“The Generosity Gospel”
Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
If I were asked to list five of the most important parables Jesus told, the one in today’s text would be included. The failure to heed the warning and advice in it will have repercussions for all of us in this world and the life to come.
Listen as I tell this dramatic story.
A poor, lame, sick beggar by the name of Lazarus sat outside a rich man’s gate each day, hoping to be noticed so he could receive some assistance. It’s not like this beggar was asking for much from his neighbor, although it was obvious by the clothes the rich man wore, the food he ate and the palatial house he lived in that he was a person of great wealth and could have afforded to help Lazarus with more than the necessities of life. It appears Lazarus would have been content if a servant had merely brought him scraps from the rich man’s table and some bandages to cover his open sores.
Sadly, this never happened. As a result, he grew so weak he was unable to keep the dogs from licking his wounds, which had to be humiliating and painful.
Eventually, both men died, and this is where the story takes an unusual turn. The destitute beggar, Lazarus, was escorted to the bosom of Abraham, where it appeared he was the honored guest at a banquet. On the other hand, the rich man ended up suffering in Hades, the dwelling place of the dead according to ancient tradition.
Obviously, the advantages of wealth did not follow the rich man into eternity. As a matter of fact, there was a complete reversal of fortunes for both men after they died.
In his anguish, the rich man cried out to Father Abraham for relief, but his request was denied. To make matters worse, he was told the chasm between Lazarus and him was too deep and wide to cross. His condition was unalterably final.
Sensing it was too late for him, the rich man pleaded for Father Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers, lest they follow down this path. Again, his request was denied as he was reminded his brothers had the Law of Moses and the prophets, just as he did. If they would listen to them, they would know how to be spared their brother’s fate.
Did they listen to the wise counsel of their ancestors who urged them to be their neighbor’s keeper, or did they go down the same road as their self-absorbed and indifferent brother? Jesus doesn’t tell us. I suppose he intended for each of us to write the ending based upon the way we handle wealth and power.
Why did Jesus tell this parable? He was upset with the Pharisees for the way they were living their lives and carrying out their responsibilities.
Earlier, he accused them of loving money more than God and the people they were called to serve, which they found preposterous. They sneered at him when they heard this (Luke 16:14) and vowed to humiliate and discredit him.
Jesus knew what their misplaced priorities had done to them, though. The love of money turned their hearts cold and blinded them to the people who needed their help most. They were the rich man in this poignant parable.
It has been reported American industrialist and sponsor of the development of the assembly line technique of mass production, Henry Ford, had a pair of glasses on his desk with silver dollars in the frames instead of lenses. When asked why they were there, he put them on and tell his guest, “Occasionally, I wear them to be reminded when money gets too close to my eyes, I can see nothing else.”
Evidently, Jesus felt this had happened to the Pharisees, and he knew how tragic this was for them and the people around them struggling to survive. This parable was his attempt to open their eyes, hearts and minds so they could repent.
So, what message was he sending to the Pharisees in this parable? How they handled their wealth and power mattered to God and should matter to them. Too much was at stake for them and those who looked to them for hope if they missed the opportunities they had to make life better for everyone, especially the least among them.
Is this a message we need to hear today? I certainly believe so. As we sit here this morning in this land of plenty and privilege, we need to understand the advice and warning Jesus was giving to the Pharisees. How we handle the wealth and power God has entrusted to our care matters to God and should matter to us.
Why? If we are not wise and responsible stewards, we shall regret it, not just after we die but even before our time on earth comes to an end.
Ask the rich man in this parable. Is there any doubt he would have something to say to us about the way we use our resources and influence? The man who begged Father Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers would quickly tell us not to make the same mistake he did.
What did he do wrong? He ignored a beggar that sat at his gates every morning. This poor man was, in the words of an Ethiopian preacher, the invisible man. It was as if he did not even exist.
It was not that he was unimportant to the rich man. He simply was not there.
As a result, the rich man passed up an opportunity every day to improve the living conditions and health of this beggar. His eyes were fixed squarely upon the desires of his heart, which revolved around what he had and what more he wanted. It appears sharing what he had never entered his mind, this is until after he died.
After he died, however, he had perfect vision. Clearly, he saw what was important to God and should have been to him.
And what was that? Compassion and generosity. Gratitude and giving. Caring and sharing. Helping and healing. Loving and lifting. Seeing and responding…to a fellow human being who had been beaten and bruised by the harshness of life.
Why did he fail to do these things? He was so self-absorbed he was completely oblivious to the difference his money and power could have made in the life of this beggar and so many others who were struggling to survive.
Many of you are familiar with the comic strip, Garfield. It was created by Jim Davis in 1978, and chronicles the life of the title character, a cat known as Garfield. The other characters in the strip are Jon Arbuckle, Garfield’s owner, and a dog named Odie.
One cold winter night, Garfield looks out the window and sees Odie peering through the window. Garfield thinks to himself, “This is horrible. Here I am in the comfort of a warm house, well fed and taken care of, and there is Odie outside begging to come in from the cold so he can get warm and have something to eat. I can’t stand it anymore. I just can’t stand it.”
So, what does Garfield do? He goes over to the window and closes the curtains!
I get the feeling the rich man in today’s text closed the curtains often. I have a hunch many of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day did too, especially the scribes and Pharisees. It is apparent many of Luke’s readers were guilty of this, too.
What about us? Are we more like the rich man in this parable than we want to admit?
