2017-03-26 – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato – First Baptist Church Edmonton
“We are the 5”
Jesus continues to drop the mic…or drop the parables…when questioned about why he does what he does or what good religious people ought to do or not do, or what the kingdom of God looks like, Jesus didn’t get all systematic and theological…instead he tells stories.
Today’s story is pointed specifically towards the Pharisees…who at this point in the journey are doing what they do best when in a crowd with Jesus…they taunt and ridicule.
In “bible time measurements” they’ve been taunting him since the beginning of chapter 15…
“The Pharisees were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”
In today’s pre-amble, the Pharisees, who Luke notes are “lovers of money” ridicule Jesus in the midst of his story-telling ways…
So Jesus says: “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.”
And the zingers will continue…all the way to Hades in today’s parable…
[ Some pre-ambling thoughts re: Hades ]
Now this is probably one of the least popular parables but one that sometimes gets used to prove that Hell is a place of torment and unquenchable thirst, and yes, there are no second chances and even though you’d want to tell the others how horrible it is, you don’t get another chance at it…
i) Hades, for 1st century hearers, was a place of the underworld. It was a place of the dead holding tank, the closest we might get to it 2000 years later is the roman catholic view of purgatory. And 1st century hearers would have not been chilled by the thought of whether they were going there or whether their friends or family were there or not…they would have simply accepted that Hades is a holding tank. That’s it. A holding tank where apparently some things happened, or could happen, or were simply a mystery. In today’s story, Hades is a holding tank for ALL the dead….the good ones, the bad ones and everyone inbetween.
As I said before, this is a story Jesus told not about systematic theology and trying to get eternal details right…instead it’s a story.
ii) The preacher/commentator Fred Craddock states it this way: “The story is a parable, not a documentary on what happens to people when they die. It does not purport to offer information on such questions as whether people will recognize one another in the next life, whether one can see hell from heaven, or whether there is an intermediate state between death and the final resurrection and judgment…the general message fits the Lukan context: how one uses one’s earthly resources is terribly important, for there are terrible consequences for neglecting the plight of the poor and the hungry.”
Let me also add this. We must continue to read our bibles and these stories as stories that matter in the here & now, not the afterlife…people are not lining up at our churches because they want to know if they are going to heaven or hell (do your own survey sometime)…if someone wants to know about Christianity or the way and teachings of Jesus, in most cases, they want to know how this affects the here & now VS the afterlife.
And so, I believe it is with Jesus and his hearers in today’s parable…he is not wanting these Pharisees to make a decision based on fear for their eternal destinies…he wants them here & now…to soften their hardened hearts and repent.
“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled,
and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Once upon a time there was a rich man…
Who dressed in purple and fine linen (even his underwear was that top of the line luon mix of linen and cotton)…he feasted sumptuously every day (even on Sundays!).
And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus.
Lazarus (which means “the one God helps”) is covered in sores.
He longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; he longed to eat even what the dogs would eat. The dogs, though, would come and lick the poor man’s sores.
Lazarus died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.
The rich man also died and was buried.
In Hades, where the rich man was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.
The rich man cried out:
“Abba…Father…Abraham, have mercy on me! (And because he was used to bossing people around and telling them what to do, he goes on to say…)
“Send Lazarus, to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.”
“My child, my child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things,
and Lazarus in like manner received evil things;
BUT now he is COMFORTED here,
And you are in agony.”
“Besides, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.”
The Rich Man, still thinking he has the power to boss people around and order his world, says:
“Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house – – for I have 5 brothers – – that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.”
“They have Moses and the prophets (as you did!); they should listen to them.”
The Rich Man won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. He always gets his way!
“With all due respect…NO, father Abraham…if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”
Abraham replies once more:
“If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
2000 years later, we, who find ourselves in the Jesus crowd, find ourselves within earshot of this story.
Lest we give it the North American shrug of indifference and walk away, let’s pause to hear, to LISTEN, to see, to receive.
There is comfort here…for the poor…those we have been calling the least and lost over the past few weeks. The outsiders, the losers, the ones who could barely make it to church today because of sadness, weakness, heartache or desolation.
If you count yourselves amongst the poor, today, be comforted by this parable. For in Christ and because of Christ, the great reversal continues to take place…the poor are made rich, the meek are lifted up, the lowly are raised, and the haughty and high places are being toppled. (Though sometimes this feels oh, so, slow!)
But as with so many of the Jesus’ stories…when it comes to finding our place in these scripts, as North American Christians, we end up looking more like the Pharisees…lovers of money…sneering at this loser Jesus who always wants to make space for the sinners and the nobodies…and expecting us to loosen up and lighten up…when we’re paying most of the bills for these meals and programs to happen! Yeesh!
So there’s a gospel (good news) promise… We are not alone.
But there’s a gospel (good news) poke… Rich people…beware!
It’s too late to take the role of the rich man in this story…he had his chance, and as Father Abraham says, “there is a fixed chasm”…there’s no turning back, and no going back for Rich Man Purple pants.
BUT WHAT IF…
We take the role of his 5 siblings…
We are the 5…and Jesus is alive!
We can live OUT of today’s story as if we get a 2nd chance! It makes me think of the image of latching on to Ebenezer Scrooge’s coat-tails as he wakes up on Christmas morning… realizing he’s got another shot a life, and hope, reconcilliation and generosity.
We are the 5…and Jesus is alive!
The good news of today’s story is that we get to write the ending.
Jesus leaves this story as a cliff hanger does he not? What in the world is going to happen to the 5 brothers? Will they continue to walk in the way of their rich brother (entitled, pompous, bossing aroud their underlings), or will they change their lives, their hearts and their destinies.
(The rich man must have known the present state of their hearts because he said he wanted to spare them joining him in his place of torment!)
We are the 5 and Jesus is alive.
We already know who Jesus is talking about when he quotes Abraham talking of “someone rising from the dead.”
And so on this mini-Easter, let’s believe. Let’s repent…again (turn our hearts towards God) and let’s be open to having our hearts formed and our lives interrupted by Jesus who shows up in our lives as Lazarus…suffering before our eyes, asking for help…
And who knows what Jesus is asking us to give…individually or corporately in these days.
If we step back in today’s Lukan chapter, we read the words of Jesus that help orient us…
See Luke 16:10.
Jesus calls us to live faithfully. And urges us to love God VS wealth.
“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much;
and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.
If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth,
who will entrust to you the true riches?
And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another,
who will give you what is your own?
No slave can serve two masters;
for a slave will either hate the one and love the other,
or be devoted to the one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and wealth.”
This is a challenging story…it really zings at our North American pursuit of fortune and fame does it not?
Well, we started of this Lenten journey with ashes…the sign of the cross… “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Let’s continue…in these 20 days that lay ahead,
Serving God VS serving wealth.
Seeing and recognizing faces and circumstances where we can offer our gifts and our resources.
Ministering to people both inside our walls and outside our walls who, like Lazarus, long for the comfort that God yearns to give through his abiding presence and the work of the people…
[ Pause: Allow the Spirit to start stirring our imaginations/hearts … who or where is God inviting us to consider? ]
God help us to be faithful…we are the 5 and Jesus is alive!
Fill us with Jesus’ heart and life of care, compassion and generosity.
Grant us courage and wisdom to reach up and to reach out in Jesus’ name.