Friday, June 15, 2012

Sermon for 6/10/12--First Sunday After Trinity

Luke 16:19-31

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

Let us start by making this thing clear: The rich man did not go to hell because he was rich, and Lazarus didn't go to heaven because he was poor. Having a lot of stuff in this life is not a sin, and having nothing isn't necessarily a virtue. Jesus did not come in the flesh to be a social or economic crusader. So this text has to be about repentance and faith, like everything else Jesus teaches. And here is the repentance that is preached: Jesus warns His hearers about taking the gifts of God and turning them into idols. The rich man made wealth the most important thing in his life—his idol, his god. Instead of giving thanks to God for what he had and using it to help and serve his neighbor, the rich man hoarded it for himself. But there is a worse sin rebuked by this story. Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, men who had taken God's Word and turned it into a book of rules so that they could save themselves and show everyone else how righteous they were. Rather than receive the gift of the Savior whom the Scriptures promised, they instead turned God's Word into a false religion where they were their own saviors.

What is it, then, that saves Lazarus? Why does he end up in the bosom of Abraham? To be in the bosom of Abraham means to be on the receiving end of God's promises. God had promised to Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation, and a Child would come of that nation to save all people. Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. St. Paul later writes that all who believe in Christ are sons of Abraham and heirs of the promise, the promise that you don't have to save yourselves from sin and death. God Himself will do it by sending His own Son in the flesh in the person of Jesus. He is born into this world to fulfill the promises God made to Abraham by taking your sins upon Himself and bearing them on the cross. The promise of a Savior from Abraham's line is fulfilled in Jesus Christ who rescues you from sin, death, devil and hell. So for Lazarus to be in the bosom of Abraham means nothing other than that Lazarus trusts in Christ. We know this also because Lazarus has a name and the rich man doesn't. To have a name given by God is to be baptized, to be named by God Himself as His own child.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, do you hate your neighbor? The simple fact is that if you see them in need and do nothing for them, you hate them. Do you take what is given to you and horde it in case you can't make ends meet? Or do you look around for people to help with what you're given? If you don't love a person you can see, how can you claim to love a God that you can’t see? It's all well and good to say you "feel for" someone. But if you can help and you don't, if you hang onto what you have just so you can be "safe and secure", then watch out! The rebuke Abraham's speaks is a strong one: “You had your good things in life, but now you are tormented!
But there’s more. You have enough to repent of when you fail to serve others. But when you do good works, do you suppose that God is pleased with you? That’s how the Pharisees operated: they took God's Word as a guide to how they should live, and when they lived that way, they were proud of themselves. They claimed that if a man was poor, it was his own fault for not following God's Law the right way. We hear that today from televangelists today who tell you that if you believe enough and are a good person with lots of faith, God will bless you and give you all kinds of goodies. But that makes an idol out of God Himself, turning your heavenly Father into just a rich benefactor who only blesses you when you do good and live right and believe enough. Whenever some good comes along, it’s easy to suppose you have earned it by your hard work and persistence. There is no end in the sinner’s ability to take what good comes as an indication of God’s favor. You know the saying: "God helps those who help themselves." But that’s not how the Lord works!
Brothers and sisters, you must learn that you are like Lazarus. You have nothing in this world: no rights, no riches, no claim on God. Lazarus had nothing in this world going for him. All he had was the Lord. All Lazarus had on the whole earth was faith and trust in God's promises. And that certainly didn't get him anything in this life, did it? But it brings him to eternal life. You have nothing but what the Lord gives you. Whether it's material goods or forgiveness and eternal life, everything is His gift to you. Even if you have nothing in this life, you have His water and His word; you have His Gospel; you have His absolution; you have His body and blood. Poor Lazarus begged for scraps from the rich man, but here, in Christ's church, you have a feast laid before you, a feast that is your certainty against all suffering and misery in this life. Here you have a religion in which God doesn't reward you for doing good, but instead does not hold your evil against you. Here you have the Good News that you are not cast into hell as you deserve. Here, in Christ's church, poor beggars are laid at the gate of a Rich Man who does not ignore you, who instead brings you in, heals you, feeds you, restores you, and makes you members of His own house and kingdom! The truly Rich Man, Jesus Christ, became poor for your sake, so that by His poverty and misery and suffering and death, you would become far richer than anything on earth could make you!
It's easy to take the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus as some kind of moral lesson about how being rich is bad and being poor makes you somehow more blessed in God's sight. But that’s not the case. Here you learn that the true Rich Man, Jesus Christ, has given you eternal healing. Here you learn that, in Christ, you are safe in the bosom of Abraham now and forever. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen. 

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