Dives and Lazarus

Fr Paul’s Sermon, 25th September

Today’s readings carry on the theme from last week. You remember that our Lord told us to make use of our worldly wealth in order to win friends in heaven. In the story of the rich man and the poor man – Dives and Lazarus as they are commonly known – we are given the picture of a selfish man who used his worldly wealth simply to indulge himself with food and drink, fine clothing and every human comfort – regardless of the needs of a poor man who sat begging right outside his house. The story is, of course, a “folk tale” rather than a literal description of life after death, but the point it makes is a serious one.

The rich man and his brothers were not pagans but Jews. That is to say, they had the Scriptures to guide them – Moses and the prophets. They had more than enough guidance as to how they should live, and what God expected of them. They chose to take no notice, to live as though this world was all that mattered, as if God would never call them to account.

The details of the story reflect the popular beliefs of the time – our Lord adapts his parables to the experience of his hearers. The essential point (well, one essential point) is that how we behave in this life will make a difference to our eternal fate. In particular, those who suffer injustice and misery here will be vindicated by God in the Age to come; and any who cause injustice and misery will be called to account.

St Paul, writing to his young friend and disciple Timothy, makes the same point. “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.” Therefore, he goes on, “As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches… They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed.”

So where might our first reading fit in to this? God telling the prophet Jeremiah to buy a field? Well, the background is this. At that time, Jerusalem was being besieged by the Babylonians, and Jeremiah was in prison for telling the king that military resistance was useless, and that his best hope was to surrender and trust God to keep both king and people safe for better days. In other words, the best they could hope for was occupation and deportation. Pretty hopeless, hardly the time to start buying a country estate outside the city. So God’s instruction to Jeremiah was a guarantee that despite appearances, better times would come and “Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.”

Dives and wealthy people generally put their trust in material wealth. King Zedekiah put his trust in military force. None of them put religious observance and concern for the needy high on their list of priorities. But in the long run, whether here on earth or afterwards true success and true happiness come from friendship with God, and obedience to his Law, which (as we all know) is summed up as “Love God with all your hesart and mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.”

You could say that the Church today, like ancient Israel, is besieged by enemies that want to destroy her: the world, the flesh and the devil, as we commonly call them. All kinds of clever schemes and compromises are thought up in the hope of surviving. But Jeremiah’s message was simply, “Have trust in God, and obey him.” What we need to do is the same. We must trust in God our heavenly Father, and in Jesus Christ who is God-with-us. We must open pour hearts to his Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love and generosity to all.

What the Church needs is not more bureaucracy and planning at national and diocesan level. What it needs is for Christians in the parishes to be doing their best to worship God with hearts and minds, and to serve their neighbourhoods by looking at local needs. We have a number of projects here in Easton itself- the Crisis Centre Ministries, the Wild Goose Café, the Spring of Hope and the One25 projects. All of them need volunteers to help in their work for the Lazaruses of our own day, men women and children who are vulnerable and in desperate need. As individuals and as a Parish we could be doing more. That is how to preach the Good News of Jesus.