A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel the loan he has made to his fellow Israelite. He shall not require payment from his fellow Israelite or brother, because the LORD’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your brother owes you.
However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.
If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward your needy brother and give him nothing. He may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.
“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.’ ”
There’s a word that Jesus wants us to practice- and that word is mercy, – translated as pity in our pew bibles.
Well, nobody WANTS pity, so most Americans cringe when we hear it.
Pity. It means, or so we think, that we can’t do anything for ourselves. Indeed, sometimes we can’t- we see people that we pity, people on the news perhaps, people who have lost everything in an avalanche, a hurricane, a fire. People who have lost a child. We pity them, and we sure wouldn’t want to be them.
But some translations call it mercy, which means NOT that they can’t do anything for themselves, but that they NEED something which only somebody else can give them.
Mercy- that word, and pity, are both closely related to the word the bible translates as compassion, which means to suffer with them, to feel their agony viscerally in your gut.
Jesus wants us to practice that, and he gave us a parable to teach us why we should.
But first, there’s another word that he wants us NOT to practice, and this is the third parable in a row in which that word is illustrated. THAT word, that bad word, is WASTE.
First, there was a parable of a son who wasted his inheritance.
Second, there was a parable about a manager who wasted his master’s money.
Finally, there is this parable, in which a man wastes his own money.
Now. In the second parable, we discover that it was fine to WASTE the master’s money if it was wasted in such a way that it would give the master GLORY.
So, how can it be so deadly wrong to waste your own money?
I know I do it, even when I’m running low.
And in the first parable, the son who wasted what his father gave him discovered that his father had something more to give him,
Something that would never run out.
And this man- this RICH man- evidently had lots.
He was the Bill Gates of Galilee.
You see, he had parties- banquets, and he had a fancy home, and servants to wait on him and his friends at their fancy banquet table. He had a YARD around his house, and a wall around the yard, and a fancy gate in the wall, and even guard dogs to keep the rif-raf at the gate.
Well. The rif-raf came to the gate. Or rather, they brought their friend Lazarus there because he couldn’t get their on his own.
That was pity, or mercy, on their part, because the rich man’s gate was a good place to beg, because rich people walked through that gate.
But they gave him nothing.
It was the dogs who took pity on him, and licked his sores.
But that poor man could smell the food.
I have a friend who’s a deacon in his church, and there was a poor man who, for a few years, was not quite in his right mind and insisted on living on the street.
So my friend told him to sleep by the door of the church, and he did.
But he needed to leave before the secretary came in the morning, and besides- nature’s call made him get up ad about every morning.
But there was nowhere to go and do what he had to do, first thing in the morning, so he did it right there.
He was not in his right mind, not then, but my friend had pity on him, and he came by and cleaned up every morning, before the secretary came in.
Mercy does what mercy is willing to do, when nothing else will do it.
So in this case, Lazarus friends carried him back and forth from the gate,
And the dogs came and licked him,
But the man who had plenty didn’t even seem to notice.
Well, they both died, because we all die. There’s nothing we can do about that.
But when they were dead, when the rich man was suffering for the first time, he noticed.
He noticed that man he’d ignored for so long,
And he even KNEW his name.
Yeah, he knew his name even though he’d never given him a crumb, and what did he say?
“I’m so sorry I never helped you out”?
He asked Lazarus, the poor beggar who was being comforted in heaven,
To come and relieve him the rich man, of his suffering.
Even in hell, Lazarus was rif-raf whose only purpose was to wait on him.
But Lazarus had an advocate. A lawyer who told him to keep his silence, and let him do the talking.
And this is what he said to the rich man- ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things.”
IN YOUR LIFETIME YOU RECEIVED.
Not, you EARNED.
Not, you deserved.
Only, you RECEIVED.
The fancy house, the banquet table, the servants, the dogs, the friends- those were the produce of what God had already given the man. But they were squandered on the man himself, and not his poor neighbors.
Now, I will not say that all the bad we experience on earth will be compensated for in heaven, because that would trivialize our suffering.
I will say that in God’s time, those tears will be wiped away. We will be comforted.
But I will also say this: What God gives us for this life is more than enough. It is an account that will never run dry. But sometimes it runs through us and never gets to where it needs to go.
That’s when it’s wasted.
Now, that can seem like a heavy burden to carry, and it is.
It can even seem like we’ll never have fun, and some people don’t.
But really, what it means, is that we need to be thankful- not for what we have, but for what God is trusting us with, however much or little it may be.
Then pay attention, and remember to share.
And what you’ll see is that there are people on our doorstep in need of mercy. The more we give it to them, the more we’ll be aware of God’s mercy for us.
Be thankful, pay attention, and remember to share.
Just three rules, really. But the first one is the most important.
Because if we’re thankful, it’ll mean we know where it came from.
It came from the only one who will NEVER need pity,
But who has an inexhaustible supply of it to give.
It came from the only one who COULD cross that great chasm between heaven and hell- and he crossed it on the cross.
It came from the only one who COULD come back from the dead.
It came from the only one who CAN help us, when we’re at our worst.
It came from the one who gave one character in the story a name, and not the other.
It came from Jesus.
Yes, Jesus did NOT give the rich man a name. But he gave the beggar a name- Lazarus, and it turns out THAT name actually means something, something rather important.
It means, “The one who God helps.”
I think the rich man would have done well to adopt that name,
And so would we.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.