9/29/2013 sermon: A rich man named Resurrection

Location: Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, VA
Text: Luke 16:19-31
19 Pentecost, Proper 21, Year C

A rich man named Resurrection

I’ll tell you right now that this is a stewardship sermon, a “we need your pledge sermon.” If this were public television, we would have operators standing by to take your promises of money in the coming year.

But this is a church, where we are traditionally reluctant to talk about money. So instead we have pledge cards discretely “standing by,” on their way to you in the U.S. mail.

Our challenge today, though, is to think about what an unnamed rich man and a poor man named Lazarus can teach us about giving money away. I know that Linda Goff and her stewardship committee hope that you will be so moved by what you hear that you will 1) pledge to give money—a LOT of money—to this church, and 2) increase your giving next year over this year’s by at least ten percent. In other words, they expect a miracle.

I was tempted to spend the rest of our sermon time today praying for that miracle. You know, a prayer that would go something like this:

Lord Jesus Christ, you convinced your first followers to give all they had to follow you. Convince us, your followers today, to do the same.

But—had we actually spent today’s sermon time praying, we would have prayed a longer prayer, much longer, with “altar call” music sung by the choir! This seemed somehow coercive, though, so we won’t do that. So we’d better get to our gospel lesson for today and begin to actually preach!

In our gospel lesson there’s a rich man—let’s call him Resurrection. And Resurrection somehow became wealthy. We don’t know if he was born rich, or if he spent his life accumulating wealth. I wonder if Resurrection spent his young adult life giving all of his excess money away, but somehow this might have changed as he got older—if so, I don’t know why. He had a fine home, beautifully appointed, and gates to keep him safe and secure from the big bad world outside.

Resurrection ate well. Our text says something like, “he dined sumptuously every Sunday.” Well, actually, to be exact, the text says that the rich man ate sumptuously every DAY, not just on Sundays. No dumpster-diving for this man!

And Resurrection dressed finely. In purple, no less, the most exorbitantly costly color back then, the pure gold “bling” of his day. No doubt that Resurrection also has great red, white, and green “clothes,” too.

Resurrection wasn’t a bad person. He didn’t try to make being poor illegal, or even to round up Lazarus and the others like him and ship them out of town. Instead, Resurrection was just blind to the disparity in wealth that existed in his world, and oblivious to the need that lived right outside his walls. So much so that when Resurrection and the poor man who lived at his door both died, their roles were reversed in the afterlife.

This is when Jesus revealed that there was a “chasm,” he called it, between the two, a chasm that was not cross-able in the life to come. The implication is that we had better cross this chasm in this life, while we still can. The message is clear: We must learn to not be indifferent to the poor, while we still have the chance.

In fact, at one of our three Bible studies this week, we realized that this chasm is only fixed when we are dead. In the meantime, while we are alive, this chasm “resides” within each and every one of us. We can choose the side on which we are setting our hope, choose how we will spend eternity.

Our gospel lesson today tells us that how we respond to the needs of others relates in some important way to where we will end up after we die. Please notice that Lazarus gets points for simply being poor. However, Lazarus presumably ALSO would have to respond to the needs of others for him to have ended up where he did (in the bosom of Abraham, the good part of our life hereafter).

CRes1I have named the rich man Resurrection. I wonder if you think our Church of the Resurrection really IS one or the other of the characters in today’s gospel lesson. To help YOU decide, I want you to imagine along with me.

Suppose Resurrection—the rich man I have named Resurrection—had begun to notice the poor and needy people who lived literally all around him? Suppose Resurrection had opened his gates to those who were desperately hungry, inviting them in on the last Saturday each month when they were the hungriest, waiting for their aid checks? What if Resurrection had collected warm coats and scarves and mittens for all the Lazaruses in the city?

And suppose that Resurrection had opened a school for all of Lazarus’ children, a school where children of all abilities could play and learn together to recognize each others’ humanity, and to receive therapy for their disabilities?

Wouldn’t Resurrection have so thoroughly taken Jesus’ lesson to heart that he would no longer be oblivious and indifferent to the Lazaruses all around us?

I think that if this man Resurrection had made these changes in his life, he wouldn’t be eating so sumptuously, and he really would be eating only on Sunday! He would long ago have traded in his purple (and green and red and white) clothes and bling for plain albs and food for the hungry. In fact, the Lazaruses of this would no longer be on the outside of Resurrection’s home, but on the inside. What we would have is a building full of Lazaruses, all trying hard to figure out how to give of what they had been given, to keep the work of Resurrection going. If so, now is when we find out if Lazarus can be generous, too.

I’ve heard a lot since I’ve been here about money and our building. We want to invest in changing lives, not in keeping an old and ailing building alive. And so we give generously to those organizations all over town, all over the world, that are changing lives. And I applaud us all for that, for your great generosity. I wouldn’t want us to change this practice because this generosity means that we here are certainly not oblivious and indifferent to the need all around us. We’ve learned Jesus’ lesson for today well. Well done, Church of the Resurrection!

SpireNewsletterLogoWhat I want to ask is where you learned to see and to respond with Christ’s love to the needs of our world? Where do you come to be nourished and fed yourselves, so that you can continue to do Christ’s work here and in our world? Hasn’t Resurrection—Jesus’ Resurrection and our Church of the Resurrection—changed your life?

It seems to me that there is great value in having a place in which to receive Resurrection, and from which to offer Resurrection to the world.

And the reality is now this: Resurrection is sitting at your gate, so to speak, the gate to your heart (the gate to your checkbook), asking to be fed, so that we can continue to feed you and others.

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