Eternal Perspective (Luke 16:19-31)

Sometimes when we see things from the perspective of the future, we can see warnings for how we live now. In this story that Jesus tells, he wants to warn us from the perspective of life beyond death.

A version of the sermon preached at St. Luke’s Ramsgate on the same day.

Kwasi Kwarteng

This week we have seen one of the most dramatic falls in recent political history. Kwasi Kwarteng after just 38 days as Chancellor has had a spectacular reversal in political fortunes. From the glory and opportunity of being a brand new Chancellor of the Exchequer in a new government to  a political career in tatters and the ridicule of much of the media.

He has faced the judgement of the markets and public opinion and he is now shut out of government.

Instead Jeremy Hunt, whose political career seemed to be going nowhere having got nowhere in the Conservative leadership contest and not been invited back into Liz Truss’s cabinet now has Kwasi’s job and the opportunity of a fresh start.

If Kwasi could write to himself on the other side of political death…, to the man he was as he set out as Chancellor of the Exchequer, I wonder what he would say. I wonder what warnings he might give himself to help him avoid this tragic reversal of fortunes and being shut out of government?

A Warning Story

In Luke 16, Jesus wants us to hear a warning from the other side of real death. It is a warning not about our political future, but about our eternal destiny, our final destination.

Jesus does so as he often does, by telling a story, a parable. In this story the rich man acts as a warning to us of the fate we might face if we ignore Jesus in our lives.

A Story of Reversals

The story contrasts the life before during and after the death of two people: a rich man and Lazarus.

When they are still alive, the rich man has it all. His life is one of utter luxury and comfort. He wears the top fashion and enjoys wonderful feasts day in day out. In the world’s eyes this man has made it in life, he is living the dream, that is so often presented to us in adverts.

In contrast Lazarus, is utterly destitute. He sits homeless at the rich man’s gate. Rather than fashionable clothes, he is covered in sores. Although he longs for just scraps from the rich man’s table, he becomes food for the dogs who lick his sores.

Then comes death to both of them. Death comes to rich and poor alike. Death comes to us all.

Yet, in death, Lazarus finds honour from God. He is taken by angels and welcomed into God’s eternal kingdom, sitting at Abraham’s side.

Whilst in death, the rich man is honoured by people. He receives a burial. But he does not find a welcome in God’s kingdom. Rather he finds himself shut out from God’s kingdom and in torment in hell.

There has been a total reversal. As Abraham puts it:

“But Abraham replied, `Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.” (Luke 16:25)

So, what does Jesus want us to learn from this Parable. What is the lesson from life beyond death?

Good News for the Poor

Firstly, what happens to Lazarus shows us that this is Good News for the poor. Jesus is saying, that no matter how bad your life turns out now, there is hope for something far greater, when you put your trust in Jesus. As Jesus said at the start of his ministry:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,” (Luke 4:18)

Jesus showed that while on earth, by bringing healing to so many who were suffering from illnesses that would have made them destitute or locked them out of normal society. Yet, this was just a pointer to the greater hope that God can offer of a welcome into his eternal home.

This is not to say that people are saved just because they are poor. Rather uniquely in Jesus’s parables, the beggar in the story, is given a name: Lazarus. This perhaps shows us two things.

Firstly, although this man receives no help or honour from his fellow human beings, he is known and valued by God. His name is acknowledged, even as the rich man remains anonymous.

Secondly, the name means: ‘God helps’. He is someone who trusts in God to help him despite the horror of his earthly existence. He is a man of faith.

Lazarus, then reminds us that from the perspective of eternity, from the view of life after death, no matter how bad this life becomes, there is a certain hope of something far better when we trust in Jesus.

A warning to take seriously?

Yet, the focus of the story is on the rich man. In contrast his fate  is a warning that there is no guarantee that life after death will be better. In fact quite the reverse, it could be one of utter torment.

We might argue that this is just a story, a parable. As in other parables Jesus does not mean us to take all the details seriously. This may be true of some of the specific details. After all it is unlikely Jesus really wants us to believe that Abraham would be hassled by people crying out to him from hell!

Yet, the fundamental facts of the story, fit with and are consistent with Jesus’s warnings elsewhere.

