Unpacking Luke, Lazarus, and the Rich Man

The Gospel Reading is Luke 16:19-31.

Starting this week, this space will be used to unpack parts of the reading of the gospel. Pastor Marc hopes this will help us return to this story during the week, discovering how God is speaking to us in our day-to-day lives, and letting us explore this story with our family and friends.

When it comes to the individual books in the Bible, there are different ways to outline each one. Here’s the outline I use for Luke: Luke is part 1 of a 2 part work (the other half is Acts) and can be split into 4 major sections. The Beginning (1:1-2:52); Teaching (mostly around Galilee): 3:1-9:50; Last Journey to Jerusalem (9:51-19:28); Dying, Rising, and Return to the Temple: 19:29-24.53. Today’s reading takes place in part 3 of Luke – the Journey to Jerusalem. Jesus has taught, preached, healed, and ate his way from Galilee to Jerusalem. Today’s story takes place during a journey from where Jesus grew up to the place where he will die. That movement from Life to Death to Life again is an important backdrop to this story.

Notice who is named and who isn’t. Lazarus is poor, ill, and hungry. He doesn’t have the strength to scare away dogs who bug him. He sits at the gate of a rich man’s house, waiting for food and mercy. That mercy doesn’t come. Lazarus and this rich man eventually die. The text doesn’t mention heaven or hell but our imagination brings those images into the text. Lazarus is with the angels and Abraham, the father of the Israelites. The rich man is in a place of flame. The rich man sees Lazarus and asks Abraham to order Lazarus to serve him. The rich man doesn’t ask to be taken away from where he is. He asks for Lazarus to bring him something and teach his brothers to follow a different way. Abraham refuses the rich man’s request. The expected order of the world (the poor serve the rich) is upended in God’s kingdom. Mercy and care are God’s ways and have been that way since the beginning.

This text is convicting. It reminds us of the ways we are rich and the ways we expect others to serve us. But it’s also hope-filled. Abraham reminds the rich man that God’s kingdom isn’t a total surprise. The message of justice and love is old, rooted into who God is. Abraham tells the rich man to remember who he is. He is a child of God and made in God’s image. Before he knew God, God knew him. Lazarus is God’s child and know by God too. As God knew them, so does God know us. And we are called to live like God: showing mercy and love to all we meet.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 9/25/2016.

Since Sliced Bread: a sermon on seeing names

[Jesus said:] “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. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘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.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Luke 16:19-31

My sermon from the 19th Sunday After Pentecost (September 25, 2016) on Luke 16:19-31.

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A Reflection on Daniel

The First Reading is Daniel 1:1-17..

The Book of Daniel is a fun book that is hard to interpret and understand. The book begins with stories about Daniel and his friends and ends with Daniel trying to understand the visions he’s received. The book begins shortly after the king of Judah is deposed by Babylon (about 10 years before Jerusalem’s fall). Daniel and 3 friends are, as our reading shares, members of the nobility. They are picked (along with others) out of all the exiles because of their good looks and intelligence. They will be trained to be members of the royal court and to oversee various administrative duties necessary in the Empire. The king provides food and drink for them but Daniel refuses to partake. He, like many immigrants, sees what he eats as a sign of his relationship to where he’s come from and who he is. In Daniel’s day, meat and other food items were typically offered to the gods before the people. Eating this food means being in relationship with those gods. Daniel wants to follow God so he uses food as a way to stay close to God while living in Babylon.

Food stands in for the line we walk on to be with God. And this line is central to the book of Daniel. When we strip away the difficulties in the book (what the visions stand for, why does Daniel describe events that happen hundreds of years after the Exile, and why is the book written in 2 different languages), the line between walking with God and not, shines through. As the story grows, Daniel is confronted by evil personified by the kings of Babylon. The military and cultural might of Babylon tries to drive Daniel away from God. And this line is easy to cross but, with God’s help, Daniel hangs onto God. Even when Daniel is confronted with things he does not understand, like the destruction of Jerusalem, he turns to God in prayer (chapter 9). With God’s love, guidance, and grace, we are able to walk with God no matter what hardships come our way. With God’s help, we are able to see the line we’re called to walk on. And this line with God is, like all lines, infinite in length, showing that evil will never have the final word. God’s journey with us continues through today and beyond.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 9/18/2016.

Sarcastic Savior: a sermon on playing God’s game.

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Luke 16:1-13

My sermon from the 18th Sunday After Pentecost (September 18, 2016) on Luke 16:1-13.

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A reflection on Ezekiel: God the Shepherd

The First Reading is Ezekiel 34:11-16..

Today’s first reading comes after the prophet Ezekiel condemns the false shepherds (i.e. leaders) of Judah. God’s word labels the kings and queens of Jerusalem as false because they do not do what a shepherd does. A shepherd takes care of the sheep but Ezekiel’s contemporaries do not. The leaders take for themselves, giving their sheep nothing. They feed themselves but not those who need it. They do not strengthen the weak, take care of the injured, heal the sick, or bring back those who have strayed. Instead, with force and fear, they rule over others. The sheep (i.e. the people) become “food for all the wild animals.” The people are scattered and alone. No one sees them, except for God.

