Like heaven on earth

With the recurring themes of repentance and reversal, Jesus is letting us know that he has come to bring the joy of heaven to earth - and he is showing us how we can live in the same way.

Full Text: 

Living like heaven on earth

March 10, 2013 – Luke 16:19-31

 

            Although not my number one favorite movie of all time, the movie I have watched more than any other is, “The Christmas Carol,” with Alistair Sim.  I’ve seen others, but that is the one I watch every year before Christmas.

            As you know, Ebenezer Scrooge is a very greedy man.  He has lived his life in accumulating wealth and takes ruthless advantage of others in doing so.  Not only that, he spurns any and all opportunities to help others.  He even takes advantage of his own partner – Jacob Marley – when he dies.

            Seven years later, on Christmas Eve, the ghost of Marley returns to visit Scrooge from the other side of death.  He tells him of the torment that he has experienced since that time and to warn Scrooge of the peril that he faces unless he changes.  To assist him, Marley promises to send the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.  They will help Scrooge review his life and consider his future, that he might turn from his ways. 

            Scrooge proves very resistant.  But, in the end, he does repent.  He sees how he has hurt other people.  He sees how he has neglected those he could help.  And he does change.  Ebenezer Scrooge becomes a man of great heart and generosity. 

 

            It is not the snow this week that has put me in the mind of, “The Christmas Carol.”  It is the story that Jesus tells that is recorded in Luke 16. 

            The parable of the rich man and Lazarus appears to be a morality tale about poverty and wealth.  That is one dimension of this story.  But Jesus has made it into much more.  For such stories were common in Jesus’ time – a reversal of fortune from this life to the next and an appeal from punishment to Paradise for help.  They were common enough, in fact, that it would have been easy for Jesus’ hearers to know the twists that he was giving the story.

            There are two men at polar opposites of the economic spectrum.  There is a rich man whose life is a life of leisure and luxury and festivity.  And there is a poor man – his name is Lazarus – who lives in unrelenting need.  After death, their positions are changed – the rich man suffers in hell and Lazarus lies in the lap of Abraham.

            The rich man pleads of help from Abraham.  He begs for some relief.  In other stories of Jesus’ day like this one, this plea was granted.  In Jesus’ story, it is not.

            The rich man, in this story, is not so self-absorbed that he can’t see past himself.  He thinks of his brothers, still alive.  Would Father Abraham send Lazarus on a mission of mercy to them, to warn them of what is to come?  No, Abraham says, they have already been given that message by Moses and the prophets.  They should listen to them. 

            But what if someone were to rise from the dead?  If they don’t believe Moses and the prophets, they won’t even repent if someone should rise from the dead.

 

            Jesus brings this story back from the after-life to the present day.  His story is not merely about the reversal of fortune that awaits us.  It is about the change to which Jesus is calling us now.  It is about living like heaven on earth.

            We can see this more clearly if we look at the parables that Jesus tells leading up to this one:

            In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the younger son takes his inheritance from his father, converts it to cash, and then blows it all on wild living.  When he gets in a pinch, he realizes the error of this ways and hightails it back to dad.  Dad welcomes him back with open arms.  The older brother is none too pleased.  While the younger brother has gone astray and returned home to great celebration, the older brother has yet to repent.

            In the parable of the Dishonest Steward, a business man discovers that a manager has been taking personal advantage of his expense account.  When the boss hears about it, he fires the manager on the spot.  The manager is in a quandary.  He has never worked a menial job and he is too proud to beg.  What does he do?  He calls in all the people who owe his boss money and gives them big discounts.  What does the boss do?  To our surprise, he praises the manager for being so shrewd.  And so does Jesus!  For he used his boss’s money – not to finance his lifestyle, but to make friends – so that they would help him out when he has nothing left. 

            In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, there is also a great reversal and there is also a chance to repent.  It is too late for the rich man, but it is not too late for his brothers.  What will they do?  Will they continue hording their wealth, using it only for their own comfort and pleasure?  Or will they listen to Moses and the prophets?  Will they be convinced to change when Jesus is raised from the dead?

 

            There are two themes in these stories that run throughout Luke’s gospel.  The first is the theme of repentance.  John the Baptist calls for repentance and even give specific instructions to those who ask how they are now to live.  When Pilate slaughters people making pilgrimage to the temple, Jesus asks, “Are they greater sinners than you?  No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will likewise perish.”

            The other theme is the theme of reversal.  Mary sings of it when she visits Elizabeth:

            He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.

Jesus takes up this theme in his inaugural sermon at Nazareth:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

In this way, Jesus brings heaven on earth.  “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in our hearing.” 

           

What would it take for you to re-examine your life?  What would it take for you to be more generous?  What would it take for you to start living like heaven on earth?

Could it be more Bible study – Moses and the prophets and Jesus?  What if you encounter someone come back from the dead – Jacob Marley or Jesus?  Would a great reversal of your own do it?  Or could it be something else?

A story that bears many similarities to, “A Christmas Carol,” is “How the Grinch stole Christmas,” by Dr. Seuss.  Like Ebenezer Scrooge, the Grinch is someone who hates Christmas. 

It could be has head wasn’t screwed on just right.

It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.

But I think that the most likely reason of all

May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

 

The Grinch disguises himself as Santa Claus sets out to steal Christmas from all the Whos who live in Who-ville – presents and stockings, trees and food – everything.  He waits for the weeping and wailing – the sound of boo-hoo from the Whos.  What he hears instead is the same happy singing he hears every year.  He realizes that Christmas is not about presents but about something a little bit more.  But that is not all:

And what happened then…?

Well…in Who-ville they say

            That the Grinch’s small heart

            Grew three sizes that day!

 

            For Christians, Christmas and the good news of Jesus is about this.  And it is about a lot more. It is about seeing our connection to all people. It is about enjoying our loved ones at special times, but also reaching out to those we think of as less worthy or less deserving or less fortunate than ourselves, and opening our hearts to them.  It is about sharing what we have with others, so that their burden might be relieved and our hearts might grow in joy.

            And when this happens – that is heaven on earth!