The first is that there will be some kind of ultimate separation, where some will be shut out of God’s Kingdom and left in torment. For example in Luke 13, Jesus says that some will find themselves locked out of the Kingdom of God:

“There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.” (Luke 13:28)

Secondly, the idea of reversal is a consistent theme in Jesus’s teaching. Success in this life is no guarantee of success in the next. In fact the reverse is often true. A couple of verses later Jesus warns:

“Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.” (Luke 13:30)

Jesus wants us to take these warnings of hell as a place to be avoided seriously. But can we still take them seriously in the twenty-first century?

These days people dismiss warnings about hell as manipulation by religious leaders to try and assert power over others. There is some truth in this. There is no doubt it has been used that way by some religious leaders in the past.

Yet, in the Bible it is Jesus who warns about hell more than anyone else. If you believe that He is God’s Son and that he loves us so much that he came to die for us on the cross and that God validated his identity and mission by raising him from the dead, then this warning is not a manipulation by a power seeking evil man, but a real and serious warning from the one who humbled himself to come down to our level and die a humiliating death on the cross to save us. This is a warning from someone who loves and cares for us deeply. We need to take it seriously and listen to it.

What does it mean to take this warning seriously?

So, what does it mean to take this warning seriously? Where had this rich man gone wrong in life so as to face such a terrible reversal after death? What do we need to avoid?

We could say simplistically, that it was because he was rich. Yet, that alone is not the answer. After all, Abraham was also rich, and he has the honoured place in heaven! There are plenty of heroes in the Bible that were wealthy and yet still seen as truly part of the people of God.

We could also claim that he was a particularly evil or selfish man. Yet this man shows concern for others – his five brothers and wants to warn them. He is not devoid of all good or kindness.

So what is wrong with the man? Ultimately it is his attitude to money and God that is the problem.

Attitude to money

His attitude to wealth is perhaps shown clearly by his stinginess towards Lazarus. Here was a man in utter destitution at his gate and he does not even give Lazarus the scraps from the feasts on the table. This is in contrast with Abraham, who although rich was renowned for his hospitality and generosity. If we are not willing to show hospitality to the weakest in society, then why should God show us hospitality in life after death?

But this attitude to wealth also points to a deeper issue.

Jesus tells this story to some Pharisees that are sneering at his teaching. They actually sneer after Jesus says:

“No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Luke 16:13)

Jesus is warning them that their love of money puts them at odds with God. This comes after the parable at the start of Luke 16, which talks of the need to use wealth to gain friends for yourself so that you are welcomed into heavenly dwelling. Jesus warns us that how we use our money is a symptom of how we view God. If we won’t invest in God’s Kingdom, then why should God welcome us into that Kingdom when we die?

Following God’s Word

None of this should surprise the Pharisees. Jesus goes on to affirm the Old Testament law and prophets. It is a law that explicitly tells the wealthy to make sure there is something left over the poor – even if it means having less for yourself, something the rich man failed to do for Lazarus. The rich man was not interested in living for God. He saw money as his Saviour. It was an attitude that echoed that of the Pharisees, who Luke says loved money.

In the Parable, the rich man argues that if Lazarus were sent back from the dead, then his brothers would heed the warning. Abraham, however, responds that they already have the Old Testament, if they don’t listen to that now, then they won’t even listen to someone who comes back from the dead. It is no surprise that those who have failed to take seriously God’s teaching in the Bible also fail to listen to God’s Son, the one whom he will resurrect from the dead.

Entering the Kingdom of God

This is the nub of the situation. Are we willing to follow God’s ways, even when it may risk our money, wealth or comfort? Are we prepared to be a part of God’s Kingdom now or not?

In Luke 15 Jesus has made clear that those who have lived outside God’s Kingdom can and are being welcomed in now. More than that God rejoices when sinners repent and join his kingdom!

In Luke 16, however, he is giving a stark warning. If you won’t enter God’s Kingdom in this life and start living for him and using your wealth for his purposes now, then you will be shut out after death like the rich man in the story.

So, where do you stand? What will be your final destiny?

Will you ignore the call to enter God’s Kingdom now. Will you go your own way without concern for God’s teaching or call on your life, looking for the most comfortable way in this life?

Or:

Will you enter his kingdom now? Give yourself and your money over to God’s will and purposes, trusting in his ultimate help?

Perhaps today is the day turn away from a life of sin leading to death, to the gift of God: eternal life in Jesus Christ.

Sunday School 2023

As most people now know it is with great sadness, that Margaret and Brenda Harmes and Jenny Smith have taken the difficult decision to step down from leading Sunday School after Christmas this year. We are grateful for how wonderfully they have run the Sunday School over so many years and the amazing commitment and care they have shown to the children and their families over this time.

