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The End is Here

Luke 16:19-32

The Rev. Jon Roberts

25 September

2016

Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

19 “There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Laz′arus, full of sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz′arus in his bosom. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz′arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz′arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.’”

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The Rich Man and Lazarus, by Vasily Surikov, 1873

Through the prophets, God has spoken,
Revealing heaven and hell.
Between the two, there is a space
So far, so wide, it's hard to tell.
Whatever is broken, whatever is bent,
No one can pass,
Unless they repent.[1]

A priest and one of his parishioners decided to take a more proactive stance to warn people of an imminent danger. Standing in front of their quaint little, white-washed church on the side of the mountain with a river running behind, they held a sign. It read, “The end is near! Turn around now before it’s too late!” They received a few honks of approval with an occasional, “Keep it up Father!” and one even went so far as to say, “Give ‘em hell!” But then they see a sports car barreling around the corner. With the top pulled back and the radio blaring, the driver slows down just enough to yell out, “You guys are a bunch of freaks!” and then speeds past them. From around the curve, they hear screeching tires – then a big splash. The priest turns to his parishioner and says, “Do you think we should’ve just put up a sign that says, ‘Bridge is Out?”

It is so important we do not miss the signs that Jesus has shown us. This is an old story, told time and time again. Like the one we find in our Gospel today. Jesus tells the same story that everyone has heard before. It is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.[2] An illustration by the Russian artist, Vasily Surikov reveals it so well where we see the rich man and the poor Lazarus only a few feet away from each other. In fact, Lazarus is a step below the feet of the man who is being catered to by three servants. One is fanning him, the other is feeding him and the other is giving him something to drink. He doesn’t need to move from what looks like a bed chamber. A majestic peacock is perched atop the foot of his bed, where he is laid back on a fat pillow, covered by a lavish white bed spread and wearing his red comfortable red nightgown.

There is nothing that he needs, only to speak and he will have what he wants. Lazarus on the other hand is weary looking. His hair is unkept, he wears no shirt; his shoulders are hunched over, and he sits most uncomfortably on his knees, while three dogs are licking his wounded body and taking the scraps of food from him. This scene is a sign that Jesus uses to reveal heaven and hell. What it does not reveal is the choice of circumstance. One man has been given much and the other has nothing at all. No matter what, these were the circumstances they were given.

It does, however, reveal the choice of destiny. Time and time again, Jesus tells us to aim towards heaven and lets us know when the end is near, when the bridge is out. It is so tempting for the rich man to look the other way and speed past the problems of our society, thinking it is a quick fix. You just cannot delegate servants to do your bidding. You just cannot throw money as a problem and expect it to go away. Jesus calls us to get off our fatness, our laziness, sloth and cynical high chamber to get down on the floor with the Lazarus’ of the world. If not, the destiny of life hereafter is bleak.

Further along in the parable, not shown in the painting, the rich man is suffering, and it is Lazarus who is saved. When many Christians try to explain salvation to converts, they use the illustration of heaven on one side, earth on the other and this great big drop-off in the middle where a person can fall into hell. Without Jesus as the bridge, they will never get to heaven. Simple, right? But there is just one thing, and that is repentance. Lazarus, a man who is broken and bent is in the best posture. This is a man who God can work with because he is in need of salvation.

Wealth, such as what the rich man had on earth, tempts the soul to not need God. They solve their own problems with the vast number of resources that was given to them. In another passage Jesus warns against this by saying, “What does it profit a man, to gain the whole world but loses his soul?” or “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and to throw it to the dogs.”[3]

The other thing the rich man must be warned about the bridge being out, is to think he has plenty of time. “I can live the way I want and when I grow old, I can change my ways and get more serious about where I’m going.” This is like being in a speeding car, barreling around the corner, not knowing what lies ahead at any moment. The signs are there. The drop-off when we pass from this life to the next is certain.

Finally, we need to realize that we do not have the luxury to find ourselves somewhere in the middle of the two. There is no middle. We are either the rich man or we are Lazarus. We are either the one who says we have it all figured out and in control by making our own way and fixing our problems with the solution of wealth or we are the one who continues to see themselves in need of salvation, being the least among these, being the one that accepts God as judge who may deal punishment or mercy pending the nature of our hearts and the thoughts in our minds. To take the route of Lazarus, hold the sign.

Repent, and tell others that Christ is risen from the dead. Let others know that Jesus is the bridge that brings us to God. Through the prophets, God has spoken, revealing heaven and hell. Between the two, there is a space so far, so wide, it's hard to tell. Whatever is broken, whatever is bent, no one can pass, unless they repent.

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts, The Great Chasm, September 26th, 2010.
[2] Luke 16:19-32
[3] Matthew 16:26, 15:26

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