St. Luke's Anglican Church
Traditional Anglican Service from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer
Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity, 2019
June 23, 2019
David J. Kapley, Priest
St. Luke's Anglican Church
Bowling Green, Kentucky
"[T]he rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom." The Gospel according to St. Luke, chapter 16, verse 23.
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be alway acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my Redeemer. Amen.
We Americans love to have it our own way. For some 40 years Burger King, the fast food restaurant chain, made a great deal of money on their burgers with the famous slogan: "Have it your way." We love things are own way: sex, drugs, rock and roll, money, movies, jobs, spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends, other friends, respect and glory for ourselves, physical health, clothing, cars, houses, hobbies, videogames, toys, and the list goes on and on.
Middle-aged and older people in the congregation remember Frank Sinatra's most famous song: "I did it my way." We even vote for politicians who tell us that they will give to us what we want. I wonder if those politicians disappoint us most of all.
America is drenched in relativism, individualism, "have what ever you want" ism. But God tells us if we have it our way, against His eternal Will, there is a price that we must pay. Such a price was paid by the rich man in today's Gospel reading.
God is not and should not be so accommodating to us. The problem is the evil that lies within all of us unless we receive salvation from God and sanctification from God. It is because of our selfishness that we strive for things against the will of God. The salvation of God is offered by the sinless Man who is also God. His Name, Jesus, literally means the Salvation of God.
In today's Gospel reading Jesus tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man. In this life the rich man had his own way. His clothes were very expensive. In ancient times only royalty and the very wealthy could afford clothes dyed in purple. One source of the purple color was a small sea animal that only yielded approximately one drop of purple color. It took an immense sum of money to dye one cloak purple.
The rich man ate fine foods every day. In ancient times some people were so poor that they ate only once a week. As far as we can tell from the story, the rich man pursued his own pleasure in life.
The rich man ignored Lazarus, a poor, destitute, sick beggar who had been placed by the gate to the rich man's home. Lazarus was physically ill and not able to work. Lazarus suffered---and suffered greatly. The rich man did nothing to help Lazarus. He must have passed right by Lazarus, who was lying outside of the rich man's gate.
In this life the rich man enjoyed himself and Lazarus suffered. The roles of Lazarus and the rich man are reversed in the afterlife. In Hell the rich man suffers and can look across the great divide that separates where he is and where Lazarus is. Someone once said that death is the great equalizer. That statement is false. Instead, death is the great portal that leads to mercy or judgment.
After death the rich man suffers and sees Lazarus in the Bosom of Abraham. In Jewish thinking at the time of Jesus the Bosom of Abraham was a place of great joy and respect in the afterlife. The Bosom of Abraham would be in the afterlife before Judgment Day, referred to as the Day of the Lord God in the Old Testament. Abraham was chosen by God to become the first Hebrew. He was the patriarch of Judaism. The Bosom of Abraham reflected how someone would be sitting next to Abraham during a feast.
What did the rich man do that was wrong? There is no evidence that he obtained his wealth by theft or deceit. The ancient church fathers tell us how the rich man was sent to Hell because of his greed, pride, and lack of mercy.
St. Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, in the third and fourth century remarked how wealthy Christians were frightened when they heard the story of Lazarus and the rich man. St. Augustine thought that the problem of the rich man was not his riches but instead his greed. St. Augustine said of rich Christians: "They should not be afraid of goods but of greed. ... Let them have it, possess it and not be possessed by it."
St. Augustine understood what happens when we want more and more and more of the material things that we have. When that happens we do not possess the material things but instead we are possessed by those material things. That is how the rich man repeatedly ignored Lazarus.
In the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament, the Patriarch Abraham was a wealthy man. Even though he was wealthy, Abraham was fair and generous with his wealth. So the story of Lazarus and the rich man is also a story of the rich man talking across the great chasm with Abraham, another rich man, who is in Paradise. Abraham, a rich man, instructs the other rich man, who suffers in Hell.
While on earth, the rich man in Hell ignored the Second Great Commandment: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus Himself told us of this Second Great Commandment. But this commandment is also found in the Old Testament, in the book of Deuteronomy. We must always remember how our own greed can make us forget our Christian duty to our neighbor.