At present we are considering different plans and ideas to take the Sunday School forward into 2023. If you have any ideas, questions or suggestions, then please do let Paul, the vicar, know.

Light Party, 31st October

All are welcome to join us for this alternative to Halloween that celebrates God’s light rather than the dark things in the world. There will be food, fun and game for all ages. It will be in the main church building from 4:30-6:00pm.

Invites are at the back of the church – everyone who is registered with church should have one. If you don’t have an invite, please take a spare one off the table. We also have an RSVP list please could you let us know asap as this helps with numbers. The evening will consist of crafts, games, puzzles biscuit decorating, party food and of course sweets!!  If you would like to volunteer, please see Charlie or Tonya.

Get Smart (Luke 16:1-15)

How should we make the most of our money for eternal uses? In this sermon Colin Gale unpacks one of Jesus’s parables and his follow up application around our use of money.

Talk as given at St. Luke’s Church in Ramsgate

Here’s a story I heard on the radio a few years ago about the prospective start of someone’s career. I’ll read it out exactly as I heard it broadcast and later podcast:

This is something I remember from a friend of mine, actually, who went for a job interview and was making such a mess of it, even managed to get the name of the company for which she was interviewing wrong, and it was all going so badly, but she had a classic recovery, when – it was a sales job, and the person who was interviewing her said, “Er, right”, as a kind of last straw, kind of last gasp thing, “here’s an ashtray on the table, sell me the ashtray”. And there was an open window, she picked up the ashtray, threw it out the window, and said “You need an ashtray”, and she got the job.[1]

I laughed when I first heard this, and I see that you too get the point of the story, despite my poor comic timing!

We don’t need to know what company she was applying to join, and whether we approve of the ethics of the business, to understand the point of this story. We don’t have to approve or disapprove of smoking in public places, or worry about whose property the ashtray was, or the health and safety risks involved in throwing it out of an open window, to understand the point of the story.

It really wouldn’t help us to understand the story if we decided to read it as an allegory in which the prospective employer stands for God, the interview stands for the testing he puts us through, and the dramatic disposal of the ashtray stands for, I don’t know, resistance to temptation, because then why would you want another one? All this is unnecessary and unhelpful. But without all this, it’s easy to see the point of the story: the person being interviewed needed the job, time was running out for her, the only thing she found at her disposal was a clever idea, even if it was dubious from a health and safety point of view, an idea which had to be acted on straight away if it was going to stand any chance of working, so she grabbed her opportunity and it worked.

Let me tell you a story I heard from the Bible three minutes ago about the possible end of someone’s career: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you?…you cannot be manager any longer’. The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job…I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses’. So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil’, he replied. The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred’.”

It’s only because we’re used to hearing this story read from the Bible that we’re not laughing about it at this point, in secret admiration of the manager for his sheer audacity. To understand the point of this story, we don’t have to know whether the debts owed to the master were fair or unfair, we don’t have to approve or disapprove of the manager’s underhand tactics, or work out how likely or unlikely it would be that the subterfuge would be found out and reversed. To understand the point of this story, it really wouldn’t help us to read it as an allegory in which the master stands for God, the resources he puts at the disposal of the manager stands for everything given to us, and the sleight of hand accounting the manager performs stands for…well, what could it possibly stand for? All this is unnecessary and unhelpful. But without all this, it’s easy to see the point of the story: the manager is going to lose his job and needs another one, time is running out for him, the only thing he found at his disposal was a clever idea, even if it was morally dubious, an idea which had to be acted on straight away if it was going to stand any chance of working, so he grabbed his opportunity and it worked.

“I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.”

There’s a plan of action (I know what I’ll do) in the face of a foreseeable change of circumstances (when I lose my job here) to be assured of future security (people will welcome me into their houses).

And what are we going to do with the point of this story? What purpose did Jesus have in mind in its telling? Luckily, he tells us: “Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

There’s a plan of action recommended here (use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves) in the face of a foreseeable change of circumstances (when it – worldly wealth – is gone) to be assured of future security (you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings).

Let’s spend some time thinking about each of these three points in turn. First, the plan of action. What the manager did, though it was dishonest, made perfect sense within the frame of reference of his world. In Roman antiquity, in politics, business and society, monetary exchange forged and sustained the bonds of (quote) friendship (unquote). Patronage, networking, and patterns of reciprocal obligation were the logic of this world, and the currency that underpinned everything was money. Within the framework of this logic, it was smart of the manager to use money in dealing with his own kind, those for whom money talked.

