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Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Last Sunday, I began a two part sermon based on the theme of the godly use of money. It is the fundamental question facing God’s faithful people every day. How do we as Christians go about using money wisely and creatively, and at the same time, using money in a manner that is pleasing to God? For we cannot serve both God and money.
It is, however, hard for some people to part with their money. I am reminded of the teenager who lost a contact lens while playing basketball in his driveway. After a brief, fruitless search, he gave up. His mother took up the cause and within minutes found the lens. “How did you do that?” the boy asked. “We weren’t looking for the same thing,” she explained. “You were looking for a small piece of plastic. I was looking for $150.” Some have learned to give a little. There was the wealthy business who after hearing a sermon on Psalm 52 about lies and deceit, immediately wrote a letter to the IRS. “I can’t sleep knowing that I have cheated on my income tax. Enclosed is a check for $1500. If I still can’t sleep, I’ll send the rest.” And there are some who choose not to give at all. A local charity had never received a donation from the town’s wealthy banker, so the director made a phone call. “Our records show you make $500,000 a year, yet you haven’t given a penny to charity,” the director began. “Well, wouldn’t you like to help the community?” The banker replied, “Does your research show that my mother is ill with extremely expensive medical bills?” The director mumbled, “Um, no.” The banker added, “Or that my brother is blind and unemployed? Or that my sister’s husband died leaving her broke with four kids?” The director replied. “I … I … I had no idea.” The banker then added, “So, if I don’t give any money to them, why would I give any to you?” That was the story of the rich man in Jesus’ parable.
The man had the look of sophisticated wealth about him. His clothes spoke the message clearly. He dined sumptuously every day. And outside his house was a poor man named Lazarus who longed for nothing more than the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Every day, the rich man would come out of his house, but he would not and could not see Lazarus. Well, one day the poor man died and the rich man died also. No surprise to that. We all must die one day. The poor man died and went to heaven and the rich man died and went to Hades and there was a great chasm between them. The rich man pleaded with Father Abraham to intervene on behalf of himself and that of his five brothers, to send the poor man Lazarus to warn them. But Abraham said, “O child, your brothers have the Law and Moses; they have the Prophets. They have been taught how to live and take care of the poor and hungry, the widow and the orphan. They know what they should do, for they have learned from you. For if they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
So what does this parable have to teach us? Let me begin, by stating that the purpose of this parable is not to enchant us with the wonders of heaven or to frighten us by the terrors of hell. Theologians have debated this for years. Martin Luther, in particular, criticized the parable as being too much like a scene of the false doctrine of purgatory, while he believed the bosom of Abraham was the comfort of Holy Scripture. Nor do I believe that the purpose of the parable is to say simply that all rich people will go to eternal torment and all the poor will go to eternal bliss. On the contrary, there are all kinds of rich people in both the Old and New Testament who were lovers of God and were destined for heaven. Father Abraham himself was a very wealthy man. No where in scripture does Jesus state that money is bad. Wealth is good and enables good living. And yet, Jesus warns that there is something about money that has the ability to corrupt every human being if they choose.
Jesus teaches his followers instead that they should be both rich towards God and generous to their neighbors. Money can be used in a godly way. Yes, wealth is good and enables an ease and fullness in life. But Jesus warns as well, that the love of money and the longing for greater wealth can obscure your moral vision, destroy your ethical character and have eternal consequences. Money can thrust you into endless pursuit, where one dishonest deed follows another as you try desperately to preserve your life and lifestyle It is a pattern of keeping up of appearances where you need to feast sumptuosly every day. Where sufficiency is never enough.
Money can also make you blind to your own perceptions and actions. It’s surprising to note, but the rich man knew Lazarus. Yes, he knew him by name. And still, he looked right past him and his need day after day. As long as he was wealthy and self-sufficient, he had eyes only for himself and cared nothing for the welfare of others. Even in death, he could not look upon Lazarus as anything more than a servant or a slave who would take care of his needs. For the rich man, his wealth, unbridled and uncontrolled, had created the chasm of separation both in this world and the next. You see, didn’t do anything wicked or dreadfully wrong. He didn’t inflict pain or injury upon Lazarus. He didn’t kill or steal. No, his human failing was simply a failing of the heart … that he didn’t do anything at all for his neighbor in need. He allowed the poor Lazarus to become a part of his day-to-day landscape, without seeing him or caring for him. He allowed the chasm to exist to separate them.
And so we turn again to the question of the godly use of money and the message of the parable. You and I spend all kinds of time worrying about what is going to happen for those twenty years between 65 and 85, but shouldn’t we be equally mindful of those twenty some light years we will spend in the future with God? Scripture doesn’t provide the practical daily financial advice of what bank you should choose, or whether you should select a debit or credit card. Although there are many college students, who could benefit from this practical instruction. I am reminded of the son who came running to his father complaining that he had given him bad advice. “Dad, you told me to choose the National Bank, but they’re no good. They sent my check back to me stamped, Insufficient Funds. How can they stay in business?” No, scripture doesn’t provide that sort of practical advice, but we should be aware of the guiding principles.
First, scripture reminds us to remember the poor. Use your wealth to the share and proclaim the good news of the Kingdom with the poor, and Second, remember those who have not heard. Use your wealth to direct the passions of your brothers and sisters to the true treasure found in God’s eternal Kingdom.
In last Sunday’s Parable of the Dishonest Manager, we were surprised to hear that Jesus complimented the ingenuity and energy that the dishonest manager exhibited in finding favor with his rich master, while at the same time Jesus criticized his own followers for showing little energy or creativity in investing in their own eternal treasure. My friends, God has entrusted you with his greatest treasures- his forgiveness, his grace and his mighty power. He has empowered you with the love of Jesus, and accompanied you with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Do not be stingy or protective. Share the gifts God has entrusted to you, and use them. American playwright Thornton Wilder penned two wonderful lines for his primary character Dolly Levy in the play The Matchmaker regarding the godly use of money. She said, “Money is like the sun we walk under. It can kill or it can cure.” And later, “Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.” That is the principle God wants for you. Money is to be a blessing to benefit others especially the poor. So lessen their life’s burden so they may enjoy the life God has given. And great will be God’s reward for you.
The second principle for the godly use of money is to, Remember those who have not heard by using your wealthy wisely and generously for all to see. This is where Jesus actually encourages us to be more ingenious and bold in sharing God’s eternal treasures with others- including our own brothers and sisters. Throughout life, Lutherans in particular have been taught, that you should not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Friends, let your brothers and sisters know what you are doing with your wealth now. Let them see your trust in God’s sufficiency. Let them know of your financial commitment to missions and ministries that are important to you. You are the one who can open their lives to the possibilities of God’s eternal treasure. “For if they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” You can make a difference here and now, so that God can make a difference for them for all eternity. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.