Our story this morning is basic and clear …
Three central characters:
A man totally self-absorbed.
A broken human being at the gate.
And Father Abraham!
The thrust of the story is simple enough.
The rich man has it all, and then he dies.
His soul in Hades.
The beggarman dies, too.
And angels carry him off to the side of Abraham.
|"Lazarus Begging Crumbs from the Rich Man's Table"|
Heinrich Aldegrever - German, 1552 - Pen and brown ink,
brown wash, traces of black chalk, 3 1/16 x 4 1/4 in.
At the heart of the story, a simple detail.
A detail about names.
It’s the beggarman who has a name.
The rich man remains nameless.
In our world, it’s the rich who have names.
Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffet and Paris Hilton – we know them all … their names and stories are in the news and tabloids every day … we follow their adventures and misadventures with interest.
The rich and the famous have names in the kingdoms of the world.
But the kingdom of God trades differently.
It’s the name of the raggedy man that we know.
And his name is Lazarus.
The story ends with a question:
What does it take to awaken a human being?
Would someone coming back from the dead be enough?
The story ends on a dismal note.
Abraham says to the rich man:
Your family already has everything it needs to make better choices.
Your family has Moses and the Prophets.
And if they turn a deaf ear to Moses and the Prophets, what makes you think they’ll listen to someone come back from the dead?
But did you catch the golden thread?
The resources for life are at hand.
We have Moses and the Prophets.
Let’s take a look at Moses.
We all know the story.
The Hebrew people enslaved in Egypt.
Pharaoh issues an edict: “When a male child is born, kill him.”
When Moses is born, his mother puts him in a papyrus basket waterproofed with pitch and places the basket among the reeds of the Nile River, hoping he’ll be safe.
The basket is seens by Pharaoh’s daughter who has come to the river to bath.
She claims the child, and unknowingly hires the child’s mother to nurse and raise the boy, and when he’s of age, to bring him to the palace, and there the princess adopts him as her own son, and bestows upon him the name Moses, because she drew him out of the water!
Moses, a man of two cultures.
Knowing the comfort of the palace and the sorrow of his people.
A great spirit in Moses.
A spirit aroused by the suffering of others.
He comes to the defense of a kinsman being beaten by an Egyptian overlord.
He kills the Egyptian in a fit of anger, and flees for his life to the land of Midian.
In Midian, he comes to the defense of seven sisters who are drawing water, and are attacked by other shepherds.
You can read all about this in Exodus, Chapter 2 … and maybe you can do that today!
In the land of Midian, Moses settles down.
He gains a wife and a child.
A life and a career.
End of the story?
One day, while tending his flocks and minding his own business, Moses sees an odd phenomenon – a burning bush, that burns without consumption …
Moses steps aside to look more closely at the bush enflamed.
And we all know what killed the cat, right?
Curiosity brings Moses into the presence of God.
Before he knows what’s up, God says, Take off your shoes; you’re on holy ground.
And with that, a commission.
To return to the Land of Egypt.
To challenge Pharaoh:
Let my people go.
Not me, says Moses.
Yes, you, says God.
Ten plagues later, Pharaoh relents and lets the people go.
And off they go to the Promised Land.
But Pharaoh has second thoughts, and sends his army in hot pursuit, to the shores of the sea …
Think now if you want, Charleton Heston.
Arms raised, mighty voice commanding the sea.
The waters part.
The people cross safely to the other side, on dry land.
Pharaoh’s chariots furiously following.
But the waters that parted to make way for the people suddenly close in and sweep Pharaoh’s army away.
Within months, the people come to the Promised Land.
It’s theirs for the taking.
But the people balk – fear wins the day.
So it’s back to the wilderness!
Forty years of wandering.
An entire generation.
Until a new generation is born.
Tough enough to take the land.
And through it all, Moses,
Weary and wise.
Impatient and long-suffering.
Full of vision and sometimes ready to give up.
They have Moses, said Abraham.
And we do, too.
We learn from Moses that it’s okay to be human.
It’s the only choice we have.
And our humanity is good enough for God.
We learn from Moses the power of patience.
