Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

What is good?

What is Good?


Imagine a story so powerful that it would make a man with three doctoral degrees (one, in medicine, one in theology and one in philosophy) leave civilization with all of its culture and amenities and depart to the jungles of darkest Africa? Imagine a story that so transformed a man who was recognized as one the the most talented concert organists in all of Europe that he would go to a place where there were no organs to play. What story would so motivate a man that he would give up a teaching position in Vienna, Austria, at one of the most prestigious schools in Europe, to go and deal with people who were so deprived that they were still living in the superstitions of the dark ages. What would make a man give up the luxury of being honored and celebrated and wealthy to give up his life for the betterment of a people he didn’t even know. This man was Dr. Albert Schweitzer and the single story that so radically altered his life was a parable Jesus told. According to Dr Schweitzer, the parable we read this morning of the Rich Man and Lazarus was that story. Albert Schweitzer read that parable and saw the Rich Man in himself and that was not who he wanted to be, so he gave it all up and left the life that he knew, the life the world considered successful, and went to live with the truly unfortunate - those who lived in the the despairs of poverty - intellectual, physically and spiritually.
The Rich Man and Lazarus saw each other every day. Of course there would be no contact between them because if the Rich Man touched Lazarus he would become unclean and that would be most inconvenient since the Rich Man would then need to to to the temple and sacrifice something and then go through the required ritual washings. Every day as the Rich Man walked out of his gate, he would see Lazarus sitting there, starving, covered in sores and the Rich Man would hold back his robes to make sure that he completely avoided this poor beggar.
The Rich man was a man of comfortable living. He was not ‘rich’ in the Bill Gates sort of rich, but rich in our middle class sort of rich. He had a home and lived comfortably not really wanting for anything. He was self-indulgent and if we are honest most of us are. The Rich Man was a connoisseur, a love of the arts, one who knew and appreciated the ‘nice’ things in life, he enjoyed the nice restaurant, the great vacation. The Rich Man dressed in purple - this is point out because purple was only worn by those who could afford it and few could. His underwear was made of linen- again just another way of letting us know that the Rich man lives a comfortable life. The Rich Man has enough food that he can give leftovers to the dogs in his house.
The difference between these two men is made as obvious as possible as Jesus tells the story. Lazarus, in contrast to the Rich Man, is homeless. he is a cripple. He barely survived day to day, living off the scraps of food people throw him - less food that the dogs in the Rich Man’s house. He is covered in sores and is so helpless that he can’t even fight off the dogs who come each day and lick his sores.
Both men die. And we are told that Lazarus goes to heaven where he is held and comforted in the arms of Abraham and the Rich Man goes to hell where he is in torment. But I want you to think about this story not as an indictment against the Rich man; this is not a story condemning the Rich Man because he was rich - it was a story condemning the Rich Man because he was so self-absorbed he couldn’t see the needs of Lazarus and was unwilling to give his precious crumbs for this poor fella. But what I really want you to see is this is a story of hope; hope for Lazarus who suffered his whole life and ends up on the comforting arms of God, never again to suffer, to to be in pain or to be hungry. It is a reminder for us that no matter how bad things may be, we have hope. That even if we don’t live a ‘comfortable’ life, we are a people of hope. That is all Lazarus had - was hope. He had no security other than to know that God loved him - and in the end Lazarus will be the one with eternal security.


A little note here on the definition of the word ‘hope’. We think of hope in the context of wishing. I ‘hope’ it won’t rain tomorrow - meaning “I wish it won’t rain because I want to go on a picnic’ or “I hope that paycheck gets deposited so I can pay my bills.” or something along those lines. For us ‘hope’ means something we desire should happen. But in the wording of scripture, the word ‘hope’ means something that is promised. When we say “Our hope is in Jesus” we are saying that in Jesus we are promised that we will be with him forever. Remember the hymn “Our hope is built on nothing less that Jesus blood and righteousness”. While Jesus is something we desire, we don’t have to worry about whether or not it is true. We desire it not to rain, but it still might because we have no control over the weather. But our ‘hope’ being in Jesus means that we are promised, we are assured’ that our eternity rests in Jesus. So keep that in mind and whenever you read the word ‘hope’ in the Bible substitute the word ‘promised’. Our ‘promises’ are in Jesus Christ - so we don’t have to wish for them and wonder if they are going to happen - we are promised and that is what our faith is based on - it is truly believing that we are promised, what we hope, is true. Believing with every fiber of your being that what we know about the love and grace of Jesus is true - and that like Lazarus some day we will end up in heaven in the comforting arms of God. Not a ‘hope’ in our definition of the word - but an assurance.
The Jeremiah story we read today is also about hope. It is an example of what true hope is really all about. The story goes like this: Jeremiah is called by God to tell Israel that they have messed up to the point that God is going to let them suffer the consequences of their disobedience to God. The people of God have just gotten lazy and complacent. Like the Rich Man in our story before, the people of Israel have everything they need - food, shelter, all the creature comforts that make you feel like you are secure in what you have. And when you have everything you need, God is just less important. The Rich Man went through the motions of doing everything he thought he was suppose to do, he went to Temple, he participated in the feasts and festivals required by God and so did the Israelites. They were doing all the right things; they did everything they were suppose to do. But their heart just wasn’t in it. Their hearts and their loyalty were somewhere else. And that isn’t good enough for God - God wants our whole attention; God wants first place in our lives. And when that doesn’t happen, God will allow us fall. And that is what Jeremiah is telling the Israelites - ‘Because of your nonchalant attitude, I am going to let Babylon come in and take you captive and take you back to Babylon and turn you into slaves’ because God knows that when that happens you will realize where your help really is - in God.
But then God tells Jeremiah to buy a plot of land. Why would you buy a plot of land if you knew you were about be captured and taken away to another country? Because this was God’s way of showing them that God will restore them back to their land - God will bring them hope again. This plot of land because a symbol of their hope - the promises of God to never give up on his people. Once they realize that is truly important in life, God will bring them home.
God knows what really is good for our lives. God knows what will bring us peace and contentment and a true feeling of purpose and self worth. God knows that the only real good is in him and when we put our trust in him - and him alone.
That is a really hard thing to do. We don’t understand it; we have been taught that our security is in what we work for and what we earn and in what we do - so all of our energy and thought and work goes into we ‘we’ do. But God says - if you really want a good life, just trust in me. You’ll have everything you need and you will be able to live a truly happy, contented, peaceful life and you will be held in my arms for all eternity.
Dr. Albert Schweitzer never looked back. He left everything that made him secure; gave up everything he had and went to Africa to be faithful to what God had done for him. He knew his hope - the promises of his life - was in following Jesus. And that is all that mattered.
What is good? What is a good life? Putting things in the right perspective and knowing for sure that our hope is in Jesus and nothing else.
Amen!