What lesson is there here for those Jesus calls “the people of the light”? “Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves”. At first sight, this plan of action doesn’t seem to depart much from Roman social convention, but there is one critical difference. As far as Jesus is concerned, the use of worldly wealth by the people of the light does not create a stratified network of mutual obligation. His followers are not to use worldly wealth to pull people into a web of reciprocal benefit. There must be no such expectation on their part.

“When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or your relatives, or your rich neigbours”, Jesus says elsewhere (Luke 14). “If you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” “Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves”. Friends to whom we may show unconditional love, not allies from whom we may expect a return in loyalty, or in preferential treatment, or in reciprocation of gifts. Use money, if you have any to use, to promote true friendship with those most in need, something of far greater value and significance than money. That is the plan of action Jesus uses the parable of the shrewd manager to recommend.

Let’s look secondly at the foreseeable change of circumstances which Jesus uses this parable to warn of. In the parable the manager is given advance warning of the loss of his livelihood. Likewise, we are reminded that there will be a time in the foreseeable future when worldly wealth will be gone- gone in the sense that on the day we die it will be absolutely irrelevant to us, because we can’t take it with us, and gone in the sense that one day God will inaugurate a new age in which money will count for nothing. Many people prefer not to think about the fragility of their own lives and the life of the world around them. But Jesus calls out this way of thinking in three ways. First, he says that “whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much”. There’s a movement here from the smaller to the greater, which lends tremendous significance to all our responsibilities, no matter how small or menial or un-noticed they may appear to us to be. In the grand scheme of things, and in the sight of God, none of our responsibilities are small, or menial or un-noticed.

Second, Jesus says that “If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” The contrast here is between what our Bible translation calls ‘worldly’ wealth, but might more accurately be translated ‘dishonest’ or ‘false’ wealth, and true riches. It is deceptive because one day it will be gone. It promises a lot in terms of security and happiness, but does not deliver. Here is a recommendation not to renounce worldly wealth, but to use it in a trustworthy way.

Third, Jesus says that “if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?” Generally speaking, we have been brought up to believe, and are kept going on, the principle that whatever we possess, is ours because we worked for it and earned it. That way of thinking acknowledges neither the past, in which God saw fit to made us stewards of his good earth, nor the future, in which we will be made fit for heaven not because we deserve to be, but through the unmerited favour of God in Jesus Christ. In the age to come, when worldly wealth is gone, the only property we will want or need to call our own is that which is given to us by God, and that is a life lived in all its fullness in the kingdom of God.

I’ve talked about Jesus’ recommended plan of action (use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves) and I’ve talked about the foreseeable change to our circumstances (when worldly wealth is gone). Now let’s think about our assurance of future security (you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings). In the parable, the manager did what he did in order to be welcomed into the houses of his master’s creditors, and although what he did was dishonest, at least it was clever. Even his master could see that, and commended him for it. He understood money, just as the person being interviewed in my story demonstrated a clear grasp of marketing.

What is the lesson here for “the people of the light”? The ways of the world are one thing, and God’s ways of working are another. God’s way of working is demonstrated in the life of Jesus, in his eating and drinking with undeserving sinners. God’s way of working is demonstrated in the teachings of Jesus, by which he seeks and saves those who are lost. God’s way of working is demonstrated in the death and resurrection of Jesus, by which the evil within humankind was exposed, confronted and absorbed, but was not allowed to have the final say.

Our assurance of future security isn’t dependent on an arrangement whereby we scratch God’s back, and he scratches ours. The future security of God’s eternal welcome itself rests wholly on his grace, which we see at work in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, it is possible to possess that future security without necessarily knowing the assurance of it. The assurance of that future security rests on our learning, under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit, to devote ourselves to a life of love and service to God.

“No servant can serve two masters”, our gospel reading says. “Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” Money talks, and money is the language of this present age. But love also talks, and it is the language of the age to come. Our best assurance of future security in the age to come, and our best preparation for it, lies in learning to speak and listen to the language of that age, which is that of love.

