I got this e-mail awhile back, and it ties in well with points our own Dr. Clark, Dr. Riddlebarger, and Rev. Webb have been making.
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This Week's Sermon:
Luke 16:19-31 - Neighbors Who Never Met
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[Members: Please see Year C - Proper 21 or Luke 16 the sermon titled "Neighbors Who Never Met"]
What parable would make a man with three doctoral degrees (one in medicine, one in theology, one in philosophy) leave civilization with all of its culture and amenities and depart for the jungles of darkest Africa? What parable could induce a man, who was recognized as one of the best concert organists in all of Europe, go to a place where there were no organs to play. What parable would so intensely motivate a man that he would give up a teaching position in Vienna, Austria to go and deal with people who were so deprived that they were still living in the superstitions of the dark ages for all practical purposes. The man who I am talking about, of course, is Dr. Albert Schweitzer. And the single parable that so radically altered his life, according to him, was our text for this morning. It was the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.
The Rich Man and Lazarus were neighbors, you know. They saw each other every day. Oh, not socially you understand, but there was contact. Every day the Rich Man saw this beggar at his front gate. Who were these men?
We shall call the Rich Man Dives [pronounced 'Dive-ees': it's Latin for 'Rich Man' as he has been called for centuries] Dives would have felt very comfortable living in our present time. He was a progressive kind of a guy. He was self-indulgent and this is the age of self-indulgency. The contrasting life-styles of these two men is so obvious that you can't miss it. Dives was a connoisseur, a lover of the arts, one who knows and appreciates fine living, four star restaurants.
We are told in vs. 19 that he habitually dressed in purple. Purple was known as the color of royalty because it was the most expensive dye in the ancient world. Only the upper echelon and the high priest could afford it. We are also told that his undergarments were made of fine linen. Linen, the lifestyle of the rich and famous.
The other man in the story is Lazarus. How can we describe Lazarus? Lararus is homeless. We are told in vs. 20 that he was a cripple. Lazarus barely made it from day to day, living off the leftovers thrown to him by Dives as he daily passed him. He is just a survivor, that's all you can say of him.
One day, said Jesus, both men died. Death after all is the great equalizer. Death does not care about your social standing, your color, or your standing in the community. Lazarus, said Jesus, was carried away by the angel of death unto heaven, where he occupied the seat of honor next to Abraham. About Dives, the rich man, all that Jesus says is that he was buried. Isn?t that strange that that is all that he says. After all, Dives funeral must having been something that the community would remember for years to come. Apparently, however, that fact failed to impress Jesus. Oh, Jesus did add one additional fact about Dives death that may be of interest to you. His soul was sent to hell.
This is an unnerving story. I can well see why this was the irritating grain of sand in Albert Schweitzer's oyster. Why is this story so bothersome? For a few moments this morning I would like to share exactly why. It is bothersome because...
1. First, it shows how God reverses the standards of the world.
2. Second, it is a terrible fate for a man who was not mean.
3. Third, the rich man begs to warn his living brothers.
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Some years ago before the death of Mother Theresa, a television special depicted the grim human conditions that were a part of her daily life. It showed all the horror of the slums of Calcutta and her love for these destitute people. The producer interviewed her as she made her rounds in that dreadful place. Throughout the program commercials interrupted the flow of the discussion. Here is the sequence of the topics and commercials: lepers (bikinis for sale); mass starvation (designer jeans); agonizing poverty (fur coats); abandoned babies (ice cream sundaes) the dying (diamond watches).
The irony was so apparent. Two different worlds were on display--the world of the poor and the world of the affluent. It seems that our very culture here in the United States, and any other place that has a great deal of commercialization to it, is teaching us to live as the Rich Man in the story of Lazarus. We are occasionally presented with the images of the poor man Lazarus at our gate but we are immediately reminded of the next car we ought to by and the next meal we should eat. We are slowly and methodically told it is O.K. to live our life of luxury while others live their life of poverty. But alas, it is not so! Heaven's reversal of fortune shall one day awaken us to the fact that we have separated ourselves from the agonies of others. That we did not care about others who suffered.
Brett Blair, eSermons.com - 50,000 Crafted Sermons, Illustrations, Children's Sermons
Who Have We Been Trampling?
