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Dives and Lazarus

Here is a rough hewn sermon for sunday September 26th, focusing on the Dives and Lazarus parable. Excuse the grammar mistakes etc as I have a poorly right hand and can only use my right hand.

Meister des Codex Aureus Epternacensis

c 1035-1040

Gospel Reading Luke 16: 19—31

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘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.’ “But Abraham 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 from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ “He answered, ‘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.’ “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’  “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ “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.'”


I wonder which of Jesus’ parables  could make a man with three doctrinal degrees leave the comfort of his own home, leave his community, his country, his own culture and depart for the jungles of Africa just before the outbreak of the 1st world war? What parable could induce a man who was recognized as one of the best organists in Europe to go to a place where no organs played or convince someone to give up teaching at a lucrative teaching post in Vienna and work with people who were suffering from all sorts of unpleasant diseases thousands of miles away?

The man who felt a strong calling to go and be a “ fisher of men” and was greatly influenced by todays parable of Dives and Lazarus was Albert Schweitzer. He was born in the German Empire in 1875 and was really a most remarkable Christian man – a doctor, philosopher, theologian who wrote many books and who was also an accomplished  organist. He died in 1965 and a reading of his life can be an inspiring and humbling. I don’t suppose he will ever be sainted but it’s hard to see how someone could lead a life more dedicated to serving others. If you have some free time – read a bit about him on the internet or find a book about him from the library. He left us many quotes too which are quite profound. Here are three of them:

Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.

Do something for somebody everyday for which you do not get paid.

Do something for somebody everyday for which you do not get paid.

There are many more.

So, this parable that meant such a lot to Albert Schweitzer – let’s take a look at it and see if it can mean a lot to us too. The parable of Dives and Lazarus.

Now, the rich man and Lazarus were neighbours. They probably saw each other every day – day in day out. They didn’t see each other socially though – for Lazarus was a beggar, a very poor man who was at the gate of the rich man constantly hoping he would throw him ( or his servants) scraps of food.

Who was the rich man? We don’t know – he isn’t given a name. We call him Dives as it’s the Latin word for rich man. But we know that he was self-indulgent. We can embroider his life if we care to – we might think of him as a lover of fine food, wine and clothes – infact we are told he wore purple. Purple was the colour of royalty – it was the most expensive dye in the world. Only the highest tiers of society  and priests of the temple were allowed to wear it. We are even told that his undergarments were made of fine linen. Just a little point to bring home the truth that the rich man was very rich indeed.

The poor man is named – he is called Lazarus. I’ll come back to the fact he was named in a moment – its rather significant. In the parable he is very poor – he is disabled, he cant work and he spends his days living off the leftover’s thrown out of the window of Dives’ palace. But for all his challenges, for all the suffering he faced, he still survived.

As the story line goes, one day both men died. Death, after all, is the great equalizer. Death really doesn’t care about ones wealth, where one is positioned socially in the community, how educated we are or whether we own houses or not.

Both died and Jesus says that Lazarus was carried by an angel to heaven where he occupied a seat of honour beside Abraham no less. Dives on the other hand was buried – no more detail though we may assume his wake was a very lavish affair. But Jesus does add that his soul was dispatched to hell. The rest of the parable tells us how awful it was for him. Dives could see Lazarus in paradise right next to Abraham and he pleaded with Abraham to  send Lazarus to  “ dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames”

Can you imagine Jesus telling this parable to the crowd around him? They must have felt uncomfortable to say the least.  Not for the first time, not for the last time Jesus is reversing the standards of the world around him. God, Jesus is implying, demands justice.

It wasn’t as if they hadn’t heard this sort of thing before from the Hebrew prophets like Amos:

Amos 6: 1a & 4—7 6:1a Woe to you who are complacent 4-7 You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph. Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end.

Jesus was only being faithful to the prophetic message of his ancestors in faith  – God expects justice from God’s people. Yet the message must have been deeply discomforting to those who heard it proclaimed anew.

