9/26/04, P17C

“Everybody Gets a New House”
Luke 16: 19-31

pra Winfrey exhibited great generosity this month when she gave everyone in her studio audience a new car: No strings attached; almost, everyone has to pay the federal tax, an average of $7,000. Perhaps I missed the latest news release and Opra has paid the tax, but that gift would have to be counted as income and taxed too. We can't get around the IRS.

Perhaps Opra just overlooked the hitch. She certainly understands the plight of the poor, who make up a large part of her following, because she came up poor. However, some folks who have always had an easy life have no appreciation for misfortune. They think it's the fate of those who slip up. The old, “Let them eat cake,” attitude.

What is the point of Jesus' parable about poor Lazarus begging for scraps from the rich man's table? Most would emphasize the sub plot concerning the eternal social problem of rich versus poor. However, Jesus seems to simply be using this social plight as a backdrop for a far more serious situation. There are even worse things than poverty.

We do not want to gloss over the massive social problems created by riches and poverty: Both are current global issues. However, it seems that whatever efforts we attempt to alleviate hard core generational poverty we will still have the poor with us always. We will never solve these human conditions because many folks will just never accept the Good News.

The sin of the rich man was that he had become disconnected from the people of Israel ; and thus, did not go to the Bosom of Abraham upon his death, as did the poor beggar. But notice that he learned his lesson fast as he looked up from Hades and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.” He cried 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.” (23b-24, NRSV) But it was too late for there was, “a great chasm fixed” that no one could cross.

This formerly rich man, sometimes called Dives, which is Latin for rich man, was used to getting his own way so he implored Abraham to allow Lazarus to cross the chasm to warn his five brothers that what they had been taught in the synagogue about Hell was true after all. Isn't this just like folks who worship power and wealth, he is still attempting to work out a deal from Hell.

Abraham's response was, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” But Dives persisted in arguing his case, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” (v.29-30). Then Abraham responds, which I feel is the main point of Jesus' story, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

The point is that some folks just don't get it, they don't catch on, and they refuse to believe. Jesus' story has proven to be true in our New Testament age because we have had one rise from the grave and speak to us, and yet many persist in unbelief. The Risen Savior seeks us and some still worship other things, such as mammon.

Note that not all rich people are evil, and not all poor folks go to Heaven. Riches and poverty are just backdrops for our personal life's story. Jesus is pointing us to an eternal definition of what brings abundance to human existence: Hope now, and Heaven beyond.

Some resist this spiritual talk, and just don't seem to understand. George Bush was led to Christ through a United Methodist men's Prayer Breakfast many years ago in Texas . One reported recently asked, bewildered, “What is all this talk about religion, it is embarrassing, he was talking about his soul out in public, what does this mean?” How could she have lived in America and not have been exposed to spiritual language?

During the Jimmy Carter campaign there was much talk about his being , A Born Again Christian.” Many news journalists acted like they had never hear that term. I remember how Eric Severeid, considered to be one of the all time great television commentators, asked the question, “What is this talk about being Born Again? I have never heard that term. I was reared a mid western Lutheran and was never taught anything like that.” My assumption is that little Eric was indeed taught that basic Christian doctrine, especially if he was reared in a Missouri Synod congregation, but he just didn't get it. We produce Methodists who spend Sunday after Sunday in church, but somehow are able to filter out the seemingly other worldly language of the faith. “They have Moses and the Prophets, and now we have Jesus and His Precious death.” Its like, the TV is on but nobody's watching.

The worse thing that can happen to us is to miss out on the free house that God wants to give us all; and there is no tax. It's our Mansion in Glory. It is a permanent dwelling. It is not a tent or a mobile home that can be moved, or blown away, it is forever. No more hurricanes. No more wars. No more fear of terrorism. No more disease or pain. Our friends will be there and Jesus will be there. Lazarus the poor beggar will still be there. And it is all free. You see, free Grace is offered to all of us. The Father is handing us a key, will we receive it?

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor
9/26/04, P17C