Sermon Proper 21C 2019                                                                                                The Rev. John M. Atkins


Luke 16:19-31

19“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

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For a year or more, I met the same man at the same place at the same time on the same day along a Philadelphia street.  Between Market and 15th Streets, there he was; a man sitting on the busy sidewalk against a wall begging for hand-outs.

When I first caught a glimpse of the man, I was hurriedly walking to my psychotherapy practice.  On several occasions after our first meeting, I passed by the man, giving him no money.  It’s not my habit to give money to beggars.  However, I have purchased food for those seeking a hand-out.

The face of the man on the sidewalk between Market and 15th kept coming into my thoughts.  So, I prayerfully decided how best to respond to his apparent need.

Every Tuesday, I made an extra sandwich and packed an extra apple and bottled water – and gave these to the man.  I can still remember his smile.

In Jesus’ parable told in Luke’s Gospel, there was a rich man and there was a poor man.  The rich man enjoyed his food and lavish lifestyle.  The poor man sat waiting for something to satisfy his hunger while his empty stomach gurgled.  The rich man afforded the best care.  The poor man received care from the dogs.

The poor man, Lazarus, died and was welcomed into God’s heaven.  The rich man died.  His lack of compassion and deprivation of response for Lazarus locked the door to the joys in God’s heaven.

Jesus is telling us that our salvation is directly related to our compassion and response to human need.  Salvation is not a private matter.  Salvation is not a personal onetime acceptance of a belief system.  Our salvation is an ongoing interaction with God and the world God created.  Our salvation is a result of our relationships with God and all of creation.

The English, 18th century novelist, Charles Dickens, is correct.  Salvation of our souls depends on our devotion to expressing compassion and love.