My purpose today is not to make you feel guilty about what you have. If you have worked hard and been responsible with your earnings, I am proud of you. Our world needs more people like you.
My goal this morning is to help you put what you have earned or even inherited in perspective and to see how the wealth and influence you have can be used to make this world better for all people. By being a wise and faithful steward, you can serve God in ways others cannot, and it is to your benefit and theirs to do it.
Compassion and generosity are hallmarks of our faith. They are the rebar in our foundation. Why?
I believe there are two reasons. Compassion and gratitude create healthy communities, and they also bring the best out in us. Let me explain.
Healthy communities are built upon people who are compassionate and generous. In God’s kingdom, no one is invisible, and no one is to be left behind. Today’s parable cannot make this clearer.
The community which says, “We are with you,” as opposed to the community which says, “We are not with you,” is the community which reflects the heart and nature of God. This ethic of love is the essence of our faith as a participant in the kingdom of God, and it is the core of the gospel Jesus preached and modeled.
For me, one of the most intriguing parts of this parable is the proper names included in it. This is the only parable where Jesus named some of the main characters.
You would think if Jesus was going to give someone in the parable a name, it would be the rich man. This is not what Jesus did. He gave the dying beggar the name, Lazarus, and then identified the patriarch, Abraham, as the one who welcomed Lazarus home after he died.
Why did Jesus do this?
It had to be Jesus’ way of showing the beggar as a real person with needs and feelings common to all people. By giving this beggar a name, Jesus revealed that Lazarus was as important to God as anyone else in this story. He might have been invisible to the rich man that passed by him every day but not to God.
Immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast, my former church in Atlanta, Smoke Rise Baptist, teamed up with the members of Lemoyne Boulevard Baptist Church in Biloxi, Mississippi to address the overwhelming needs of their church and community. Once a month for forty months, we sent members from our church to help the people in that hard hit region to rebuild their homes and lives.
About a year into this project, the pastor of that church, Bill Renick, came to Atlanta to speak in our worship service. He thanked us for what we were doing and gave us a firsthand account of what life had been like following this natural disaster.
He made one comment that day that almost brought me to my feet. He confessed that before Katrina hit the coast, he and his members had not been that engaged in helping those in their community who were struggling to survive. They passed by many people’s homes on their way to church every day without knowing who lived in those homes and what their stories were.
Then he said, “God had to blow the walls of our church away for us to see those who had been there all the time needing something from us.” He continued, “Never will we be this insensitive and indifferent again.”
Again, the community which says, “We are with you,” as opposed to the community which says, “We are not with you,” is the community which reflects the heart and nature of God. This is the foundation upon which healthy communities are built, including ours. Our parable plainly discloses this.
Furthermore, compassion and generosity bring the best out in us. They make us better family members, neighbors, co-workers, schoolmates, church members and citizens.
This was true for Leigh Anne Tuohy.
Do you recall the 2009 box office hit, The Blind Side? This movie depicted the life of Michael Oher, a homeless teenager who, with the help of a caring and courageous woman and her family, became an All American football player and first round draft pick by the Baltimore Ravens in 2009.
One icy winter night, as Michael was walking down the road to the school gym where he slept most of the time, Leigh Anne Tuohy and her husband, Sean, and their children, Jae and Collins, stopped and picked him up. Instead of taking him to the gym, however, Leigh Anne insisted they take him home for the night. This began a special relationship between this wealthy white, Mississippi family and a very gifted, yet poor, oversized and under-educated African-American.
One reason I liked this movie was because it showed the difference one family made in the life of an individual who desperately needed somebody to notice his condition and help him. The Tuohy family could have passed Michael that cold, dark, dreary night as countless others had done. They could have drawn the curtains, but they didn’t, and because they refused to ignore Michael, their lives and Michael’s were forever changed.
One of my favorite lines in the movie was spoken by Leigh Anne as she was having lunch with her high-society friends when one of them asked, “Leigh Anne, are you trying to change Michael?” Softly, she replied, “No, he’s changing me.”
This is what compassion and generosity do for us. They melt our hearts and make us more Christ-like in the way we arrange our values and priorities and relate to others.
Our text underscores this by reminding us that indifference, apathy and greed have no place in the heart of anyone who follows Jesus. When they do, that person is guilty of trying to serve two masters.
Under no circumstances are we to be so self-absorbed or fearful of losing what we have accumulated that it keeps us from seeing the difference we can make in others’ lives when we share from a heart of gratitude what God has made possible for us to have.
So pull back the curtains before it is too late.
Open your eyes. Listen to your heart.
Notice the people along your daily journey who are struggling to survive. Smile. Ask them their name. Listen to their story.
Encourage them. Lift their spirit. Bind their wounds. Share your food. Invite them to your table.
Visit a shut-in. Read to a child. Baby-sit for an exhausted mother. Pay someone’s utility bill for a month. Write a note to support someone who is facing an intimidating challenge.
Work with others to respond to needs beyond your ability to address and meet. Support our church with your tithes and offerings as we do our best to make hope visible to the least among us. Offer to serve alongside fellow church members as you share your time and talents to meet the needs of neighbors, near and far.
When we are our brother’s keeper, we are the presence of Christ in a broken and hurting world. When we refuse to leave anyone behind, God cries tears of joy. When we bend down to help someone who has fallen, together we find our way forward, and it leads straight to the heart of God.
It has been said no one gets into heaven without a letter of recommendation from the poor. Who will write your letter?