Scripture: Luke 16:19-31
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, "Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames." But Abraham said, "Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us." He said, "Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house? for I have five brothers?that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment." Abraham replied, "They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them." He said, "No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent." He said to him, "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead." '
Our rather grim Gospel reading is the story of the rich man and Lazarus. After treating Lazarus poorly during his life time, the rich man finds himself being tormented in the fires of Hades after his death. Seeing Abraham, the rich man called out asking for water to cool his tongue. Abraham reminds the rich man that he let Lazarus suffer when the rich man was alive so now he would suffer. The rich man asked that Abraham warn his brothers of this horrible fate and Abraham replied: "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."
While it might be tempting to dwell on the rich imagery of heaven and hell in our text, the real message is the invitation to listen to the wisdom of the prophets — the wisdom that teaches compassion and generosity, kindness and peace, love and joy.
As I write this, in late August, I am a week away from leading a pilgrimage to walk the last 108 km of The Camino in northern Spain. Over the centuries, pilgrims have walked this ancient path as an act of repentance — an act of turning their lives over to God. Another way of saying this is that pilgrims have walked day after day, mile after mile, so they could listen to their lives and learn an inner way of knowing God that embodies the wisdom of the prophets — the wisdom of open minds and open hearts. I wish that I could write this after my journey in order to share a story of listening that I learned along the way. I suspect, however, that the stories I hear — along with my own story — will be familiar. They will be about turning our lives over to The Way of Christ. They will be about reflecting on ways we have been self-centered and ways we have been loving. The stories will be about letting go of painful memories and about seeking inner peace. They will be about forgiveness and awakening. While the details will vary from pilgrim to pilgrim, the familiar theme will be people seeking to listen for The Holy as they journey through life.
This is the invitation from Abraham in our Gospel reading — to listen for ancient truths that unite us in love. May God be with us on the journey. Amen.
Guardian of my soul, guide me on my way this day. Keep me safe from harm. Deepen my relationship with you, your Earth, and all your family. Strengthen your love within me that I may be a presence of your peace in the world. Amen. (prayer written by Tom Pfeffer and Joyce Rupp).
a spiritual director and Pastor of Spiritual Life for First Church West Hartford