A children’s sermon on Luke 16:19-31, eh? Easy? Hard? Probably on the hard side.
It’s a parable with a good story line, and that removes some challenges. But though it’s a familiar story, it presents some obstacles when it comes to finding and focusing on a kid-sized message.
(I have a longer-than-usual intro here, because I don’t have a regular “Monday Meditation” on this text to refer you to.)
It’s the story of the rich man and Lazarus — sometimes known as “Lazarus and Dives” as if Dives were the man’s name. It actually just means “rich man.”
There are two scenes:
- First, on earth, poor sick Lazarus is given no help by the rich guy.
- Second, after death, the formerly rich guy is suffering in “Hades”, while Lazarus is being comforted by the great patriarch Abraham. They have a chat across the chasm, and Abraham makes it plain that each of the men now has the opposite of what they had on earth.
Simple. Also problematic.
The Perspective of the Poor
The story reads best from the perspective of Lazarus. You probably know the old Black spiritual “Rock-a my soul in the bosom of Abraham.’ That image is straight out of this parable. The old translations have Lazarus go to “Abraham’s bosom” and that’s the picture of bliss and comfort after long hard suffering.
Enslaved Black people knew well what it was like to have nothing in this world but oppression and suffering, while other folks nearby had all the wealth and power. It was a natural thing for them to hear this story’s promise to poor old Lazarus as their own hope.
From the perspective of the poor and the suffering it’s actually one of the funnier bits in the Gospels.
Comfort, love, abundance once this brutal life is over — and maybe some schadenfreude. Old Father Abraham shrugs his patriarchal shoulder and says “What can we do? You had yours back on earth. Now we couldn’t help you if we wanted to.” Implication: “Which we don’t. So, whatever.”
An Eschatological Problem?
It may not make it into a children’s sermon on Luke 16:19-31, but the text can be problematic for Protestants who want very much to say “Salvation is by grace alone!” Heaven forbid that the next life should depend on something like our wealth or poverty, or perhaps implied, our compassion vs selfishness. Well, I’m just here to tell Jesus’ story. I don’t have to turn him into Paul.
I do think Jesus is joking around with his listeners a bit here. He’s not, I think, trying to say in any literal sense what the afterlife really looks like. After all, instead of sticking with Hebrew understandings of the place of the dead, he borrows the Greek term and concept of “Hades.”
It’s the Greeks, who have Hades, both as a deity and as a place, where death leads to a place of torment. In the Old Testament, references are generally to the emptiness and finality of death. It isn’t a vision of paradise, but neither is it eternal punishment. The New Testament plays the literary changes on this, especially in Revelation where personified Hades makes an appearance, to be conquered by our Lord of life.
It almost makes more sense to read it as Jesus is talking to Greeks, not Jews. Or to imagine him speaking to poor Jews oppressed by rich Greeks. As if he were saying “Each to their own, and on their own terms. Are you a rich Greek? You will die and you know what your stories say: It’s Hades for you. A poor Jew? You know what your stories say too. That’s what you’ll get.”
But what of this is useful for a kid? Let’s see what I can come up with for a children’s sermon on Luke 16:19-31.
A Children’s Sermon on Luke 16:19-31
Good morning kids! I’m so glad you are here in worship today. Thanks for coming up to hear the children’s sermon.
In today’s reading from the Gospel, Jesus tells his friends a story. I love to tell you the stories Jesus told. But some of Jesus’ stories are easier to tell to kids, and some are harder. In some ways this is one of the harder stories. But let’s give it a try.
Here’s how the story goes.
Lazarus and the Rich Man
Once upon a time, there were two men. One was very rich.
This man lived in a big fancy house. He wore fancy expensive clothes. And he had a chef working for him, so every meal he had was a big fancy feast, like Thanksgiving dinner.
The other man was very poor, and very sick. His name was Lazarus.
All his friends wanted to help him, but they were poor too.