There is an ancient story about a botanist who was studying the heather bell found in the highlands of Scotland. While looking through his microscope at this beautiful flower, he was approached by a shepherd who asked what he was doing. Rather than trying to explain, the botanist invited the shepherd to peer through his microscope and observe for himself. When the shepherd saw the wonder of the flower, he exclaimed, "My God, and I have been tramping on them all my life!"
Is that the word of warning we need? Wake up! Pay attention! Look around you. You may be tramping on the heart of someone nearby. Who is the Lazarus at your gate?
King Duncan, Collected Sermons, Sermons.com - 50,000 Crafted Sermons, Illustrations, Children's Sermons
The Torment of the Mature
"The torment of the dead is that they cannot warn the living, just as it is the torment of the mature that the erring young will not listen to them."
Dr. Helmut Thielicke
Outreach to the Poor and Wealthy
A well-dressed European woman was on a safari in Africa. The group stopped briefly at a hospital for lepers. The heat was intense, the flies buzzing. She noticed a nurse bending down in the dirt, tending to the pus-filled sores of a leper.
With disdain the woman remarked, "Why, I wouldn't do that for all the money in the world!"
The nurse quietly replied, "Neither would I."
Donald Deffner, Seasonal Illustrations, Resource Publications, 1992, p. 130.
What Are You Doing?
In l905, we receive the classic interpretation of this parable in the person of Dr. Albert Schweitzer. The truth of the parable finally penetrated his heart and Dr. Schweitzer wrote the following words: 'We British (and Americans) are the rich people. Out there in Africa lies wretched Lazarus. Just as the rich man sinned against Lazarus because of his lack of heart and compassion, so the rich man would not put himself in Lazarus' place. Nor did the rich man let his conscience tell him what to do. And so we English (and Americans) have sinned against the poorest of the world at our gates.' And what did Dr. Albert Schweitzer do? He gave up his life and went to Africa.
But I really don't care about the life of Albert Schweitzer and what he did. The question is for you and me. The question is for you and me. 'What did you do for Lazarus? What are you doing for Lazarus?' Are you merely brushing off the crumbs from your table?
Edward F. Markquart, What Are You Doing for Lazarus?
The Man Who Dies Rich
Andrew Carnegie, who amassed a fortune of over 400 million dollars ended up giving 99.5% of it away. He said this about it - "the man who dies rich, dies disgraced."
The Stopped Up Dam
There was a beautiful lake that lost its zesty freshness. The water formerly had been clear. It was alluring to animals and people alike. But it became covered with a green scum. The farm animals became ill from drinking the water. Finally someone came by the lake who understood the problem. Debris collecting from the hard spring rains had stopped up the dam and prevented the free flow of water, not into the lake, but out of the lake. The spillway was cleared, and soon the lake was fresh and clean again. The flow in and out was necessary to keep the water pure!
Doesn't the same principle apply to you and me as human beings? The blessings of life flow to you and me, but we fail to realize that most of these blessings are not meant just to flow to us, but through us, for the good of others around us, especially for those in need.
Richard W. Patt, All Stirred Up, CSS Publishing
He who lives only to benefit himself confers on the world a benefit when he dies.
There is a sign series on the West Virginia Turnpike that says, "Driving while drowsy can put you to sleep - permanently." Drowsy, uncaring living can put us to sleep - permanently. That kind of person, Jesus says, is separating himself from God until it becomes permanent, by digging a chasm between himself and heaven that even the love of God cannot bridge.
Carveth Mitchell, The Sign in the Subway, CSS Publishing Company
Human history is the sad result of each one looking out for himself.
John Hildebrand who has lived in the Artesian Valley, near Fowler, Kansas, since he was two years old, remembers why the valley has the name it does. "There were hundreds of natural springs in this valley. If you drilled a well for your house, the natural water pressure was enough to go through your hot-water system and out the shower head." There were marshes in Fowler in the 1920s, where cattle sank to their bellies in mud. And the early settlers went boating down Crooked Creek, in the shade of the cottonwoods, as far as Meade, twelve miles away.
Today the creek is dry, the bogs and the springs have gone, and the inhabitants of Fowler must dig deeper and deeper wells to bring up water. The reason is plain enough: seen from the air, the surrounding land is pockmarked with giant discs of green--quarter-section pivot-irrigation systems water rich crops of corn, steadily depleting the underlying aquifer. Everybody in Fowler knows what is happening, but it is in nobody's interest to cut down his own consumption of water. That would just leave more for somebody else.
