Sunday, June 10, 2007

1st Sunday After Trinity

1st Sunday After Trinity – June 10th, 2007 – Luke 16:19-31

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit +
Do you know better than God? That is the question that we will ponder this morning. Do you know better than God? Oftentimes we can be quite sure of ourselves, we can be more than willing not only to do what we wish to do in our own lives, but we can be more than willing to tell our neighbor what they ought, what they need to do with theirs. We enjoy instructing others – dare I say in the middle of a sermon that we can enjoy being a bit preachy. That’s bad enough, but does it become worse, dear friends? Are there the times when you see fit to lecture God, times when you think that you know better than God?

That is the situation of the Rich Man in our Gospel today. And as our Lord Jesus describes him, we see and understand what a wretched man he is. “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s tables. More over the dogs came and licked his sores.” Indeed, what a wretched man this rich man is – to let a hungry, sick man die on his doorstep, to lift not a finger. That is wickedness, that is sin. I’m sure we can agree on that. In fact, it is quite vile. And so, I’m sure it is no surprise that when this rich man dies, he ends up in hell – none of us are shocked by this turn of events.

So why is the rich man in hell? Let us think about that. Is it because he is mean and nasty? Is it because he is proud and arrogant? Is it because he was rich, and rich people just end up in hell? The story that Jesus tells continues to center around the rich man – and he makes demands, even in hell – Hey, send that beggar boy down to give me water. Requesting that a person leave heaven to come to hell to satisfy you is sort of mean. Making demands of Abraham is rather proud. But these are all simply symptoms of the rich man’s great sin. Listen again to the end of the conversation he has with Abraham.

And [the rich man] said, “Then I beg you, father, to send [Lazarus] to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – so that he may warn them of this place, lest they also come to this place of torment.” But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” And 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 hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

Did you hear it? Did you hear the root and cause of every wickedness and evil that the rich man produces? How does the rich man treat God’s Word? He treats it with utter contempt. We see that while he is alive – for God’s Word instructs us to love the neighbor, to care for those in need, to give freely of the blessings God has given us. The Rich Man has contempt for that. God’s Word has myriad warnings about the cost of wickedness – there is plenty of warning in Moses and the Prophets – in Numbers wicked Korah and his followers are swallowed alive into hell, what bigger warning is there than that? If you listen to Moses and the Prophets, you know what is going on. But when the rich man is told this – he contradicts Abraham. No, Father Abraham, God’s Word, the Word of the Lord, the Word of the Prophets who spake by the Holy Ghost – this Word is worthless. God’s plan to work through the Word doesn’t work, it isn’t good enough. I have a better plan, I know what will work.

There it is – the cause of each and every sin – what every sin boils down to. I know better than God. God in His Word says one thing, and I will do another, because I know what I should be doing better than God. That’s what all sin is – all sin is a violation of the First Commandment – You shall have no other gods – we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. When we sin, we are showing no fear or respect towards God – we show Him no love – and when we choose our way over His, we certainly are showing no trust in Him either. All sin stems from rejecting and despising God’s Word.

This is not just a problem or a trial for the rich man in this story dear friends, but it is the way in which Satan will attack and tempt you. Satan will tempt you to reject God’s Word, just has he has tempted mankind since Adam and Eve in the Garden. Satan tempts us to treat God’s Law with contempt. Now, I’m sure none of you here would say that you try to treat God’s Law with contempt. But let’s examine ourselves for a bit – and on this, you’re have to do a bit of work yourself – because I don’t know precisely what lurks in your heart, but I know how Satan works, I know how he attacks me, how he has attacked others before me, so I’m pretty sure the old evil foe tries this on you. Satan tends to simply get us to overlook parts of the law, while pointing out how we keep others parts. For example – Let us say that one is generous. Satan has no problem pointing out to you your own generosity – look, you are kind and give freely of what you have – certainly not like that rich man in the story. And we become prideful. But love to the neighbor is not summed up simply by cash – not simply by the 7th commandment. What of all aspects of love? Do you speak kindly of your neighbor? Do you encourage your neighbor? When people are frustrated with your neighbor do you defend your neighbor? Do you place your neighbor’s needs above your own? This is what happens to so many Christians – we see one aspect of our lives where we do well – and we become content – I’m doing well. And we start to ignore the places that we don’t do so well in. And then Satan has a wedge, a foot in the door – and pride and arrogance force love out – to where even that “good” that we do is done out of pride – see what a good person I am – and we are lost. Beware of this dear friends – for God’s Law is beyond our ability to do. We never, never ever are the Christians, are the people we ought to be. There is always room for improvement – and when you fail to see that, when you hear the Law and simply think, “Well, I’m doing that,” then you have despised God’s Law, and are lost.

