The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - September 25, 2016
Scripture Reading: Luke 16:19-31 & 1 Timothy 6:6-19
Sermon Title:
“Lazarus and the Rich Man

The Rev. Robert Vodra


     Sometimes getting started on a sermon is hard.  And I will be honest this is one of those weeks.  You see, in this week’s Gospel lesson we have a parable of Lazarus and a rich man.  So I read that and decided it was better to stay away from that.  Obviously the thought of Hades, and being in agony after our deaths is not appealing.  If you thought last week’s sermon was kind of a downer, just wait for this one.  So I also looked at First Timothy.  Better.  Still talking about rich and poor, we have that “money is the root of all evil,” but are asked by the person writing to Timothy to pursue righteousness, holy living, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness.  Righteousness, Holy Living, faithfulness, love, endurance and gentleness are great topics, much better than Hades. 

     First Timothy is one of the letters in the back of our new testament, and in some ways gets a bad rap.  Many of the letters we believe were written by Paul, who used to be Saul, who was one of the first converts from being a Jew who was persecuting Christians, into being a Christian, but never having met Jesus on earth.  His letters were written before the gospels were written down, and he is really viewed as a kind of expert on Christianity.  He started a lot of churches, inspired others to start churches, and then when they asked questions he responded.  So many of the letters found in our New Testament are widely accepted to be written by Paul.  These were found to be of value, not only to the church or churches they were written to, but also to others.  Those letters are now accepted as the basis of much of the doctrine of the early church.  But the two letters to Timothy were probably not written by Paul.  Now this was determined by people a lot smarter than I am.  They look at the way that Paul structured his sentences, certain words he used, words he didn’t use, and concluded that these were not actually written by Paul.  So that creates a little problem for us.  They do contain some good things, but how much authority do you put on a writing that at one time was attributed to Paul, made it into our Bible, but is now determined to probably not have been written by him. 

     In seminary, those non-Pauline Epistles are not given much attention.  In our New Testament class we learned about the gospels and those books written by Paul.  Those others ones, not so much.  So while I agree with everything that this letter is saying in this part, I am not sure how much weight I can put on what it is saying. 

     So it is good, we will read it, but that brought me back to the gospel to focus on.  And there are two ways I can approach this.  A literal reading, which you may get in many churches this week.  If you are rich you are going to hell, if you are poor you are going to heaven, lets pass the plate, service over. 

     But that is a shallow reading.  I think the first thing that we need to remember about this is that it is a parable.  A parable is a story told to make a point.  The Bible, in my mind if full of truths, but those truths maybe different from facts.

     To understand that let’s jump back to Genesis 1 for a minute.  God creating the universe, separating water from land, and light from dark, and by day 6 we have Adam and Eve in a garden with all the plants and animals.  And if you talk to people who accept that as fact, they have figured out that Adam and Eve lived in that garden about 6,000 years ago. 

     However most scientists think that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, about 3.8 billion years ago we had some bacteria, About 570 million years ago we start to get life that resembled what we have today, and Homo sapiens, that is you and me, appeared about 200,000 years ago.  Quite a bit of difference between 6,000 and 200,000.  This, of course, is the Theory of Evolution.  And yes, there are arguments against evolution, but most scientists agree on the general theory.  We teach it in schools, mostly as fact, and suggest evidence that backs up that theory.  And I accept that the earth is really, really old, much older than 6,000 years.  I accept that somehow we evolved from single celled bacteria into what we are today. 

     So by accepting the theory of evolution, I reject creation theory, our Biblical story, as fact based.  It was a story, created a long time ago, by people who were trying to figure out how we got here.  But, although not based in facts, it does contain truths.  Although easily argued, I believe that God did have a hand in creation.  The earth is an amazing place of balance.  Plants soak up solar energy and produce oxygen. Animals eat the plants, bigger animals eat smaller animals, all those animals create carbon dioxide.  To have that amazing balance, by chance, I have a hard time believing.   I also accept as a truth that God created us.  We all started as one cell.  And somehow that one cell with some DNA from a father, contains all the information to create a body and all its functions?  That one cell divides and turns into different types of tissues, in the right place in the body all doing different things, and again, all this happened by chance I have a problem believing.  Is God actually directing the cells to do what they do, probably not, but for a bacteria to change, by chance, into the extremely complex being that we are, all by chance, is hard for me to accept.  I also believe that we are created in the image of God.  Which means that God is male and female, white, brown. and black and contains all the diversity we have.  I cannot explain how that is, but do accept it as fact.

