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Text: Luke 16:19-31
I want to talk about tables and gates.
I love tables.
They are things that bring people together. Take a moment and think about one of your favorite table moments. Maybe it was sitting at the kids table at family gatherings. The lunch table with all your camp buddies during summer camp. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy Sunday Evenings @ Grace so much. We sit around tables and eat together. When you eat with someone, it breaks the ice. It’s hard to put on airs when you’re stuffing your face with chicken and stuffing.
Then there are gates.
A gate exists inside of a wall. Walls are designed to divide people, and a gate is designed so that the owner of the gate can control who comes in and who goes out.
When I think about gates it brings back one particular memory.
As a caricature artist I drew at parties in all kinds of places. This one time I got a gig at a private home. The neighborhood was surrounded by this massive gate. I drove up to the gate house in my little Toyota Echo. The guard looked over the edge of the window and down into my little car. “Name?” he said. I told him my name and he said that I was on “the help” list. “move along.”
I drove into the development and noticed that the street was lined with more gates. I drove up to the street and there was another gate where I had to punch in the house number and get buzzed in.
Two gates! I was waiting for the SWAT team to jump out and frisk me when I pulled up to the house. Inside the party all the servers were dressed in their black pants, black tie, and white shirt, and I was placed off in the corner. The guests were like the who’s who of Las Vegas. I’m pretty sure most of the jewelry hanging off of the women were worth more than my house. I felt like a bug.
Tables and gates.
I have to tell you one story.
It’s probably the worst caricature gig I ever had. I was asked to cover for a guy once a week at the Brown Derby restaurant in the MGM Grand Hotel. The Brown Derby is a classic Hollywood restaurant that is famous for having caricatures of celebrities on the wall. So, in Vegas, they thought it would be cool if they had a caricature artist dress up in a smock and a french artist hat and walk around from table to table asking if people wanted a caricature drawn. There I was, a pastor at a big church, walking from table to table with my silly hat, interrupting people in their dinner.
One night the manager came up to me and said that a famous movie star was in the restaurant and I needed to go over and draw her picture. I’m not going to tell you her name because these sermons get posted on our website and I don’t want it to get back to her and I be known as the pastor who was bad mouthing a famous actress.
So, this actress will remain unnamed. I go over to her table and she’s with a couple other people. I ask, “would you like to have a caricature drawn.” “sure she says,” as she flips her hair, “why not.” I start drawing her, but never let on that I know who she is. I’m just making small talk like I would with anyone. This really bugged her. She was glaring at me like, “You know who I am, right?” She was getting redder and redder. Finally, she elbows her friend, and he blurts out, “You know who this is, right?”
“Yeah,” i said. Then I said her name and kept on drawing. Oh man, she was mad. Then, I charged her for the picture.
The manager was so upset with me. I almost cost my friend his contract at the restaurant.
There she was, sitting at a table, but there was definitely a huge gate between her and me, and I was not welcome on that side of the gate. Experiences like that have given me a tiny, tiny taste of what it is like to be on the outside of the rich man’s gate.
That’s our story from Luke today.
The story itself starts in Luke 16:19, but we can’t really get the heart behind the story without backing up a few verses and see what precipitates this intense story.
Jesus had been talking about wealth. in verse 13 he said, “you cannot serve both God and money.”
In verse 14 it says, “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him.” Now, not all Pharisees were lovers of money, but this bunch was.
Can’t you just see the scene.
Jesus is wallking along the road, toward Jerusalem. There’s a big crowd following him by now. These guys ride up on their tricked out Mustang. “Well look what we have here. It’s the carpenter’s son. Well, that is if you are his Son.” They all look at each other and raise their eyebrows. Then they look at the crowd. “Are you people really listening to this chump? He’s nothing but a hick from Galilee, from Nazareth, of all places.”
Then they stare down at Jesus from behind their expensive robes. “You best get on back to the hills boy, if you know what’s good for you.”
