Sometimes, It Really Is Too Late

A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on September 25, 2022

1 Timothy 6:6-10   . . .  there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. 

Luke 16:19-31  “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ” 

“To those watching the livestream at home or listening to our podcast, please be sure to like our page and subscribe so that you can be reminded to join us again in the future.” May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

How late is too late?

The story tells us that the rich guy, the man who had had everything, died.  He was really dead, dead as old Marley, dead as a doornail.

And he’d gone to Hades.  This is, by the way, one of the places we learn that for the ancient Jews, heat is really bad – and so they describe Hell as hot.  

This was a well-deserved destination.  The rich guy, whose name is traditionally Dives, was one of those folks who never did a good deed today that he could put off until “next time”.  He was one of those guy who’d say, “God won’t mind if I skip this year, because I can always confess and God has to forgive me”.  Dives was a procrastinator when it came to doing good.

In this story one of the most obvious things Dives did was to ignore the poor people who were right outside his front door.

You’ll remember that in first century Israel there  were no retirement benefits, so Social Security.  The way poor people survived, to the extent that the system worked, depended on the generosity of those who were wealthy.  Generosity was a religious obligation.  If you had more that enough, if you had only “enough”, you were expected to share.

Dives didn’t share, didn’t help.  

And then they died, both of them.  Lazarus, the poor guy, went to heaven, but Dives, well, he went to the hot place.  Once there, he got thirsty, and asked Abraham. to ask Lazarus to come down to Hell and bring him a glass of water.  Abraham points out that there’s no cross-traffic with the good place, and Dives then begs him to send Lazarus out to warn his brothers so that they will learn better.  And Abraham says they’ve had plenty of time and plenty of opportunities to learn.  And Lazarus isn’t going to save anyone.  They’ve had their chance, and they’ve blown it.

There’s no time in this story when Dives “gets it”  

Sometimes, it really is too late.  

Here’s the thing.  As we follow the Christian path, we see popping up before us, all along our way, good solid reminders of our path.  Just like Dives and his brothers, we have the testimony of the Bible, the stories of Jesus, the memories of those who’ve gone before us, to help us see the choices we need to make.

And yes, we can always put things off until tomorrow.  We don’t need to do anything today.  BUT, today’s opportunities will never return.  And someday, on a day we most likely didn’t expect, there will be no more opportunities to do good.  I dare say the rich guy, Dives, thought he had all the time in the world to do good, if it ever seemed prudent and appropriate.  And, the story tells us, even after he’d died, he kept on demanding that others serve him.  Talk about not getting the message.

So, let’s be clear.  If we stiff our waitress today, we will never have another chance.  We might be able to be kind to her on another visit, but this visit is a one-time, non-repeatable opportunity.

It’s been said that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, once said:

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”

So, it turns out it’s not an important thought because Wesley said it, because he probably didn’t, but it’s important because it so clearly says what living the Christian way is about.  

It’s about now, 

it’s about serving now, 

it’s about loving everyone, where they are, as they are.

If we snarl at someone, if we turn our backs on another – those are times we cannot make up, not easily, and often, not at all.  If we step back from standing up for someone who’s being oppressed, if we say something that came out wrong and we don’t move to correct it, or at least look mortally shamed, we’ve lost an opportunity.  

That happens, of course.  It’s part of life.  We’re rushed, we’re upset ourselves, we’re afraid of the repercussions, whatever, there are days when doing good is just stinking hard.  But God gives us the vision, the strength we have so that we don’t have to live in our worst places.  God gives us what we need to live in our braver spaces, the place where we can look beyond our own troubles to help others, the times when we can say “no” to nastiness.  The real problem is not that, from time to time, we mess up.  The real problem is that we forget to use the strength we have to do good, or we forget that God’s forgiveness gives us new opportunities.

Do good, now.  Stand up for the oppressed, now.  Love our neighbors, today.  Serve God, right this minute and all the days to come.

Amen.

© 2022, Virginia H Child