God promises the people around Ezekiel that God is their shepherd. God will do what the leaders did not do. God will heal the sick, feed everyone, seek out those far away, and bring everyone home. God will reconcile God’s people to God’s promises. God invites the people to experience a promise others will make but only God can fulfill it.

But If we remember where Ezekiel is when this word from God comes to him, we see God making an extraordinary claim. Ezekiel is in Babylon, preaching and teaching among the exiles. Everyone is far from home. God’s House, and their city are gone, are gone. In a culture where wars were more than just nation against nation but gods vs gods, the destruction of Jerusalem appears to show God being defeated. Babylon’s gods won so how can God claim to be Israel’s shepherd?

This question is at the heart of the experience of the Exiles. They expected a certain amount of material success since they were God’s people. But with Jerusalem destroyed, that expectation is gone. Faith, without material support (i.e. wealth, prestige, fame, etc) can feel like we’re doing faith wrong.

But it’s telling that God, in this passage, doesn’t promise wealth. God doesn’t say that God’s people will end up as rock stars or high priced CEO’s. God promises relationship. Faith isn’t about things; faith is about being connected to the source of everything. God makes a promise to people feeling isolated and alone that God sees them, loves them, and will not give up on them. God’s people have God’s presence and no one, not even the gods and military might of Babylon, can take that away from them.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 9/11/2016.

& Found: a sermon on being lost and living found.

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Luke 15:1-10

My sermon from the 17th Sunday After Pentecost (September 11, 2016) on Luke 15:1-10.

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A sermon in memory of Linda

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:1-12

My sermon in memory of Linda (September 10, 2016) on Matthew 5:1-12.

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A Reflection on Ezekiel meeting God

The First Reading is Ezekiel 1:1, 4-9,13-15,18-21,22,26-28. .

When you first met God, did you have a vision like Ezekiel? I’ll admit that I did not. Instead of seeing winged creatures, a giant throne, and an image of the divine full of fire, my experience of Jesus was quieter. When I reflect on my faith journey, I first noticed Jesus in the love of my extended family, through the testimony of friends and strangers, and in the beauty of art, music, and laughter. I met Jesus through the everyday occurrences of the ordinary. The prophet Ezekiel, however, has a different experience.

Ezekiel, like the book of Revelation, is a book filled with images because the prophet speaks through pictures. His prophetic activity probably started around 593 BCE (BC), prior to the fall of Jerusalem. Like Jeremiah, he talked about the coming destruction of the Temple and the Exile. Unlike Jeremiah, however, Ezekiel survives and continues to preach through the early part of the Exile. The population of Jerusalem is in Babylon yet God’s words still come to them.

Ezekiel begins with an image of God. The description of winged creatures and a chariot bring to mind the Holy of Holies, the place in the Temple where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. God is not confined to any one place but is completely other-worldly. God cannot be tamed and is, instead, “holy beyond our understanding and control” (Lutheran Study Bible, 2009). When God appears to Ezekiel, Ezekiel can only see a glimpse of God’s outline and glory. The flames, winds, and fantastic creatures are a reminder that we are not as powerful as we think we are. God can go anywhere and moves seamlessly in any direction. God isn’t trapped in a linear experience of time. God isn’t limited to human expectations or controls. Instead, Ezekiel reminds us that God is God and we are not.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 9/04/2016.

From Pastor Marc – My Message for the Messenger, September 2016 Edition

As I write this, our Genesis Garden team is trying to catch a groundhog. In the garden, by the shed, is a humane trap, with apples and broccoli for bait. Each morning, the trap is checked and the food replenished. The team is committed to capturing this groundhog who dug into our garden from the other side of the building. But this groundhog is proving elusive. It must have learned something by watching the other 3 we caught this season. 

Our Genesis Garden and our volunteers do amazing work. They use the gifts we are given (our land and time) to provide fresh vegetables to the Center for Food Action in Englewood. Too many people in Northern New Jersey struggle with food insecurity so we use what we have to make a difference in the lives of people we might never meet. This is Godly work – work that even those of us without green thumbs (i.e. me) can participate in. Planting, weeding, watering, and picking; together, we can do so much to love the world. 

But sometimes our plans and expectations run into reality. We can lock up our gardens, mend our fences, build our walls tight, but a groundhog will still find a way in. It’s frustrating and disappointing to see our best intentions fall short even when we did nothing wrong. We might feel, after 3 groundhogs, to just give up. But we don’t because Christ doesn’t give up on us. 

We’re starting up a new programming year. Our choirs, Sunday School, education programs, and more are all restarting. Our lives are going to get busy with sports, schools, holidays, jobs, and family events. We’re going to run into the groundhogs of our lives or be someone’s groundhog too. But we don’t stop turning to God, listening to the Spirit, and holding close to Jesus. In Christ, groundhogs are not the final word for our lives; love is. So let’s keep loving, feeding, and caring for ourselves and the world, no matter how many groundhogs come. 

See you in church!
Pastor Marc