As I noted on Tuesday, this Sunday’s Gospel lesson is a bit sticky for Episcopalians, especially those who hold Episcopal Office and like the color purple, but as I’ve reflected on this text this week, I’ve come to realize a group for which this lesson is even more difficult to hear and preach.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, Lutheran Bishop are the group most likely to find difficulty with the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. Not only to they like that purple-ish color their Episcopal brethren and sisteren are so fond of, but the guy who got the whole thing started, Martin Luther, was the guy who coined the phrase of “sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia,” Only Scripture, Only Faith, and Only Grace. With a clear nod to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (2.8) which reads, “we are saved by grace, through faith.”
If you read the lesson carefully, it sort of sounds like Father Abraham is espousing some sort of works righteousness. As in, Lazarus suffered and that suffering earned him passage to the bosom of Abraham, but Dives ignored the poor, which earned him a ticket straight to Hades. The observant listener will quickly pull out their checkbook and ask, “how much do I need to give to get to heaven?”
The challenge grows when coupled with the tail end of the lesson from First Timothy, which reads, “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.”
The savvy preacher will figure out how to allow their parishioners the time to write their checks before reminding them that Luther was, in fact, right; that we are saved by the grace of God and faith in Jesus Christ; that nothing we can do (i.e. no matter how big the check), we cannot earn our way into heaven. Still, it is a tricky lectionary this week, full of chances to slip down the slope of good old fashioned Medieval Popery. Good luck preachers. I’ll be praying for you.