September 25, 2022 – St Mary’s Turville & Hambleden
1 Timothy 6:6-19
It is probably something of an underestimation to comment that the impact of these past 2 weeks have brought up so much emotion; especially bereavement and grief for many people. This is on top of the normal ‘everyday’ grief that many people carry around. I hope that it was comforting to watch the State Funeral at Westminster and Committal Service in Windsor. I was reminded that many of the words used for The Queen are used across the Church of England day in day, week by week in funeral services all over the country. There has been a spate of deaths in the parishes recently too.
Both of the readings this morning speak of death among other important topics. Paul’s letter to Timothy begins with the stark reminder that we brought nothing into the world so that we can take nothing out. Paul then goes on to give instruction on how to live out the rest of our lives. We are urged to take hold of “the life that is really life’; beyond all the treasures and trappings of this life.
Luke’s Gospel reading does not make for the most comfortable reading in the best of times; let alone in a period of national mourning. We see in this reading there is a separation after death and not everyone ends up in the same place.
In this section of Luke there is an assortment of rather pointed parables designed to teach about stewardship of money, time and talents; the importance of forgiveness and faith, and the primacy of prayer in a disciple’s life. Time is short with Jesus; he knows this although the disciples don’t.
One of the examples is a rich man who held what seemed to be a godless view of wealth and righteousness. He has died and is being tormented in Hades. Hades in basic biblical terms is a subterranean underworld where souls of the dead went after death. Jesus is explaining that there is a chasm, a separation at the time of death between the wicked and the righteous dead.
Paul, in his letter to Timothy, warns that those who want to be rich will fall into temptation and will be trapped by senseless and harmful desires that ultimately plunge people into ruin and destruction. This is what appears to have happened here. The actor and comedian Jim Carrey said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer”.
Each of these readings, letter and parable, at their roots are about attitudes. Jesus was trying to teach that material possessions are a trust, on loan from God. They are to be used responsibly for the good of everyone. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day held the view of wealth as God’s blessing and poverty as God’s judgement. Maybe we feel this way too sometimes when we look at the culture and world around us.
How is our attitude to the Lazarus’ of our day? They are out there and not so far away.
-What goes through our heads:
-Is it their own fault?
-They have chosen to live like…?
-There are agencies to help?
-They should go and get a job?
-If I give money they will only spend it on drink or drugs?
It is clear that the rich man had ample opportunity to ‘do good’ to Lazarus as he sat in his front garden day in and day out. But he did not. The rich man comes to the end of his life and finds himself in a place of eternal punishment. Not because he did not help Lazarus but because he was lacking a relationship with God. This man’s love of money was the root of all kinds of evil. This is Paul again. The evil was selfishness.
At some point during the rich man’s torment he is able to lift his head and he sees Lazarus in a position of honour at Abraham’s side. A place that the rich man was no doubt used to occupying during his earthly life. What I am really interested in are the requests that the rich man makes of Abraham and the responses he is given. His first request shows that old habits die hard as he asks something for himself. Given his circumstances I don’t think that this is at all unreasonable!
We get a glimpse here of what it is to be judged by our own standards. The rich man was so shielded by his riches to the point where he could ignore Lazarus at the gate. He would have had servants to do the errands, he probably travelled in a carriage or on a horse, so he never noticed him. The rich man took no notice of Lazarus’ physical needs and now no notice is being taken of his.
The man’s second request shows greater awareness for others; as he is concerned for the eternal wellbeing of his five brothers. In Jesus’ time, tales of reversal of fortune in the next life were common. Jesus is not doing anything new here. However, in these tales, when someone asks to send a message back to people who are still alive on earth, permission is granted.
Jesus does not allow for that in this parable. This says something about the nature of death; it fixes our destiny and suggests there is no further opportunity for repentance. The response from Abraham to this second request is that ‘the brothers have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ The rich man knows that his brothers won’t listen to Moses and the prophets as they need a little more excitement or wow factor. Jesus suggests here that humanity is so sinful that it is unlikely even to listen to someone who returns from the dead in this manner.
What were the take home lessons then and now? There is an age to come and our attitudes and actions from this life will catch up with us. At the point of death there is no longer an opportunity to repent or make amends.
This leaves us in the present age! We must take seriously what Paul wrote to Timothy in the closing chapter of the letter: ‘There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called. Do good, be rich in good works, generous, ready to share, storing up the treasure of a good foundation for the future. Take hold of life that is really life. ‘
What is life that is really life for us? We know that this life ends in death. The Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd John McDowell opened his sermon with the “For many of us in the United Kingdom, there were two people whose deaths we could never imagine. Our own and the Queen’s.” I suspect that many of us do not want to contemplate our own deaths. The alternative is to take hold of life, that is really life. Show generosity and love. Pursue righteousness, godliness and faith with endurance and gentleness. Not because it will save us from the torment of Hades but because God first loved us. Ultimately there is no fear in death when we place our trust in God.