Sermon Notes for 26 October 2008
Epistle: (2 Cor. 11:31-12:9)
The God and Father of the Lord Jesus (blessed be he forever!) knows that I do not lie. In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands. It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven-… Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
St. Paul, God’s chosen vessel and apostle is given a vision of the third heaven, paradise itself, and yet on earth has to flee for his life and escape arrest by escaping in a basket lowered from a window like some kind of contraband. (actually I am wondering what they would normally be lowering from a window in the wall of a city that would have escaped the notice of the authorities – smuggled goods or trash? The city dump no doubt was outside the walls of the city, perhaps the public latrine as well. Normal cargo would not doubt pass through city gates where it could be taxed).
St. Paul is chosen by Christ to carry the Gospel to the world, and yet the Lord will not free Paul from suffering. Whatever the ecstatic experiences of Paul, whatever visions he had, or ascension he was given, he was never freed from the dangers and suffering of this world. The Kingdom of God does not ensure for us the pursuit let alone the attaining of happiness in this world. God deems the suffering of his chosen ones in this world to have value for them and the world or otherwise He would take his servants to paradise and keep them there. As it is He seems satisfied with allowing us to work in this world even if we are weak or disabled.
Gospel: (Luke 16:19-31)
 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.  And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,  who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.  The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.  In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.  He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’  But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.
Details I note in the Gospel lesson – this is a parable of Jesus, a story to teach, not a dogmatic or doctrinal statement about heaven or Hades. And it is yet another parable that involves economics – Jesus frequently dealt with issues of wealth, prosperity and justice.
Note both the rich man and Lazarus are alone in the story. No other people surround them. Lazarus is alone in his suffering. The rich man feasts sumptuously, but alone – there is no mention of a banquet full of guests.
The rich man dresses in purple – in the Roman Empire, normally only those born into the imperial family are allowed to wear the purple. The rich man has not earned his wealth, he inherited it – he has never know poverty or want. He stuffs his face at the table and food sloppily falls to the floor – he has so much to waste he is not worried about wasting food.
Lazarus can only wish to eat from the food falling from the rich man’s table – but note he isn’t given it to eat. He only desires it – his impoverishment is total; he is famished and allowed to see such sumptuous wastefulness and yet not able to reach the wasted food. The dogs who lick his wounds no doubt had the mobility to get to the rich man’s food.
Father Abraham basically tells the rich man – “Look in your lifetime you thought about nothing but yourself and feeding your face and always having not just enough but as much as you wanted. You got what you always wanted. You never gave thought to the poor or the afterlife, so now that you are tormented in Hades you have nothing to complain about. Your only concern in life was you and your immediate wants. Lazarus on the other hand had none of his needs met and he longed for relief from suffering, for liberation, for salvation, for mercy, and so now he is getting what he wanted all his life. You have no complaint.”
The message for us is clear – we can pursue all we want in this life, we can be fixated on this world and having enough or having too much. But this life and this world belong to a bigger reality, and one day that bigger reality is going to open up to us, and then we will come to understand how selfish were our desires and how narrow minded our vision, and how little prepared we made ourselves for that greater reality – paradise, Hades, eternity and judgment.
What are we living for? What are our preoccupations and worries and concerns and priorities? Are our ideas about life and God big enough? Or have we so concentrated on ourselves and our wants and our lives that we have forgotten the bigger reality around us? Have we reduced God the Creator of the Universe to some kind of personal Genie who is to provide for our personal needs?
The turmoil in the stock market and the economy is certainly unsettling, but let us not lose sight of the bigger reality in which the world exists – God’s plan and God’s Kingdom. There are things to fear in this world and to worry about, yet riches in themselves cannot commend us to God but they certainly can make us self absorbed.
If in this life time, all we worry about is having an abundance of things – of being prosperous, or of being satisfied – what complaint will we have in life beyond the grave if we are found to have made no provision for life in the world to come?