Trinity 1 – Luke 16:19-31 – June 6th, 2010
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
The Trinity Season, the time of the Green Paraments, is the time of teaching. It’s the time of spiritual growth and maturing – that’s part of the reason why the color for this season is green. And what we will be hearing throughout the summer are Gospel lessons that are focused on our Lord’s teaching, our Lord instructing us in what the Christian life is, how our lives as Christians will differ from that of the world. And today our Lord sets us up a contrast – the contrast between Lazarus and the rich man.
“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 table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.” We see two men. You have the rich man, a man of wealth and means, a man who lacks for nothing, who has nice clothes, a good house (it has a gate, that means it’s pretty nice), fantastic food. This would seem to be a good life, would it not? The rich man seems to be living the American Dream – good house, plenty of cash, getting the best of everything. Yet, there is something wrong, isn’t there. Where is his love? Where is the care and concern and compassion that he should show? A sick man is laid on his doorstep, and he does nothing, not even to feed poor Lazarus the scraps that fall from his table, not even to share his leftovers.
This is the first warning that we get today – and I ask you to consider, where is your love? What do you love, what do you make your priority, what do you think most about? Is it your stuff, the things and pleasures of this life? Are you consumed by your work, so that you can make more and more? Many of us in this country are – and the danger comes in that we forget our neighbor. Rather than living to serve, we make our living at their expense. Rather than finding delight in showing love, we treat our neighbors as a burden, a drain on our time when we could be doing something better. . . like caring for ourselves. Be wary, very wary of that attitude, because it can creep in and wreck havoc upon your soul. And its even easier for us today to forget our neighbor – the poor, they live on the other side of the tracks from us, we can speed on by them in our cars, we don’t even have to walk by them. They are easier for us to ignore than Lazarus was for the rich man. Think on how you show or fail to show love.
Of course, on the other hand, we have poor Lazarus. He is unable to help himself. Can’t fend off the dogs – doesn’t even walk to the place where he begs, he is “laid” there. Weak and powerless and in utter need. Doesn’t sound like someone any of us would want to be, does it? In fact, some of our greatest fears revolve around losing the abilities we have, coming to the days where we become weak and frail. But I say to you this day, it’s much better to be Lazarus. Listen to what our Lord says.
“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, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.” It’s much better to be Lazarus, to be the one who is poor and needy – and you could tell by one simple fact. Lazarus ends up in comfort, in support in the afterlife – the rich man in torment. Well, I think we can all understand easily the torment of the rich man – no love, no faith, no charity – torment comes. We get that. But what of Lazarus – why is he there at Abraham’s side? Is it because Lazarus suffered – do the sufferings of our lives here merit us heaven? No, and that’s shown by the fact that he is at Abraham’s side, who was quite the rich man himself. No, this goes back to what we heard in Genesis this morning – “And [Abraham] believed the LORD, and He counted to him as righteousness.” The true contrast here isn’t between rich and poor, but it’s between belief and unbelief. Lazarus was with Abraham, so we know that, in spite of all the trials of his life, he believes like Abraham, has righteousness credited to him just like Abraham.
And here’s the neat, neat thing that our Lord does with this story – Jesus let us know that Lazarus believed right off the bat. Lazarus has a name. Think on this – if I know you, if I have a relationship with you, if you are part of my family, I’ll know your name. What’s the rich man’s name? We don’t know – there’s no relationship, there’s no connection. The rich man has ignored God and he’s stuck off on his own, nameless and with no identity. He’s just ‘that rich man.’ But Lazarus – we know Lazarus, there is a connection, a tie – and he is with the faithful. Now, consider your own baptism. We have lost this a bit in American today, because we wait weeks to baptize kids, because we pick names out well before the birth – but let’s be old fashioned here. Your first name used to be called your “Christian” name, because you got it at Baptism. This is the connection that we in the Church are supposed to make – that we have Christian names, we have been Named by God as one of his own in Baptism, by water and the Word. God knows you, knows your name – you are His and He is yours. By faith you have been connected to Christ, joined with God, and thus Christ’s righteousness is credited to you and you are welcomed to God’s family.
That’s the key difference, that is the biggest importance. The rich man ignored the Word of God, but Lazarus believed the Lord and it was credited to him as righteousness. And so Lazarus lived a life of patience, of trust rather than a life of selfishness and greed. Again, I am going to call upon you to examine yourself. What shapes your life? Is it your desire for stuff, or the fact that you are a Baptized Christian? Are the things of the world what you crave, or are the things of God’s Church, the Word, the Supper, these things that are yours from Christ and for your growth in Christ? Examine yourself to see how Satan attacks you and tries to make you forget who you are in Christ, strives to make you forget God and to wander away from him.
As the story continues, we see the rich man’s greed continue unabated. Even in hell he thinks he exists simply to be served. Send Lazarus with water. Doesn’t even ask, just commands. But, that’s the way it goes. No warning, no punishment breaks his heart because it is given over to greed. Same thing was probably true in life. But there is a moment where the rich man seems to make a connection, to have a moment of understanding, and he calls out, “Then I beg you, father, to send him [that is Lazarus] to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – that that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” Finally, the rich man thinks of someone else – thinks on his brothers. Send Lazarus to warn them – and they need warning. But Abraham says this, “They have Moses and the Prophet; let them hear them.” Moses and the prophets – the Scriptures. That’s what we are to listen to, that’s where we are warned, that’s where our sin that we need to repent of is pointed out to us. We live by the Word. And the rich man counters, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” That brief flash of humility in the rich man is gone. Tells Abraham no. Think on that – think on how audacious that this – telling Abraham that theologically speaking he doesn’t know what he is talking about. There is a disdain, a disrespect of God’s Word, and that disrespect destroys faith. Faith comes by hearing – that is what we are told, but so many people want to add something else. Those people won’t believe if they just hear the Word, but maybe if we add a dog and pony show they will believe. Maybe if there’s a backbeat, they will believe. Maybe if we are more relevant they will believe (because, of course, struggling against my own sinful desires isn’t really relevant, sin has nothing to do with me). All of those thoughts – that’s just diminishing the Word of God and brushing it aside. A dog and pony show is better, entertainment is better, itching my ears with something that I like and calling it “relevant” is better. But these idea aren’t better – it is the Word of God that gives life. And to seal this point, Abraham says, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
And what Abraham says here is true. The folks who made excuses before the Crucifixion made excuses afterwards. They refused to hear what Moses and the Prophets said of the coming Messiah, and they still rejected that Messiah after His resurrection. But, dear friends, you are Baptized, you are part of God’s family, and you have been given hears to hear the Word of God, to know that the One that Moses and the Prophets promised and pointed to, Christ Jesus, has come, that He has suffered and died for your sins upon the Cross, and that He has risen from the dead. That really sums up what the Word of God says. God’s Word shows us our sin in all its utter filth, so that we know our need for a Savior and repent, and then God’s Word shows us Christ Jesus and what He has done to win us salvation. And this is the wonder, the joy, the true reason for any praise that we give – Christ Jesus has won us life and salvation. We have been brought to believe in Him, and now we have His righteousness, His life, His salvation. Everything centers around this – that we are sinners, but we are repentant sinners who struggle against our sin, and we are sinners forgiven on account of Christ Jesus. And we still today give heed to Moses and the Prophets, to the Evangelists and St. Paul – to the Word of God, both Old and New Testaments – because they all point us to Christ Jesus and His love for us, they all strengthen us in the relationship He called us to in the waters of Holy Baptism, they all preserve us in this life, and along with His most Holy Supper prepare us for the life to come. This is indeed how God shows us love. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +