Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, September 25, 2022

YEAR C 2022 pentecost 16

Pentecost 16, 2022
Amos 6:1a,4-7
Psalm 146
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

We have to guard against going with our immediate gut feeling, hearing this parable.  Because, our initial reading is probably something like this:  If you don’t help poor people, you will end up burning in hell. And there are a whole bunch of signs that that’s not what Jesus is saying here.  We’ll go through this parable in a second, but I want to tell you from the start, the thing to focus on here is the great chasm.  The separation is the thing.  There is indeed a great chasm that has been fixed, because the rich man has fixed it himself.  But let’s start with Hades.

First thing to say, today’s gospel is not a proof for the existence of heaven or hell, because it is a parable.  It is a metaphor, an allegory, a story told for the purpose of telling us something else.  Whatever you get out of this gospel reading today, I implore you not to think that it somehow proves the existence of heaven or hell.  Because it doesn’t; it is a parable.  

Secondly, Hades is from Greek mythology, not the Jewish faith.  The unnamed rich man goes to Hades, which no one listening to Jesus considered to be a real place.  It’s like saying Dorothy and her companions went to the Emerald City.  Not a real place.  For Jesus to say the rich ruler is in Hades tells us that Jesus is not telling a true story about heaven and hell, or trying to describe what happens after death.  Point being: If someone asks you how you know whether heaven and hell exist, do not cite this parable as your proof text, because it is a made-up story, intended to make a different point completely.

So, is this parable a warning to us?  Seems like it, doesn’t it?  But it’s a warning that sounds more like karma than Christianity.  Especially so, given Abraham’s tone.  He blithely says, “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.”  Sounds like karma, right?  Your actions during your lifetime determine what happens after you die?  But I want to point out the passive nature of both men.  Abraham says, “You received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things.”

Neither man has earned anything, which is significant.  The rich man did not earn his riches.  He just has them.  And, just as important, Lazarus did not earn his poverty.  As far as wealth, they have both lived their lives as life handed it to them.  And this is further cemented for Lazarus in the Greek.  The word used is ballw, which means to throw.  Lazarus is passively dumped at the gate of the rich man.  He lacks even the agency to determine where he will beg.  “You received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things.”

And notice the lack of the word “therefore” in what Abraham says.  He doesn’t say BECAUSE you received your good things and Lazarus received evil things, this is where you both ended up.  He doesn’t say as a result of receiving your good and bad things this is how things are.  He just says, “but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.”  Like Abraham is just observing the way things were, and the way things are.

So the point Jesus is making in this parable is not that your actions in this life determine what happens to you after you die.  I’m not saying they don’t; I’m just saying that’s not what Jesus is saying here.  Because Hades is not a real place, and neither guy does anything in this parable.  One guy is rich by no effort of his own, and one guy is poor, through no fault of his own.  And now one is suffering and one is being comforted.  And Abraham just seems to sort of shrug it off, right?  Like, “what are ya’ gonna do?”

So to sum up so far, where these men end up is not the result of their actions.  Everything up to this point is just to get us to this point.  And the point is the great chasm.  Their lives on earth, rich and poor, are just there to set the scene for the point Jesus is making.  And it’s all about the chasm.

And now you’re asking, okay, so what is the chasm?  Thanks for asking.  The chasm in this parable is not one of distance.  It’s not a separation of space.  No, the chasm here is in not seeing the value and dignity of other human beings.  You notice, in the set up, Lazarus is thrown at the rich man’s gate, and—as far as we can tell—the rich man doesn’t even notice him.  Doesn’t ever acknowledge him.  The rich man just lives his rich life, and Lazarus lives his poor life.  But the rich man is the only one who could do something about the situation, and he doesn’t.  Lazarus can do nothing except wish for the scraps, but he cannot do anything except sit where he is thrown.  The rich man could make a difference—with even just his scraps—but he doesn’t, because he doesn’t see Lazarus.  There’s the chasm.  The great divide is between those who can see other people and those who cannot.

The rich man views Lazarus as a means to his own ends.  And even that happens only after he dies!  Notice, when he finally does see Lazarus—after they’re both dead—he wants to use him for his own purposes.  He says, “send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.”  He says, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house” so he can warn my brothers.  The rich man suddenly has one ounce of compassion, but it’s for his own family.  Lazarus is not a person to the rich man, and that’s the chasm.  Not a separation of distance, but a separation of understanding, which not even death can overcome.  Hades is a mythical place, the place where Lazarus only exists to serve the rich man’s needs.  It’s not a real place.  It is a fiction in the mind of the rich man

The chasm is something that cannot be overcome by sending Lazarus around like an errand boy, which is how the rich man views the world.  The rich man is unable to change—even in death, living in his imaginary Hades.  He wants to keep on using actual human beings as pawns to his own ends. 

He would probably think nothing of putting asylum seekers on an airplane under false pretenses, and flying them to another state in order to serve his own needs.  Because they’re not really people, you see; they’re just props.  Poor people are just a thing to be used to get what he wants out of them.  Lazarus only matters when the rich man can use him to get something for himself.  Otherwise, Lazarus is just a desperate man, dumped at the border of his extreme wealth, available to be used as needed for his own purposes.

And that is the great chasm that separates the rich man from Lazarus.  It is not what he did in his earthly life; it is about his continuing inability to see other people as God sees them.  As beloved children of God, made in the image of God.  In our own Baptismal Covenant, we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, not to use them to dip their finger in water to cool our tongues.  Not to go warn our brothers about how hard our indifference has made things.

But speaking of Baptism, here is a crucial difference between Lazarus and the rich man:  Lazarus has a name.   Some of you may recall that the Rite of Baptism was commonly called a “Christening.”  And what we now call our first names are sometimes known as our Christian names.  These two things are connected, of course.

In the 1928 version of the Book of Common Prayer, just prior to baptizing the child, the Minister turns to the parents and Godparents and tells them, “Name this child.”  The connection between a first name and being baptized is very strong in the history of the church.  In baptism we are adopted into God’s family and given a name

There is the vague “a rich man,” and there is Lazarus.  Jesus tells this parable about some rich man who goes to his imaginary Hades, and about Lazarus who suffers through life and goes to be with Abraham.  But you know what’s really interesting about Lazarus?  Jesus knows his name.  Lazarus has a name, and Jesus knows it.  He is not a nameless poor guy who died.  He.  Is.  Lazarus.  Jesus knows the name of the one who suffers.  Jesus knows the one who needs help.  Jesus does not know the name of the rich guy who has everything he needs.  But Jesus knows Lazarus, the one in need.

You have been claimed as God’s own in baptism, and sealed with the cross of Christ forever.  Like Lazarus, you have been thrown into the place where you are, whatever that may mean.  You can do nothing to earn salvation, other than rely on the one who can actually save you.  The one who will send angels to carry you into the arms of Abraham.  The one who knows your name.

And that same Jesus comes to meet us today in this meal of bread and wine.  And I know that Jesus will meet us here, because Jesus has promised to be here—every time we gather together—to give us strength for the journey, and healing for our souls, and to remove the chasm that separates us from one another.  You are invited to this meal, because Jesus knows your name.  You and I will be carried into the arms of angels, because Jesus knows our names.  Though there is suffering in this world, we need not be afraid.  Because Jesus knows our names.


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