Luke 16:19-31         “Canyon Lookout”


            I was at the doctors last week for a regular appointment. The first thing they always do is the nurse puts you on the scale. My doctor's nurse has been around longer than the doctors that keep coming and going. So, she kind of kids around with the patients that have been around for decades. “Oh, looks like you gained some weight over the holidays!" she broadcasted with a loud chuckle.

            “I will make sure to fast during Lent,” I responded. This was one of those strange moments I was writing about in the newsletter that would make good sermon fodder. I began to think about the rich man in our story today. A better translation might be a “plump" man. And, the text says that he was feasting everyday.  That got me to thinking.

            You see, in the Jewish calendar year there are two major days of fasting, and four minor ones. This man is said to be feasting everyday! Jesus is implying that he is feasting on Yom Kippur (The day of atonement) when he should be fasting. This makes him a non-observant Jew. He has already forsaken his own faith. He is only concerned with his continuous feasting. (As a side note, there are five major feasts in the Jewish year, too.)


            Lazarus is at this man’s gate. Why? We seem to think he is there because he hopes to get a few scraps from the table. Why not go to another man’s house? Perhaps he could go to a man’s house that was more observant of the Jewish faith. You see, in Judaism one is mandated to help feed the hungry. The Talmud even proscribes that every Jewish community set up a special fund to help feed the needy. Isaiah 58:6-7 “Is not this the fast that I choose to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into you house . . . ?” To participate in the religious fast in the Jewish tradition means to invite the hungry to eat what you would otherwise consume yourself! As we jump in the season of Lent, we would do well to remember this idea of fasting.

            No, Lazarus is there for another reason. We see that later in the scripture that the rich man calls out from hell for his Lazarus to serve him a bit of water. Lazarus must have been a servant to this man! We see that there was a relationship between the two. Yet, when Lazarus became ill with wounds all over his body, he was kicked out of the rich man’s house. And where did these wounds come from? Was he mistreated? The dogs are licking his wounds, which is more than his own old master would do to heal him. Or, are the dogs getting a taste of the meal to come? A gruesome thought.


            The story continues with both men suddenly dying. End of story, right? Everybody is dead, why is this story not over? This is the wonder of Christianity, isn’t it! Without the faith, the story would end right there. Thank you, Jesus, the story continues on!  That is the good news that Jesus came from heaven to share with us. I mean, this scripture is a great social justice scripture about the need to feed those in need. Yet, right in the middle of this social justice story is the very promise of life eternal with God. Isn’t that amazing how those two ideas fit together! Because we have faith in the life everlasting, we have got to get this life here on this planet to be righteous and good—because we never know when our time is up.

            So, in this moment, Jesus tells of what has been dubbed by many as "the Great Reversal." (The theologian Krister Stendahl first called it thus.) Everything we know, or think we know, is turned upside down.

            Actually from the start of the story there is a hint at this reversal starting to take place when Jesus speaks the name of the wretched but not of the wealthy. Did you notice that in the reading? We have no idea at all who this rich "fat cat" is. Usually it is the homeless poor man who suffers in anonymity. We all recall the names of Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Marcus Marriota. Does Jesus know their names? I pray so. For sure, Jesus knows the name of Lazarus--I like to think that there are no nameless people to God. I have to say that one of the most amazing things about the town of Waimea is that we actually do know the names of our homeless population. Furthermore, I count that as godlike!


            Now, I need to discuss a unique feature of this story that Jesus tells: It seems that there is a chasm between heaven and hell. That is the word that we have here in English. It is actually the same word in the Greek “chasma." The problem is that the word in English has gotten a hyperbolized meaning. It is exaggerated from its original meaning. Literally, the word means “to yawn." You know, if the sermon is boring then you let out a little yawn. So, we see a “yawning" between heaven and hell. Please note that the rich man in hell is able to look up and see Lazarus and speak with him. We are not talking about the Grand Canyon or even Waimea Canyon here on Kauai. You cannot just talk to someone on the other side of those canyons. Indeed, we have to see that heaven and hell are a lot closer to one another than we might have imagined otherwise. That is an interesting thought.

            Can you even imagine being up in heaven and looking over a little ways to see those people who did not make it to heaven? Again, I am thinking about this idea and trying to relate it to today. In the morning we can see from the parsonage window those folks pulling into the parking lot at Corteva on the other side of the river. Their headlights shine through our bedroom window. If the wind were still, I could wave to them and yell "Hey, turn off your high beams! We are trying to sleep still over hear.” I would have to scream really loud of course. But, from this, I have concluded that hell is just on the other side of the Waimea bridge.

            Actually, I have been asked this a lot of times as a pastor. “Pastor, where is hell?" The truth is that I do not know exactly where it is; however, I do know it is much closer than most of us realize. It is not a long walk to hell at all.


            Is it possible to cross from hell to heaven then? The story we read says that it is not possible. However, Jesus is still telling this story and has not yet gone to the Cross. I think that the moment that Jesus dies changes everything. What happens for those three days that Jesus is in the tomb before His resurrection on Easter morning? Our very statement of faith in the church says that he “descended into Hell and rose again.” That is from the Nicean Creed of 325 AD. We also can read this in the Bible in 1 Peter 4:6, “For this is the reason that the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.”

            So, even though the parable that Jesus is telling the crowd says that one cannot cross the chasm, Jesus himself does! We must hear this story with a post-Resurrection understanding that salvation is really for all people. Yes, you can be rich and be saved!

            I was asked this last week what I thought about those folks who spent $6,800 a ticket, not including airfare, hotels, and food, to go to the Super Bowl? The average median income of a person on planet earth is $850—a year. That means that the average person on earth would have to work eight years to earn enough to go to the Super Bowl. Just the same, Jesus came to save all people--even the upper 3% that might have enough disposable income to watch live football.

            So, the other question that came up is whether that rich man in hell is still there today? Note, he did not ask God for forgiveness. He asked his former servant, the one whom he abused, to cool his tongue with a drop of water. He did not need a drop of water—he needed a drop of repentance. Yah, I think that man is still there in hell today.


            Yet, he does have a conscience. He wants Lazarus to go tell his brothers about hell. Lazarus is ready to go! But wait, God knows already that simply sending someone back from the dead is not going to convince everybody.  We know today that in fact ever fewer are convinced in America. Christians are no longer the majority here. So, we struggle on to tell this very really story that is held in this parable. WE DO need to care about what happens after death. Hell is really close. We need to repent today.