I am not a fan of the horror movie genre for many reasons, but the main reason is, why would you go into the haunted house in the first place? A few years ago there was a commercial for a car company; I cannot remember which one, where the actors were in a scene from a horror movie. They were running from something, and they have two choices, a barn with all sorts of cutting implements and the safety of an automobile. As they start to move towards the barn one of their number says, “Hey, why not get in the car and drive away,” and the others are like, “no that barn over there will be safer.” The commercial ends but your imagination takes over, and we know what is going to happen next. If they had just listened to that lone voice, crying in the wilderness, their lives might have turned out different.
For this sermon, I am going to leave out the references to lakes of fire and whatnot as I do not find those descriptions of things helpful. Sure, they are there to illustrate and confirm what the parable is saying but, for me anyway, fear has never been a good motivator, but that has not stopped the church from, over the centuries, using fear to attempt to control people and their behavior. So rather than focus on the scare tactic lets focus on the role reversal in the story.
At the outset, we see Jesus using, once again, a rich man as the foil in his story. The use of rich people is not used to condemn rich people but to show that, no matter how much you have or how together your life is, things can still go wrong. I know the temptation, if I get that better job, if I get that better car, if I make just a little more money I will finally be happy. But as we have seen, happiness does not come from external things; happiness comes from internal places.
The rich man in the story ignores Lazarus, admit it, we have all ignored a Lazarus a time or two in our lives, and this is why Jesus uses this illustration because we can relate to it. Sometimes we ignore the suffering of another right in front of us by stepping over the beggar in the street or crossing to the other side. How many times have we been stopped at a traffic light, and someone is walking down the row of cars carrying a sign, and we stare straight ahead, that is Lazarus.
But we also ignore Lazarus when we hear about injustice and we do nothing. We hear about people needing help and we fluff it off by saying things like, “they need to just pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” or, “if they had not made that choice they would not be in that situation.” Or we see or hear a teenager speaking about an issue that she feels passionate about and rather than speak to the issue she is raising we attack her for her looks and her disability. Or we see the way some treat others, but we are willing to look the other way, and even call those standing up against them evil, but because they are doing what we want them to do we are willing to lower our moral standards and look the other way. That teenaged activist, that mother and child at the border, that person being made fun of in an early morning Tweet, that single mother in the grocery store at the check-out in front of you fumbling with her keys, her children, and her welfare card is Lazarus.
As a nation, we are entering a challenging period in our history. Some historians say that the country has not been this divided since before the Civil War. We have come to a point where civility has been tossed aside for partisan rhetoric and morality has all but been thrown out the window. We have come to a point where personal attacks have taken places of reasoned, well researched, and thought out debate. We have come to the point where we do not know who to believe, but if they are on the opposite side then us, they are liars and cheats, and we attack them personally rather than with facts and reasons.
But back to the story of the rich man Lazarus.
The Lazarus and the rich man die, and they go off to their final reward, again let’s leave all the fire and whatnot to the TV preachers, but the rich man is in despair. You see, the tables have been turned, the afflicted, Lazarus has been comforted and the comfortable, the rich man has been afflicted. He cannot figure out what he has done to deserve this; after all, he is rich; he has everything. He tries to strike a deal, after all this is what he has done his entire life, make deals. He tries to strike a deal; he asks Abraham to allow Lazarus, the man he stepped over, to come and cool his tongue from the raging fire. Just so we are clear, he is asking in death for something he was unwilling to do for another in life!
As the story goes, Abraham refuses the request. So, the rich man tries to make another deal; he asks that someone is sent to those who are still alive and warn them to change their behavior. Abraham replies, they have Moses and the prophets, in other words, they have the Scriptures and the Word of God to teach them how to act in their lives, and they are choosing to ignore what Scripture says, or maybe twisting it to suit their needs by saying “if we just look the other way of this and that we can justify it because we will get what we want.”
This is an extreme illustration that points to two things, our religious belief and practice should be to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable, not with lakes of fire but with the word of God. So strong has to be our defense of those on the margins that we have to point out when they are being mistreated. Our love of neighbor needs to be so strong that we come to their defense whether they are next door or in another country. Our religious beliefs and practice should not be to bring ourselves comfort at the expense of others nor bending and twisting God’s word so that it becomes okay for us to afflict others. God demands that if we are going to claim that we follow him, we have to follow what his teachings are without compromise and without putting conditions on that love. God loves us without condition, and because of that; we are commanded to love without condition.
As I bring this to a close I want to draw your attention to the last verse of what we heard this morning; “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”
Lazarus was raised from the dead, and Scripture tells us that those in authority tried to kill him to keep him silent. They did not believe…. I will leave the rest to you…