Sunday, November 2, 2008

Don't Be A Scrooge...Your Life Depends Upon It!

It has been getting colder lately and before we know it Christmas will be here and our time will be filled with many traditions. One tradition which I really enjoy is Christmas TV - Charlie Brown, Frosty, Rudolph, and one of my favorites, A Christmas Carol. The story is about a banker who gains a huge fortune by being stingy and “all about business” instead of noticing the suffering around him. He receives the blessing though to see what the world thinks about him in the future when he is dead – they hated him – but this was all a dream. He has a change of heart and lives the rest of his life not only noticing the suffering around him, but making the world a better place. If only we could all have the chance to see what we would be like after we’re dead….maybe we would change too.

Seeing what life is like after death is exactly what this morning’s Gospel is about. The scene is much like that in A Christmas Carol: “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously ever day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at this gate, desiring to be fed with crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table” (Luke 16.19-20) They both died and Christ allows us to see what their life after they died was like.

After they died we see them both in the presence of God; both being able to talk to God; both being able to see each other; but not both in torment. When Lazarus died the angel came and took him straight to be with God. “The rich man also died and was buried.” (Luke 16.22) In this scene we have been blessed to see how our life might be when we die. The rich man, who had everything he could have imagined when he was alive, was suffering. Lazarus, who had nothing but the compassion of a few dogs, was comforted in every way.

In almost every way of life the rich man was superior, at least by human standards, to Lazarus. He had more money more food more clothes and more of everything than he probably needed. Only the richest people wore purple! There was only one thing the rich man lacked – compassion. “Moreover the dogs came and licked [Lazarus’] sores.” (Luke 16.21) Christ says, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.” (Luke 16.25) It seems that in almost every way after life, Lazarus had more than the rich man. There was only one thing Lazarus didn’t have after he was dead. He didn’t suffer.

Suffering is a part of life. It was a big part of Lazarus’ life and it was a big part of the rich man’s afterlife. We will suffer either way, either now or later, so I don’t wish to dwell on suffering today. Today I want to jump to the end of the story.

The rich man begged God to send Lazarus back to life to warn his brothers to live a better life. He thought that at least they would believe the word of someone who was brought back to life. Christ said, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.” (Luke 16.31) We should understand from this that, if the rich man knew the Holy Scriptures – if he knew his bible which in his case was what we call the Old Testament – he and his brothers would not have suffered.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, God speaks to us through the Bible and tells us exactly how to avoid suffering like the rich man. Let me first say, the Church does not teach and the bible does not say that simply being rich caused this man to suffer but the way that he ignored Lazarus. There are so many references to how we can avoid suffering, please allow me just a few moments to read some of them to you. I have them in the order they appear in the Bible.

Genesis 1.26 – “Let us make man [human being] in Our image, according to Our likeness.”
Genesis 2.18 – “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone.”
Exodus 20.1-17 – The Ten Commandments (among others) “You shall not murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, or covet”
Matthew 25.31-46 – “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.”
Mark 12.30-31 – “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
John 15.12 – “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

It is clear my dear brothers and sisters from Holy Scripture, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament that God desires us to live in love and harmony caring for each other just as God cares for each of us. We were created in the image of God. The Holy Trinity is a communion of love and total self sacrifice. If we love each other like God loves us, then we will not suffer after death.

After death the rich man suffered because he was unable to show compassion and love for Lazarus but God still loved him. He still called the rich man son, but the great chasm made it impossible for the rich man to have comfort. St John Chrysostom said the chasm was caused because the rich man didn’t know scripture. “The ignorance of Scripture is a great cliff and a deep abyss. It is impossible for anyone to be without benefit if he reads continually and with attention.” (St. John Chrysostom – On Wealth and Poverty)

Ebenezer Scrooge was a new man on that Christmas morning after he saw what life would be like after he died. Now that we have seen what life might be like for us, we must become new people. We must become transfigured. We must find the time to read Holy Scripture as often as possible and learn to recognize how God wants us to live so we can avoid suffering. But most importantly we must see other people for who they are…..our fellow human beings….and we must love them just as God loves us.

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