Sunday, June 14, 2009

Trinity 1 Sermon

Trinity 1 – Luke 16:19-31 – June 14th, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
It seems like the rich man in the parable had such a wonderful life. He was clothed in purple and fine linen – he feasted sumptuously every day. His house, well, it was big enough to have a gate. A pretty good life, eh? Isn’t what the rich man had basically the American dream? Two car garage – the best of the best from United or Jumbo’s on the table (if you aren’t actually just eating out and having your food cooked for you), nice clothes that you know you aren’t going to wear out because you’ve got a closet full of other things to wear as well. It seems like the Rich Man had things going his way, it seems like he had everything that he could possibly want. And how blessed the rich man was stands out in stark contrast to Lazarus, the beggar on his doorstep. Lazarus is poor, starving, no home, probably wearing worn out rags. Horrid health, a body covered with sores. So weak that he can’t even fend off the dogs who come and lick his wounds. It seems like Lazarus had in his life everything we fear will happen to us – every trial, every terror. Job – gone. Land – gone. House – gone. Health – gone. Family – gone. From the perspective of the world – it is clear that the rich man is better off than Lazarus – that we would much rather be in the rich man’s shoes than Lazarus’ – except for one crucial fact, one crucial concern.

The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried and in Hades. For all the pomp of the rich man’s life, for all the grittiness of Lazarus’ life, for all the worldly splendor contrasted against the muck and mire – we see that in reality, Lazarus had the better life, had that which was truly needful. Our Lord teaches a stern lesson, gives us a stern warning this morning about what this life, this time on this earth really ought to be about. The ways in which we judge our life, the ways in which we evaluate our neighbor, the ways in which we think are so often wrong, so often at odds with God and His priorities for us. Too often our focus is upon stuff and things – and not the God who is the Maker of that stuff – upon earthly blessings and not the Giver of blessings both earthly and eternal. And so, with this parable, Christ paints a picture of what we are to avoid, what we are to not be like – so we can learn what temptations to avoid.

Consider the rich man in life. Now, clearly he was a man of means. He had more than enough for himself. And yet, what does he does with his stuff, whom does his stuff serve? The rich man cares only for himself. The evidence of that lies upon his doorstep. How callous, how cruel do you have to be to let a beggar with nothing, with sores, lay upon your own doorstep and die? And I’m not talking about a panhandler, a scam artist – but someone with an honest, legit need, which the rich man knew to be needed (because he knows Lazarus by name) – and nothing is done. How callous! And yet, dear friends – that is just the most extreme end of the spectrum – but what of you? How is your generosity? How do you view your stuff, your blessings, the things God has given to you? Do you think first and foremost of what you want with them – or do you think of how you will be able to serve your neighbor? Do you think first and foremost of what you can consume for yourself, or what you can give to others? If you are thinking of yourself, you are thinking like the rich man – maybe not as vilely, or as grossly – because surely pastor I would help the dying man! I would certainly hope so – but still, the rich man is a warning against selfishness, selfishness that can pop up in us all – and the danger is that as we become focused more and more upon what is ours, we forget to focus on the neighbor. God, unsurprisingly, had a bit of wisdom in assigning the Tithe in the Old Testament – the first thing you did with what you got, was you gave part of it away. The first fruits – gone, given away. A fantastic training about not letting possessions rule, not letting possessions possess you. And so I admonish you, consider your own life and take stake of how you relate to God’s blessings. Is the stuff of your life your idol which you seek and crave – or is it simply a tool that you use to serve others?

This is important, because selfishness becomes pervasive, selfishness when left unchecked, greed growing unchecked ends up dominating your whole life. This is shown by the rich man’s words from hell – Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in the flame. Father Abraham, I am in anguish – so I’ll tell you what – here’s my idea of mercy – send Lazarus to hell so that he can care for me. How about it – he’s just a beggar, why let him be in heaven, he ought to be making my existence easier instead of just being a lay-a-bout. Even the rich man’s cry for mercy is corrupted. No thoughts of what he had done wrong, no thoughts of how what he was getting was his just deserts. Simply serve me, serve me. No sense of responsibility for his own actions – rather, let others suffer to serve me. Do you see the selfishness? Again – be wary, lest this same selfishness take root in you, and gradually grow up like a weed and choke you out.