And the power of prayer.
We learn from Moses that a godly vision is the best vision of all …
We learn from Moses the Ten Commandments – You shall have no other gods before me … for I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the Land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
When Jesus was asked to summarize the law, Jesus draws from the Five Books of Moses:
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and soul and strength and mind.
And a second is just like the first, says Jesus:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
From Moses, we learn about the limits of life:
At the end of his life, Moses stands on a mountain just outside the Promised Land; he can only see it from afar.
Even a man as great as Moses can go only so far, and then the torch of leadership is passed to Joshua.
It’s Joshua who crosses the Jordan into the Promised Land.
They have Moses, says Abraham.
And we do, too.
And they have the Prophets, says Abraham.
And we do, too.
Elijah and Elisha, who challenge kings and queens.
Isaiah and Jeremiah, with their vision of a just and compassionate society.
Hosea, Joel and Amos, and their unrelenting exposé of dysfunctional religion and social breakdown.
Their honest assessment of crooked judges and corrupt priests and greedy merchants.
Their ceaseless defense of widows and orphans and aliens.
Their tears … their passion … their love of God!
There universality and their inclusivity, anticipating John 3:16, For God so loved the world …
Kathleen Norris writes of her 18 months in a monastery … how the monks read Scripture, morning and night …
“The most remarkable experience of all was plunging into the prophet Jeremiah at morning prayer in late September one year, and staying with him through mid-November. We began with chapter 1, and read straight through, ending at chapter 22:17. Listening to Jeremiah is one [heck] of a way to get your blood going in the morning; it puts caffeine to shame [The Cloister Walk. P.31].
“A prophet’s task,” writes Norris, “is to reveal the fault lines hidden beneath the comfortable surface of the worlds we invent for ourselves, the national myths as well the little lies and delusions of control and security that get us through the day” [p.34].
They have Moses and the Prophets, says Abraham.
We do, too … and yes, we have more than that.
We have Christ at the center!
But Christ himself calls us to Moses and the Prophets.
When Jesus preaches to the hometown crowd, Jesus quotes from Isaiah – Jesus defines his work by Isaiah’s words.
We have to know Moses and the Prophets in order to know Jesus …
To know Jesus is our joy, our task, and our calling.
But to know Jesus as Jesus knows himself.
Guided by Moses and the Prophets!
Their spiritual DNA runs deep in the soul of Jesus.
If we want to follow Jesus, we need some gene therapy on the spiritual side of things … an infusion of the spiritual DNA of Moses and the Prophets.
Moses and Elijah
On the Mount of Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah stand with Christ in the bright shining cloud. Moses and Elijah are his companions and his encouragement.
Dear friends in Christ,
We have what’s needed to correct our course and guide our lives.
We have what’s needed to shape the mission and purpose of Covenant on the Corner.
We have what’s needed to change lives and to change the world.
We have Christ.
When the bright shining clouds cleared on the Mount of Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah had stepped back.
Christ at the center.
But Christ only as Christ would have it.
Christ himself with the DNA of Moses and the Prophets.
On the other side of the resurrection, one of the most compelling stories … Jesus on the road to Emmaus, and there he meets two disciples who were on their way home, ready to give up and call it quits.
Jesus walks with them, and talks with them along life’s weary way.
They don’t understand anything.
Jesus says to them:
Oh, how foolish you are,
And how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!
Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”
Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interprets to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
Christ himself calls attention to Moses and the Prophets.
Putting it personally.
We all want to finish our lives well.
To look back with thanksgiving and satisfaction.
That we did well for the best things of life.
We can do no better than follow Abraham’s advice: learn from Moses and the Prophets … and then Christ will shine in our hearts and empower our lives.
We do well to heed the words of Father Abraham: You have Moses and the Prophets.
Moses and the Prophets, who teach us about the kingdom of God, the kingdom Christ proclaimed, the kingdom for which Christ gave his life, the kingdom that is without end, because Christ rose from the dead.
So when we pray, we pray with heart and mind, soul and strength … we say what we mean, and we mean what say: Thy kingdom come!
Amen and Amen!