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This week's sermon:

            Luke 16:19-31  -  "Neighbors Who Never Met"
                          
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What parable would make a man with three doctoral degrees (one in medicine, one in theology, one in philosophy) leave civilization with all of its culture and amenities and depart for the jungles of darkest Africa? What parable could induce a man, who was recognized as one of the best concert organists in all of Europe, go to a place where there were no organs to play. What parable would so intensely motivate a man that he would give up a teaching position in Vienna, Austria to go and deal with people who were so deprived that they were still living in the superstitions of the dark ages for all practical purposes. The man who I am talking about, of course, is Dr. Albert Switzer. And the single parable that so radically altered his life, according to him, was our text for this morning. It was the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

 

The Rich Man and Lazarus were neighbors you know. They saw each other every day. Oh, not socially you understand, but there was contact. Every day the Rich Man saw this beggar at his front gate. Who were these men?

 

We shall call the Rich Man Dives [pronounced ‘Dive-ees’: it’s Latin for “Rich Man” as he has been called for centuries] Dives would have felt very comfortable living in our present time. He was a progressive kind of a guy. He was self-indulgent and this is the age of self-indulgency. The contrasting life-styles of these two men is so obvious that you can’t miss it. Dives was a connoisseur, a lover of the arts, one who knows and appreciates fine living, four star restaurants.

 

We are told in vs. 19 that he habitually dressed in purple. Purple was known as the color of royalty because it was the most expensive dye in the ancient world. Only the upper echelon and the high priest could afford it. We are also told that his undergarments were made of fine linen. Linen, the lifestyle of the rich and famous.

 

The other man in the story is Lazarus. How can we describe Lazarus? Lararus is homeless. We are told in vs. 20 that he was a cripple. Lazarus barely made it from day to day, living off the leftovers thrown to him by Dives as he daily passed him. He is just a survivor, that’s all you can say of him.

 

One day, said Jesus, both men died. Death after all is the great equalizer. Death does not care about your social standing, your color, or your standing in the community. Lazarus, said Jesus, was carried away by the angel of death unto heaven, where he occupied the seat of honor next to Abraham. About Dives, the rich man, all that Jesus says is that he was buried. Isn’t that strange that that is all that he says. After all, Dives funeral must having been something that the community would remember for years to come. Apparently, however, that fact failed to impress Jesus. Oh, Jesus did add one additional fact about Dives death that may be of interest to you. His soul was sent to hell.

 

This is an unnerving story. I can well see why this was the irritating grain of sand in Albert Switzer’s oyster. Why is this story so bothersome? For a few moments this morning I would like to share exactly why. It is bothersome because….

 

1. First, it shows how God reverses the standards of the world.

2. Second, it is a terrible fate for a man who was not mean.

3. Third, the rich man begs to warn his living brothers.

 

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The story of Jesus sitting and debating the Law with rabbis reminds me of another debate that took place in a comparative religions conference, the wise and the scholarly were in a spirited debate about what is unique about Christianity. Someone suggested what set Christianity apart from other religions was the concept of incarnation, the idea that God became incarnate in human form. But someone quickly said, “Well, actually, other faiths believe that God appears in human form.” Another suggestion was offered: what about resurrection? The belief that death is not the final word. That the tomb was found empty. Someone slowly shook his head. Other religions have accounts of people returning from the dead.

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