This is a plan of action that mirrors God’s own way of working. In the life and death of Jesus, God himself spent the riches of his glory to gain friends who were undeserving of his favour, but to whom he nevertheless showed costly and unconditional love. Not only does he call us to imitate this heavenly love, but by his Holy Spirit he inspires this love, in this world today. The manager understood money; the interviewee understood marketing; and in readiness for God’s new age we must understand love. Amen.


[1] Aasmah Mir of BBC4’s Saturday Live, 28 February 2015

Study Groups

This week we are relaunching our small groups. Over the next two weeks, they will be following up the teaching in church and focussing on Luke 16. These groups are not only a great place to come and ask questions about Sunday’s teaching and think more deeply about the Bible, but also to build deeper relationships with other Christians and to join with others in prayer for one another and the wider world.

There are three groups starting this week on Monday evening (with Claire), Wednesday afternoon (with Mark) and Thursday evening (with Mike). If you were in one of these groups before then please do re-join the group that you were a part of. Otherwise, if you would like to give one of the groups a try over the next couple of weeks, then please speak to Paul or one of the leaders.

There will be study sheets available from the group leaders: Claire, Mark and Mike and spare ones on the welcome desk. Even if you are not able to make a group, please feel free to take one of these sheets to make notes on the sermon and use for your own personal Bible Study.

Regeneration Officer Appointment

On Thursday, 6th October, four candidates were interviewed for the post of Regeneration Officer at St. George’s. We were delighted to have such a strong field of candidates. It is with great pleasure that we can announce that an offer has been made and accepted. More details will follow once all the necessary checks have been completed.

Harvest festival

Image by Monika Grabkowska on unsplash

The Great dinner – Luke 14:15-24 NRSV

In our modern era, Harvest is a time when we particularly remember to be thankful for all that we have. We collect food to donate to our food bank and raise money for the work of Christian aid remembering those who have need of food and support, and wanting to share the good things we have with others

A traditional celebration of harvest often involved a special feast. Bread often featured. A loaf was baked into the shape of a wheatsheaf. To symbolise and celebrate a good harvest. They were traditionally hosted by the farmer who brought together the community of people who’d helped bring in the crops as a way of saying thank you and celebrating a successful growing year

In our bible reading today Jesus tells a story. That involves an invitation to a banquet – really fancy massive dinner party. 

Jesus has been invited to the house of the leader of the Pharisees where there is a feast taking place and uses every opportunity to teach them about what being in Gods family is like – being part of Gods kingdom. 

He has just told them that being generous to others who cannot return the favour is a mark of being in Gods family and will be rewarded by eternal life in heaven.

The response to Jesus saying this is…. ‘‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’

Which makes Jesus tell another story. The story we just heard read. This is a story that tells them and us that enjoying the bread of the kingdom of God, having eternal life isn’t by just doing good things although that is important but actually having eternal life, taking part in the eternal heavenly banquet, is about responding to the invitation. 

The man in the story had invited his guests to the banquet they said they were coming, and it was normal at that time to send another invite once the banquet was actually prepared.

 So the feast was ready he sent out reminders once again. But the invite wasn’t taken, excuses were made. So the invite was extended. Streets and alleys – the undesirables and then further out still to the countryside and surrounding areas.

In the bible God first invited a nation to be his chosen people – who became the Jewish nation but in the bible we can read that they didn’t always obey God, some rejected him completely and so God told them he would open up his family to include non Jewish people too that he would send his son Jesus to make this happen – to offer the invitation of friendship with God to everyone. 

The invitation that Jesus is trying to communicate about In This parable is an invitation to be part of God’s family, to know the hope of eternal life, The bible tells us this  is possible through knowing Jesus’ love through his death and resurrection and when we know Jesus it makes us to want to follow his example. But we need to respond to the invite to know Jesus.

His example is one where we look out for others who are less fortunate than ourselves. Those on the margins of society.

And so that is why this harvest we want to give thanks for all the things God has given us, we want to share that with others but we can do this as a sign of our thanks to God for the invitation through Jesus to be part of his family. 

An invitation we can all accept if we choose and one that changes the way we see the world through Gods loving eyes caring for the poor and marginalised in our community.

Father God Thank you for all the good things you have given us. Thank you for your generosity in sending Jesus Thank you for the example of his life and that being part of your kingdom involves the responsibility for caring for those that have less than us. Help us to keep sharing with and loving others as much as you do. We thank you that through Jesus you have made it possible for everyone to know you. To know your love and to know the hope of eternal life. Thank you that you give us freedom to respond to your invite and to be part of your heavenly banquet. 

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