One final warning we see from the rich man – who I am incredibly harsh on, but, well, he is burning in hell, afterall, he’s meant to be an example of how things ought not be done. We get this exchange after Abraham tells the rich man that he is stuck in hell. And he said, “Then I beg you, father, to send him [Lazarus] to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Seems good so far, right? Not so fast, my friends! 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.” Did you catch it? No! No, Father Abraham! He’s in hell, and yet he’s trying to correct Abraham. Do you see how arrogant, how self-centered this man is? And it keys on what the rich man brushes aside as worthless. Abraham points to the Word of God – Moses and the Prophets – the Holy Scriptures. The rich man says, “Eh, that Word of God stuff is no good, it’s worthless.” And we see why the rich man is in the predicament he is in. And Abraham says something which is of great note – “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” Even your plans, rich man, they won’t work. If you ignore Scripture, someone could rise from the dead and it still wouldn’t matter. Or as St. Paul would put it – faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.

You see, that is the thing that Lazarus had, that he is the example of. One who is faithful and waits patiently upon God. We will, it seems, often rant and rail against God – God, how you could let this happen – on and on. And then there is Lazarus – who is in a more sorry state than any of us – and he has heard the Word, and he waits patiently on God – and when he closes his eyes in death, he sees that the faith he held to, the God in whom He trusted is good and right and true, and he is carried to heaven. This is an example, an ideal to which we are to strive. A full and utter contrast, a reminder of the contentment we should have – that even if we are completely weak and frail – God is strong for us – and we see and understand God’s love for us, and trust in that above all.

And here is the irony – what does the rich man want? Lazarus to go to earth, return from the grave, and preach to his brothers. My dear Christian friends, do you not understand that God plans blessings beyond what our sinful flesh could conceive of. God does not send Lazarus – rather this. Christ Jesus our Lord comes down from heaven unto earth – and how does He come? He comes lowly and humble, meek, poor. Our Lord was basically homeless, a drifter – He says in Luke “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” God the Father sends a Beggar down, sends Christ Jesus, who in completely unselfish love takes upon Himself all the torment and trials that we can face in this sinful world – all the suffering that any of us will face and more on top of that – and Christ Jesus takes this all upon Himself – and He goes to the Cross and dies. And then the wonder. He rises from the dead – just as the Scriptures said He would, and He proclaims peace – He proclaims that He has overcome the world – and that all who believe in Him, all who have heard the Word and been given the gift of faith, who have been given ears to hear and eyes to see the world, no longer merely through the eyes of selfish greed like the rich man, but through the trusting eyes of faith like Lazarus – to these Christ Jesus has proclaimed that just as He has conquered the world, so too shall those who believe, that just as He has risen, so too shall those who trust in Him.

This is the gift of faith that Christ Jesus has given to you – for He has opened your ears to hear His Word – He has sent His Son and His Spirit unto you – making you His dwelling place in Baptism, giving you again and again His Son’s Body to strengthen your frail body by His Holy Supper, and all so that God’s saving truth might be yours at all times and in all places, so that you might understand your blessings in this life for the gifts they are – gifts given to you to give unto others – and more over that you might realize that this life’s blessings are temporary and transient and fleeting – that they are as nothing compared to the true and wondrous gift that is yours, salvation in the Name of Christ Jesus, who has died for your sins and risen to give you life. Beware your selfishness which would make you forget this faith to which you cling, and rather hold fast to the God who has been revealed to you in Moses and the Prophets and the writings of the Apostles – so that you may endure both the blessings and trials of this life and enjoy the blessings of heaven alongside all the faithful in the presence of God for all eternity. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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