The last time I preached we were in Luke 15. A chapter I encouraged you to know, where to find when in need of a lifejacket for your faith. Because it is three glorious and uplifting parables about the overwhelming, never-ending reckless love of God.
Today, we’ve moved to chapter 16 and oh, what a difference a chapter makes.
One could make the mistake, but you won’t, you’re too smart, of hearing these parables as the flip side of that extravagant love coin. The parables in 16 are hard, a steward who is punished for how he squanders his manager’s money and then the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man realizing far too late that separation is the consequence of his stingy fear.
It’s as if one chapter tells us God loves us always and with amazing grace, and then boom! The next chapter hits us with the cost. Our cost for wasting that grace is extravagant wrath and punishment when we mess up with our money.
No, no, no! That my friends is, sadly, the tit for tat way of thinking that conditions most of us. The difference between the in chapter 15 and in this one – is that chapter 15 is the one about God. This chapter is all about you and me.
This parable of Lazarus and the rich man highlights the choices we can make. The choices our world encourages, a world very different than the world God dreams. Like the rich man, we make choices that separate us – out of fear of shame, fear of being less than, fear of not enough, fear of the unknown and fear of suffering.
And when it comes to wealth, too often we hear scripture as wagging a finger at you and me, or giving us permission to judge someone else. That conclusion can certainly be drawn by connecting dots between our excerpt from 1 Timothy and this parable. But that’s something we already know. We know that “love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” It’s easy to point fingers. The harder work, the work we called to do, is examine this truth as a community.
This is one layer of today’s parable. And an incredible example of a community that examined their history with evil and wealth was featured in The Baltimore Sun two weeks ago. It’s the story of Memorial Episcopal Church, Bolton Hill and the work they have done and are doing in reckoning with the profits of slavery in their founding. Especially since learning that their the family of the current deacon had been owned as a slave by members of another current parishioner.
It’s like the work Virginia Theological Seminary is doing in setting aside $1.7 million from their endowment to pay to descendants of slaves who built buildings on their campus. Buildings built by slaves to train Christian pastors! That is the work this parable challenges us to do.
But parables are like a delicacy I discovered this summer – the Smith Island Cake! So many layers of delicious goodness for us and for you and me.
When I was in high school, I remember one night when I was agonizing over a test. I remember sitting on my bed, books spread around me and realizing I had to go to sleep. It was late, I wasn’t prepared and that was that – I was freaking out! Until a reassuring inner voice said, Hey, Arianne, go to sleep, and tomorrow take the test. Because in five years the test won’t matter.
It was such a gift of insight! If I passed, if I failed, I would get through it! Maybe a temporary bump, but not the end of the world.
There have been other times in my life – not tests, but challenges. Decisions and steps where my faith, my values, my beliefs, my call are being called upon. Part of me doesn’t want to take the risk, try the new thing, step into the unknown, or make the leap when suffering of some kind may be in store. Like the rich man I want to stay safe and secure inside, resting on what I already have.
And in those times the still small voice inside has one very clear and simple question, if you don’t cross that bridge, take that risk, make that leap, Arianne – will you regret that on your deathbed?
Which is exactly the regret the rich man has right now as he sees the chasm he created. Before it was a chasm, it was a door to his house.
The chasm was once a gate waiting to be opened The chasm was once a hand outstretched in need of food. The chasm was once a person, a man, who had a name to be known – Lazarus.
And you know what Lazarus means? God helps! Of all the parables Jesus tells, he only gives a character an actual name this one time! This suffering man who represents everything we want to avoid – pain, suffering, sickness, poverty, shame. That is the person who is named. And if the rich man had come to know that, perhaps that bridge would have helped him through, would have brought him a whole new awareness of abundance.
So, my friends – what is the leap, the risk, the bridge you are being called to cross? Where do you need to trust that God helps! God will be there to enable you to live into something new and wonderful in your life. Take a risk, make the leap, dig into all the layers and bridges God encourages you to explore. Amen.