while paying their employees less than enough to live on? And what about the huge tax cuts for those businesses and their owners that are allowing crumbs to “trickle down” to those below?

And do I need to mention the rising cost of health care that leaves more and more of the sick and injured with little more care than having dogs lick their wounds while spending billions of dollars on weapons to inflict more wounds and billions more building walls to keep the suffering masses at bay.

 

As we further separate the poor from the rich, and as we build the walls that block the potential of the poor it is us that are creating a great chasm, it is us that are locking ourselves on the wrong side of that chasm, and it is us that will suffer without relief. Moses and the prophets told us that plainly. Jesus, who was raised from the dead, told us that plainly. We are still not convinced.

Amen

 

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,
32:3 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.

Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
91:1 You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
91:2 will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”
91:3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence;
91:4 he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
91:5 You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day,
91:6 or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday.
91:14 Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.
91:15 When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.
91:16 With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.

 

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.'”