While in seminary, I preached a sermon on this Gospel lesson that I still remember as one of my more mediocre moments in worship leadership. While the sermon itself could have used some improvement, I think that the point I preached holds true: we are all Lazarus. And we are all the rich man. Or at least, we have been at some point or another in our lives. Sometimes we are the poor person, desperately hoping for the goodwill of another to help make our lives a little easier. Sometimes we are the self-absorbed rich man, unwilling to see the need right in front of us, and even less willing to inconvenience ourselves with a response. Sometimes we are Lazarus, welcomed warmly into God’s presence, and sometimes we are the person finding ourselves unexpectedly in a place of torment.

richmanlazarusgebhardt

Where are you today in relationship with this Gospel passage? Where is your congregation? What message does your community need to hear this week?

Other interesting points to note about Luke 16:19-31 are that the rich man is never named, even though the poor man is. Does this say something about God’s sense of who is truly important or valuable in the world? What does it mean that the man who is embraced by Abraham after death has the same name as the man Jesus raised from the dead? Perhaps there is no connection – or perhaps the name “Lazarus” is meant to remind us of that other man by the same name, who was so beloved by Jesus that he wept at his tomb and raised him back to life. Additionally, this parable is unique to Luke. How does this story fit in with Luke’s overarching themes of wealth and justice for the poor, and inclusion for all people?

Other RCL texts for this weekend include a passage from Jeremiah 32 that would frighten even experienced lectors! If you can get past all the complicated names of people and places, you hear the good news that it is time to settle in and buy some land, because God is going to restore the people to Judah. Psalm 91 gives beautiful imagery of God’s protection and salvation to all who “abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”

The RCL also offers a choice from Amos 6, prophesying the demise of the wealthy who avoid the poor in their midst. Psalm 146 sings praises to God, listing some of the highlights of God’s interaction with humankind.

1 Timothy 6 carries a possible connection to the Luke passage, reminding us that we brought nothing into this world and can take nothing out of it. Rather than money, faithful people are to pursue godliness, love, gentleness, and all kinds of other admirable characteristics. A lofty goal but a good one – so how can you encourage folks to work towards it?

Where are you headed with the texts this week? How might they resonate with your community? Please share your ideas and comments below. Blessings in your writing and worship preparations!

 

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canoeistpastor is Katya Ouchakof, co-pastor at Lake Edge Lutheran Church in Madison, WI, part-time hospital chaplain, and certified canoeing instructor. She is a contributor to There’s a Woman in the Pulpit, and has recently given her blog a facelift: Provocative Proclamation.

 

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16 thoughts on “Revised Common Lectionary: In the Bosom of Abraham

  1. It’s early days yet for me to begin writing for Sunday’s sermon, but I have two things simmering in relation to the gospel text:

    1) Our bible study recently studied this chapter of Luke. An African-American woman brought a Youtube video of Jester Hairston’s “Poor Man Lazarus,” a spiritual they used to sing in her church growing up. They sang it as a sort of victory song, saying that God is on “our side,” no matter what it looks like! I was struck by that interpretation because I’d never imagined this parable as an empowering one, but rather as a warning because of my rich white privileged background.

    2) John Chrysostom preached a bunch of sermons on this parable. He wrote to the rich Antiochians, “God has allowed you to have more than you need so that you have more to share….Not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth but theirs.” (Second Sermon on Lazarus)

    I’m not interested in continuing false dichotomies between rich and poor. But I am questioning how my sermon might emerge this week.

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  2. “Not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth but theirs.” Wow – that is a powerful quote. Sounds like you’ve god some excellent ideas simmering, and hopefully they’ll bubble up into wonderful sermon!

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  3. I’m going with Psalm 91 not because it’s a warm and fuzzy psalm. I find it quite the opposite. All those promises? What do people do with tnem? Taking poetry for what it is and not treating it like prose is where I’m headed. People often have trouble dealing with “why bad things happen to good people.” Still the psalmist in all human exhuberance and exagerration keeps before us that Yahweh is truly a refuge.

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    1. Sounds like a good approach, Pat. Helpful to remember that what is life-giving to one person can be harmful to another. I hope that your message can address the theodicy question head-on!

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  4. A preaching professor once said that we musn’t ignore the parts of the text that people will be wondering about. I think in this text it’s the part about heaven. After watching the premier of the new sitcom “The Good Place” last night, I feel inclined to make sure I include something in this week’s sermon about grace. The premise of the sitcom is that only the very best people who do lots of really good things get to be in the good place (although there are hints in the episode that maybe somebody misunderstood how it works). People may see a similar message about earning salvation through good works in this parable and I want to make sure that isn’t what they take away with them.

    I like the idea of considering who we are in this parable. I’m guessing that most people in my congregation see themselves as the rich man and might not like the idea of seeing themselves as Lazarus.

    We’ve had an ongoing theme – maybe my personal theme – about keeping our attitudes on track through gratitude. I see that working in here, too. Maybe that sounds like simple positivity, but when it feels like we are sounding too much like the complaining people in the desert (like in Numbers), thankfulness is my go-to. Thankfulness helps me from being overwhelmed.

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  5. Thankfulness instead of crabbiness – a good policy to live by! I’ll be interested to hear how your message and interpretation about heaven comes through in your preaching.

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    1. Yesterday two ideas were lingering–“As you walk in the light with Me, you have one foot on earth and one foot in heaven.” –Jesus Calling, September 22 and “I touched the sky when my knees hit the ground.” –Hillsong lyric Today it seems to me that there are two chasms in this parable – the one Abraham points out separating heaven from hades, and the other between the rich man and Lazarus when they are still both alive on earth. Were the rich man to have crossed the one in life, he would already know the joys of heaven on earth through knowing God and doing God’s will. “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” –1 John 2:17

      That where I’m at this morning….and must have this sermon figured out and written by end of day because tomorrow morning is full – ecumenical prayer breakfast followed by meeting with project manager overseeing our fire-recovery rebuild.

      “And miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep…” –Robert Frost

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      1. Crossing the one gulf in life would have made the second gulf irrelevant in death because the rich man and Lazarus would have been on the same side of the chasm. Sounds like an excellent parable interpretation. Hoping it has mostly come together into a sermon for you!

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  6. i am wondering what it takes for us to hear Gods message, to see people and the word around us and to act with generosity and love.
    as it is midday Thursday here, I need to get the liturgy out today.

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    1. This is similar to the track I’m finding myself on this week – you have to notice someone in order to address their needs. Did the rich man ever even see Lazarus? Think “Mary Poppins” and the comment about the father never being able to see past the end of his own nose. Jesus, on the other hand, certainly saw Lazarus – he actually gets a name! People in parables never get names.

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      1. This idea of seeing people reminds me of the drug ad for people with a skin disorder. Each person says, “See me,” meaning “see me instead of only seeing my disease.”

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