The Heart of the Story
This story is one of my favorites. Usually called “The Rich Man and Lazarus,” I see it as more about “The Uncrossable Chasm.” If I had the talent I would probably write a verse or two and sing them to the tune of “The Impossible Dream.” Except – in this song the chasm cannot be crossed.
In the wayback machine of my theological journey there is a time when I heard beaucoup sermons on the wrath of God, the fires of hell and what happens to people who don’t receive Jesus. (The “receiving” in this case being a very narrow, carefully defined penitential prayer that had to include just the right words – kind of a quasi-Christian “Abracadabra.”)
As time went on I read the story carefully and it occurred to me that the story serves very well as an exposition of the story Jesus told his followers about the Shrewd Manger just a few verses earlier. In this tale the ultimate destination of the one who gives allegiance to wealth – and the totally unexpected outcome of the one who received not a crumb from the rich man’s table; the picture of an abject outcast. The notion of a beggar loaded with sores the dogs licked dying at the rich man’s gate and then winds up receiving the care and comfort of Father Abraham would set the Pharisees’ teeth on edge.
Several things occur as you move through the story:
- The rich man in verse 19 sounds like a reference to the Pharisees Luke commented on in verse 14 – the ones who loved money.
- There is no wrath of God – “Goody for him going to hell – here. There is compassion; Jesus addresses the poor bloke as “Child…”
- The torment of the rich man is self-induced – the natural outcome of the one who gives heart and soul to wealth.
- Even though the rich man is in agony he has no change of heart – he sees nothing wrong with dispatching Lazarus as a servant to rescue his brothers who are all apparently of the same mindset he was.
- Here’s the key – An unwillingness to listen is the father / mother of the “Uncrossable Chasm.”
A Children’s Message for Children of all Ages
There is a children’s message from years back (available in one of my sermons in the resources on Textweek for this passage in Luke) I plan to include as a part of the sermon for this time around in the lectionary cycle. The compassion of Father Abraham towards the rich man as well as toward Lazarus points to the one power that can cross the Chasm.
Would You Rather Have Love or Money?
The children have gathered and I have a few pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters in my pocket. Then we move into the story:
How many of you boys and girls have pets? Talk with them about their pet, the names they have given their pets and how much they love them – then do something along the line of: “Billy, how about if I give you all this money (a few pennies, a nickel and a dime) for your dog?”
Billy will say no, of course, so you up the ante until it becomes clear Billy won’t take your money. “Well then Billy, how much would you want to give me your dog?” Repeat this with a couple more of the children regarding their cat or bird or other point. Then make the point that love is more important than money.
Now take all the change… say to one of the children then to a couple more… “Do you think your mom (or dad or aunt or guardian, grandmother etc.) would take all this money for you?”
Then I’ll go about the congregation talking to parents, grandparents, aunts etc. and try offering money for the children. (Yes – you just might have one person like the joker who said, “Sure you can have him for fifty cents.)
Love is much more important than money. Money can’t replace the love you have for your pet and it can’t replace the love your parents have for you.
It is like that with God. God loves every single one of us than anything and God wants us to give our love back. Jesus said the most important thing in all of life is to love God with all of your heart – that means as much as you can possibly love.
Isn’t it great to have something that is way more important than money?