God is not only compassionate and merciful, but also our judge

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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
Not a head of your hair will perish November 14, 2010 Proper 28-RCL Year C Luke 21:5-19
All Saints Day November 7, 2010 All Saints Day, Year C Luke 6:20-31
Comfort and Curiousity October 31, 2010 Proper 26, Year C Luke 19:1-10
Passion October 24, 2010 Proper 25, Year C Psalm 84; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14
Knocking at a Locked Door October 17, 2010 Proper 24, Year C Luke 18:1-8
Gratitude October 10, 2010 Proper 23, Year C Luke 17:11-19
Increase our faith, so that we can serve God and one another October 3, 2010 Proper 22, Year C Luke 12:35-48, Luke 17:1-10, Luke 22:24-28
God is not only compassionate and merciful, but also our judge September 26, 2010 Proper 21, Year C Luke 16:19-31
Shrewdness is a Virtue September 19, 2010 Proper 20—Year C Luke 16:1-13
God Longs for Wholeness September 12, 2010 Proper 19—Year C Luke 15:1-10
Choose Life September 5, 2010 Proper 18, Year C, RCL Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Luke 14-25-33
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever August 29, 2010 Proper 17, Year C, RCL Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, (Psalm 118)
Sabbath and Healing August 22, 2010 Proper 16, Year C, RCL Isaiah 58:9b-14, Psalm 103:1-8; Hebrews 12:18-20; Luke 13:10-17
Jesus Brings Fire August 15, 2010 Proper 15 Luke 12:49-56
Baptism – God Has Promised Us an Inheritance August 8, 2010 Proper 14, Year C, RCL Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12: 32-40 ;Revelation 22:1-5

 

God is not only compassionate and merciful, but also our judge

Sermon Date:September 26, 2010

Scripture: Luke 16:19-31

Liturgy Calendar: Proper 21, Year C


John Shea, in his commentary on Luke, suggests that in this story that we’ve just heard today, Jesus describes, not one, but two rich men. 

The first rich man is self-centered. His clothing is extravagant.   Every day he dresses in fine linen undergarments, and over that linen he places a purple robe.

This rich man feasts sumptuously every day.  Like those we hear about in Amos, we can imagine this man lounging on his couch, reaching the short distance to his table for yet another piece of that delectable roasted lamb. 

And we know that outside this rich man’s gate, a poor man lies, with nothing to wear but his sores, and with nothing at all to eat.  The poor man would be happy for anything that fell from the rich man’s table.

But this poor man, in such need, remains outside the rich man’s gate. 

The second rich man that Jesus describes in this story is Abraham. 

In Hebrew tradition, Abraham is frequently described as a man of great wealth who shows hospitality to everyone.

We find a story of Abraham’s generosity in Chapter 18 of Genesis. 

In this story, Abraham is sitting under the great oak trees of Mamre —Abraham looks up and sees three men there at the entrance of his tent.

These men are strangers, outsiders in Abraham’s world, but instead of retreating into his tent, Abraham welcomes the strangers.

Water is brought so that the tired and hungry strangers can wash their feet.  Abraham and Sarah prepare bread, and Abraham selects a young calf, tender and good, from his herd.  He also prepares milk and curds, and then the strangers feast on all of this good food as they sit in the shade of the oak trees.

And in the story today, when Lazarus dies, he is carried away by the angels to be with the hospitable Abraham.  

So Jesus gives us the example of the two rich men in this story, and their contrasting responses to the person who comes to them in need. 

In addition to describing the differing responses of the two rich men to Lazarus, Jesus also tells this story is to remind us that God is not only compassionate and merciful, but that God is also our judge. 

We have already heard from Jesus that God is like the father of the prodigal son, who welcomes us when we repent and go back home.

But Jesus, by telling this story,  also makes clear to us that God is indeed our judge—because God cares, very deeply, about what we do with what God has given us to use on this earth.

Our actions have consequences. 

Now,  by telling this story, what is Jesus asking us, as his disciples,  to do when we take his teachings on wealth into consideration?  What are we to do, here and now, based on this story?

The first thing that Jesus wants us to do is to be educated about our faith.

In the story, Abraham reminds the rich man that his brothers have all they need to live righteous lives.  They have the law and the prophets.

Jesus wants us to know what the law and the prophets have to say to us about the use of wealth and all that we have been given. 

Jesus did not come to replace the law and the prophets.  Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets, and as his disciples, we are to strive to live by that law. 

This week, I encourage you to spend some time with your Bible.  Review two central Old Testament texts about the law—Deuteronomy, Chapters 5 and 6, which contain the Ten Commandments and the great Shema, the prayer central to the Jewish tradition.

And another central text you can find is in Leviticus, Chapter 19, where God lays out some specifics about how to follow the Ten Commandments, about how we are to use our wealth and how we are to treat one another if we intend to keep his commandments. 

The second thing that we can do based on this story is to try to carry out the commandments of Jesus concerning wealth.   Jesus makes radical demands of us, even beyond the law and the

prophets.    Jesus expects us to use our wealth to practice hospitality and to welcome and care for one another, even the strangers and the aliens and the poor in our midst. 

The third thing that Jesus teaches us is what we need to do when we fail.    Jesus has given us two contrasting stories about failure and God’s response to our failures. 

The rich man, being tormented in Hades, still has no understanding of how his actions have brought about this punishment.  No remorse or penitence here—instead, the rich man has the nerve to expect Lazarus to travel from the bosom of Abraham into Hades and to wait on him.

 In contrast, the prodigal son, who squandered all he had and found himself starving as a consequence of his actions, repented and went home.  His father received him with mercy. 

So Jesus teaches us that if we are to expect mercy and compassion from God, then we will come to God with remorse and penitence when we have failed and ask for God’s forgiveness.   

Last of all, this story is a stark reminder that the choices we make every day about how we relate to one another have eternal consequences.  If our actions are like those of the rich man in this story, totally focused on ourselves, our comfort, our well being, if we are blind to others around us, we fix great chasms right here on earth, chasms that are hard to ever cross again—chasms between rich and poor, chasms between Christians and those of other faiths, chasms that can even separate those with differing perspectives.

The easiest thing to do when we meet someone different from us is to retreat into our safe spaces, whatever they may be, and to lock our doors behind us, to protect ourselves and what we have, and to live in a safe and splendid isolation, blind to anything and anyone but ourselves.

 And in these self-centered retreats, we construct chasms that separate us not only from one another, but as Abraham points out in this story, we construct a fixed chasm that also separates us from God. 

We have the audacity to call ourselves Christians.

 I dare each one of us then, to use all that God has given us, all of our wealth, to build bridges across the great divides that separate us from one another and ultimately from God. 

I dare all of us to practice hospitality toward one another—to unlock our doors and to welcome each other in. 

I dare all of us to examine our lives.

 I dare us to judge ourselves, to be honest with ourselves, to confess our sins before God and one another, to return to God in penitence –return to God who will judge us for the choices we have made and the choices that we will make. 

And to say, to God, as the prodigal son said to his father,

“I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your child.”    

And having sought God’s forgiveness,

I dare us to seek God’s mercy –by having mercy for one another.

Amen

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