September 29, 2019

Put a Bow on It
Pentecost 16, Proper 21, Year C

Becky Robbins-Penniman

So, is Jesus right? If we don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, will we also refuse to be persuaded by one who rises from the dead?

Now, most of us wouldn’t think of ourselves as being filthy rich like the people described by either Amos or Jesus. We probably don’t identify with the rich guy. Just so, few of us have been quite as destitute as Lazarus. Most importantly, the rich man and Lazarus are dead, and if you’re sitting here this morning, I’m assuming you are not.

So this is a story for the living, like the rich man’s brothers. We are the brothers and sisters of the rich man. Abraham did not send Lazarus to us to warn us, but God did send Jesus, and Luke is writing to us about him, about following Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah of God. Luke was willing to take a chance on us, that we would be persuaded. Persuaded of what? That hell is hot and there’s no water? Sort of like Florida this month?

Reinhold Niebuhr, a great American theologian of the mid-20th century marveled at how people would leap over the point of Jesus’ parables to speculate about the “furniture of heaven and the temperature of hell.” The point of this parable is not that it’s bad to be rich. Abraham was one wealthy fellow, and so was King David. Jesus is not condemning the ability to make money; indeed, it is a spiritual gift to have the savvy to do that. It’s our attitude toward money, the place it has in our hearts, the LOVE of money that is the sin because it is grounded in selfishness, in getting what we want without any concern for others.

How do we begin to idolize money? I’ve given this some thought, and I might be wrong, of course. But, my hunch is that turning to that idol begins with fear and anxiety. Both rich people and those without any money at all can become so afraid of not having enough that they become hoarders. Hoarding money and things against the anxiety of not having what we need turns us inward and focuses us on inanimate objects instead of people, shiny, breakable toys instead of God. Hoarding money and things builds a secure fortress made of dead stuff that walls us off and keeps us from taking hold of what is truly life.

How can we be liberated from this fortress and take hold of what is truly life? The letter to Timothy tells us: do good, to be rich in the good things [we] do . . . be generous, and . . . share with others. Maya Angelou summed it up well: GIVING liberates the soul of the giver.

Read the full sermon text HERE.