Sunday’s sermon: Movin’ On Up


Texts used – 1 John 3:13-19 and Luke 16:19-31 (read within text of sermon)

  • Jesus tells a lot of great stories throughout the gospels, right?
    • Story of the prodigal son – leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy, welcomed home and loved
      • Slight wrinkle = the grouchy older brother → just an element, doesn’t overpower the story
    • Story of the lost sheep – leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy, welcomed home and loved
      • Slight wrinkle = requires a little lostness on the part of the sheep and no one likes being lost → But in reality, we know we all get a little lost sometimes. So we can relate.
    • Story of the good Samaritan – leaves you feelings warm and fuzzy, cared for and loved
      • Slight wrinkle (slight?) = the whole being robbed and beaten and left for dead thing → But again, in reality, we know how it feels to be beat up by the world and left behind, right? We don’t like it – it’s not a place where we want to be – but we can indeed relate.
    • So many stories that we love to read
      • Bolster our faith
      • Lift us up
      • Get us through the tough times
  • Yeah … today isn’t really one of those stories. Today’s story is all wrinkle.
    • This is one of those gospel stories that makes us feel uncomfortable
      • Makes us ask questions we don’t necessarily want to ask about our lives, our actions, our priorities
      • Makes us examine parts of our lives that we’d really rather not have to think about
      • Sheds an entirely different light on the world and culture around us – makes us stop and think → But that’s exactly what these stories of Jesus are supposed to do! They’re supposed to make us pause and consider our lives and the world around us and make changes in ourselves or the world or both.
  • Our culture – American culture – seems more and more to be structured around “bigger and better”
    • Constantly being told by mass media that we need:
      • Bigger and better houses
      • Bigger and better cars
      • Bigger and better toys – boats, utility vehicles, etc.
      • Bigger and better careers
      • Bigger and better selves – newer clothes, higher heels, shinier hair, fewer wrinkles
    • Globalization and countless cable TV shows have taken the notion of “keeping up with the Joneses” to a whole new level
      • See how people not only within our neighborhood and our community but around the world live lush and lavish lifestyles → from “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” with Robin Leach to MTV’s “Cribs” and “Keeping up with the Kardashians” (not something I ever thought I’d say in the context of a sermon, by the way!)
      • And let’s face it, basically all of the shows on the HGTV station make you want to completely gut your home (even if it’s brand new!) just to make it prettier or sleeker or chic-er or whatever.
      • Social media’s contribution to this = powerful → Now, we have the ability to display whatever kind of life we want in pictures. We can portray ourselves and our lives in whatever light we choose because we can post only the pictures that we want to post – only those pictures that make our lives look glamorous, exciting, adventurous, beautiful, put-together and desirable to those on the outside.
    • Dr. Brene Brown
      • Researcher at Univ. of Houston Social Work Dept. – spent the last 13 yrs. studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame
      • Work is incredibly popular right now
        • Wildly popular TED talks on “The Power of Vulnerability” and “Listening to Shame”
          • TED = “non-profit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the format of short, powerful lectures – 18 mins. or less
          • First one (“The Power of Vulnerability” from 2010) is one of the top 5 most popular TED talks of all time with 25 million viewers![1]
        • Books: Rising Strong, Daring Gently, and The Gift of Imperfection – all New York Times #1 Best Sellers
      • Brene Brown calls this “bigger and better” phenomenon the “never enough” problem. She says, “I see the cultural message everywhere that says an ordinary life is a meaningless life.”[2] And in the face of this phenomenon, we try to build ourselves up and up and up by filling our homes and our garages and our lives with more and more stuff because in the eyes of the culture around us, the more we move up in the world, the better off we are.
  • Shocker for the day: that’s NOT what Jesus said
    • Instead, Jesus tells this story of a rich man and a poor man that doesn’t really end well for the rich man: The poor man died and was carried by angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. While being tormented in the place of the dead, he looked up and saw Abraham at a distance with Lazarus at his side. He shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I’m suffering in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received good things, whereas Lazarus received terrible things. Now Lazarus is being comforted and you are in great pain.’[3]
      • Gospel context: parable told amidst a number of other parables and sayings dealing with things like humility, the cost of discipleship, and the importance of repentance
        • Follows almost directly on the heels of Jesus’ harsh reprimand for the Pharisees: The Pharisees, who were money-lovers, heard all this and sneered at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves before other people, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued by people is deeply offensive to God.[4]