     And the story this morning is a parable.  Just like the creation story, I don’t believe that, as a fact, we go to Hades or someplace else when we die.  Several years at camps I would have a question box.  Kids could write any questions they wanted, and then at the end of the week I would answer them.  Many, every year, asked questions about what happens when you die.  If they were from more conservative churches, those questions would often be that they were worried about going to hell.  My answer was always that I don’t know what happens when we die, but there is something that I do believe in, and that is grace.  And this parable is hard because it does not account for grace. 

     But maybe this parable is less about what happens when we die, but rather how we should live.  The whole Bible has a focus on the poor, on the non-perfect, on people like us.  In this parable we see Lazarus as an outcast.  He would be happy with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.  But Lazarus, is, even in the start of the story the important person.  He has a name.  The rich man is only known by the money he has accumulated.  He is not even given a name. 

     But even in the situation they find themselves in, the rich man still does not see Lazarus as a person.  Please send him over with some water, for I am thirsty.  Please send him back to warn my family about what will happen to them.  Even in that situation, this rich man is not able to help himself, but looking to Lazarus for help.

     By the measure of the world, we are all the rich man.  I ate a full meal last night, I slept in a warm bed, I had hot coffee waiting for me when I woke up, into which I could add my homogenized pasteurized safe milk.  After church, at some point, I will eat a lunch.  I have some food over in the parsonage, or maybe will wait until I get home.  And tonight I will have dinner.  I will eat until I am full. 

     But I think the Kingdom of heaven goes beyond giving money.  Of course, we need to do what we can to support things like clean water for everyone in the world, health care to eliminate preventable diseases, disaster relief, and all the other things we do as a church and individuals.  But as important is giving a name to others.

     Another important thing is to recognize the great chasm that is described between Lazarus and the rich man.  I think in the past I have defined sin as anything that separates us from the love of God.  That is the chasm.  But we have to ask ourselves what caused that situation.  We know that the rich man was not generous, would not even give food to the poor living just outside his door.  But I think the larger cause was not seeing another human being as having value. 

     Have you watched the news in the past week?  Two black men shot by police, riots in Charlotte.  A protestor shot, police and civilians injured.  Maybe what happened was right, maybe what happened was wrong, I was not there.  Of course a lot of other violence out there, almost a daily occurrence now.  I saw a video posted by a friend of mine, who happens to be black.  He expressed his fear.  Two more black men shot by police in a week, and all the other violence.  He said that he will not call the police if he has a problem, they might think he is dangerous and shoot him.  He prays for his children, but does not even know what to tell them.  If you get stopped by the police, hands up, hands down, stay calm, run away. 

     Nobody can dispute how another is feeling.  If he feelings are justified or not, he is feeling fear from those we hire and pay to protect all of us.  He feels like he is not a person of value.  Just imagine for a moment what it would be like to live in that fear.  Every time you see a police car, you are worried about what they may do.  You feel, if someone was breaking into your house, that there would be nobody you could call.  If something were stolen from you, there would be nobody to report it to.  And if you were injured or shot, it would immediately be assumed by many that it was because you did something wrong. 

     I imagine that Lazarus probably felt similar.  Nobody cared about him, nobody was there to look out for him.  If he was killed nobody would even bury his body. 

     Maybe that chasm is something we are called to bridge now.  What happens when we start to see everyone as a human being with value.  And this is not just the good people, but all people.  What about the man in prison, who has been reduced to an inmate number.  What if we give him a name, and realize that he has value.  What about the drug addicted?  Brought into the hospital where they are suddenly identified by their birthdate.  What is we give her a name, and realize that she has value.  What about the protestors in Charlotte, those who were injured standing up for what they believe in.  They have names, and they have value.  How about the Muslim refugee, trying to escape from a place of war.  They have a name, they have value. While we are looking at people who should have names and have their value recognized, how about the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of South Dakota.  You don’t send dogs to attack someone with a name and value. 

     How can we bridge the chasm?  Listening, understanding, valuing are probably the first step.  And there are many more groups and individuals who are just like Lazarus.  And we have the choice to bridge that chasm and be with them, or not.  And being with them is not always pretty, but I believe that being with them, knowing their names, knowing their value, is at least as important as giving money for disaster relief, making up flood buckets, working with public health groups on disease prevention or even elimination, continuing to work for good schools around the world, and food and water for all.  Each of those we are doing for someone who has a name, and someone who has value.

     I don’t want to suggest that this parable is fact, it is a story with truths.  This story should not be taken as a threat of what may happen when we die, but rather should be looked at as how we should live act today.  In the words written to Timothy we should pursue righteousness, holy living, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness.