September 26th, 2010

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each of our hearts be acceptable to you this day our Rock and our Redeemer.
Both of our readings today are concerned with money. That really shouldn’t surprise you considering that last week I told you that some 40% of Jesus’ parables and other stories in the Gospels dealt with this matter. We will have a look at both of them, which is not something I often do, simply because I think that they work well together.
In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he said: The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And there was never a truer statement than that. The problem is that so many of think that money is the thing that will make us happy. We figure that if we can go into a store and just buy whatever we want, then we will be happy. A few years ago, I saw a movie called The Pursuit of Happyness, about a homeless man who turned his life around. I won’t go into many details other than to tell you that I ended up profoundly disappointed in this movie, because it seemed to me that happiness was being equated with financial success. Now, I am not trying to make people feel guilty about having money, or about buying things. We need money to survive in this world. We need money in order to be able to share with others. But the getting of money should not be our only goal in life. The getting of money should not interfere with every other thing that can – potentially – make us happy.
In our pursuit of happiness – unlike the movie – we spend a lot of time searching. We search for the right job; we search for the right person to be with; we search for a home, whether to begin our adult lives or to retire. There are times when it seems as though life is one endless search, one endless quest. And despite all this searching, despite our spending countless hours and countless dollars trying to be happy, we aren’t. As a nation, we are not happy. Look at the statistics. The divorce rate in this country is through the roof. More and more people are looking for help as they try to cope with depression, with anxiety, with fear. More and more people are taking some kind of prescription pill in an effort to be happy. More and more people are turning to illegal drugs and alcohol. And none of it is working.
Why not? Why can’t we be happy, as a people? I think that it is because we are going about it in the wrong way. If we pay attention to our Epistle reading for today, I think that we will get some good advice. Let’s listen again to what Paul wrote. He started by describing the path that many people take and then went on to say: Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Truer words were never spoken. We will be content. What more should we want, other than to be content?
Now, Paul is talking specifically about money, but I believe that we can transfer this to happiness. In the old catechism, one of the first questions was: Why did God make us? And the answer was: God made us to know, love, and serve him in this world, and to be happy with him forever in the next. So God wants us to be happy. And not only happy, but happy FOREVER. Therefore, we should know that he will provide the means for us to be happy, if only we let him. Now, here it is. God wants us to be happy. We want to be happy. But we aren’t, and we wonder why we aren’t. I think that the answer is simple. We are looking for happiness everywhere but where it is sure to be found. We look for happiness in things; we look for happiness from other people. Well, here’s a newsflash – no one else is responsible for our happiness. No one else has what it takes to make us happy. But God does. If we pursue a relationship with God, then happiness will follow, as surely as the night follows the day.
Now, let’s see who was happy in today’s Gospel reading. In the beginning, it seems that the rich man was the happy one. He was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. Now, you need to understand the significance of his clothes. The colour purple was usually reserved for royalty, because the dye was so expensive that ordinary people could not afford it. He wore linen instead of the more common cotton or wool, because he was able to buy it. And living in luxury – well, that speaks for itself, doesn’t it? But just outside his gate was a beggar named Lazarus. He didn’t even walk there on his own. We heard: At his gate was laid a beggar. Someone else placed Lazarus there, in the hopes that someone – the rich man, his servants, his guests – would take pity on him. One cannot think that Lazarus was at all happy.
Ah, but as often happens with Jesus’ stories, there is a twist. Lazarus and the rich man both die, and the angels carry Lazarus to Abraham’s side. But the rich man – well, he ended up in hell, in torment. He called out, saying: Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire. Of course, we know what Abraham said. He replied: Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go there from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us. Abraham’s reply couldn’t have brought any comfort to the rich man, but he wasn’t about to give up completely. He tried another request, saying: Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.
Now, this request came from a man who had ignored Lazarus all of his life. And even in death, he was still ignoring the other man. He did not address Lazarus directly, but spoke to Abraham, possibly because it was more befitting one of his status. Even in death, he still considered himself better than Lazarus. And yet, he expected Lazarus to do his a favour. But Abraham still didn’t give him the answer he wanted. He said: They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them. This wasn’t what the rich man wanted, because he knew that he, himself, had not listened to Moses or the prophets. And he was pretty sure that his brothers wouldn’t listen either. But Abraham knew better. He knew that people like the rich man and his brothers wouldn’t listen to anyone, not even to a man who had risen from the dead. He knew that the chasm that existed between heaven and hell also existed on earth. He knew that Lazarus would never be able to speak to the rich man OR his brothers.
Now, I don’t think that anyone in this church today is going to find a beggar sitting in the driveway when they go home after worship. And, as I said earlier, I am not trying to make you feel guilty. But . . . Now I have to ask you how that word makes you feel? Are you thinking: Oh here it comes! She said that she wasn’t going make us feel guilty, and then she said “But.”
So here comes the BUT. But, if we start thinking that, because we don’t have a beggar sitting in our driveway, or because we don’t spend all our time relentlessly pursuing happiness by spending money – if because of that, we think that this particular Gospel story isn’t relevant to us, then we are wrong – totally and completely wrong. As with all of the readings we do in this church, this one should cause us to ask ourselves questions. And sometimes, the answers to those questions won’t please us. Sometimes, the answers to those questions will make us feel a bit uncomfortable. But that is the point, as I keep saying. The point of most of what we read in church is to make us feel uncomfortable. There is a lot of comfort in Scripture, granted, but there is also a lot of discomfort, and that is what we are talking about today.
So what are the questions that this story raises for me? And, I hope for you? Let’s look at the rich man for a minute. In what ways are we like the rich man? Who are the people I ignore? The people I overlook? Who are the people I don’t talk to in a social gathering? Who is my Lazarus? Because, you know, we all have one. We all have a person we would rather not talk to. We all have a person we would rather not see. And that is one of the things that Jesus wants us to take from this story. We all have a person we would rather not see. I recently re-read a book called BABBITT, by Sinclair Lewis, which used to be required reading during my early days at university. One section that always stuck with me was about two dinner parties. In an attempt to move up in the social world, Babbitt invited his wealthy former classmate – Charley McKelvey – to dinner. It was not a success, partly because Babbitt and his wife were obviously angling to become close friends with the McKelveys because of their position in society. The second dinner party was hosted by another friend of Babbitt – Ed Overbrook – who was below the Babbitts, socially speaking. This was also not a success, but this time it was because Babbitt and his wife obviously thought of themselves as being too good for the Overbrooks. At the first party, Babbitt was the Lazarus, while in the second, he was the rich man. And I think that all of us are in the same position as Babbitt was, depending on the company in which we find ourselves.
In this church, we have people who give their time, their talents, and their treasure to the glory of God. Every week, people give part of their offering to the Presbyterian Church as a whole, to be used in any of the various missions sponsored by the PCC. In a little while, people will start bringing in food for the Christmas Hampers, and when the time comes to fill shoeboxes for Christmas, I know that you will be more than generous. But that’s not what I am talking about. When we read a story like this one about Lazarus and the rich man, we DO start to feel guilty, even when we have no need to do so. We feel guilty because we have so much, and because we don’t know how much more we can give, or how much more we are expected to give.
But, you know, it is always the wrong people who feel guilty. There is an expression called: preaching to the choir, which means that I am not telling you anything you don’t already know. I am not telling you anything new. So why is it that the people who will take this message most to heart are the ones who don’t need to? The ones who are already giving time, and talent, and treasure to the glory of God here at St. Andrew’s? These people are the ones who will ask themselves: Have I done all that I can do? Am I putting my family ahead of God’s family? Can I give more?
And of course, we can always give more. But are we being called upon to do this in today’s Gospel? I don’t think so. I think that the message is that we are not to let money – or the love of money – dominate our lives. We are not to let money take over to the extent that we stop caring about other people. And I don’t think that we do that, here at St. Andrew’s. I think that, simply because you come here every week, you have already made a commitment to live as God’s faithful people. So, no, I don’t want you to feel guilty. But I DO want you to feel uncomfortable. Because it is by feeling uncomfortable that we will not become complacent; that we will not think that everything is just peachy, thank you very much.
Let’s go back to father Abraham just for a minute. He spoke of the chasm separating heaven and hell, and there are similar chasms right here in our lives. There is a chasm between those who pursue the world’s goods, and those who pursue the true riches to be found with Jesus Christ. There is a chasm between those who are obsessed with getting stuff, and those who are content with godliness. And the really sad thing is that those who are on what I will call the wrong side of the chasm just don’t get it. Remember the rich man? Even in death, he still did not speak to Lazarus directly. He still didn’t get it. If you are one of those seeking true riches, continue to do so, for your reward will be great. And if any of you here are still serving mammon rather than God, listen to what you heard in today’s Gospel. Listen to what was said by the one who rose from the dead. And know that, if you continue on this path, if you do not change, then retribution will come. But if you pursue the true riches, if you seek godliness, the rewards will be greater than you could ever imagine. Thanks be to God.


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