Sunday, September 26, 2010


The Chapel of the Incarnation, Gainesville FL
September 26, 2010

Year C, Proper 21: The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31


I’m envious of those of you who are really good at math. In school math was always my downfall – often keeping me off honors and providing me with many hours of upset stomach and sweaty palms. Pre-Calculus alone took about five years off my life.

In our family, Sue handles the finances – which is a very good thing. A number of years ago we thought we’d try our hand at some small-scale investing in stocks. I convinced Sue that we should buy stock in The New York Times Company. To me, my argument seemed flawless. I argued that with the internet becoming more and more popular people are going to want a brand they can trust for their news – and that brand would be the New York Times. Plus, I added with a flourish, people are always going to read newspapers!

Well, you can imagine how well that’s worked out for us over the years. Back in my former parish each Friday morning we had a men’s breakfast at a local diner. Most of these guys worked or had worked in finance and over three years they tried to tutor me on the ins and outs of the financial world. They tried to teach me how to invest wisely.

The brain trust, as I called them, had some success with me, though I still don’t trust myself to invest wisely. And judging from the way things have gone for many of us these past few years, it looks like most people shouldn’t trust themselves to invest wisely, either.

Jesus was very concerned that we learn how to invest wisely. He’s very interested in how we use – or misuse – our wealth. It’s a theme that runs throughout the gospel. How do we use or misuse our wealth, our possessions?

In today’s vivid and disturbing parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus gives us a powerful vision of what happens when a person doesn’t invest wisely – when a person chooses to serve wealth rather than God – when a person chooses the love of money over the love of God and of neighbor. And it’s not a pretty sight.

It’s interesting that the first part of the parable contains nothing about morality. The rich man is rich and Lazarus is poor. Luke paints the picture expertly, the rich man “was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.” Meanwhile right outside the rich man’s gate, there’s Lazarus who was “covered in 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 rich man is about as rich as they come. And Lazarus, probably crippled and ritually unclean with skin ailments and dog saliva, is about as poor as they come.

But, notice, so far there’s nothing about the rich man being particularly bad or Lazarus being particularly saintly.

And then they both die and we see the Beatitudes put into action.

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled."

They both die and we see the Beatitudes put into action.

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.”

But, this parable is not only – or even mostly – about reversal of fortune. When the scene shifts to hell we learn a lot about the rich man’s character and realize that the parable is really about investing wisely here and now.

So, the rich man’s in hell, he looks to heaven and sees Abraham with Lazarus beside him. And the rich man reveals a whole lot about his sense of entitlement when he has he nerve to ask Abraham to send Lazarus down into the flames to serve him.

In the parable, though, Abraham doesn’t chew out the rich man for his arrogance. Instead, Abraham maintains a sense of moral neutrality. Abraham says basically, “You had your good times on earth and now it’s Lazarus’ turn.”

It’s the next section that reveals what this parable is all about. The rich man still thinks Lazarus should be at his service. The rich man says to Abraham, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.”

There it is. The rich man understands that he’s in hell not as the result of a reversal of fortune, not because he was rich. He’s in hell as a result of how he had used – or misused his fortune on earth. The rich man had not invested wisely. The rich man had invested in his fine garments and his sumptuous feasts instead of investing in loving God and loving neighbor.

I’m sure it seemed wonderful – the great clothes, the great meals, the big house and all the rest. And I’m sure he told himself that he was worth it, that he deserved what he had, that God must have wanted him to have all that he had.

But, later, I bet if the rich man reflected back on his life, he’d realize that he began living in hell long before he died. By over and over again choosing to satisfy himself and ignoring the desperately poor man right outside his gate, he had already begun to live in the hell of selfishness and materialism. He had not invested wisely.

And in our own culture we don’t have to look too far to find examples of the rich and famous living in the hell of selfishness and materialism. We don’t have to look too far to find examples of people investing in their own pleasure and extravagance rather than investing wisely in love and generosity.

But, what about us?

What kind of investors are we?

In my sermon last week I slipped in a phrase that I hope will become a central theme for all of us here at the chapel: Gators for Others.

In our high pressure world of tests and papers and resumes and interviews it is so easy for us to get so wrapped up in investing only in ourselves. It is easy for us to forget that for us Christians wise investment means loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

So, we’ve created something to help all of us with our investing. It’s called the “GatorAID” box and it will be kept in the back of the chapel. The Gainesville Community Ministry has created a list of items that are particularly needed by the Lazaruses in our community. Each week an item from that list will be our “GatorAID Item of the Week.”

The “GatorAID Box” is a call to mindfulness. The “GatorAID Box” can help us avoid being like the rich man in the parable. The “GatorAID Box” can make it a little harder to ignore or choose to ignore the Lazaruses all around us. The “GatorAID Box” can help us be more faithful followers of Jesus.

The “GatorAID Box” can help us truly be Gators for Others.