If I were Jesus right then, my heart would be pounding in my chest, my fists clenched. Grrrrrrr.
Jesus replies, “I see right through you. Your heart is so in love with money that you have completely divorced the ways of God that have been taught to you since the days of Moses. Let me tell you a story about a rich man, a lot like you guys.”
This is where our story begins.
There is a rich man. He is super rich. He wears the finest clothes and he has a table full of the best food, every day. I’m sure that his parties attracted the who’s who of Judea and beyond.
He also had a gate. I wonder if it was a double gate? Just outside this gate was Lazarus. Here’s an interesting thing. Lazarus is the only character in all of Jesus’ parables that has a name. Lazarus means, “God helps.” That’s good, because no one else would. He was tossed by the side of the rich man’s gate. The rich man had a sumptuous table, and Lazarus had no table. He laid beneath the table and hoped to get the scraps thrown to the dogs. In many ways, Lazarus was the scrap thrown to the dogs. The dogs would come and lick the sores that covered his body.
A picture of the extremes. The ultra wealthy and the ultra poor. A table, and a gate that divided them.
Then they both die, and the tables are turned.
The rich man sits in torment while Lazarus reclines in the Bosom of Abraham. That is actually a picture of sitting at a meal. Now Lazarus is eating a feast and is in fellowship with father Abraham, the patriarch of the Jews, and the rich man is suffering. And there is a great division. A chasm. A wall with no gate that divides them.
The rich man calls out to Abraham. Notice how little he has learned. He still thinks he is an important man. He asks Abraham, who was also a wealthy man, to send Lazarus over to him. As if he can just order Lazarus around.
Father Abraham looks at him and says, allow me to paraphrase, “bummer, dude. Should have thought about that when you were alive. This gate is closed and nobody can get to you.”
“Then at least warn my brothers.” The rich man wants Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol to happen. Except it would be more like, “I am the ghost of Hannukuah past.”
Then Abraham says, “you have had God’s teaching about how to handle wealth and how to treat the poor since the day Moses wrote the law. It’s too late.”
If the story ended here, then this would be an extremely harsh parable. We’d ask, what’s the point?
You know, I have been accused of preaching that God hates rich and successful people,
and that it is wrong to be successful. If that were my lens, then this would be a prime passage to pound that point home. But let me make one thing clear. God does not hate rich people, and God is not opposed to success. Abraham was a rich man. Many of Jesus’ disciples were rich people. They funded his ministry.
This really isn’t about God privileging one class against another. This is about challenging the idea that riches are a sign of God’s blessing, and that poor people deserve to be poor and mistreated.
Let’s be honest.
With money comes power. That is true in every culture. If you have money, you get to build the gates, set the table, and invite whomever you want to the table. The poor have no power. They have no gates, and no table.
Jesus is so harsh on the rich because the rich are the only ones who can actually make changes in society to help society line up with God’s Kingdom. The only power the poor have is rebellion and against oppression, and that is not any more aligned with God’s Kingdom than the oppression itself.
Jesus’ story paints a grim picture for the man who loved money. He is suffering and is outside the gate, and the gate is closed forever. Then Abraham says something interesting. “Your brothers wouldn’t listen, even if someone returned from the dead.”
Where is Jesus heading right now? He’s on his way to Jerusalem. What’s going to happen to him there? He’s going to suffer and die. And then, he is going to enter into this place called Hades, bust down all the gates, and rise from the dead.
The message of the Gospel is that the crucified and risen Jesus has completely reconfigured the world, even death itself.
This table, the body and blood of Jesus, and power of the Spirit at work in this world, smashes down the gates that divide us. God invites everyone to the table to be tranformed into God’s Kingdom. Rich and poor, black and white, Iraqi and American, gay and straight, saint and sinner.
The message to the rich is this. Don’t be a lover of money. Be a lover of people and use your resources to invite the people that God loves to the table.
The question to all of us today is this. Who’s at our table?