Sunday sermon on Luke 16:19-31.
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.
Every parable that we hear Jesus tell in the Gospels has a context. In other words, He did not tell stories because He liked to tell them. Christ is not a storyteller, He is the Savior.
And so, the parable we heard today, about a homeless man by the name of Lazarus and the rich man, who remains forever nameless, was directed at the Pharisees, who were known for their love of money, honor, and greed. They claimed to follow the Jewish Law and ridiculed anyone who did not follow it as zealously as they did, and wasted every gift, every opportunity they had to teach their fellow countrymen, to show them a good example of fulfilling the Law.
I am assuming that all of us here are Christians, meaning, we were baptized at one point in our life. We put on Christ, as we sing during the Baptism. We entered into, became members of His Church. And ever since, have been reaffirming our membership in His Church by partaking of His Body and Blood in the Holy Communion.
At the very least, we have some sort of basic understanding of Who God is, Who Christ is, and what He has done for us. So when we hear Christ, from the pages of the Gospel, questioning someone’s faith, we usually do not apply His words to ourselves because, hey, we are Christians and we even show up to church on Sundays.
Each year, when we hear today’s parable, do we think about all the greedy rich people, who have a chance to do so much good with their wealth, but instead choose to drown in their luxury? Or does our mind jump to all the poor people we know, and we begin to pity them.
But what if this rich man represents not the greedy and the wealthy, but us – the right-believing Christians?
Once we stop thinking about money and focus on what’s actually important, we’ll realize that we are wealthier than we thought. But it’s hard to quantify our wealth because it lies in our Christian faith. In Christ.
We have a luxury of knowing God, of hearing Him speak to us through the Gospels, through His saints, through the prayers. We have a unique grace of becoming one with Him in the Holy Communion.
We have this unbelievable wealth; yet, don’t we choose to reserve this treasure, like the rich man, scared to share it, or even show it to others, while around us are thousands, if not millions, of Lazaruses, who hunger for the same grace and truth? We can’t blame them for not seeing it because in most cases we don’t share with them.
There was a bishop, who served here in America, he once said that Orthodoxy is the best kept secret in America! He said it in the ‘80’s, and it is still true today! And he did not mean it in any sort of a good way. It’s a harsh, but true criticism.
How many people know who we are as Orthodox Christians? If I say I’m Orthodox, they are most likely to think, “Jewish.” If I walk around in my black cassock, they are likely to think I’m Muslim. If we make a sign of the cross in public, people are likely to think that we are backwards catholics. When we say that we fast, people are likely to think that we are vegan. Heck, even in our own town, most people that I’ve met in my three-plus years here confuse us with a bar, the Russian Hall. Do I look like a bartender? I mean, I used to be one, and can still make a nice sangria. But c'mon, really? Every time I hear that, it’s like a slap in the face. What that says is that we have been mostly irrelevant to the community for the last 100+ years.
Again, can’t blame anyone. If I don’t live in such a way that my actions proclaim the faith in Christ, then no matter how I look and what I say, or what I do, I will be confused for anyone but a Christian.
If we are bent on preserving our Orthodox ethnicity and our faith for ourselves, instead of living it openly, instead of sharing the wealth God has given us, then we effectively stop being Christians.
The rich man, after dying, went to hell, not because he was rich, but because the grace, the light, the talent that God had endowed him with, he greedily preserved and wasted. Our wealth, be it financial, physical, spiritual, or whatever else, is the gift from the Lord, given to us temporarily.
What we do with it in the limited time we have in this life, determines whether we’ll be eternally rejoicing or eternally regretting all the opportunities we had to do the right and good thing.
Christ gives us an opportunity to witness to Him in the way we talk, the way we act, the way we look, the way we live. If we act one way in church, and another way at home, then we probably have no idea what we are doing.
Our life is an extension of our faith. What we receive in church, what we learn, what God puts into our hearts when we are intentionally and consciously in His presence in church, we live out to the best of our abilities outside of church, where we are also in the presence of God, but not always consciously. Our wealth is manifested in what we give in charity and love to others.
Before we can do anything, we need to realize that we are blessed – blessed with having life, blessed with having the people that we do in our life, blessed with different gifts and talents and resources that we have, blessed with this community, and above all blessed with the faith in Jesus Christ.
Once we realize this, then we can share our blessings with others. The Christian faith is unique in that it dies when it is preserved and reserved. It dies and remains nameless and fades into oblivion forever forgotten, like the rich man.
But it grows and increases, especially in those who live it on purpose, who recognize that they have gifts and use them for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christian faith is not a feeling, it’s not something we feel; it’s who we are, Christian faith is life, it is existence.
May our Lord give us strength and wisdom to be shining examples of Christian life to those around us. To Him we give glory, thanksgiving, and worship, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.