“I know!” said one of Lazarus’ friends, “We should take Lazarus to that rich guy’s house. Maybe he’ll take care of our friend.”
“Yeah,” said another friend. “Maybe he’ll get a doctor to look at Lazarus’ sores. He’s so miserable.”
“Or maybe,” said Lazarus, “the rich man can give me some of his left-overs to eat.”
So, they carried poor old Lazarus to the rich man’s house and left him on the doorstep.
“Good luck!” said his friends.
Waiting for Help
Lazarus lay there all morning. He was hungry. His body hurt because of all his sores. And he was kind of lonely.
As he lay there, a couple dogs walked up. They were really friendly dogs. Lazarus petted them. And the dogs started gently licking Lazarus’ sores to help them get better.
The Rich Man Steps Out
After lunch the rich man got up from his table. He stretched, and rubbed his tummy, and said “Oh boy, that was a good meal! I think I’ll go for a walk so I have an appetite for the fancy dinner my chef is planning!”
He opened his front door and stepped out onto his porch — and there was Lazarus.
“Who are you?” the rich man asked. “What are you doing on my porch?”
“My name is Lazarus, sir,” he said. “My friends carried me here. They thought maybe you could help me. I’m sick, you see, and I’m very poor —“
“Well!” said the rich man. “I don’t know why they thought I could help. I’m not a doctor. Anyway, you can’t bring your filthy dogs here. Shoo!” he said, trying to drive the dogs away.
“I’m going for a walk,” the rich man said. “I want you gone before I return!”
And off he went.
Every day it went like that. The rich man feasted in his fancy house. Lazarus’ friends laid him on the rich man’s doorstep. When he went out, the rich man just stepped over Lazarus, or walked around him, as if he weren’t there at all.
The Two Men Die
Then, as it happened, both men died. Lazarus was swooped up into heaven, and welcomed by Abraham, the first ancestor of God’s people Israel. Abraham rocked Lazarus in his arms, and comforted him, and took care of him.
“Hello!” came a voice from far far away. “Hello! Father Abraham? Can you hear me? I see you up there!”
Abraham and Lazarus looked around. They could see, across a great valley, someone waving his arms and shouting.
“Hey Lazarus!” came his voice from across the valley. “It’s me! Remember me?”
Abraham looked to Lazarus. “Do you recognize him, my son?”
“I think so,” said Lazarus. “Yes, that’s the rich man I used to beg from every day. I used to lay at his doorstep, hoping for help.”
“Did he ever help you?” Abraham asked.
“Not really,” said Lazarus.
Abraham cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted. “What were you hoping I’d do for you?”
“Could you bring me over there where you guys are?” asked the rich man. “It’s really terrible here!”
“Sorry,” said Abraham. “It’s a long way. Why don’t you call an Uber?”
“I don’t have a phone any more,” yelled the rich man. “And I don’t have any money to pay for a ride.”
“That’s too bad,” said Abraham. He shrugged. “I guess there’s no way for you to get here.”
The man pleaded, “Maybe you could just send Lazarus to give me a little water. It’s so hot here. I’m totally miserable!”
“I see that,” said Abraham. “You know, Lazarus used to be miserable too. Did you ever help him?”
They waited, but the formerly rich men didn’t say anything.
The Big Switcheroo?
“Maybe this is just how it goes,” said old father Abraham. “You had a lot of really nice things in your life on Earth, and Lazarus had nothing. Now Lazarus has it pretty good for a change. Sorry we can’t come help you!”
“But —! But — ! But —!” cried the formerly rich man. “Do you mean if I’d done something to help that scabby sick beggar on my doorstep I wouldn’t be stuck here alone in misery?”
But then clouds rolled down the valley and they couldn’t see each other any more.
“How about we go for a walk,” said Abraham, “there’s a big feast tonight!”
- I wonder how the poor people felt when they heard Jesus tell that story?
- I wonder if what we do now really makes a difference after we die?
- I wonder if there are ways that we can help people who are hungry or sick?
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