Five thousand miles to the east, near the Spanish city of Valencia, the waters of the River Turia are shared by some 15,000 farmers in an arrangement that dates back at least 550 years and probably longer. Each farmer, when his turn comes, takes as much water as he needs from the distributory canal and wastes none. He is discouraged from cheating--watering out of turn--merely by the watchful eyes of his neighbors above and below him on the canal. If they have a grievance, they can take it to the Tribunal de las Aguas, which meets on Thursday mornings outside the Apostles' door of the Cathedral of Valencia. Records dating back to the 1400s suggest that cheating is rare. The huerta of Valencia is a profitable region, growing at least two crops a year.
Two irrigation systems: one sustainable, equitable, and long-lived, the other a doomed free-for-all. Two case histories cited by political scientists who struggle to understand the persistent human failure to solve "common-pool resource problems." The only way to avoid abuse is self-restraint. And yet nobody knows how best to persuade the human race to exercise self-restraint.
Matt Ridley and Bobbi S. Low, The Atlantic Monthly, September 1993. Adapted.
The Only Thing You Have
Dr. Leo Buscalgia tells of an experience he had in Cambodia years ago. He noticed that during monsoon season the people's way of life changed. The great rains washed away their houses, so the people lived on great communal rafts, several families together. Dr. Buscalgia writes: "I went down there on a bicycle and there they were. I thought I'd help these people move and become part of their community. The Frenchwoman whom I was talking with just laughed. `What do they have to move?' she asked. `Nature has taught them the only thing they have is from the top of their head to the bottom of their feet. Themselves, not things. They can't collect things because every year the monsoon comes.''
Dr. Buscalgia reflected upon what he saw: "I couldn't help thinking to myself, what would you do, Buscalgia, if the monsoon came to Los Angeles next week? What would you take? Your color TV set? Your automobile? The only thing you have to take is you."
Timothy J. Smith, What Goes Around Comes Around
Commentary: Joachim Jeremias' comments are helpful:
The first point is concerned with the reversal of fortune in the after-life (vv. 19-26), the second (vv. 27-31) with the petition of the rich man that Abraham may send Lazarus to his five brethren. . . [Jesus places] the stress is on the second point. That means that Jesus does not want to comment on a social problem, nor does he intend to give teaching about the after-life, but he relates the parable to warn men who resemble the brothers of the rich man of the impending danger. Hence the poor Lazarus is only a secondary figure, introduced by way of contrast. The parable is about the five brothers, and it should not be styled the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, but the parable of the Six Brothers. The surviving brothers, who have their counterpart in the men of the Flood generation [Jeremias' reference to Noah's generation], living a careless life, heedless of the rumble of the approaching flood (Matt. 24:37-39), are men of this world, like their dead brother. Like him ! they live in selfish luxury, deaf to God's word, in the belief that death ends all (v. 28). Scornfully, Jesus was asked by these skeptical worldlings for a valid proof of a life after death, if they were to be paying heed to his warning. Jesus wanted to open their eyes, but to grant their demand would not be the right way to do so. Why did Jesus refuse it? Because its fulfillment would have been meaningless; even the greatest wonder, resurrection, would be in vain [in John 11:46 ff. the raising of Lazarus served to complete the hardening of the Jews]. He who will not submit to the word of God, will not be converted by a miracle. The demand for a sign is an evasion and a sign of impenitence. Hence the sentence is pronounced: "God will never give a sign to this generation" (Mark 8.12).
Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, Scribners, 1972, p. 186-187.
There is a strange group of tombstones not far from Lincoln, Kansas. A man named John Davis, a farmer and self-made man, had them erected. Davis began as a lowly hired hand and by sheer determination and frugality he managed to amass a considerable fortune. In the process, however, Davis didn't make many friends. When his wife died, Davis erected an elaborate statue in her memory. He hired a sculptor to design a monument which showed both her and him at opposite ends of a love seat. He was so pleased with the result that he commissioned another statue - this time of himself, kneeling at her grave, placing a wreath on it. That impressed him so much that he ordered a third monument - this time of his wife kneeling at his future gravesite placing a wreath. He had the sculptor add a pair of wings on her back giving her the appearance of an angel. One idea led to another until he?d spent over a quarter million dollars on the monuments to himself and his wife...
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