I didn’t realize that Illinois made history when the state elected J.B. Pritzker to be governor. It turns out that Pritzker has more wealth than any other governor elected in American history. And actually, he is the second wealthiest individual to ever hold public office in the U.S. – second only to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Prizker is worth 2.3 billion dollars. That’s billion with a “b.” His money is family money that comes originally from the Hyatt hotel corporation, though no doubt it has grown due other investments and the work of Pritzker Group Private Capital.
When you have 2.3 billion dollars, you live a little differently. The Pritzkers have a mansion on Chicago’s Gold Coast. They also own another mansion next door that apparently had some bathroom issues … but that’s another story. They have a horse farm in Racine Wisconson and a vacation home mansion in Lake Geneva. There is a home in the Bahamas, and a horse farm near Palm Beach, FL.
Now it should be noted that by comparison, Illinois’ previous governor, Bruce Rauner, is a pauper. He is only worth 400 million dollars. He owns multiple mansions and ranches around the country. It’s got to be tough for him to get by.
Pritzker and Rauner illustrate the fact that there are people who are so wealthy that they might as well be living in a different world from the rest of us. You and I can’t fathom what it is like to live with that kind of wealth.
That is precisely the impression that we are supposed to get out of the introduction to our Gospel lesson this morning. Jesus begins a parable by saying, “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.” The language here is meant to convey the absurdly ostentatious indulgence in wealth – the kind of life that no one in the real world could fathom.
Next Jesus describes a second figure, and the contrast could not be more stark. We learn that at the gate of the rich man was laid a poor man named Lazarus. He was destitute and sick – covered with sores. Lazarus desired merely to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. And in a final detail that makes one cringe, we learn that the dogs came and licked his sores.
The rich man had life better than you can imagine. Lazarus lived in a way you don’t want to think about. However death changed all of that. We hear that Lazarus died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died, but rather than being with the patriarch, he found himself in Hades suffering terribly. He lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.”
But Abraham pointed out that this was not impossible. The rich man had received good things during his life, but now he was in anguish. Lazarus had received all kinds of bad things, but now he was comforted. The outcome was fixed because there was a great chasm that prevented anyone from crossing over to the other side..
Now there is more going on here than a simple trading places. Our text is set within a chapter in which Jesus is talking about wealth and the role it plays in our lives. Our Lord has just said, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
Jesus has been talking about faithfulness in the way that wealth is used. And God’s Word, the Torah, included very specific instructions about how the people of God were to treat the poor. Deuteronomy said, “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.”
The rich man was to use his wealth to help the poor brother – to help Lazarus. He was to serve God by using his money to assist the man at his gate. Instead, his actions showed that his money was his master. It is clear that Jesus directed this parable at the Pharisees. He had said, “You cannot serve God and money.” And then we learn, “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.”
The rich man was in hell because of the way he had lived. He had loved his wealth. He had not loved his neighbor Lazarus, and thereby he showed that he loved his wealth more than God. The rich man appealed to Abraham, “Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house-- for I have five brothers--so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” The rich man begged for Lazarus to be the one to deliver the message about repentance and change of life – the very message the rich man had ignored in Lazarus when they were alive. However Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” After all they had the Torah – the Word of God – which as we have seen spoke very explicitly about how wealth was to be used to care for the neighbor.
While the details of the parable which describe scenes of the afterlife fascinate us – and remember, they are details in a parable so think twice before you take them as a literal description – the message of our text is really very basic. It is very straightforward. But that does not mean it is spiritually easy for us to hear.
Jesus says, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” The parable teaches that we show who our true master is by the way we use our wealth.
Now perhaps you will say: “Wait a minute! I am not wealthy like J.B.Pritzker or the rich man in the parable.” No you are not. But according to God, you are wealthy with an abundance that outstrips all of God’s promises to you. He has promised you food and clothing – daily bread. He has promised you only what is needed to support your life. And yet every one of us knows that he has given us so much more than that.
Yet it’s the “so much more” that we are worried about. We never think the “so much more” is enough. It is never enough to give us all the security we think we need. It is never enough for us to do and buy all the things we want.
After Abraham refused to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers, and pointed out that they already had the law and prophets, the rich man replied, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” However Abraham answered: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
Our text this morning calls us to repentance for the ways that we allow wealth to be a god in our life. Yet in that last statement we have a reference to the reason that we have hope. We allow wealth to be a god, but Jesus Christ never did. Instead, he trusted the Father to provide for his bodily needs during his ministry. He put the will of the Father before wealth or glory or earthly power. He did this out of love for the Father and love for you. Though without sin, he was numbered with the transgressors in order to take our place. He received the judgment of God for all the ways we treat wealth as a god. St. Paul told the Corinthians, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
Jesus Christ humbled himself for you to the point of death – even death on a cross. He did it to win forgiveness and salvation for you – a forgiveness that covers every way you fail to love God above all things in thought, word and deed. And then on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead. In Christ God has defeated death and given us the promise of our own resurrection.
God raised Jesus through his life giving Spirit. As we heard on Pentecost, the risen and exalted Lord has now poured out that Spirit in these last days. It is the Spirit who has made us a new creation in Christ. We have been born again of water and the Spirit in baptism.
And this means that the Spirit prompts and leads us now to use our wealth in ways that help our neighbor. As you look for the neighbor to help, begin with the members of the Body of Christ. There are Christians around the world living by meager means even as they pursue the work of the Gospel. Those involved in the Lutheran Theological College Uganda are a prime example. There are Christians who struggle to receive the essentials needed for life because they have converted to faith in Christ in the midst of an anti-Christian culture dominated by a religion like Isalm. Perescution.org – the same group through whom we sent letters to imprisoned Christians – does work in helping these people. And outside of the Church, there are many in our own area who face the basic challenge of providing food for their family. The Marion Ministerial Alliance Food Pantry is a way to help. These, and so many other worthy organizations can use your support to undertake work that helps others.
You know Jesus Christ, the One who died on the cross and rose from the dead. Through baptism and faith in Christ your sin of loving wealth more than God has been washed away. In fact through repentance and the return in faith to God’s promises of baptism this forgiveness always remains ready for you. And at the same time, the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead now leads you to love and support your neighbor using the wealth with which God has blessed you.