A sermon for Sunday 3rd November 2019
Brethren, I would have you know that the Gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the Church of God violently and tried to destroy it; and I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people; so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when He Who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son to me, in order that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were Apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other Apostles except James the Lord’s brother.
The Lord said, “There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, one God, Amen.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, what do you want? What would you like for your life? In our modern western society many are able to get what they want so long as they are willing to sacrifice for it, to give up all else for the sake of our goal. Riches? Give up family and friends, sacrifice health and happiness and with long hours riches could be ours. Sacrifice, be really willing to sacrifice all, and what you want can be yours. What do you want for your life? What would you like? What do you desire?
The rich man, in today’s parable, had what he wanted. Dying clothes was an expensive process: before the creation of synthetic dyes in the mid-nineteenth century, purple was made from the secretion of certain sea snails requiring more than ten thousand snails to produce around one gram of pure dye, enough to dye only the trim of a single garment. Purple clothing was a sign of not only wealth but extravagant wealth. This man had what he desired: dressed in purple and feasting every day.
My brothers and sisters, is this what you would like? Not only wealth but extravagant wealth. What do you want? What would you like? What do you desire?
The rich man is contrasted with a beggar. And what the Lord desires us to see from the beginning is that this beggar is a person. He is a person because he possesses a name, something which to be called, to be identified with. The rich man has sacrificed much to get to his position and, the Lord is telling us, he has even sacrificed his name, his identity, his personhood. The Lord tells us Lazarus, “desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table,” the implication being that the rich man did not even give Lazarus that. Not asking to join the rich man at his table, not asking to dine with his servants, but to eat only the leftovers from the daily feast, Lazarus went hungry.
Do you, do I, do likewise? Do we deny even the leftovers from the hungry? Do we see the poor, the destitute, the lonely and the hungry and pity them while on the way to our meal? Pity their plight while ignoring their need? Do we, as would appear to be the case with the rich man, deny their existence – walking by on the other side of the road – which, in actual fact, denies our own personhood?
The rich man and Lazarus both die and the contrast continues: Lazarus is carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom, the rich man is buried. What happens to them is not quite heaven and hell, though many interpret it as such. For when people died it was believed they went to Hades: a dark place, a hot place, a nasty place – dying was not a good option, it was something to be feared. The Patriarch Abraham, in the Old Testament, was thought of as the paradigm of righteousness: above all he heard and kept the call of God and left Mesopotamia to fulfil the promise of God to him. If anyone would escape the suffering of Hades, he would be the one.
And the rich man, in his torment and suffering, still does not understand, still has not discovered his own personhood.
And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’
He called out to the one whom he thought his equal. He called out to Abraham because he saw himself as the equal of Abraham. The rich man denies his own personhood because he does not see in Lazarus a person worthy of respect, even in the anguish of Hades he sees him as a beggar at his gate.
Abraham replies to the rich man. He tells him he had everything he wanted, everything he desired. The rich man desired wealth in this world and he had it, daily feasting and the most expensive of clothes were his. The man’s life was filled with his heart’s desires and now he is dead, in Hades and in anguish.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, what do you want? What would you like? What is your heart’s desire? If we sacrifice all we could have it, if we focus only on that goal it can be ours.
For the rich man, he still did not understand. He says to Abraham,
Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
He is digging himself deeper. From the anguish of Hades he does not think to change his mind, to repent to Lazarus for how he treated him in his life, to apologise to the one he has wronged: rather he says that the words of the prophets are unclear on how we should treat our neighbour, that he could not be expected to know what was right or wrong unless someone rise from the dead: this statement about his brothers, outwardly a caring gesture, is inwardly a justification of his own foolishness. He is saying, “I would have been a better person had a dead person risen and come to me.” He is still finding only himself at the centre of his life.
Brothers and sisters, is this our position too? Do we claim, “I will pray more if an angel appears to me.” Or, “I will go to Church more if my friends are there too.” “I will give money to the poor if I get a pay rise.” We know what we should do yet do we place conditions upon doing them? Are we waiting for someone to rise from the dead in front of us before we listen to the Word of God? Is our progress in the spiritual life dependent upon miracles? “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” This statement is laced with conceit.
Abraham replies to the rich man, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord replies to us in a similar way, “you have the Scriptures and the Church, you have the testimony of the martyrs, the Fathers, the saints, you have my body and blood within you: why do you wait to take it seriously? What is holding you back? I offer you everything freely: come take it, it is yours.”
What are we to do? Fr Thomas Hopko of blessed memory wrote “Fifty-five Maxims of the Christian Life” which are easily searched for online – contact me if you have trouble finding it. The first three of these guides for Christian living are,
- Be always with Christ and trust God in everything.
- Pray as you can, not as you think you must.
- Have a keepable rule of prayer done by discipline.
In keeping our minds with Christ and through prayer – not as the great ascetics pray, not as we think we should pray, but pray as we ourselves can pray – we may come towards Christ and the Kingdom. Stay with Christ through praying as we ourselves can pray. Can you, can I, take these Maxims and act on them? Can we bring Christ into the heart of everything we do?
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the rich man sacrificed everything – his personhood even – for the sake of riches: let us sacrifice in order to reach the Kingdom of God. Let us see in the people we see around us persons in whom the image of God resides and honour them as such. May we come close to the Lord through prayer so that we may be found heirs of the promises and inheritors of grace.
That we may ascribe glory, honour and worship to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Luke 10:31f.