St. Jerome emphasized that the rich man was guilty of pride. Some people more wealthy or successful in this world may think that they are better than others. But we must always remember that everything we have is a gift from God: intelligence, strength, beauty, wealth, families, relationships, possessions, and country.
We may like to think that we are self-made people. We are not. We are God-created people. We must always remember that we been placed upon the earth to do God's will and live a life for the glory of God. We are not here to live a life for our own glory.
In the 1928 Book of Common Prayer during Morning Prayer we pray the Jubilate Deo, which is Psalm 100. Listen to these words from the Jubilate Deo: "Be sure that the Lord he is God; it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture."
We must not deceive ourselves into believing that our material success in this life is proof that God approves of what we are doing. The rich man had success in the things of this world. He ended up in Hell in the afterlife.
During the first century in the Holy Land people ate their meals with their hands, not with utensils such as a fork. The rich would take pieces of bread after the meal, wiping their hands clean after they had handled cooked meat during the meal. They would throw away these pieces of bread that they had used to clean their hands. These pieces of bread are the crumbs from the table in the story of Lazarus and the rich man. The rich man was so uncaring that he did not even give those crumbs to Lazarus. St. Jerome instructed the rich man: "I am not telling you to throw away your wealth. What you throw out, the crumbs from your table, give as alms." But the rich man would not even give to Lazarus the bread that the rich man had used to wipe his hands. St. Cyril, the Bishop of Alexandria, could rightly emphasize how the rich man was "completely unmerciful" and without sympathy or compassion for Lazarus.
God wants us to show mercy, and love, and generosity towards the poor. Are we following God's will here at St. Luke's Anglican Church in Bowling Green?
Where did the rich man suffer after his death? Our English translation of the Bible says that the rich man was in Hell. But there are several different Greek and Hebrew words for the English word "Hell" in our Bible. One Jewish word is Sheol. The Greek name for Sheol is Hades. Sheol or Hades is the world of the afterlife where everyone, both the saved and the damned, go upon death. But Sheol or Hades is divided into two greatly different destinations. There was a great chasm or separation between each destination.
One destination was called Paradise, a place of joy where the dead who were saved would go. Some commentators regard the Bosom of Abraham as another name for Paradise. Do remember how the thief who was crucified on the right side of Christ repented? Christ promised to that repenting thief that the thief would be with Christ that day in Paradise. Some commentators regard this Paradise as equivalent to the Bosom of Abraham. Great is the mercy of God. Even the thief at the right side of Jesus was given the gift of Paradise when the thief repented at the end of his life. But the rich man during his life did not repent.
The other destination in Hades is a place of suffering where the damned would go. This place of suffering is separated from the Bosom of Abraham. This place of suffering is where the rich man found himself upon his death.
Saint Luke as a physician in today's story has given us a medical word that is only used one time in the Greek New Testament. That word in English is translated in today's story as the word "gulf." The word gulf is used by Abraham when he describes the impossible distance in the afterlife between two places; the place where the rich man suffered and the place where Lazarus was in the Bosom of Abraham. The Greek word is chasma, from which we get the English word chasm. The Greek word describes also a medical term which exists in many ancient medical texts. The Greek word refers to cavities in a gaping unhealed wound or ulcer.
Saint Luke was a physician in the days before modern antibiotics, modern surgery, and modern anesthesia. He must have seen the awful consequences of physical wounds that are gaping and do not heal. Such awful physical wounds that do not heal would lead to death in the ancient world. So Saint Luke chose this word to describe the impossible distance that separates Paradise and suffering in the afterlife. In the afterlife the rich man had no hope because he had not repented and had not turned to the cross of Jesus.
The rich man did it his way. The merciless greed of the rich man was like a gaping and festering wound in his soul - - - a wound that was unrepentant, and that resulted in him being cast down into hell. People of St. Luke's Anglican Church in Bowling Green, we must all take care that we do not fall into this trap that engulfed the rich man in today's Gospel story. Our famous namesake, Saint Luke the physician would tell us, that such a sin would be a gaping wound that would not heal and that would separate us from God - - - unless we repent and are healed by the blood of Jesus.
Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy; to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.