Text: Luke 16:19-31
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"There was a certain rich man," Jesus said, "who was splendidly clothed and lived each day in mirth and luxury." One day Lazarus, a diseased beggar, was laid at the rich man's door. As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man's table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores. Finally Lazarus died and was carried by the angels to be with Abraham in the place of the righteous dead. The rich man also died and was buried, and his soul went into hell. There, in torment, the rich man saw Lazarus in the far distance with Abraham.
"Father Abraham," the rich man shouted, "have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in these flames." But Abraham said to him, "Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted and you are in anguish. And besides, there is a great chasm separating us, and anyone wanting to come to you from here is stopped at its edge; and no one over there can cross to us."
Then the rich man said, "O Father Abraham, then please send him to my father's home for I have five brothers to warn them about this place of torment lest they come here when they die." But Abraham said, "The Scriptures have warned them again and again. Your brothers can read them any time they want to." The rich man replied, "No, Father Abraham, they won't bother to read them. But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will turn from their sins." But Abraham said, "If they won't listen to Moses and the prophets, they won't listen even though someone rises from the dead."
Can you see the picture? The rich man thinks if he wants something, Lazarus ought to fetch it. "Father Abraham," the rich man shouted, "have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. . . O Father Abraham. . . please send [Lazarus] to my father's home. . ." What arrogance. The rich man thinks even in hell he's entitled to have somebody serve him. That demonstrates a false sense of entitlement.
According to the scripture we are entitled to a few things. For one thing, we are entitled to the opportunity to serve others. A farmer whose corn always took the first prize at the state fair had the habit of sharing his best corn seed with all the farmers in the neighborhood.
When asked why, he said, "It is really a matter of self-interest. The wind picks up the pollen and carries it from field to field. So if my neighbors grow inferior corn, the cross-pollination brings down the quality of my own corn. That is why I am concerned that they plant only the very best." (Anthony De Mello, The Heart of the Enlightened, p 133.)
All that you give to others you are giving to yourself. That truth is seen in nature and in our bodies as well.
Once upon a time the members of the body were very annoyed with the stomach. They were resentful that they had to procure food and bring it to the stomach while the stomach itself did nothing but devour the fruit of their labor.
So they decided they would no longer bring the stomach food. The hands would not lift it to the mouth. The teeth would not chew it. The throat would not swallow it. That would force the stomach to do something.
But all they succeeded in doing was make the body weak to the point that they were all threatened with death. So it was finally they who learned the lesson that in helping one another they were really working for their own welfare. (Anthony De Mello, The Heart of the Enlightened, p 133-134.)
We are entitled to the opportunity to serve others. Yet, it is impossible to help another without helping yourself.
In our parable today the rich man could have helped himself by helping Lazarus but he chose not to help Lazarus when he could have and ended up hurting himself. The parable never mentions it, but I can't help but wonder if Lazarus felt angry at the rich man. First, Lazarus may have felt angry at the rich man for not helping him when he was in need. Then, Lazarus may have felt angry when the rich man wanted him to come help him in his time of need. I can imagine Lazarus becoming angry thinking, "Rich man, you wouldn't help me in my time of need but now I'm supposed to leave heaven and come serve you in hell?!"
Just like our organs, our anger is part of us. When we are angry, we cannot say, "Go away anger, you have to go away. I don't want you." When we have a stomachache, we don't say, "I don't want you stomach, go away." No, we take care of it. In the same way, we have to embrace and take good care of our anger.
This does not mean that we have hide our anger. We have to let the other person know that we are angry and that we suffer. We have to express what we feel. This is true love. "Honey, I am angry at you. I suffer." When you suffer, tell your beloved one about your suffering. Even if you think your anger was created by him or her, say it calmly.
We must do this as soon as possible. We should not keep our anger, our suffering to ourselves for more than 24 hours. Otherwise, it becomes too much. It can poison us. This would prove that our love, our trust for him or her is very weak. So we have to tell him or her about our suffering, our anger as soon as we can. Twenty-four hours is the deadline. (Thich Nhat Hanh, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, 53-57)
Entitlements. According to the scriptures, we are entitled to the opportunity to serve others and we are entitled to share our anger in appropriate ways with those we love and there is one more entitlement I'd like to mention this morning. We are entitled to the chance to start over.
Here is some good news for the day. We are entitled to begin again. Would you want to reap every thing you sow? There is an old saying about the person who sows wild oats and then prays for a crop failure. We don't want to reap everything we sow. We sometimes do stupid things. We act impulsively. We leap before we look, talk before we think, give in to the worst that's in us rather than the best that's in us, blow it big time. At such times we would like to suspend the law of sowing and reaping. That's what grace is all about.
Even more damaging is the good seed we neglect to sow. We sometimes choose not to sow seeds of compassion, seeds of kindness, seeds of love, seeds that will live on after we are gone, seeds that may accompany us when we leave this world.
As we see in Jesus' parable, at any point in his life the rich man could have changed his priorities. At any point he could have taken his eyes off his money and let them fall on the man at his door. But he waited too late. Even in the afterlife he did not see Lazarus as a fellow child of God but only as a servant, a convenience, an object. This is insensitivity at its worst and it came out of a lifetime of spiritual neglect.
Everyone is entitled to a chance to start over, but it is possible to wait until it is too late. Life habits can grow so strong that they are like chains upon our soul.
And so the haunting cry of the prophet and the evangelist comes to us: "Repent now. Repent now before it is too late."
Is there someone to whom you are insensitive, someone you are neglecting? It need not be a beggar on the streets. It may be someone in your own family. A neighbor, a coworker, even a spouse. Everyone is entitled to a second chance, but it is possible to wait until it is too late.
So, there you have it. We are entitled to the opportunity to serve others and we are entitled to share our own with those we love and we are entitled to the chance to start over.
How would you like to start over today? Would you like to start over in your attitude toward to serving the poor? Would you like to start over in how you share your anger in a relationship? Look inside your soul this morning and see how the Spirit may be nudging you. There, you see it now, that is how you can better serve others. There, that is it. That is how you can deepen your relationship with those you love. Wherever the Spirit may be leading you to ponder at this moment. That is where you may need to start over today. You are entitled to that according to the scripture.
Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon at St. John's Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas on September 26, 2010
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Green)