Year C, Proper 21
1 Tim. 6:6-19, Luke 16:19-31
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
September 25, 2022
Throughout its over 2,000-year history, the Church has often been very concerned about how its members behave in the bedroom. That’s an understatement, of course. Far more often, in the Scriptures anyway, do we hear concern about how Christians should approach their relationship with material possessions.
“Money is the root of all evil”. Sounds like what we heard in our second lesson today, right? Not quite. “The love of money is the root of all evil?” Still not right. The text actually says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” There are plenty of roots of evil out there, and it isn’t money itself that is problematic. Evils abound from loving money.  Paul is urging Timothy to be content, to pursue godliness, and beware of things that may stand in the way of that goal, whether it be money or sex or something else.
While 1 Timothy 6:10 is perhaps one of the most misquoted passages of scripture, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is misrepresented frequently as well. It is often said that the rich man was the villain in this story simply for being rich. This isn’t actually true.
In this story, the rich man dresses and feasts lavishly while a poor hungry man is suffering horribly at the gate of his home. Lazarus, the poor man, is sick and hungry and hopes to catch scraps of food fallen from the rich man’s table. Both men die as we all do, no matter our station in life. As Paul said, “we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it.” The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham in heaven. The rich man also died and was buried, unlike the poor man, as he had the means to pay for a proper burial. The rich man is damned, apparently for letting Lazarus starve.
Neither of these passages is saying that being rich means you’ll go to hell. In fact, in the epistle this is explicit. Paul says, “As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”
From a purely economic perspective, I don’t think I’m “rich” according to the standards of the society in which we live, but if I’m honest, I’ve more identified with the rich man in this story than the poor man throughout my life. For example, I was privileged enough to have never purchased a car on my own until the age of 31. One cold, winter Sunday morning, as I was driving to Mass, I got t-boned by someone who inadvertently ran a red light on the south side of the Plaza, and my car was slammed into what was then Crate and Barrel. Needless to say, I needed a new car, and as I began to car shop, I quickly began to feel uncomfortable with the types of car that were catching my eye. I had moved up in the ranks at the bank and could afford a nicer car than the simple, basic models I’d driven up to then. How nice is too nice? The rich man’s purple clothing was extremely expensive as it was necessary to crush 10,000 shellfish to produce a single gram of the purple dye needed to make them. Beyond asking the question of what I felt like I could afford, at what point would I cross the line and buy a car that was as extravagant as the rich man’s purple robes?
I ended up buy the more expensive car. I didn’t need that fancy of a car, but it wasn’t terribly more expensive than a more sensible choice would have been. In hindsight, I don’t think that God was nearly as concerned with which car I purchased as I was. Rather than trying to determine the line between simple enjoyment and decadence, perhaps we should ask ourselves, “In what way am I doing good? How am I being rich in good works, generous, and ready to share? Am I trying to store up treasures for myself treasures here on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, or am I being generous and sharing and thus storing up the treasure of a good foundation for the future so that I can take hold of the life that really is life? How can I be increasingly generous with the riches with which God has entrusted me?”
A second way in which this parable is misinterpreted is when it is depicted as being about the afterlife. Despite the fact that nearly all of the hymns I chose for today’s liturgy are about heaven, I don’t think this parable is primarily about the afterlife. It’s about how we act here and now. The love of money is tempting, but be content. No, beyond content, be generous. Love your neighbor as yourself, but more than that, love your enemy!
Maybe, after all, my instinct to choose hymns about heaven wasn’t so off base. Maybe the imagery and the tunes of the hope of heaven will energize us, and through them God will give us the strength to build the heavenly city the Church holds as almost a dream, whose laws are love, whose crown is servanthood, and where the sun that shines is God’s grace for human good. In its dazzling beauty, the heavenly city’s splendor bids us seize the whole of life and build its glory here.
Dear friends, fight the good fight of the faith! Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called! Set your hopes not on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment!
 1 Timothy 6:7
 Keener, Craig, ed. New Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019, 1799.
 Much of this paragraph is a paraphrase of the last two verses of hymn 583 in the Hymnal 1982, “O holy city, seen of John,” by Walter Russell Bowie.
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