And our wiley foe Satan also tempts us to show contempt for the Gospel. Moses and the prophets did not speak only Law, but they also boldly proclaimed the Gospel – the Messiah is coming! He shall defeat Satan! He shall Redeem Israel! Or to Abraham today – “And [Abram] believed the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness.” God dealt with the people in the Old Testament the same way He deals with us – God tells us what He will do for those in the Old Testament or what He has done for us in the New, and we believe – we hear the Word of God’s promise and it brings forth belief in us.

Yet, just as the rich man contradicts Abraham, do we not sometimes think that God’s Word isn’t enough? Do we not think that simply preaching the Gospel – that simply saying, “This is what Christ Jesus, True God and True Man has done – He has gone to the Cross and suffered and died that I might be forgiven and He has risen again that I might have new life” – do we not sometimes think that simply proclaiming this to our fellow sinners who are in need of forgiven isn’t good enough? Do we trumpet the Gospel – do we hold the Gospel forth like a badge of honor, do we proudly proclaim it? Oftentimes, the answer is no. We don’t trust the Gospel sometimes – we don’t really trust it’s power for other people. We worry about other things – we try to attract people to church in other ways – and the Gospel is pushed off into a corner. I love these advertisements, and by love I’m being completely sarcastic, for Churches that say nothing of Christ. Come here because it’s fun. Come here because we are nice people. Come here because you’ll meet people who can help you out. Come here because it’s the in place to be. Where is the person who sounds like Paul – I am determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified! Where is the person who sounds like John, who boldly says, “We love because He first loved us” – everything is about Him and what He does – it’s not about me! Are we not sometimes tempted to have contempt towards the Gospel and make Church about us rather than about Christ?

But dear friends, we know and have been taught and are continually taught by God’s Word, the Holy Spirit continues to exercise the power of the Word in our Life, and to turn us away from these wicked thoughts. God’s Word is powerful – and it makes us like Lazarus. We see that we are weak and poor miserable sinners – that our vaunted strengths of moral character really aren’t that wonderful, and that sin covers us like many sores. Thankfully, by God’s Word we see that our salvation is not dependent upon our own strength – but upon what Christ Jesus has done. And so we struggle against our sin and look to Christ Jesus for forgiveness. This is what God’s Word proclaims, this is what God’s Word teaches, this is what we train ourselves to love and respect – God’s Law and God’s Gospel, which is His plan for our salvation, and all that we need for that salvation.

Luther’s lasts words still ring true – the words he spoke on his death bed as death drew near. “We are all beggars before God.” Indeed, my dear friends, you are. You come before God as broken sinners struggling with various aspects of your lives, struggling against challenges you often don’t like to admit to yourselves, and certainly don’t want anyone else to see. But God has had mercy on you – God does not simply leave you to die in your sin – but rather His Son has come into the flesh to share in your burdens and win you redemption. God does not leave you lying hungry on His door step, but invites you to His altar to feed not on crumbs that fall, but upon His Word, and indeed feeds you the very Body and Blood of Christ given and shed for you. This is His Will, this is what His Word declares, and this is Your life and Salvation. Amen.

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