Often in societies across the time line poor people are not given a name. We often hear about rich people – very current issue in this country as those who earn even more than our PM have been named. But we often – maybe inevitably, talk about “ the poor”  “ the homeless”  the “ third world” or “ people on benefits”  or worse “ scroungers” as if they have no identity and are just statistics.  On Friday I received yet another mailing from a charity asking for money. Its called Water Aid and in strong words it is asking for  households in this country  to give £2.00 a month to help them provide decent water for some of the 884 million people who still lack safe drinking water and the 2.5 billion who have no access to sanitation. Yet another request for money, I thought until enjoying my breakfast, I read about Erika who is 12 and lives in Tanzania and whose life has been transformed by Water Aid. Somehow naming a person makes an appeal all that more urgent and real. I did the deed, I do hope not feeling self-righteous but genuinely wanting to help.

Jesus said that God reverses the world order – God knows the name of everyone, including the poor and disenfranchised person who ever walked this earth. Think of all the very poor people just in this country who were buried in paupers grave, who never had markers or memorial stones such as we see outside in our churchyard. Whose names were never remembered expect by a scribble in a burial register. Jesus reminds us that they and the millions of children and adults who we bunch together “ as poor” and “those in poverty” are infinitely precious to God – and it’s the likes of them who will find themselves closest to God in the next life. You can be poor in the eyes of the world, but your value in the eyes of God is beyond our wildest imagination. In heaven everything will be reversed. Maybe that is what troubled Albert Schweitzer. A man who belonged to the privileged class but felt uncomfortable with his wealth and station in life when so many lacked the basic necessities of life

God expects justice from God’s people.

But what about poor old Dives we might want to say. After all, he wasn’t an abusive or brutal man. He didn’t kick Lazarus or rail at him for being a scrounger. For all we know, he made sure every day that his servants gave Lazarus adequate scraps of  food to live off. If you like, he was recycling his food waste in a positive way. Quite a current topic. I’m going on a conference in Huntingdon on October 7th about food waste- really interested in the subject. So, why so hard to Dives?

It seems that his trouble was that he accepted without question all his wealth and high estate. It was God given also – he had a right to be rich whilst the likes of Lazarus were meant to be poor. Remember that  most unfortunate line  in the hymn all Things Bright and Beautiful?

The Richman in his castle, the poor man at his gate
He made them, high or lowly, and ordered their estate.

Ordered their estate? That’s not what this parable teaches. No, Dives fault was that he too readily accepted that he was rich and Lazarus was poor and so all that Lazarus deserved was scraps. It never occurred to him that the fate that Lazarus’ status at birth and the fate of his own status at birth could be reversed. We all know that Dives could have helped Lazarus more – and the plight of many beggers around him.  But he was indifferent to his plight. He really couldn’t care less. So in death their fortunes are reversed. Dives suffers the torment that Lazarus felt in this life – and no wonder pleads for relief – which he doesn’t get.

I’m not going to finish by beating myself or any of us up for being comfortable and complacent in Little Paxton. Albert Schweitzer’s response to the parable was immense  and hugely self-sacrifical but there are so many ways that we can become more aware of the injustice in our society and take small steps to tackle it. Next week we shall be collecting things for Jimmys night shelter – yes, we shall be supporting the “homeless”- we haven’t got any names of who is there right now, though when one of Jimmys workers came out to us last year she told us some stories of real people who had been helped by them. I like to think that the British people responded out of selfless giving as they donated their 40 million to the DEC appeal. Our giving is often rightly a private and personal matter which we don’t need to publicise to others.

Hopefully the wise Christian words in the letter of Timothy ( 1 Timothy 6 : 6—19)   can help us as we think through these challenges:

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life”

May we all pray for the strength to be rich in good deeds and to be generous and willing to share. God expects justice because Gods’ grace is freely bestowed upon all people.

As Jesus often said after a parable telling “ Go, thou, and do likewise”

And may we  all say Amen.

September 24, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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