Dear brothers and sisters!
Dear congregation, we are celebrating Thanksgiving today. And we have heard this text about hell as a Gospel reading. Well, how is he going to put that together, the pastor?
That is a good question and it is your right to ask it. I have also asked myself this question. And I would like to share the following thoughts with you.
First of all, I would like to emphasise a few things that seem important to me in the context of the story. For example, who is the text addressed to?
It is striking that the poor man has a name. His name is Lazarus. Of the rich man, we only know that he is "the rich man". For me, this is a clear indication that God sees the misery in this world. The misery has a name. The victims have a name. And the shocking thing is, the rich man also knows that name! "Send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue."
Also striking is that the poor man dies and is carried by angels into Abraham's bosom. An immediate, personal, loving encouragement. Of the rich man it says he died and was buried. Then he finds himself in hell. How he got there is not mentioned at all. This means that we can state here that this text is addressed to all the poor of this world and says: I, God, know you by name. I see you and your misery and you will be comforted. You are not a number, you are not drowning in the nameless flood of millions - no, but you are Lazarus.
This individuality, for the rich of this world, is quite obviously not the aim of this text. And so it is left up to the listener to decide whether or not they feel they belong to this group. Again, it is striking that the greatest need for discussion is here. With the rich. Lazarus does not really talk. His misery speaks for itself and is seen by God.
The rich man begins the dialogue with Abraham. Firstly, he wants to achieve relief from his suffering and secondly, he wants to warn his five brothers. Thirdly, he then believes he knows how to do it: If someone from the dead would go to them - then - yes, then they would repent. A pious wish. For me, it remains a cleverly placed reference to the significance of Jesus' death and resurrection.
I would like to note two observations in this argument between the rich man and Abraham. On the one hand, Abraham describes the great gulf between the two places after death, and on the other hand, Abraham emphasises the crucial importance of Moses and the prophets.
The great gulf cannot be overcome by anyone. Not by the rich man, not by Abraham and not by Lazarus either. And what this could mean became clear to me two or three weeks ago in a conversation with a woman from Vienna. She said - referring to my sermon on God's justice as a restorative rather than a punitive justice: But that had always been her idea or her comfort, that God would thus give people like Hitler or Stalin a good run for their money. That one day they would have to pay in full for their deeds and burn in hell.
For me, this attitude or image is indicative of the gulf that cannot be overcome by human beings. That's what I thought at the moment of listening. Of course, I can imagine that this view or these feelings are strongly related to the identification with the victims. I find it hard to empathise because I am not such a victim. I have not been through a concentration camp or a Siberian captivity. I know a lot of human suffering only from hearsay. In truth, I am in no way authorised to speak for a single victim. But - and I think I also answered this woman - but I am glad that I don't have to decide that. I am glad that this is and will be God's task. And my personal hope is that God can bridge this gulf or gap. However he does it - but nothing is impossible for love.
The second observation regarding the dialogue between the rich man and Abraham concerns the statement about Moses and the prophets. I don't know how you see it, but in my opinion Abraham is absolutely right. Everything has been said. In truth, there are no excuses whatsoever. Would you like a sample?
From the third book of Moses (19:18):
„Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.“
Or from the prophet Amos (5,24): „But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!“
The question that all the rich of this world must ask themselves is: Why did you not take these words of God seriously? Why did you pass over them lightly? Behold, you knew misery. You even knew its name. Its name is Lazerus.
And here, dear congregation, I think we can build a bridge to Thanksgiving. For what is Thanksgiving?
For me, Thanksgiving is an attempt to express our gratitude for all that we receive from God. We want to give thanks not only for the fruits of the field or the trees, but for the general provision that we experience through God. God provides for us that we have what we need to live. This includes not only food, but also our health, our work, our family, friends and acquaintances. It includes everything. Everything ultimately comes from God and today we want to make this gratitude visible and express it.
If the perception of this abundance does not lead us to become willing to share, then I don't know what else will. Just as we know how to act through Moses and the prophets, in the same way the perception of abundance shows us that we need not worry anxiously about the future. No worries about the future.
Oh yes, I know that we are experiencing a wave of inflation. I know that energy prices are going up. I know that this will be a challenge for many families and for us as a church.
But I cherish the hope that we will succeed in rediscovering solidarity. To take to heart that there is enough for everyone if we are willing to share.
Yes, I believe that we have to be honest about this.
Yes, I believe that we need to have a debate in our families or together about what we really need. What can I do without? What do I really need? What can I give up so that someone else has enough?
Shouldn't we also talk about how unfair the various forms of earnings are? For example, that a doctor earns twice as much as a nurse or three times as much as a carer? Don't they all work their 40 hours?
Is it to your credit that you had access to university because of your background, but another person did not? As an incredibly stressed, independent boss responsible for many employees - do you want to trade places with the rubbish collector, the stench and the fact of being exposed to all kinds of weather? Injustice has a name. It is called Lazarus.
I hope that we will be able to talk about these issues. Not accusingly, but reflectively. Not with a knife on our chest, but with a desire to love and share. To make God's future visible together.
Keyword together: Yes, maybe I need other people to free me from my own lies. Where I talk myself into things. Where I prefer to look away instead of looking.
That may sound harsh to some people. Abusive. Socialist. Painful. But what is the alternative?
I say it again and again in my sermons and also emphasise it today: These are my thoughts and no one has to follow them. But it concerns myself. I am talking about myself, not about others.
My hope is that Thanksgiving will inspire us and that we will be able to perceive the abundance that has its origin in God. Out of this experience that God sustains us, I wish that we share. How beautiful it would be if solidarity were to rise up and we discover that together we have more than enough.