    • So in that context, Jesus tells this story. And it’s a story about wealth and privilege, yes, but it’s also a story about the human condition and about reaching out.
      • Rich man doesn’t end up where he does simply because he was rich but because of his actions
        • Issue #1: There was a certain rich man who clothed himself in purple and fine linen, and who feasted luxuriously every day.[5] → This man is flaunting his wealth. The luxurious feasting part is pretty obvious. How many other, hungry people could have been fed by the food at this man’s daily banquets? But even his clothes are an extravagant display.
          • Linen = finely woven → took great time and energy to produce and was therefore very expensive
          • Purple = expensive dye created using liquid from a species of shellfish → flamboyant and noticeable amidst the duller colors of everyday clothing at the time
        • Issue #2: At [the rich man’s] gate lay a certain poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. Lazarus longed to eat the crumbs that feel from the rich man’s table. Instead, dogs would come and lick his sores.[6] → The rich man had to have seen Lazarus lying there at his gate. Surely at various points throughout his time at the gate, Lazarus called out to the rich man or his family or his servants asking for food – for just the crumbs from the table, whatever they could spare at the end of their lavish daily feasts. And yet, the rich man gave him nothing.
          • Interesting point: rich man – the one with all the wealth and privilege – doesn’t get a name in Jesus’ story, but the poor man does → ponder for a moment what that might mean in terms of Jesus’ story and the lesson he’s trying to teach
            • Identity = wrapped up in our name
            • Significance = wrapped up in our name
            • And for someone like the rich man, surely there was power and influence and prestige wrapped up in his name. But in this story of Jesus’, all that is stripped away.
    • The rich man doesn’t end up where he does simply because he’s rich. Jesus doesn’t tell us anything about how his money was made or where his wealth came from. The problem arises not in the wealth itself but in the rich man’s unwillingness to use his wealth and privilege to help his fellow human beings. Lazarus called out to him from his own gate – mere steps away from the place where the rich man and his family enjoyed their lavish lifestyle and their lavish feasts – and yet the rich man didn’t lift a finger to help Lazarus.
      • This is where 2nd reading for today comes in: This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. But if a person has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need and that person doesn’t care – how can the love of God remain in him? Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with actions and truth. This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts in God’s presence.[7] → Yes, these words from John’s letter were written long after Jesus’ parable, but this sentiment is not new to Scripture. Time and time again throughout both the Old and New Testaments, God charges us with caring for those who are in need.
        • Proverbs: Those who are gracious to the poor lend to the LORD, and the Lord will fully repay them.[8] … Happy are generous people, because they give some of their food to the poor.[9]
        • Moses in Deut: Now if there are some poor persons among you, say one of your fellow Israelites in one of your cities in the land that the LORD your God is giving you, don’t be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward your poor fellow Israelites. To the contrary! Open your hand wide to them. You must generously lend them whatever they need.[10]
        • Isaiah: if you open your heart to the hungry, and provide abundantly for those who are afflicted, your light will shine in the darkness, and your gloom will be like the noon.[11]
        • None of these calls to action are new. They are words that the rich man would have known, which is why we get that interesting end to Jesus’ story: The rich man said, ‘Then I beg you, Father, send Lazarus to my father’s house. I have five brothers. He needs to warn them so they don’t come to this place of agony.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets. They must listen to them. … If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, then neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’[12] → The words are not new. The sentiment is not new. The need is not new nor does it ever go away. There will always be those who have more than others. There will always be those who need a helping hand. And God’s call to action is pretty darn clear: “Care for them. Help people. Share. Do Good.” If you have enough in this lifetime – enough food, enough wealth, enough strength, enough love – that’s great. God isn’t trying to make our lives harder or punish us for value of our homes or the bottom line in our bank accounts. But we need to begin to see that wealth – that “enough” – as a blessing that needs to be shared. Because it is in this sharing that we find the greatest blessing. Amen.

[1] “About” section of Brene Brown’s website:

[2] Quoted by Mary Pritchard. “Who Are the Joneses and Why Are We Trying to Keep Up With Them?” on Huffington Post. Posted Jan. 14, 2013, update Mar. 16, 2013, accessed Sept. 18, 2016.

[3] Lk 16:22-25.

[4] Lk 16:14-15.

[5] Lk 16:19.

[6] Lk 16:20-21.

[7] 1 Jn 3:16-19.

[8] Prov 19:17.

[9] Prov 22:9.

[10] Deut 15:7-8.

[11] Is 58:10

[12] Lk 16:28-29, 31.

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